Theology has not, as a matter of fact, had a very distinguished record in promoting the study of other than the Christian religion. And this is rather puzzling. Most study of comparative religions that goes on in theological schools has historically been missionary oriented. To find out the weird ideas of the prospects so as to be able to undermine them. Because you see, if you know in the first place that you have the true religion, there really is no point in studying any other one and you can very quickly find reasons for showing them to be inferior, because that was a foregone conclusion. They had to be. And therefore, all arguments about the respective merits of various religions, especially where Christianity is involved, and often where Judaism is involved, and sometimes Islam too, all of which are essentially imperialistic religions. In all such discussions the judge and the advocate are usually the same person, because if for example you get into discussions as to whether Buddha was a more profound and spiritual character than Jesus Christ, you arrive at your decision on the basis of a scale of values which is of course Christian. And in this sense the judge and the advocate of the same.
And I really do marvel at this Christian Imperialism because it prevails even among theological liberals. And it reaches its final absurdity in religion-less Christianity, the doctrine that there is no God and Jesus Christ is His only Son. Because you see, there’s some anxiety here that even though we don’t believe in God anymore, somehow we’ve still got to be Christians and obviously because we have a very curious organization which must be understood. The inner meaning of the church as it works in fact. A society of the saved, you see, necessarily requires outside it a society of the not saved because if there is not that contrast, you don’t know that you belong to the in-group. And in this way all social groups with claims to some kind of special status must necessarily create aliens and foreigners. And Sir Thomas Aquinas let the cat out of the bag one day when he said that the Saints in Heaven would occasionally appear over the battlements into Hell and praise God for the just punishment visited upon the evil-doers.
Now, as you know I’m not being very fair and very kind to Modern Theology, but there is this strange persistence of insisting that our group is the best group. And I feel that there is in this something peculiarly irreligious, and furthermore it exhibits a very strange lack of faith. Because I believe that there is a strong distinction between faith on the one hand, and belief on the other. Because belief is as a matter of fact, quite contrary to faith. Because belief is really wishing. It’s from the Anglo-Saxon root belief, “to wish”, and belief stated say in the creed is a fervent hope that the universe will turn out to be thus and so. And in this sense therefore belief precludes the possibility of faith because faith is openness to truth to reality whatever it may turn out to be. I want to know the truth. That is the attitude of faith. And therefore to use ideas about the universe and about God as something to hang onto, in the spirit of Rock of Ages cleft for me, you know, hymnal imagery is full of rocks and mighty fortresses are God. “In vain the surges anguish shock, in vain the drifting sand, unharmed upon the eternal rock the eternal city stands.”. And there’s something very rigid about this rock. And we are finding our rock getting rather worn out in an age where it becomes more and more obvious that our world is a floating world. It’s a world floating in space where all positions are relative and any point may be regarded as the center. A world, which doesn’t float on anything, and therefore the religious attitude appropriate to our time is not one of clinging to rocks but of learning to swim. And you know that if you get in the water and you have nothing to hold on to and you try to behave as you would on dry land you will drown. But if on the other hand you trust yourself to the water and let go you will float.
And this is exactly the situation of faith. This is surely all implied in the New Testament. When for example, Jesus began to foretell his own death, his disciples were very disturbed because it is written in our law that the Messiah does not die, and he replied “Unless a grain of corn fall into the ground and die, it remains isolated and brings forth no fruit. Or rather, if it die, it brings forth much fruit.” And on another occasion he said to the disciples “It is expedient for you that I go away, but if I go not away from the paraclete, the Holy Spirit cannot come to you.” But we have reversed all this. Jesus with me it was one of those rare and remarkable individuals who had a particular kind of spiritual experience which in terms of Hebrew theology he found most difficult to express without blasphemy. I am the Father are one. In other words I am God. And that is something of course if you are a Hindu. That is a rather natural statement to make. You see in our culture which has Hebrew theology in its background anyone who says I am God is either blasphemous or insane because our image of God and the image, don’t forget, has far more emotional power than any amount of theology and abstraction. It is our Father which really influences us as a conception of God, not necessarily being ought to Luke’s decontaminated name for God the ground of being. Or Professor Northrop’s undifferentiated aesthetic continuum. These aren’t very moving, even though subtle theologians prefer this kind of thing and will tell us that when we call God the Father, we don’t have to believe literally that there is a cosmic male parent and still less that he has a white beard and sits on a golden throne above the stars. Nobody, no serious theologian ever believed in such a God.
