The Amnesials of Our Darkness

An excerpt from The Secular Magi by William Loyd Newell:

There are other shapes that God has taken of late. To the fundamentalist, God appears as Text and Certitude, endowing the Moral Majority with the knowledge that God is an ethic that may be held without an asterisk of doubt. To the Charismatics, God is Joy and spiritual gifts. To both there is an immediacy and accessibility to God. For both, though, God is not in the hurly-burly of life, but comes to where we live far away in our deepest, remotest self, far removed from the ego. This God is not a God of political movement involved with changing people’s lives through changing the people and the processes by which they live to better their lot and bring about the eschatological community. To these people, God is not communitarian or here as we are here. Transcendence brings us beyond all that, as if it’s not good enough for God or us. It’s the world as evil and a God not desirous of being tarnished by it or allowing us to be so that they see.

And to the social gospelers, God is Justice. As such, God is one who lives in but, more, among us. This God roots the more easily among liberal Protestants and those Catholics who hew to lines drawn by papal teachings on social justice. This God brings anger before the peace of justice. This God demands community by paradoxically splitting the unjust social compacts of the past. This is a God of the poor and demands that we give them preference over the rich. This makes Protestants of the classic Calvinist and Lutheran stripe nervous. God is not choosing the middle class, but prefers the poor. Upper-class Catholics, steeped in the noblesse oblige school of medieval spiritually see no God here at all. They see only meddlesome popes and do-gooder bishops manipulated by Jesuits who are too eager to “mullaize” their religion. This brings dis-ease and primes of future peace and justice.

To Catholic mystics, God appears as the Consoler–sometimes gentle and at others quite disruptive–amid their discernment of spirits. To those Christians bruised by their attempts to meet the demands of postmodernity, God is a refuge found in conservative liturgies and strict constructionism of the Decalogue.

To all God’s sectarian clients, God appears sovereign, but to a more casual observer God appears terribly fragmented, as if God hadn’t yet decided which mask God wants, or is God telling us that all of them are wanted, that that’s the point: that God loves each mask democratically?

Over all these Christian avatars there hovers a silence bespeaking an unquestionably benign Presence, possessed of the infinitely good breeding to change us only when we reject the amnesias of our darknesses and allow God to recall our truest names to us in the striations of our lives. Slowly, quietly, God is reappearing in us and our churches, gathering up the enragements of the epiphanies into the twelve baskets if our diverse apostleships.

God gives the divine in self many names, but the most telling on is The One We Long For.

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39 Comments

  1. Reply
    Chuck February 22, 2013

    God seems to be mystery and awe (or that seems to be the preferred god of those who follow this site).

    That was the god I ultimately regressed to. That god, over time simply came to be my unique human experience (and with more education in science and critical thinking, what I took as mystery, I saw as ignorance.)

    God for me is a word that is too often abused for selfish designs as highlighted above (a moral “get out of jail for free” card) to be trusted.

    It becomes a catch-all concept that is then supported by statements of absolute truth that allows those preferring that god to gather power to their cause. History and our present age seem to show this as truth to me.

    • Reply
      NateW February 22, 2013

      Thanks for your thoughts Chuck. Based on your comment here, I see you longing for peace between all tribes of people, justice for those oppressed by others based on their beliefs, and judgment for those who claim to see while labeling all others as blind. I hear you saying that strident commitment to intellectual honesty is the path that can neutralize these conflicts, the common ground which, if stood upon by all, would bring peace.

      Chuck, I see you longing for peace, for freedom, for rest, and for contented joy.

      I just wanted to let you know that I see you and I’m with you in your longings.

      • Reply
        Chuck February 22, 2013

        I agree with most of this but not strident. Just reason, that is all.

        • Reply
          NateW February 22, 2013

          Thanks for clarifying. I think I meant something more like “ardent” then “strident”.

          If, as today’s reading says, One way of thinking about God is “The one we long for,” then, in a sense, you could say that all who long for these same things are longing for the same “god.” (I don’t mean this to sneakily say that you secretly believe in God, for it could just as easily mean that I secretly don’t).

          If we can agree on this first — that we all long for the same ends but have different ways of speaking about hat that means — then we can begin to focus discussion on the way to achieve those ends rather than whether to personify then as union with a Deity or otherwise.

          Am I thinking about that right?

          • Chuck February 22, 2013

            On the ends of ethics we would probably agree but I see religious epistemology dangerous and often immoral due to its insistence on perfect knowledge.

