Testament   –Robert M. Shelby, 4-16-11.  [797 txt wds]

Several people close to me have at some time asked me what I believe. I borrowed from the Zen patriarchs to say, “Nothing is hidden.” This is doubly true. I hid nothing from them and everything has always been as clear and obvious as people let themselves see. To those who understand this, the only mystery is why anyone has trouble sensing the fact that Nothing itself is the one thing typically hidden, for it underlies and embraces everything we can experience and retains everything we can never experience. It is where all our experiences come from. We can learn to access the void, or the nothing, directly and simply. Tiny children do it. Then it becomes a positive, “null” experience. In time, we forget what we always knew. We quit recognizing our basic state or condition, the objective source that accompanies our ongoing subjectivity.


I believe in a god the way I believe in a unicorn. They are both cultural artifacts and long established ideas with a great variety of artistic images and literary facts associated with them. We have words in several languages to name the notions we have of them. Each has verbal definition without denotative reference. Please show me otherwise, or please do not bother me with your opinion. Lead a unicorn to my door. Demonstrate that you can do something with or because of deity that I cannot do. Include the feeling of being flooded with grace and gratitude. I can feel that with no particular religion or when observing several sorts of religious service, national ceremony, dramatic action or artful exercise. A wide, far vista of beautiful scenery can stir me with feelings of sublime elevation and humble release. Church music, symphony, operatic aria or fine jazz rendition can bring similar effect. To watch a complex act of skilled, craftly making done with assurance and finesse with simultaneous exploring of means will do the same. A good speech delivered with rare panache can set me ringing like a bell.


This does not mean I believe in none of the meanings ascribed to our word, “god.” What seems clear to me is that I believe neither in belief nor unbelief but in knowing things as best I can, and in not believing things I can determine are false. While many things now unknown can become at least better known, it seems likely that some things can never be known. More than being merely contented, I am quite happy with that, and I am happy to see that superstition and understanding are two poles of one thing. Superstitions have uses for good or ill, but understanding grows. It stays reliable.


I regard theism and deism together as in polar opposition to atheism, but in fact belief, anti-belief and unblief, are equally nescient. Agnosticism is beneath my serious consideration, since it tends to imply an abandonment of effort to solve life’s puzzle merely because one has not solved it. It fails as a triangulator by falling below the line between theism and atheism. Successful triangulation above that line is attained by trans-theism or para-gnosis. Hence, I often describe myself as a transtheist or paragnost. It is a conceptual solution that binds up and nullifies loose, futile thinking.


I distinguish faith from belief. Belief has an object. Faith is a force, the will to serve a value loyally. One can hold a value without believing it will prevail or help one prevail. To put faith in God, providence, a leader, a savior or movement may denote lack of real faith in oneself, in physico-spiritual reality or in the possible sufficiency of nature. I am content with what William James called “animal” faith: that my next breath is imminent, my heart will beat for as long as it can, the sun will rise tomorrow, I shall find the means at hand or obtainable to satisfy my needs. Expecting some discomfort, I would avoid causing or receiving real pain, but I have no more fear of death than of sleep. There will be nothing to save as all will have been spent, therefore no need for salvation but the idea of it to salve child-like ego. “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” Yet I can recall the things of childhood and treat children with joy. My spirit needs no more crutch than another’s hand. My spirit is not more separate from me than is my body. I cannot see into my body what of it is producing me along with my ideas and experience of body, mind and the impulses I call spiritual. I am that I need not see all. I am that I am more than I can know and that my world’s existence is involved in us.


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