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 centuries.

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?

Asking 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 God.

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 life. 

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 or abandoned. 

End of notes to Chapter 4

This page last changed Friday April 02, 2004


In The Presence of Mystery