          • NateW February 22, 2013

            Actually, I see the same issues with religious epistemology. People in general, not just self-identifying Christians, have a tendency to assume that our own understanding is correct and to be fearful of what/who differs. Even when we try to be humble and say that “there are many things that can’t be known” (i.e. appeal to mystery) we are still working on the assumption that everything we DO know must be known and is objectively accurate.

            Christ said that those who want to follow him must become like little children. At first this seems like a call to be oblivious to facts and just believe (as in Santa Claus) but I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who doesn’t have a curious, questioning, desire for exploration and understanding. I think that the difference is that Children desire to know out of simple delight in discovering things they haven’t experienced yet, while adults desire to know in order to manipulate and control the situation for their own benefit.

            Christ does, perhaps, demand perfect knowledge, but this is not knowledge of correct fact/doctrine/belief, but of Truth, evidenced not by what we know in our minds, but by HOW we know. To have perfect knowledge is to know that every question answered births only more questions and to relish the idea of eternal discovery more than the false and fleeting sense of fulfillment that comes with correct answers.

            So, really, I do think it sort of does all come down to ethics. We all (consciously or not) decide what end/goal/purpose/truth/god we will serve in each of our moment by moment actions. How we respond to every situation we are in is based on what we value most. What our actions prove us to value/desire most is our “god” in theistic terms. This is no different for atheists, agnostics, and Christians. What we call “god” doesn’t much matter, but which end/god we serve moment by moment certainly does.

            Thoughts?

          • Chuck February 22, 2013

            You are challenging me to reconsider my ideas.

            I do see Christianity as deeply immoral. This is due to the Doctrines of Original Sin, Hell and Propitiate Soteriology. None of those ideas can be unbuckled from the words and actions defined in the biblical stories of Jesus. Those that choose to ignore the expressed in-group morality predicated on authoritarian devotion expressed by the character of Jesus simply cherry pick the data so they can operate within their chosen ethic.

            I think we could work well together but I’d always be skeptical of your intentions due to the belief that a mythic story, one that is culturally privileged by the West and not as unique as it pretends, is somehow necessary for an ontological perspective.

        • Reply
          Angelo February 22, 2013

          @Chuck,
          trying not to lose your consideration, ’cause it is worth a lot to me,
          I’m really interested in what makes you considering Christianity as immoral.
          Really, I want to know.

          Because the very thing you said about Christian doctrines is what I think Christians all got wrong, and wrong badly. Maybe it’s because of my reading of Jesus and Paul as 1st Century Jewish in a 1st Century culture and all the implications of that – I tend to have this hermeneutical approach.

          But it would be really great for me – hope not out of context here – knowing how and why you started considering Christianity (and not a church or a denomination, for example) as immoral.

          (The last sentence you wrote is something I resonate with. Even that, as I always fall on a ‘transcendental’ world-view, I’m led to believe, as Levi-Strauss someway said, that all human mythologies have structural common elements. But maybe this is just the way I see the world.)

          • Chuck February 22, 2013

            Sure Angelo,

            The basic necessity of a savior to validate our moral identity because we are made defective creates within people the necessity for shame as part of their ethic.

            Shame is a toxin that destroys people’s psychology.

            Toxins oppose the good.

            Morality seeks the good.

            Christianity can’t operate without shame and therefore is objectively toxic and in opposition to the good.

            I know people will probably try to make an argument to the efficacy of chemo-therapy as a necessary poison to combat cancer as a defeater to this argument but I’d call that a red herring. Chemo-therapy is not essential for one to live without the probable death as evidenced by certain cancers. There is no evidence for Original Sin in the same way.

          • Angelo February 22, 2013

            Don’t know why, I can only reply to myself…

            Chuck, I totally agree with you,
            but in the fact that you interpret christianity to be this toxin.
            So I think we agree 100% on the matter,
            but not in the way we interpret Christianity
            and that’s beautiful!

      • Reply
        Angelo February 22, 2013

        @NateW,
        first thoughts that come (but I haven’t already read the excerpt – just your conversation):

        Relationship between knowledge and power has been well proved, best since Michel Foucault.

        In considering the relationship between knowledge and power, when considering the use that power can make of knowledge, we can at least define the sphere of knowledge concerning god as less susceptible to power – at least in some respects – and therefore a ‘pure knowledge’.
        (I follow this lead because I don’t quite believe the Bible being a revelation, in orthodox christian terms).

