I've become interested lately in etymology, and language in general; how words change meaning, the history of such changes, roots of the word, and how they are used now. Language is, obviously, an intensely integral part of daily life for any human, and yet so many have not an inkling of curiosity as to how the language they are using has been passed down to them. I'm thinking of a particular example right now, which is agnostic.
I have also for a while been in a shedding process; of beliefs, prejudices, pent-up thoughts, & so on, and in the natural shedding process, something is revealed underneath, something inherent replaces whatever is degrading. So essentially, as regards to beliefs, you un-learn as much as you learn, and the ratio between those things is what decides how thick or deep the shedding will be. If you are to naturally come upon a time of un-learning, called dismissively now: "stages" or "rebellion", it is entirely up to you to make something come of it. It would also be prudent of you to avoid perpetual shedding, or staging, lest you mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon. That is to say, the actual shedding and unlearning is "pointing" at an opportunity for something new and improved — fresh skin; fresh mind — take it or leave it. And leaving it means crawling around with your old skin at your back; you'd likely be called, and indeed look like, a fool.
With all that said, I can go on to my fascination with this:
"...pictures of God on the window of the mind need scraping off, because otherwise they become idolatrous. .. as a matter of fact, there are precedents within the Christian tradition for an intelligent 'God is Dead' theology, .. for what I would call 'Agnosticism in the Name of God'. The word agnostic has a curious history."
And here is where it really intrigues me:
"It's based on the Greek word, agnosia, which we used to translate into English as 'unknowing'. .. in other words, one completely let 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 reality. .. After all, if the Church is the body of Christ, isn't it through the breaking of the body of Christ that life is given to the world?" (Alan Watts, Relevance of Oriental Philosophy: 21:00~25:00)
So today, agnostic means something like: the understanding that the God concept is unprovable, and so, basically it would be a waste of time to discuss. Agnostics are prideful of their assumedly logical conclusion and make sure to explain that to you. It doesn't mean, though, "Don't know, so forget about it", it means more like, "Symbols are not sufficient. Start forgetting."
This is the word at the forefront of my interest because as I've been talking and writing, it has been mostly apophatic. This is another set of words I've discovered and which have opened up some large avenues of thought: apophatic and cataphatic. These are used to describe the way in which a theology or person thinks of or "images" (as a verb) God. Apophatic is theology used with negative terminology, like: God is not this, or that — because he is much more; and cataphatic is when positive terminology is used, for instance: God is like a shining light. Generally, Western mono-religions are cataphatic whereas Eastern discourse on God tends toward the apophatic. This is because cataphatic descriptions are seen to be limiting to God, because he is infinite, and anything we compare him to metaphorically or otherwise indeed falls short. Eastern religions just have a better grasp of this non-duality of God. Thus, cataphatic speech is seen as a limitation to the unlimited and infinite. Perhaps rightly so, but the problem is most people don't even realize that this distinction exists.
Both views have their uses and their place, although, without knowing the distinction between the two they are dangerously at odds. For instance, the image of God as a shining light comforts children if they find themselves in a dark forest or long hallway. It is highly useful in such a situation to be cataphatic and perhaps sing a hymn to reinforce the image, like "This Little Light of Mine". It would also be necessary though, to know apophatically that God is not Light, as if he were versus Dark, or Good versus Evil — he is both, because if he weren't, it would mean Dark, or Evil, is separate and equal — comparable — to God. So to keep such an image too seriously in your mind, you would be doing the God you think you are honoring a great, possibly the greatest, disservice. After all, "mental images of God are much more powerful than physical images", in rock or wood. No one takes a statue of the Buddha or a crucifix with Jesus sincerely. They're like bad actors: you know they're just official phonies. Not the real thing. Like a Zen disciple once said, when reproached by his friends for burning a statue of the Buddha to stay warm: "I was only looking for the Sacred Buddha." To which his friends replied, "How could you expect to find it in a piece of wood?", and he answers, "Ah, well then, I am only burning a piece of wood after all. Shall we toss in a few more?" But a mental image, coming from right behind your eyes, seems incredibly more real than anything else, and is much more influential. This is how people have misunderstood God as, if he were to walk beside you, a boring old priest. Very solemn and serious and straight-to-business. A grown-up goody two shoes, because they only associate him in their mental image with the good qualities of what being human is defined as.
