Recently, I responded to someones remark about “god” on Facebook. This is what I wrote:
“I have always felt that people spend too much time trying to make “god” a scientific study, analyzing and assessing it like its a chemical in a laboratory. In reality, the power and use of “god” is in its opposite: mystery. This refers to the part of life that can’t be described, that can’t be put into words, that can’t be analyzed. This sense, which has been lost in the modern artificial lifestyle, is powerful . . . at least for those who know it and appreciate it. “God” is that part of life that is beyond us, that is beyond our knowing. This is why we often use symbols (such as mythology), as an ‘attempt’ at grasping that which is beyond life. This is also why rationalism fails. In reality, this sense of mystery, of things ‘beyond us’, is as powerful, if not more powerful, than knowing things. But it takes a special person, particularly nowadays, to know this. I’ve always loved how Pseudo-Dionysius (an early Christian theologian) said that there are actually two forms of knowledge – posItive knowledge (that which can be known) and negative knowledge (that which can’t be known) – and how he gave importance to both as legitimate fields a person should inquire into. Negative knowledge is primarily known by religious-like means, not through analyzing or rational thought, which means its a whole other ‘field’ and cannot be looked at from a positive knowledge or rational way. To me, a balanced perception of the world, and life, requires a firm grasp of both positive and negative knowledge. Before the modern artificial world, both were a part of life. Nowadays, positive kowledge is the only form of knowledge most people know. As a result, people of the modern artificial world tend to feel empty inside, as if something is missing. This, in many ways, is a testament to the power and need of negative knowledge – mystery – in our life. But we must remember that it is mystery, the unknowable. This requires a whole other stance than whats taken in positive knowledge. This, it seems to me, is where many people stumble. They are so used to the positive knowledge way, of rationalism and having things makes sense, that they are unable to take the stance of looking at the world as mystery. – Just some thoughts I had.”
This got me to thinking about the mystery-symbology relationship.
It seems to me that the loss of a sense of mystery has impaired a lot of modern “religiousness” in people. The reason is because “religiousness” is really nothing but a reflection of symbology of mystery . . . its a way to ‘grasp’ it. In many ways, this symbology is what lies between mystery and rational thought. As a result, its like an intermediary, an in-between, half in the world and half out of it (in mystery). Its no wonder that much of this mystery symbology tends to describe amazing conditions (people changing shapes, having amazing powers, etc.). It describes a condition that is both in and out of the world. Because of this, mystery symbology can be quite powerful.
By mystery I don’t just mean the ‘unknown’. Mystery is an awareness that there is more to life than one can know, that there are aspects of it that is beyond ones self. In other words, mystery is a sense that one knows that there’s more but that one cannot know what that is. As a result, mystery gives a great sense of ‘awesomeness’ to life as well as the fact that it has great ‘authority’ over oneself, for it is beyond us . . . and we know it. Through the ‘awesomeness’ and ‘authority’ of the mystery, life becomes a ‘great fact’ and ‘real’. It becomes, in a sense, more than life, a beyond life. Because of this, mystery creates a great depth in life, giving it incredible meaning and insight. It also creates a great “sight” into life, and a great ability to peer into life. In the end, mystery requires one to accept the authority of life over us and to show humility, and in this, there is great power. This basic observation is stated in many religions. (I wrote an article on mystery called “Thoughts on the importance of mystery in life” that you might find interesting.)
In the past, when people lived in the midst of nature and had to rely on themselves, the sense of mystery was, in a sense, “forced” upon them as a reality . . . mystery stared at them in the face. The authority and awesome power of life and nature was there for all to see. Because of this, it “demanded” a means to ‘grasp’ it, to give it a place in their life. As a result, various forms of symbology were created in order to ‘grasp’ it. Only by ‘grasping’ it can mystery be accepted into oneself as a fact and reality in ones life. Over the years many forms of symbology was created. Some examples include:
- Religious belief.