        The knowledge about god, in fact, has not a start but from our world-view (from what this starts doesn’t relate to the discussion we’re making here) and therefore, contrary to what you might think, the more ‘subjective’ this knowledge is the more ‘absolute’ will be – ‘absolute’ because it is not linked to instances of power that wishes to control – I repeat it, at least in some respects.

        Obviously this type of knowledge (knowledge of god) must pay a price – but it is the same with all knowledge, in some respects – because it must start from a premise: that there is something to know.
        But, as I have written elsewhere, the postulates are a necessity in any theoretical system.

        I think I could also agree whit the point you made in the first comment – I think I resonate more with Christianity than other traditions because it is clear for me that Jewish tradition, more than others, was birth from the longings of justice, peace, freedom and joy. That formed the core of the Bible – not all the Bible. And that continued to live throughout the life of Jesus and of Paul.

        Then Christianity stopped.
        The knowledge of god – of the Jewish/Christian God – became the instruments in the Roman Empire’s hand to control over the empire. And, after that, here we are: in a total world mess :-)

        And yes in some ways reason and honesty will help us.
        But I stated elsewhere, they will help us not if we just destroy old paths and old myths (religions),
        but if we could also make new ones.

        • Reply
          Chuck February 22, 2013

          As an aside, the idea that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely came as a response to the idea of papal infallibility.

          • Angelo February 22, 2013

            Has not the papal infallibility been unproved by recent pope’s resignation?
            (A stupid joke. Sorry :-) )

  2. Reply
    Will February 22, 2013

    The “religious” views of God are ultimately confining, restrained and narrow. Pigeon holing the possibilities of who/what God is through mankinds need for certainty is the death nail of seeking truth. Truth has no religious, social or political motivation, it exists in sovereignty. The laws of the universe as well as our relationship to other human beings helps us to learn about truth and who or what God is.

    Without sounding too “new agey” we must let the truth and our understanding of the truth unfold while embracing the absolute uncertainty of life. We must be willing to accept truth in its final form, if there is no god in truth then we must remain intellectually honest and accept that possibility.

    How do we define truth? Is truth subjective? Is there absolute truth? Is it in science or is it in the people around us, perhaps a combination of both. I don’t consider science and faith to be mutually exclusive.

    I’m fairly certain hat I did not answer the posed questions but this is what I got out of this reading.

    • Reply
      Chuck February 22, 2013

      Truth is subjective. Knowledge is probable.

      How would one even come up with a god-concept without religion.

      Once one asserts god they create religion.

      • Reply
        Nathan February 23, 2013

        If truth were subjective, the statement “Truth is subjective” is fallacious: a performative contradiction. It makes an objective statement one must take as truth, but truth is dependent on subjectivity and is never universally applicable, and therefore neither is this statement, which indicates truth is more than subjectivity allows one to experience. Etc.

        Further, asserting this to another is irrelevant in a world where “truth is subjective.” If one believed truth was subjective, one wouldn’t make objective statements to anyone else. Truth by its very nature cannot be subjective, but our interpretations of it must be. Knowledge approximates truth, somewhat like calculating derivatives — the slope of the tangent line which indicates the slope of the curve — in calculus. How can knowledge be probable if truth is subjective? Can knowledge even “be” if this is the case? Isn’t this another objective statement?

        • Reply
          Chuck February 23, 2013

          This is nothing more than a Wittngenstenian language game.

          H2O is water – that is objective knowledge (care to disagree).

          Light is probable a wave or a particle depending on the frequency it is viewed.

          Nothing you say undercuts the notion between the epistemic warrant between the differences in experimental vs. revealed knowledge.

          Sorry, your extreme skepticism to language seems like a self-referential game.

          • Nathan February 23, 2013

            Because the only way we make arguments is through language, we should assume the language we use to make arguments is open to skepticism, especially if it is used carelessly. Marshall McLuhan tells us “the medium is the message.” Is “extreme skepticism” the kind one addresses with a straw-man-based appeal to guilt-by-association?

          • Chuck February 23, 2013

            I have no idea what you just tried to say.

          • Abigail February 24, 2013

            Chuck, I think he was saying that, just because he sounds like Wittgenstein doesn’t mean he’s wrong. :)

            Nate, this idea of the slope of the curve representing knowledge, while the tangent line representing truth, is interesting. But we’re dealing with abstract ideas here… how do we know a tangent line is there, if the only thing we, as subjective beings, can experience is knowledge? Doesn’t this make “truth” simply a desire? We *wish* there could be a solid straight line for our curve to approach, but there’s no way to prove it.
            Though epistemology is a really tough subject, in my opinion.

