Providence & Faith



I have a faith. It's not a very common faith.

I have faith in the world. Not the world as in the Earth, but as in everything. Just as it is.

Another way of saying this is that I don't believe in providence. I don't believe there is anything steering the course of events from 'outside' them in any way. No higher power, no visible or invisible hands, no 'objective Truth' (but there are small-t truths). Nothing providential.

Why is it so hard for people to respect what is given to us, in our experience? Why do we always want to add levels to things? It's easy to think this is something only religious people do, with their other-worldly gods and hellfires, but it's rampant in all parts of life. If you think there is such thing as 'society' lording over what all of us do, there's providence. If you think there are only individuals and no society, there's providence again, just in the opposite direction. If you think science peels away layers to get to the core truth of things, you're as much a providential thinker as somebody who thinks there's a God up in the sky or a devil down below.

Religious faith is interesting. As it's often used, it means believing in things that don't seem very likely at all. Like life after death, or that some bearded benevolent God is up there in the sky somewhere. The faith is the belief - these things seem impossible, so to believe in them you need faith that they're real, you wouldn't believe in these things normally, so all you can do is 'have faith' that they're true anyway. A 'leap of faith', as they say. The history of religion is very interesting here, because when you read it you realise that this was not what religion was about at all, or at least it's not what it was about for many. It wasn't about believing A or B, it was about a way of life and a way a life should be lived. Yes people like to add bogeymen and superhero-type stories to anything, not just religion - we have sports people and scientists and artists who are held above the fray of the mere mortals around them in the same way.

It all went wrong partly at the time of the Galileo trial, which is dusted off regularly and used to prove all the wrong things. The ABC ran a semi-comedic re-enactment of it the other night at the University of New South Wales, and I saw some of my old lecturers. The thing was a farce more than than it was a comedy. It's always dressed up as silly ignorant church flunkies persecuting the noble Galileo, who was just defending truth. In reality Galileo was certainly a genius, but also a prat who was given ample opportunity to avoid the drama and consequences of the trial, which he refused to do in a Barnaby Joyce, media tart sort of way. What's always missed with the trial is that BOTH sides were arguing over the right to speak on behalf of capital-T Truth. Galileo was at it as much as the Church was.

Historically the Church lost the trial, in public consciousness. Since that time religion 'versus' science has become a knock-down, straw man fight over, to my mind, absolutely bloody nothing. The Church took a new tack, the logical outcome of which we see in the creationist loons today, of trying to turn religion into just another form of science, another way of telling the truth of the world. Science never looked back and in its worst forms is just as dogmatic, if not more so, than the Church in Galileo's time. Lots of huffing and puffing and chest-beating on both sides about who really knows how the world works, and who gets to be the final arbiter. Some moderate religious folk try to calm everybody down by saying that science does define the facts of things, and religion then clothes them in nice, warm human values. Which is just the original lunatic misunderstanding dressed up to look less like a pig's arse.

The world doesn't have a "Truth" in that way. Not for science or for religion to figure out. The world just is, there's nothing hidden away which some sect in funny clothes has the sole right to access and then beat the rest of us around the head with. Doesn't mean that we know everything there is to know, the world will always surprise us. But when we find things out or 'discover' things we haven't peeled away anything hidden, we've just mixed a bit of this with a bit of that and come with a bit of something else. Simple. Knowing is not getting behind things, it's mixing yourself up with them and seeing what happens. Nothing ever leaves the world to visit some other world of 'objective truth'. The first person who mixed baking powder with vinegar discovered that it makes a cool mess. Was that hidden away somewhere, that mess, in some other-worldly 'objective' world of Truth? Nope, there are no levels, everything just gets added to the world as a new mix of things.

Religion should get back to being about a way of living in the world, a way of producing a constantly re-enacted presence. Doesn't have to be a presence of any one particular thing or person, like Jesus, just a way of making each moment fresh and novel and sacred. Of making all of 'creation', in a non-religious and non-scientific sense, the essence of every moment. Science can continue to make new surprising mixtures of things that surprise us in always new ways, and religion can then take those and help us find ways to weave them into our constantly renewed presence of being in the world. Science creates and religion weaves these creations into the full creation of our full presence in each moment. Nobody is peeking inside the sacred nothingness of 'objectivity', that place doesn't exist. "He's a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans, for nobody". Amen.

I'm not holding my breath. At root people don't trust that there are no levels, it doesn't matter where you look they keep pretending they're there. They don't just love the world for being the world. Every time somebody whips up a flow-chart that show 'levels' of an organisation (for example) you're back in the old theology of make-believe. They'll continue to split their mind off from their body, and their brain off from their mind, and they'll drag the useless dead corpse attached to their brain around with them each day and periodically flog it senseless in a gym, because they think it's done something wrong and gone saggy on them. Our bodies are part of the world too, and we love having levels there too. We love our 'minds', we live there, terrified of really letting go and discovering that the world is just there.

And that it's wonderful, and is full of wonders that will never cease.



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