The Courage of Mystical Theism

To pursue truth in a philosophical manner demands that we have the courage to let go of our comforting illusions and be ready to face up to whatever reality exists within ourselves and beyond ourselves, however terrible it may turn out to be.

This does not mean that whatever opinion is ugliest must necessarily be truest, that the person whose view of the world is most dismal must always be correct and must be courageous. Such an approach can only be fallacious.

Still, when we look inward, if we are honest, we will have to ask ourselves whether we really are open to discovering truths that are uncomfortable, unpleasant, painful to bear. Perhaps we cling to safe beliefs, and if we’re honest we cling to them precisely because they’re safe. Probably all of us do this in one way or another, usually in ways that are invisible to our own perception. Certainly we should all assume that we do it, and appraise ourselves accordingly.

Atheists are among those who like to claim that they have seized upon such a courageous truth, and it isn’t hard to see why. Compared to the sort of theism which affirms that God is on my side and loves me and has good plans for me, atheism does seem like a grim realism.

And yet, the predictable smug reply of theists has been that the atheists are themselves holding on to a comforting belief that protects them from having to face up to a frightening reality. If there is no God, then maybe there is no eternity, no eternal judgement, no perfect and omniscient judge. To hold a belief which insulates us from considering the most terrifying of all possible futures certainly might appear to be motivated less by love of truth than by intellectual cowardice. Not a few theists have been quick to point this out.

Where does that leave us then? To believe in God is the work of a coward, but so is disbelief toward that God?

Agnosticism is not the solution to the problem. It is inconsequential, in the present conversation. An agnostic will either face up to the possibility of divine judgement and live as though it is a real possibility (in line with Pascal’s wager), thus fearing damnation and hoping in salvation, or else will avoid the question and live as though it doesn’t matter, joining the atheists of our earlier discussion. So agnosticism doesn’t get us any closer to a reasonable answer than we had previously.

Rather, the solution is mysticism. Mystical theism is the most courageous option out of all those so far surveyed. As stated, this does not mean it’s true, but it means at least that it’s not likely to be accepted as if true merely because it is comforting or safe.

Mystical theism means standing at the uttermost tip of reality, alone amidst the vast darkness of the primordial unknown, seen and not seeing, known but not knowing. It is the glimpsing of a terrible goodness beyond human morality, of irresistible power and incontestable justice. It is perfect fear and perfect awe and perfect love fused into a single, simple thought.

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