          • Abigail February 24, 2013

            [*Nathan*, sorry. I was getting your name mixed up with NateW in a different post. I’m the last one to intentionally shorten someone’s name without permission–people who address me as Abby when I introduce myself as Abigail come across as presumptuous. Wasn’t trying to do that!]

  3. Reply
    Gavin February 22, 2013

    “It is not much use to talk about religion until one has felt it. Why is there so much disturbance, so much fighting and quarrelling in the name of God?. There has been more bloodshed in the name of God than for any other cause, because people never went to the fountain-head; they were content only to give a mental assent to the customs of their forefathers,and wanted others to do the same. What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him?. If there is a God we must see Him; if there is a soul we must percieve it; otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite”.

    • Reply
      Chuck February 22, 2013

      I love that quote. Swami Vivekananda, correct?

      • Reply
        Bree February 23, 2013

        Really good conversation, everyone. I’ve enjoyed reading it and it’s given me a good amount to think about.

        For one thing, @Chuck: you made me realize something that I think I’ve been avoiding for a long time, which is that I’m not a Christian. You talked about Christians having to feel shame for having a savior, and I realized that I don’t feel ashamed. This is mostly because I don’t view Jesus as a “savior.” I don’t even know if there is an afterlife so how can I feel glad to be saved from a torturous one? Since that is crucial in the identity of Christianity, I think it’s safe to say I’m not one anymore. I believe in living life to it’s fullest, questioning everything, and being loving to others. That’s all for now.

        • Reply
          Jordan February 27, 2013

          Salvation can come in more forms that simply a salvation from some sort of bad afterlife. Christ came first and formost to forgive, in order than he might save us from ourselves – ‘father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing’.

  4. Reply

    […] An excerpt from William Lloyd Newell’s The Secular Magi rom the latest post from Atheism for Lent: […]

    • Reply
      Eve July 24, 2016

      A prcoovative insight! Just what we need!

  5. Reply
    April Barreiro February 23, 2013

    Reading the question above, I think of the Dylan song “You gotta serve somebody” not the lyrics more the title phrase. I believe I have seen god take the shape of many things. Just as we discussed desire a few days ago. god to me, often grows out of what we desire most, be it a job, family, hobby, lifestyle, authority figures, sex, love, etc….

    I wanted to post something as I have been processing this stuff, but find it hard to take the time to share what I am processing. First I am loving every bit of this so far. It has been extremely challenging to not fall into old habits or patterns of thinking and instead analyze those patterns.

    A question that has arisen for me when observing an extravagantly beautiful day I thanked God and then immediately caught myself; I wondered, if you don’t believe in a God what is your response to beauty in nature? (This might sound naive but I really want to know.)

    • Reply
      Abigail February 23, 2013

      “If you don’t believe in a God what is your response to beauty in nature?”
      Different worldviews imprinted on different people/cultures will answer this in very different ways. Some pagans will thank the specific aspects of the beautiful nature scene for being so beautiful. “Thank you trees, thank you mountain, thank you river…” Or they’ll tahnk the “spirit of the trees,” the “spirit of the mountain,” etc. Those imprinted by monotheistic religions will automatically thank a god for what they appreciate.
      But the “problem of joy” is a common argument against atheism…

    • Reply
      Chuck February 23, 2013

      My response is awe.

  6. Reply
    Abigail February 23, 2013

    I liked this excerpt, though it doesn’t look like Newell knew very many Catholic mystics. The 20th-century composer, Olivier Messaen (one of my favorites!), was a Catholic mystic, and from what I know of his life, he didn’t quite fit that description.

    That aside… the lines are definitely blurring between all these “camps” these days. In the small conservative (15 years behind everyone else) town where I live, there are mainline “social justice” churches organizing contemplative prayer events AND Bible studies using texts written by Calvinistic-leaning authors. (You tell me how that’s supposed to work??) Most CHarismatic churches have already given in to Fundamentalist influences decades ago, so you can now lump most Charismatic churches into the “Conservative Evangelical” branch of Christianity, but I know of several fundamentalists and charismatics who are exploring wee tastes of Orthodoxy. Ecumenicalism is definitely on the rise, as a counter-movement, it would seem, to the polarization we also see prevalent in our society. Strange how that works.

