Bahá'í Epistolary

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Who could possibly believe in God? How? How could we possibly know whether an unknowable God exists or not?

'What is Truth, said jesting Pilate, but would not stay for an answer'
(Bacon, "On Truth").

I've given it a go at an answer... a wordy way of saying

"Who knows? ...Yet I believe."

and why.

What is the nature of religious conviction? Is it different from knowledge? And what would religious knowledge be anyway?

This is my first podcast, from a lecture I gave at Cambridge University a while ago. You can find it in zipped format here. Please let me know what you think of this format. Would you like more podcasts? And please let me know what you think about this podcast!

The file is large (54megs) and lasts an hour and twenty minutes. I have it is less heavy formats (under 20, and under 10 megs), but have no server in which to store them yet. If you need the lighter version, just ask, and I'll forward it to you...

Thanks is andvance for your feedback.


Brent Poirier said...

There is a linguistic problem that I think we Baha'is need to avoid. On the one hand, the entire purpose of our creation is to know God; and on the other, God is in His essence unknowable. I think it is perfectly logical and tenable for a person who does not believe in God, to become a Baha'i -- in this sense. I don't think that a person has to believe in God as a prerequisite to investigating the Baha'i Faith. After all, the way to know God is to know the Manifestation of God. In fact, this was my own experience. I had very profound doubts about God, but was deeply attracted to the beauty, and moreso to the efficacy of, and solutions to world problems contained in, the Baha'i Writings. I came to believe in Baha'u'llah as someone from God --- before I believed in God. And I came to believe in God, because I believed in someone who demonstrated the signs of God. He brought the testimony.
As Abdu'l-Baha wrote: "This people, all of them, have pictured a god in the realm of the mind, and worship that image which they have made for themselves.... Consider then, how all the peoples of the world are bowing the knee to a fancy of their own contriving, how they have created a creator within their own minds, and they call it the Fashioner of all that is -- whereas in truth it is but an illusion. Thus are the people worshipping only an error of perception. But that Essence of Essences, that Invisible of Invisibles, is sanctified above all human speculation, and never to be overtaken by the mind of man.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 53)

He continues, with the second half -- since we cannot know the reality of the Essence of God, how can we know God?:

"Consequently, with reference to this plane of existence, every statement and elucidation is defective, all praise and all description are unworthy, every conception is vain, and every meditation is futile. But for this Essence of the essences, this Truth of truths, this Mystery of mysteries, there are reflections, auroras, appearances and resplendencies in the world of existence. The dawning-place of these splendors, the place of these reflections, and the appearance of these manifestations are the Holy Dawning-places, the Universal Realities and the Divine Beings, Who are the true mirrors of the sanctified Essence of God. All the perfections, the bounties, the splendors which come from God are visible and evident in the Reality of the Holy Manifestations, like the sun which is resplendent in a clear polished mirror with all its perfections and bounties."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 147)



Thanks Brent. I am fully with you, and in fact in my talk I go as far as suggesting Baha'is could justifiably be described as atheists... from one perspective! In some ways, the whole talk is an extended way of making a very similar point to yours!

Unknown said...

On this question of God's being an unknowable essence, and yet our whole duty as human beings is to know and love Him, one way to resolve this seeming paradox is to reflect on the distinction between "essences" and "attributes". The direct apprehension of the essence of a thing is not possible to a human being in this realm. However, we are able to know things by virtue of their attributes. This applies, pre-eminently to the Manifestation of God, within whose Reality are perfectly reflected the sum of all the Divine Attributes.


Yes Mark, I resonate with you. This is something I go into in some depth in the talk, trying to look at what it tells us about the nature of conviction, faith, and recognition. Let me know what you think of the approach I take to that!

Geoff said...


I have been meaning to tell you that I have really enjoyed all three of your Podcasts! The first two I linked in a a blog I am running in tandem with a Ruhi 1 class as an experiment. I don't know if it is just me and where I was at many years ago when I became a Baha'i but it seems that if I were just stepping into this wide ocean of Baha'u'llah's and seeking out the Bahai Faith these would be perfect introductions. Not because they are elementary, no, quite the contrary. They stimulate the mind and foster a healthy questioning mind. When we get a bit further into the book I plan to link to your third Podcast. So I guess this gives you a couple weeks to come up with another.?? lol doesn't hurt to ask right? I'll send you a link to the blog if you would like to see how your talks have inspired me.

Thanks again for all your efforts! Aside from benefiting those in our Ruhi 1 class I am finding them to be very uplifting.