Of God Who Comes to Mind
As my readers know, I have been influenced by the writing of Emmanuel Levinas. I recently re-read one of his more important works, Of God Who Comes to Mind, a powerful phenomenological analysis of the very idea of God and the impact that God has on rational thought. Levinas begins chapter 1 as follows:
Ideology usurps the appearances of science, but the statement of its concept ruins the credit of morality.
To some extent, Levinas was commenting on his experience with the Nazis in World War II. In a more prophetic tone, he could easily be commenting on the rise of the Christian evangelical movement in which the work of science is dismissed in favor of some Bronze Age textual mythical material. In another sense, Levinas is commenting on the very notion of totalization, the reduction of difference into the same, the self into the same, the homogenization of society into a plain white gruel where one does exactly as one is told, where war is peace and love is hate.
To explain the world only in terms of ancient textual mythological material is to undermine the rationality of science. It is to somehow privilege mythology over observable data, to privilege ideology in favor of analysis. This privilege effectively places barriers to the admission of facts as evidence therein creating generations of ignorance. A bumper sticker I once saw said it quite well: “God said it, I believe it, That settles it.” In truth, that settles nothing. If God said that the sky is green in some arbitrary text it would not make the sky green (unless, perhaps, you were looking at the Northern Lights under certain circumstances).
Does this mean, however, that faith, belief in a power greater than oneself, always and for certain is ideological? I think not. It is perfectly reasonable to believe in something without requiring that something to be absolutely correct in areas of knowledge outside of its own limited sphere of influence. To rely on a single source is, as journalists will tell you, a recipe for disaster. One may, and quite often does, look to spirituality to find answers to ineffable questions. In non-theistic ‘religious’ practice, Buddhism for example, transitioning into silence through proper meditative practice proves to be a powerful resource for peace and tranquility. Here there is no triumphalist need to be “right” at the expense of all other possibilities for seeking and finding inner peace.
It is when ideology presents itself as absolute truth to the extermination of all other evidence to the contrary that one must take notice. This is especially true where there exists conflicting “truths.” When the Abrahamic sects of monotheism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, collide the historical record reveals nothing if not hatred and mistrust often breaking into armed conflict. Perhaps it is a trait of monotheism in particular for where polytheism is found it is generally accepting of other polytheistic cults seeking integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation. The claim that my god is somehow better than your god has the clear ring of ideology where the ability to merge my gods and your gods has a quality of integration that allows for an open discourse.
Ideology, in usurping the whole-cloth of science, cannot make the claim to be scientific for long. To be a true believer means that one rejects the whole idea of science (rationality) in favor of revelation (dogma). Of course, when rationality and dogma merge, one may experience the horrors of the mid-twentieth century in Germany where entire groups of people, especially Jews, were targeted for extermination based on a dogmatic vision of a raving lunatic. One can also recall the marriage of rationality and dogma in Stalinist Russia where the paranoid visions of one man led to the death of something like 20-million people carried out with a bureaucratic precision to rival that of Nazi Germany (see Zygmunt Bauman).
In my own lived-experience I seek integration of self and other, not through reducing the self into the same but by embracing the differences between self and the other in order to better understand my relationship with the approaching infinity. I recently read a quip, perhaps on Facebook: “Life is a terminal illness!” Taken together with the Mark Twain response when being asked if he feared death he said, “Young man, I was dead for billions of years before I was born and it seems to have done me no harm,” I try to avoid, as best I can, that which separates us while celebrating those very differences as the joyful and interesting reason for living in the first place.
Thanks to my recent good news, I plan on being able to celebrate that life for many years to come. I can now add to my own diversity the simple fact that I am a cancer survivor, a fact that provides additional openings for service.