Thursday, October 07, 2010

What is God? -- Part 3

According to John Haught, religion is the scratch we invent for the itch of depth, future, freedom, beauty, and truth (my metaphor). And, he says, God is mystery. Not the mystery of the gaps in our knowledge, but of knowledge itself.

So far, his formulation is an adequate preamble for religious naturalism or for his own Catholicism. And, in my opinion, a fine foundation for a religious studies curriculum.

But there is one thing I left out of my summary of his book, and it’s the thing that takes us in different directions.

In his last pages, Haught suggests that there are only two major "truths" that a genuine religious sense requires. The first is that our lives are embraced by mystery -- and on that we agree.

The second truth is that the mystery is "gracious."

In this, Haught makes a leap of faith.

There is not much to suggest that the universe is gracious. Beautiful and terrible, yes. Light and dark. Silence and din. But gracious?

Were the Mycobacterium tuberculosis pathogens that (likely) killed Darwin's beloved daughter Annie gracious?

Haught is gracious (even to the New Atheists). The folks who comment on this blog are gracious. But the universe? No so much so.

Graciousness is an emergent human quality, like love, or justice. To say that God is gracious is like saying he is just, or of the male gender, or stands on a mountaintop hurling thunderbolts.

Haught knows that "our images of a personal God always have a projective aspect," but he uses them anyway. Of course, without metaphorical language we can't speak of God at all, and as a Catholic theologian Haught presumably feels it is necessary to speak -- to give the the- an -ology.

The religious naturalist prefers silence. We encounter the mystery as through a glass darkly, not in a mirror brightly. We believe that all projective language diminishes the intensity of the encounter. We forego familiarity for ache of doubt and the shiver in the spine.