But nevertheless, the imagery affects us, because the image of the monotheistic god of the West is political. The title King of Kings and a Lord of Lords is the title of the Emperors of ancient Persia. The image of God is based on the Pharaohs, the great rulers of the Chaldeans, and the kings of Persia. And so this is the political government and Lord of the universe who keeps order and who rules it from, metaphorically speaking, above. So anyone who would say I am God is therefore implying that he’s in charge of everything that he knows all about it and therefore everybody else ought to bow down and worship him. But in India if you say I am God they say “Congratulations, at last you found out.” Because the image is quite different. See our image of the world is that the world is a construct and it’s very natural for a child to say to its mother how was I made. As if you know you are somehow put together but that goes back to the imagery of Genesis where God creates Adam and makes a clay figurine and then he breathes the breath of life into this to the nostrils of this figurine and it comes to life. So that is the fundamental supposition which even underlies the development of Western science. That everything has been made and then someone knows how it was made. And you can find out the cause behind the universe there is an architect. This could be called the ceramic model of the universe. Because there is a basic feeling that there are two things in existence one is stuff material and the other is form. Now material like clay by itself is stupid it has no life. It has no intelligence and therefore for matter to assume orderly forms it requires that the next turn all intelligence be introduced to shape it. And therefore with that deeply embedded in our common sense it’s very difficult for people to realize that this image is not necessarily for description of the world at all. Indeed the whole idea of stuff is completely absent from modern physics which studies the physical universe purely in terms of pattern and structure. But the Hindu model of the world and I’m speaking of Hindu mythology, the popular imagery I’m talking about, the popular imagery on both sides I’m not at the moment getting into theological technicalities. The Hindu model of the universe is a drama. The world is not made it has acted. And so behind every face human animal plant mineral there is the face on face of the central self the up man. Which is Brahman, the final reality which is not defined. Because obviously that which is the center cannot be made an object of knowledge anymore than you bite your own teeth. Or lift itself up by own bootstraps. It’s what there is it’s the basis and you are it, which is a colloquial translation of the Sanskrit adage tat tvam asi, that art thou. The idea being you see that the nature of reality is a game of hide and seek. Because that’s really the only game there is now you see it now you don’t all nature is vibrating it’s a wave like motion of Crest and trough. Pulse and interval pulse and interval. Only we don’t always notice that because our senses respond slowly say to light and light appears to be a continuous energy without interval.
So there’s the idea, goes like this that for endless cycles of time this is a premier reality the self plays hide and seek with itself. That for a period of a Kalpa, which is four million, three hundred twenty thousand years, the Self is awake to Itself. And knows that it’s it but for another Kalpa it gets lost it says to itself man get lost and pretends. That it is a vast multiplicity. That’s exactly what you would do if you had the privilege of dreaming any dream you wanted when you went to bed at night. This would enable you of course in one night to dream seventy-five years of clock time. And what you would do first of all, you would have marvelous adventures you would have every conceivable delight and satisfy every wish. And then as time went on that would get a little boring and you would get more daring. You would have adventures, you would rescue princesses from dragons, and then you would get even more daring, then you would dream that you weren’t dreaming. And then you’d get into really serious messes, because wouldn’t it be a surprise when you woke up. And eventually you would be dreaming that you were sitting here in this auditorium listening to me. You would eventually get around to that, for your sins. Well maybe that’s what’s happening anyhow, you see. And in Sanskrit this dream is called Maya, but it’s a word that means more than dream or illusion, it means creative power magic. Skill, art, and measurement. Laying down the foundations is making a minor. So then the world is a big act. It’s play not in the sense of something trivial but in the sense of a stage play. Hamlet is a play. You play the organ in church. That’s not trivial. And so the actor of this play being the best of all possible actors takes himself in totally. Almost but everybody knows in the back of their mind that the something funny about being itself. So you see when you go to the theater you know of course that the proceeding arch tells you that what’s going on behind this arch is not for real. But somehow the actor almost persuades you that it is real. He wants to get you sitting on the edge of your chair, he wants you laughing crying, he wants you in a state of anxiety so that he almost persuades you. But you see if the actor is as good as the supreme Self. The audience is taken in that really and they believe the play is really, what skill, how marvelous. But you see in all acting. It’s there is behind the stage a green room. Out on the stage with a law does not come on as the Lord. Becomes on as you and I. Heroes and Villains. But off-scene, he assumes his true nature and duffs his mask, which in Latin is his persona. In classical drama the persona was the megaphone mouth masked one for the open air theater and by a curious degradation of words the word person has come to mean the real individual and when Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote How to Be a Real Person, the real title of his book should have been How to Be a Genuine Fake. Well now this image this model of the universe is disturbing to Christians, what is particularly disturbing is the element in it of what’s the very special theological chaos work, or pantheism. The feeling that if every part is being played by the supreme law then all the real distinctions between good and evil are obliterated. Now