    To try to answer the last question– being as honest as I know how to be– I feel like I have had all my deepest longings so dramatically disappointed throughout my life, I have a much more equanimous view of my desires now. I don’t feel like I need a god to fulfill my desires, because I’ve relegated them to the backseat, if that makes sense. Pragmatism has really become my primary motivation, I feel. God is now a curiosity, a fascinating topic of discussion, something interesting to mull over in my mind… but not a desire. I don’t feel like I “want” a god anymore, since I don’t “want” anything that I can’t achieve on my own/in community. Yet, part of me, the fairy-tale-loving side of me, can’t help feeling like this is a tragic tradeoff too. I don’t know. It’s where I am… but I’m probably happier (overall) than I’ve ever been in my life… and hoping for increasing happiness!
    Maybe I want god to be “luck,” since I’ll definitely need a good dose of that if I’m going to pull myself out of poverty.

  7. Reply
    Miriam February 28, 2013

    After a week of this course, I begin to see a few things. First, that the design of the readings and the questions derive from mainly from an understanding of god as an external, anthropomorhised man on a cloud type entity. The conventional childish view of god that seems to dominate popular religious, secular and public culture and discourse. The atheism here seems to ask us to let go of this idea of god. So how do those of us coming to the party without this idea of god, respond to the questions? Not all christians havethis view of god. Most Quaker in the Liberal tradition would probably be described as nontheist in that they tend to adhere to a SENSE OF god or Christ within, or spirit or whatever it is. And here in the UK, more than half of Quakers do not describe themselves as Christian anyway. So how do they approach this conversation/respond to these questions?
    Many Atheists have a creedal approach to their atheism. Having absolute truths, belief and certainties that they need to uphold their sense of who they are – as we all do and as all religious people do. So aren’t we really talking about what unites us, as humans, across our diversity? Religion being just one form of human diversity.
    When discussing these areas with other nontheist quakers, wheat always inevitably emerges is a conversation about language. What words mean, communicate, limit, are a metaphor for….
    This I know from my experience; When I experience anything in life, it is impossible to find words to express the entirety of what I experienced, especially when it is a shared experience. Poetry and music probably come closest to that. There is a sense of poetry about a quaker meeting and the quaker business method, that allows for this inexpressibleness to be allowed to be present as part of the meeting/discernment process. The forms are designed to allow what is inexpressible to inform the experience and the discernment process. I like that. In group psychoanalysis, which I am involoved with, I find parallels with the quaker method. That one may be expressing something for all. That we all are part of the whole. That together we create something beyond ourselves and the sum of the parts. These are tangible human experiences that I want to allow to happen, I want to notice and be attuned to these moments without the intrusion of belief. To fix these moments is to kill them off. Its these in between tiny little fragments of our relating where I sense life that we are all expressions of. Like the cells in one part of a plant and another, we all thrum (resonate) to a common stream of life. I resist the institutionalising of life and wish we could learn to embrace and build on the fragile collectivity of these moments together.Its active listening within and without at the same time.

    • Reply
      Chuck February 28, 2013

      Does the empathy you describe demand the supernatural precedent you seem to prefer?

      My atheism extends from the knowledge derived from addressing phenomenon through naturalistic experimentation and how parsimony works within that worldview.

      I am agnostic on all claims to the supernatural. I am atheist towards personified assertions to omni-max god(s).

      • Reply
        Miriam February 28, 2013

        Chuck, I struggle with your (and others) intellectual/academic language herre. I may not understand what you just meant….
        “Does the empathy you describe demand the supernatural precedent you seem to prefer?”
        Which empathy are you referring to?
        I do not “prefer a supernatural element”, I describe myself as atheist. I have never had an experience I cold call god or supernatural or “religious”. I was raised in a secular Jewish commnity where some people went to shul becase they were religious jews and we went because jews do that sometimes on important occaisions in the jewish calendar; Yom Kippur, pesach, etc. A cultural rather than a religious activity that had more to do with jews saying “we are still here post 1945”

        Sorry, bt I didn’t understand the rest of your comment.

        • Reply
          Chuck February 28, 2013

          You speak of common purpose in mystical terms either through Quaker meditation or therapeutic collective unconscious. Does your respect for difference and call for collective humanism demand this mysticism?

  8. Reply
    hermes プラダ October 11, 2013

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  9. Reply

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  11. Reply
    bester kfz kredit February 16, 2017

    “Until 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong was an American and the Moonlandings were American. But after this day, Neil Armstrong belonged to humanity…”Jean-Jacques Dordain, 26 August 2012.

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