The end of the heavy stuff


Karen Armstrong is an ex-Roman Catholic nun, who now writes deeply researched books on comparative religion. Her beliefs remain enigmatic, as she writes as a sympathetic believer in Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. To understand her better I paused my reading of (The History of God, Muhammad: A biography of the prophet and The Case for God) to locate and read her second autobiography, A Spiral Staircase . In this book I discovered that she had already travelled further down the spiritual path that I am looking for. As a result I am quite happy to simply quote from her book, without qualification or comment as this description almost exactly covers my deeper beliefs and feelings.

Karen Armstrong The Spiral Staircase, Chapter 8 "To turn again" p326.
To believe or not to believe: that is surely the religious question, is it not?
Well . . . no. To my very great surprise I was discovering that some of the most eminent Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians and mystics insisted that God was not an objective fact, was not another being, and was not an unseen reality like the atom, whose existence could be empirically demonstrated. Some went as far as to say that it was better to say that God did not exist, because our notion of existence was too limited to apply to God. Many of them preferred to say that God was Nothing, because this was not the kind of reality that we normally encountered. It was even misleading to call God the Supreme Being, because that simply suggested a being like us, but bigger and better with likes and dislike similar to our own. For centuries Jews, Christians and Muslims had devised audacious new theologies to bring this point home to the faithful. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, was crafted in part to show that you could not think about God as a simple personality. The reality that we call 'God' is transcendent; that is, it goes beyond any human orthodoxy and yet God is also the ground of all being and can be experienced almost as a presence in the depths of the psyche. All traditions went out of their way to emphasize that any idea we had of 'God' bore no absolute relationship to the reality itself, which went beyond it. Our notion of a personal God is one symbolic way of speaking about the divine, but it cannot contain the far more elusive reality. Most would agree with the Greek Orthodox that any statement about God must have two characteristics. It must be paradoxical, to remind us that God cannot be contained in a neat, coherent system of thought; and it must be apophatic, that is, it should lead us to a moment of silent awe or wonder, because when we are speaking of the reality of God we are at the end of what words or thoughts can usefully do.

Elsewhere, Karen explains that any truly religious experience must increase oneís compassion. My journey starts to end when I am able to read another personís religious expressions and beliefs and enter in and believe with them. This is the only effective way that anyone can share their own beliefs!


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