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Can we Know God?

February 6, 2015

I have done some reading lately regarding the opinions on God of many intelligent people. I read a book of discussions about God with Norman Mailer. I read a couple of books on the same subject by A.N.Wilson: Jesus, and God’s Funeral. And I am currently rereading parts of the bible, and a new book called, The Future of God, by Deepak Chopra.

The problem I think we hit upon in Western Culture is precisely that though we may accept people could have Faith in God. The notion that someone could Know God seems like a step too far. Right back to our heritage from the Ancient Greeks, knowledge has come to mean Justifiable True Belief. It is the Justification aspect where there is some trouble with knowing God. A justification has to be independent of the thing justified to be appropriate. But how can something be independent of God to justify it, if God is present everywhere and in everything?

From the Deepak Chopra book I see him confidently pronounce on knowledge of God. But this comes from his connection to Eastern forms of Religion that developed alongside their philosophy. And don’t require the kind of justifications we require for something to count as knowledge. Knowledge for them is legitimate if it is an inwardly felt certainty, it doesn’t need an external justification. It is sufficient unto itself. For us in the West this would only be enough to class as Faith or Conviction, but not Knowledge.

When Descartes pushed back knowledge to the basic foundation of introspective certainty, he was asking us to suspend belief, but not thought, for I think, therefore I am, not I believe therefore I am. Thus the result of his introspection was already skewed in favor of this outcome, based on what he chose to suspend and what he choose not to suspend. Why is the act of thinking seen to be more primary than the act of believing? It is an act like any other surely? It seems to me as arbitrary as coming down to the fact that what remains when contemplating in a quiet environment alone is thoughts. But what makes this environment primary? Maybe a social setting is a primary environment, maybe a hunting environment is primary, maybe a sexual environment is primary. In these cases what remains as most primary is not thought, but some other thing, such as passion, belief, etc…

I don’t have answers here to this connundrum, I am just trying to expose the shaky foundations of what may seem even the most basic knowledge claims. For it is because of choices we make here about what knowledge is that then makes it impossible for us to even consider knowing God.

Even the most enchanting, mystical personal experience would not give me access to knowledge of God, according to the ways that we in the West choose to define knowledge. Even a life of faith and conviction would me give me less knowledge of God, supposedly, than a person sitting alone idly could have knowledge of fleeting thoughts that pass through their mind. Somewhere here I think we have lost track of the importance of activity to knowledge. We have come to the conclusion of complete passivity as the best way to be receptive to knowledge, when this may often not be the case. An active belief may be worth more than a passive justification in the balance of things.

So, can we know God? I think first we need to ask ourselves, what is our attitude towards knowing something. Maybe the answer lies in there, not out there in some impassive object we can point to as a justification.

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