The Endless Quest:
The Human Basis of Belief in an Ultimate
God as a Merely Perfect Person
The Ultimate Questions
What is the Origin of Everything?
What Order and Purpose is there to the Universe?
The Unfairness of Life
The Fact of Death
Religious Answers to Unfairness and Death
An Openness to the Infinite
Our peculiar kind of consciousness
The Experience of Limit and Estrangement
Forms of Estrangement
Overcoming a Sense of Estrangement
Though the idea of a single
Ultimate may seem simple, it is actually quite a mental leap to claim
there is a universal unity everything. A more common sense view of
reality might portray it as a mixture of order and disorder. Nonetheless, belief in a single ultimate unifying Reality has lasted for
GOD AS A MERELY
The concept of God as personal often produces an image of a being that
is less than fully Ultimate. Highly abstract notions of the
Ultimate are not so appealing as an image of a perfect Person,
all-knowing and loving. Yet historic religions have often insisted
on moving beyond all anthropomorphic images of the Ultimate. We
can ask why?
The human mind is capable of asking endless questions about what is ultimate.
These questions do not seem to exist explicitly in primitive and
pre-literate archaic society. Such questioning appeared first in
the axial age. Some asked a sinlge ultimate question:
why is everything? This
question can be broken down into three parts: 1) What is the origin of
everything? 2) What is the order or nature of everything? 3) What is the
purpose of everything?
the Questions Today
From primitive times people have been asking some at least limited
questions about the origin, nature,
and purpose of things. We still ask them today, though often in a much
broader and deeper form. Astronomers, for example, try to figure
out the origin of the entire universe.
What is the Origin of Everything?
The universe has either always existed or it had a beginning some finite
amount of time ago. If it had a beginning, it is possible to search for
a cause for that beginning. One answer offered, by Hindu and Western
religions, is that the Cause exists not just prior to but outside of all
time, a absolutely perfect, changeless, and therefore eternal Reality or
What Order and Purpose Is There to the Universe
and Our Lives?
It is also possible that order and purpose do not exist. Though
scientific method implies that reality is predictable, the general order
of the universe seems chaotic and mysterious. The realities of death and an
unfair world sharpen human anxiety. Historic religions in particular
reflected on the possibility of ultimate purposelessness to
AN OPENNESS TO THE INFINITE
Humans display an open-ended ability to reflect and question,
reaching all the way to ideas about the infinite. We have a
capacity to reflect endlessly on the natural world and other people and
our own selfhood. This ability also gives us the opportunity to imagine
our lives could be different. Experience of our limits can cause estrangement.
It may be estrangement from this natural universe which threatens us
with disease and death, or from one another in loneliness or animosity,
or from ourselves when we lose confidence or are depressed. In response
to estrangement, historic religions often concluded that to find
happiness or escape misery, earthly life must be completely transformed
End of notes to Chapter 4
This page last changed
Friday April 02, 2004
In The Presence of Mystery