Winter and the Leap Year Moon
Thursday gratefuls: Art Green, author of Radical Judaism. Zoom technology. Brother Mark’s insights about his work in Saudi Arabia. Gertie’s visible improvement. Murdoch. The Kep. Rigel, who prances in from the outside like she’s 3, not 11. Kate’s rebound from a tough early afternoon.
“What could it possibly mean to speak of Torah as “God’s word” or “revelation” in the religious context I am offering here? I challenge myself yet again, as I do frequently, asking whether my mystical language is not merely an obfuscation of my disbelief. God is Y-H-W-H, the wholeness of Being, the energy that makes for existence, the engine that drives the evolutionary process. This is a God of silence…” p. 92, Radical Judaism, Art Green.
The vibration in Art’s challenge to himself is what I call intellectual vertigo. I feel it while reading his work, while contemplating the unusual congruence between his well-formulated, honest ideas and my own less systematic thoughts over the past 65 years.
I’ve pushed away the embrace of all major religious traditions. I know some of you have, too.
Modernism offers the empirical method as its intellectual scythe. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hutchins all wielded this scythe, believing it allowed them to cut through the obfuscation that Green fears and find nothing. This modernist versus religion cage match has resulted in a situation not unlike our current political one. Two sides, fearing and loathing the other, generating quantities of heat, but little light.
Step through the door of post-modernism, however, and a new range of possibilities occur. Post-modernism, to those of us like Art Green, raised firmly in the arms of modernism, can seem dizzying. Vertigo inducing. Art leaps the uncanny valley between Newton and Niels Bohr with mysticism.
The confidence once placed in Newton’s thought was as certain as certain could be. He deployed the scientific method, mathematics, and logic like fine scalpels, flensing the musculature, then the organ systems of our cosmos for all to see.
Einstein shook his electric hair. Not quite. Then Bohr and others developed the Copenhagen Consensus, describing a sub-microscopic world buzzing with uncertainty, with probability rather than certainty, with spooky action at a distance entailed its thought. Classical physics (modernity) and quantum mechanics (post-modernity) have not yet reconciled.
Those of us shaped as religious persons in the modern era have also failed to reconcile the older, confident dogmas of the many religions to the newer, science-affirming ways of understanding. One avenue for this reconciliation is an understanding of language as a mediator which stands between each human and core reality.
In this case any language, including the Torah, the Upanishads, the Diamond Sutra, the Tao Te Ching, the Gospel of Mark or Matthew or John or Luke, does not “reveal,” but covers truth. That is, since language is the way that our thinking manages all data, sensory data included, words and letters are a real, unbreachable (perhaps) barrier between us and reality.
When the religious instinct (I don’t know what else to call it.) imbibes from this stream of post-modernist thought, a possibility occurs not available in modernism. In modernism we’re stuck with Wittgenstein, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (Tractatus 7). If there is a reality behind the screen of language, we can’t know it, so we must be silent.
But. If we make the post-modern leap and accept a broader view of evidence, including our heart and Big History*, we can make out, as Green does, a unifier, “…the wholeness of Being, the energy that makes for existence, the engine that drives the evolutionary process.” It is this wholeness of being with which we interact in a mysterious way.
As a side note, I keep wanting to change Green’s metaphysics as I read his book. Key example above, the wholeness of being. I’d prefer the wholeness of becoming. He goes on in the next phrase to talk about the energy that makes for existence, for example.
This mystical dip into the silent world behind language, or before language, allows us contact with the Becoming, the energy that makes for existence. This is the God of Silence. Silent, yes, but in possession of all the agency that there is.
The question then becomes, if you track with me this far, how does a God of Silence communicate? How does this most ancient (or, timeless) motive force speak across the quiet. And, across the barrier thrown up by language?
This becomes the central religious question, is the central religious question. Not sure I’m fully on board with Green’s answer, but it’s a good shot anyhow. Another post and I’ll elaborate.
* “Big History is an academic discipline which examines history from the Big Bang to the present. Big History resists specialization, and searches for universal patterns or trends. It examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities, and explores human existence in the context of this bigger picture.” David Christian. (I corresponded with Christian for a while after listening to a Great Courses class he taught.)