Numinations — December, 1998

Art, Religion, and the Truth

© 1998, by Gary D. Campbell

People seeking the Truth try one of four approaches. The first approach is the direct observation of nature. The second is to come into contact with a person, an authority figure perhaps, who is claimed to know the Truth. The third way is to read a book that is claimed to contain the Truth. The fourth way is to come into contact with divine revelation.

People seeking the Truth should ask certain questions about it—questions whose answers might guide their search if they got comfortable with them. For example, “What kinds of things can embody the Truth?” Or, “Is there a difference between the Truth and statements that are true?” Clearly, if “man is the measure of all things,” then man must be the measure of the Truth. Or is this simple self-deception? Perhaps what “man measures” is so important, and has such impact on our lives, that we hold it in place of the Truth. If the human race did not exist, would the Truth exist nevertheless?

Human needs are vacuums that human society evolves ways to fill. Three needs we have are to know the Truth about our environment, the meanings of events, and our purpose in life. We have evolved art and religion to fill these needs. Religion communicates itself in the form of scripture, ceremony, music, song, and dance. All of these are art forms, and art evolves on its own as well. But have these things evolved to embody and communicate the Truth, or have they evolved simply to fulfill human needs? The answer stems from the selection process that drives their evolution: The satisfaction of human needs, not a consistency with the Truth.

Models may attempt to explain the truth, but models are only effective to some degree, they are not the truth, nor are they “true.” Art may attempt to reflect the truth, as may stories, narrative, and the recounting of history. But, they are not the truth. They are the words of people. You can experience reality. At the moment you sense it, you are in contact with the truth. When you attempt to explain it, you translate truth into a model or description that has reality only within your own (and perhaps others’) limited context. An expression in language has no universal reality. It cannot embody the truth. Thus, if you’ve been Numinating about this, as you’ve been reading it, you know that it’s not the truth.

What words express can be true or false in the mathematical sense, or in the practical sense they can be indeterminate or irrelevant. We must make the distinction between a statement that is true in a mathematical or practical sense (they aren’t the same!), and the Truth, which is very different, indeed. I claim only that what I say here is true in the practical sense; that it isn’t a pack of lies. Now, you may make a similar claim on behalf of your favorite book. If you say, for example, that the Bible is the attempt of a group of men and women to translate the word of God into the word of man, that is a fair assertion. We can test its words for consistency within themselves and with other statements we believe to be true. To some scholars, the bulk of the Bible doesn’t hold up to such scrutiny, but you may believe otherwise. (Just grant others the privilege of their opinion, and that these are only opinions, and I will thank you very much.)

Many Christians believe that the Bible is the “Word of God” and is therefore the Truth. Islam and Judaism also have their “Good Books” and adherents who make a similar claim. But, for a moment, free your thought process from the shackles of any traditions that bind it, and consider which is more likely: 1. The Word of God can be written in the language of man, or 2. The Word of God can only be recorded in Nature itself. Again: 1. The Truth needs nothing more than “faith” to support it, or 2. The Truth must be incontrovertible with all “solid” facts and observations.

Various “Good Books” are the words of man, in whichever of man’s several languages you care to read them. All books and all spoken words have this same limitation: The truth cannot be expressed in a spoken or written language, or in any form meant to communicate. Nature alone records reality. It consists of expressions that exist, that are the ongoing unfolding of truth—not a reflection, nor a statement, nor a model, but the truth itself.

Mother Earth, set in the cosmos which surrounds her, relates the truth. The fabric of space and time, the tiniest particles and photons, the largest galaxies and clusters all embody the truth. This is the Word of God in the only language that can express it.

Some say the Truth is the written word of God as laid down in their own “Good Book.” I believe that the Truth is expressed by nature, and that from any other source you cannot find the word of God. If you sense that we fundamentally disagree, it must be over what we each consider to be the word of God. In what form would you say it is expressed? What value would you give to the natural world? If you believe it’s God’s creation, is that any different than saying that it’s God’s expression? My experience with eternal arguments is that people get a sense of whether you believe as they do, and if they sense that you do, they grant you wide latitude in what you say. If they sense that you don’t, however, there is almost nothing you can say that is agreeable.

Looking back at the “four paths” to the Truth, there is almost a circularity. Notice that the first approach, the scientific approach, and the last, some might say the mystical approach, actually have some commonality. Perhaps you had never noticed this before, but noticing such things is why we Numinate, isn’t it? Happy Holidays!

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