“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. . . Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there's some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. . . Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.”
This is a pretty intense quote from Buddhist writer, Pema Chodron, and one with which I completely resonate. I like the way she removes the conversation from the pointless debate on believing or not believing in god, of course, the Buddhist conversation, as I understand it, is generally more between theism and non-theism, than the theism versus atheism issue that haunts Christianity. It seems to me though that the 'god-thing' is ever and always a much more complex set of things more connected to our relationship and understanding of ourselves and how we manage or confront our humanity, than the conversations that are usually had. Having spent a long, long time in the world of religion, I remain evermore convinced that it functions as a palliative for many people, a coping mechanism, the liturgy of the church, be it traditional or otherwise is filled with language that places god over all the affairs of humanity-guiding, loving, nurturing, caring etc. Nice idea, but when it breaks donw, which it surely does, whether holocaust or personal disaster, those conceptions become a dead-weight. I am not sure that is the only thread within the horizon of Judeo-Christianity for engaging with the divine or the sacred, but it is a primary one, and for me, one whose time has come. How about we acknowledge that Christianity is a religion of absence--we gather around a table that acknowledges the absent Christ; that Christianity is a religion of uncertainty and ambiguity rather than assurance and certainty. How about we become vulnerable to our own helplessness most of the time, that we face our unhappiness, not with the intention of finding remedy, but to understand ourselves better, to free ourselves from the chase that often leads us to make choices and decisions that in the end cannot, and will not deliver; that we choose not to reduce God to a remedy, a pill that fixes, or a being who makes us happy and complete.
A few years back I heard Bruce Springsteen say that we have got to learn to live with what we can't rise above, I realize that runs counter to most conventional wisdom which is riddled with the language of overcoming and triumph, but some things are not overcome, and they must be owned and lived with, and I think we have swallowed an untruth in a cultural driven by self-help, and a religion that promises similar success in all things is not the truth, I'm not sure life is always about ultimate triumph.
I have spent a number of years thinking about an old testament story about the prophet Ezekiel who gets led into deep waters by a mysterious figure holding a rope-the movement is oppositional to most theistic positioning, the deeper he goes the less foundation he has--he reaches a point where he can no longer touch to bottom, nor move against the current, drowning in a sense--I have often read the story in conjunction with ideas about stages of faith and I think there is resonance but lately I have been reading it as a more personal story about coming to terms with as Chodron says, the ambiguity, the uncertainty of not being able to find footing--after he reaches this point he is led back to the shore--and the landscape has been dramatically transformed, what was desert is now alive with plant-life-echoes of Eden--perhaps indicative of the idea that awareness and willingness to relax into ambiguity, into uncertainty, unpredictability changes the way we see the world, and the nature of the sacred.