So where I say it would be wise to know that God is not Good vs. Evil, I mean that he encompasses both, not as separate ideas come together but through transcendence of the entire realm of human duality. God is Goo-vil. So when all sides of a war say God is on their side, they aren't completely wrong. They are wrong, however, in assuming that the other side isn't thinking the same thing, and that they aren't as correct in asserting it as themselves. This type of thing is what Dante would call the Divine Comedy — us all brawling and choking each other while we fall from a precipice. The problem though, is they all identify their God with the human definition of Good — which is indeed all the definition we have! — for we cannot and will not be able to conceive of the Virtues of God. What, then, is our option for definition and description of God? Do we need one? No, not really. But people think they do need this all-seeing Father, or at least the idea of him way on high keeping an eye on us inferior beasts, so we don't fall into chaos and anarchy. This is an intimation from our disconnection and fear of nature and her regular cycles, for she has in fact regulated the earth, universe, and growth of all living things for billions of years before we came along. Yes, we may assume ourselves as eternally special and responsible as caretakers, but that is mostly based on scant biblical description calling us, vaguely: stewards, and telling us to "take care of the Garden" of creation. That does not mean lord over the growth of every blade of grass and horde all useable substances — which is indeed what it has come to be used for — it means, I think, more like what foster means. This comes from the German word fōster which meant to feed or nourish. We should be nourishing and restraining our use, in the active sense, of the environment (maybe even, if possible, giving back*?!*); we should not be divvying it up like chunks of cake, to the highest bidder, no less.
So, saying all this, I still have agnosia in mind. In response to my last post, critical of Christianity as I've seen it nowadays, people challenged me and other applauded me, though, some, for disconcerting reasons. They agreed with my general assessment of Christianity, but then tilted the scales a little too far towards camaraderie in atheistic agnosticism. That's essentially what agnosticism has become, and if that is too easily disputable, it is at the least heavily polluted by it. This reaction came as response to the apophatic tone of that post, which people thought stops there. It doesn't. I am still unknowing many things, but that's likely a lifetime process, and all the while it's happening I am correspondingly learning what God is like, to me, from experience. It isn't about choosing apophatic or cataphatic theology, but balancing and understanding both. If you commit to one or the other, you will be in a struggle from the get-go, and this point becomes increasingly important when you see that generally, Western religion is cataphatic whereas Eastern is apophatic. If you find those two basic terms as at odds with each other, it will continue to feed minor disputes to actual or perceived Holy Wars.
Agnosticism and Atheism have "religionized" science, and they've been in the process for some time. It seems as though this religionized science has taken Nihilisms place as the landing ground for people denying the images of God given to them, without the certain elements of violent anarchism. They created, linguistically alone of course, a new God in "Universe", a new Rule of Law in "Logic", and a new morality in "Nullius In Verba" — Latin for "on the word of no one" or basically, "learn for yourself". These "New Religions" are under the assumption that they have denied silly images of God from a time long forgotten for something reasonable when they have in fact just made a substitution.
In theory I could very well call myself an agnostic, as well as a Christian. But I reserve that on account of both structures having shaky foundations in it's followers. I fully realize that one persons commitment necessarily implies another person's noncommittal, so as I say this, I am not saying commitment is better than non — they are stages, sometimes lasting lifetimes, sometimes flipping dozens of times over in one. I am, in this life, of a mind of noncommittal, and since that is so I gently encourage others not to be so quick to commit in their own discoveries. It will be necessary for such warnings to be ignored for the sake of taking ones own path, but I give it nonetheless. I don't restrain from commitment for fear or lack of faith, but because of knowledge of the transience of all things. Everything that rises must fall, and everything that grows must degrade. I don't need to commit to a structure of belief, because inevitably one ends up worrying more about the structure than what it's supporting.
I've titled this post Cataphatica firstly, because I enjoyed saying it with the added 'a', which was reminiscent to me of the theologia in theologia mystica — the title of treatise by an ancient Syrian monk named Dionysius the Areopagite on mystical religion. Secondly, because I've unconsciously been on an apophatic kick of expression, and been labeled brashly agnostic and atheist. Although I'm likely speaking to a decided audience: try to second-guess your labels, or better — try not to use them at all. I went through a denial of all religious life only to come back to my love of life through understanding of God from the ground floor —— not!, however, to say that my discovery and learning is complete. I should laugh out loud at a person who thinks their understanding is complete, more so if it was myself, and not necessarily out of mockery but novelty at one who is so rapt with discovery — discovery of life in a new, brighter, reflective state of mind. Discovery of God's gift of Now, eternally. As Chuang-Tzu said: "The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep." Which is to say, enjoy the sun, but know that it is fruitless to wish for it to stay through the night; accept all that comes to you as a lesson, but do not dwell on it. Always remember that you are Now, and not Then. Now is all that's real, grasping the past will drag you down, and refusing what is to come will stunt your growth.
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
Cataphatically: How great is our God? Sing with me.
Apophatically: Sing with me.