Through things like these mystery becomes a part of our life and our reality. Their power and such, reflecting the authority of life, made symbology a way of life which, in some places, dominated life. This is proof of the power of mystery. It shows this association:
But, nowadays, the sense of mystery is not as prevalant as it used to be because of a number of things such as:
- Our lifestyle no longer “forces” it upon us. Mystery is not staring us in the face. This makes it so the need for symbology is not needed as much.
- The emphasis on rationalism in modern society makes it so that people cannot even relate to mystery anymore. The modern persons relation with mystery is one of trying to rationally explain it, which is basically taking the mystery out of it. All they do is ‘make sense of it’, which contradicts the quality of mystery itself.
These, in the end, divert people away from mystery. Despite this, the natural “religiousness” in people continues to exist, creating a continual need to ‘grasp’ it. That is to say, the sense of mystery is there but its in the background. This need makes people fidgety, questioning, and critical at times. Some people may not get to the point of trying to ‘grasp’ it but many will. For those that try, they typically find the sense of mystery either lacking or miniscule. But the need persists, so they sort of go to the next step and create symbology first, almost as an attempt at finding mystery and so the association goes like:
Often, because the sense of mystery is ‘watered down’ they tend to compensate for it by emphasizing symbology, almost turning it into a god itself. When they do this symbology becomes ‘uninspired’ because of the lack of mystery. Sometimes, it can become almost mathematical. This completely changes the form of symbology and what it means, creating a whole other form. What it ends up doing is giving an illusion of mystery, giving it an illusion of ‘awesomeness’ and ‘authority’ it doesn’t have. As a result, uninspired symbology tends to become self-deceptive. Because of this, it misdirects people and leads people in the wrong path. We all do this to some extent, as we are all not always ‘inspired’ all the time and in the right way. What makes a ‘religious-like’ person is that they are always trying to refine their ‘inspiration’, to make it “pure”, so to speak.
When symbology is created and uninspired it as if tries to emulate mystery but often fails. As a result, symbology becomes, in a way, just another form of rationalization. That is to say, its devoid of mystery. Because of this, a lot of modern “religiousness” is really another form of science, of logical thought, and is far removed from mystery, even though they may think that its not. I often speak of this as “uninspired religion”. A lot of “new age religion” and many modern religious conversions by people are a part of this group. Many people do these “hoping” to find mystery. But they make the mistake that you don’t find mystery in symbology first. Mystery is not found in ‘pre-made’ beliefs you learn. Because of this, a lot of these fail.
Mystery is deeper than that.
In the end, though, we see that the sense of mystery is something a way of life “forces” upon us, demanding us to create symbology. When this way of life does not exist the symbology becomes uninspired and shallow. In other words:
“Way of life breeds a sense of mystery.”
This means that mystery, and its subsequent symbology, is grounded in how we live our life. The way of life that seems to create the greatest sense of mystery is when one lives in nature in tribes. The next is in small societies. Then larger societies. Then modern mechanized society, where it practically disappears. In other words, it seems that there are a number of things that can decrease the sense of mystery:
The degree of how one lives with ‘nature staring you in the face’.
- The amount of people in the society.
- The less you depend on yourself to live (as in modern society the ‘system’ supports us).
- The existing religious belief, traditions, etc. of a society.
These all have an impact on a sense of mystery. But there is something more: a persons personality. In the modern world, it seems that little favors the sense of mystery, except a persons personality. Some people, by nature, feel the mystery more than others, regardless of their way of life. For some people it can become particularly strong.
Many people, though, don’t know what it is or how to interpret it. In some people it can cause great despair and questioning that turns into contempt and even hatred. In other words, in this society, there is little to help people who feel it. There’s little to interpret it and give it meaning. There’s little to give it direction. And so, for some people, the sense of mystery can be a curse. This is an example of how our society is “mystery/symbology poor”. Rationalizing, using logic, analyzing, making things make sense, etc. don’t help this poverty. In fact, it makes it worse.