that is the biggest nonsense ever uttered. Distinctions between good and evil do not have to be eternal distinctions to be real distinctions. It is really to say that a distinction which is not eternal is not real is a highly un-Christian thing to say and certainly a very u- Jewish thing because one of the fundamental principles of the Hebrew attitude is that all finite things that have been created by God are good. And therefore a thing that doesn’t have to be infinite to be good or finite things come to an end. Furthermore to invoke the author already of heaven in matters of moral regulation is like putting a two million current through our electric shaver. It ended in the final asininity of the notion that if you went against the will of God, since evil is eternal, you would fry in hell forever and ever and ever and as the Chinese say, do not swat a fly on a friend’s head with a hatchet. Like all kinds of judicial torture and harsh justice such ideas bring law into disrespect. And such a fierce God and such an unbending attitude resulted in the fact of people disbelieving in God altogether and shall we say throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
So this is among many reasons why people are saying God is dead it’s very inconvenient to have the kind of god. Who is this authoritarian boss of the world, prying down over your shoulder all the time and knowing your inmost thoughts and judging you. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling and everybody’s happy to be rid of it. It has never significantly improved anybody’s behavior in the so-called ages of faith. People were just as immoral, if not more so than they are today. Because you see all this fixed notion of god is idolatry. If thou shalt not make to die self any graven image of anything that is in the heaven above etc. The most dangerous and pernicious images are not those that made of wood or stone, nobody takes those seriously. They are the images made of imagination and conception and thought. And that is why in the fundamental approach to the Godhead, both the Christian, I mean both the Hindu and the Buddhist and for that matter the Taoist take what is called the negative approach which used to be known long ago in the Middle Ages as Apophatic theology. As and Thomas Aquinas said “To proceed to the knowledge of God, It is necessary to go by the way of remotion. Of saying what God is not, since God by his immensity exceeds every conception to which our intellect can attain.”
So then when of the Godhead the Hindu says all that can truly be said is neti neti, “not this, not this,” and when the Buddhist uses such a term for the final reality as Sunyata, which means voidness, or emptiness. Then textbook after textbook on comparative religion that I read by various theologians say this is terrible negativism this is nihilism. But he doesn’t realize that it’s nothing of the kind. If for example, you have a window on which there’s a fine painting of the sun, your act of faith in the real sun will be to scrape that off so that you can let the real sunlight in.
And so in the same way pictures of God on the window of the mind need scraping up, because otherwise they become idolatrous they become substitutes for the reality. Now I’m hoping that this sort of understanding will issue from God is a dead theology. I’m not quite sure whether it’s going to. Because as a matter of fact there are precedents within the Christian tradition for an intelligent God is dead theology for what I would call atheism in the name of God. Or agnosticism in the name of God The word agnostic has a curious history. It’s based on the Greek word agnosia. Which we used to translate into English as ‘unknowing’. And there’s a very interesting mystical treatise of the fourteenth century called the Cloud of Unknowing, showing how the highest form of prayer, contemplative prayer, as that in which all concept of God had been left behind. Where in other words, one completely lets go of clinging to God and this was the supreme act of faith. So that you don’t any longer need an image. Because this gets in the way of the reality. But the moment you insist on an image then you have the church as a huge imperialistic vested interest organization.After all if the charge is the Body of Christ isn’t it through the breaking of the Body of Christ that life is given to the world. But the church doesn’t want to be broken up by Jove no, it goes around canvassing for new members see the difference between a physician and a clergyman is that. The physician wants to get rid of his patients and he gives them medicine and he hopes they won’t get hooked on the medicine. Whereas the clergyman is usually forced to make his patients become addicts. So that they’ll pay their dues. The doctor has faith in turnover. He knows that there’ll always be sick people, and the clergy also need faith in turnover get rid of your congregations say now you’ve heard all I’ve got to tell you go away. If you want to get together for making celestial whoopee, which is worship, All right. But I don’t I used to when I was a chaplain in the university, I used to tell the students that if they came to church out of a sense of duty they weren’t wanted. They would be skeletons at the feast.It would be much better if they went swimming or stayed in bed. Because they were going to celebrate the Holy Communion and I meant celebrate. But somehow or other you see we take religion in a kind of dead earnest. I remember when I was a boy at school how wicked it was to laugh in church. We don’t realise, it’s G.K. Chesterton said that the angels fly because they take themselves lightly. And asked Dante said in the parody, so when he heard the song of the angels, It sounded like the laughter of the universe. Why what are those angels doing? They’re saying I don’t know you Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, which doesn’t really mean anything. It’s sublime nonsense. And so in the same way there are Buddhist texts and Hindu texts which are the chants of the Buddhas or Divine Beings which don’t mean anything at all and never did mean anything they are just glorious lolling, glossolalia. So the point that I wish to make most strong is that behind a vital religious life for the West there has to be faith which is not expressed in things to which you cling. In ideas, opinions to which you cling in a kind of desperation. Faith is the act of letting go, and that must begin with Letting Go of God. Let God Go.