Edward Feser published a very interesting piece today at his blog. While I enjoy philosophy, I am primarily a human researcher who is ultimately interested in people and why they do things. I really admire Feser and the work he’s done, though I’ve been critical of Feser’s harsh tone in the past. But I was very especially captivated by his story of being a naturalist atheist philosopher who discovered the classical arguments for God’s existence by teaching them to students. It is so difficult for people to really step outside their own past, biases, and prejudices to consider the possibility that they have been very wrong, and that the group they have dismissed or antagonized in the past may be correct. Anytime this happens, I get interested in hearing the story.
This story was interesting to me because it resembled so much my own journey, though there are crucial differences – for me, the major difference is that I’m much dumber than Feser at philosophy. I can’t really make reasoned logical arguments and can’t think “mathematically” about philosophical concepts. This is part of the reason why I’ve stopped arguing philosophy primarily on this blog. All I know is that I’ve read about psychology, philosophy, materialism, and theology, and some of it intellectually resonates with me and some doesn’t.
I grew up fully believing that God is a being in time and space, that he is corporeal, that we are created literally in his likeness, and with the distinct possibility that he has a father somewhere, and that we might possibly, down the road, end up like him too. Even as a teenager, I realized there were strange quirks that resulted from this view, but I chalked these up as “deep doctrines” and that I couldn’t expect to figure them out – and no one else could either. However, one stuck out to me as the greatest of all, and that is, that on a Mormon view of God existence is inexplicable. If God the Father is not ultimately the reason the entirety of existence is here, then who or what is? The Universe – gods and all – just exists as a brute fact with no explanation whatsoever. Perhaps on the Mormon view the only answer is that this is how the Universe must be (necessity), but that breaks down for me.
It wasn’t, however, until I really started thinking about consciousness that I began to question my assumptions about the fabric of reality. I had always assumed some kind of spiritualistic, materialistic dualism as Mormonism seems to necessitate. The spiritual is different than the matter we’re familiar with, but it’s matter. When I really started to think about what matter is, I started to experience deep rifts of skepticism as to whether our consciousness could actually be explained by an appeal to any sort of matter – fine, pure, rough, whatever.
Sometimes, when Mormons lose their faith in Mormonism, they carry with them the idea that the Trinitarian or Classical view of God is distasteful or emotionally repugnant, and refuse to find any other religion. How could you go from God being a literal father – someone you could literally chat with or hug, someone you could look in the eyes, someone who yearns and loves and gets upset and weeps, who wants the best for us the same way that a father loves his children – to some kind of immaterial force with no “parts or passions?” Someone who can mystically be three persons in one God, someone who has no perfect Earthly metaphor that we can use to mentally image him with? How can the latter view of God satisfy anyone’s spiritual needs? The Mormon doctrine of God activates some of our most primal and basic emotional mechanisms in our psychology – the love we have for our families.
I was pondering these questions in my mind yesterday at church, and trying to emotionally connect with the God of Classical Theism, when I had an overwhelming experience. The God of Classical Theism not only created the Universe, but is sustaining force that keeps it in existence. Everything around me in the chapel – the pews, the people, the ceilings, the air – are being sustained moment-by-moment by an immaterial God. Not a God who grew up in the Universe, but a God that is more fundamental than the Universe. A God that is more real than the Universe. Suddenly a poem by Rumi sprang to mind:
The place that Solomon made to worship in,
called the Far Mosque, is not built of earth
and water and stone, but of intention and wisdom
and mystical conversation and compassionate action.
Every part of it is intelligence and responsive
to every other. The carpet bows to the broom.
The door knocker and the door swing together
like musicians. This heart sanctuary does
exist, but it can’t be described. Why try!
Solomon goes there every morning and gives guidance
with words, with musical harmonies, and in actions,
which are the deepest teaching. A prince is just
a conceit until he does something with generosity.
Rumi, along with many of history’s mystics, describe the feeling achieved in mystic states as one in which everything in creation seems to “work together” with every other part – the door and its knocker swing together like musicians, the carpet works with the broom that sweeps it. It all seems to manifest some kind of deeper reality that is more fundamental than the “stuff” of our existence – earth, water, stone. I didn’t achieve some kind of transcendent state, but I did come to some kind of a closer understanding of that on Sunday, sitting in the pews at church.