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June 2014

Words Cannot Express It

There is so much bad press out there today for religions, believers, and generally people of faith (except of course for people believing that all beliefs are equal or equally absurd, which almost appears a consensus view) that it is important reasons why this is so, and examine whether it is justified.

A primary cause comes from the use of words and the general failure to understand them; by which I mean literalism. There is an ironic paradox that those most likely to accuse religious believers of ‘fundamentalism’ are themselves most guilty of it. Personally I disapprove of religious fundamentalism – ‘thou shalt burn the witch in your midst and not suffer her to live’ – is just such an extreme case. Take one line of scripture or a holy book, out of context, out of its environment, and out of comparison with other lines, and take extreme action on the basis of it. Wow – recipe for disaster and man’s inhumanity to man.

On the other hand this is precisely what the critics and atheists of religion do: they start taking literally the idea that God is a Father Christmas like figure in the sky who does all sorts of literal and preposterous things. Then, from mocking God as some image from popular folklore, they switch to attacking abstruse lines from one of the Creeds, thus making no effort to discriminate and understand what is really being said.

And what is being said, at its clearest, is the first line of the Tao Te Ching: "The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao". Or, that words completely fail to express the invisible world that underpins the visible one we live in. Words are not truth, but signs. Signs can point in the right or in the wrong direction. Signs are not the destination, but pointers to it or away from it, depending on how they are used. Words, too, by their nature are metaphorical, and that is how we understand reality – as little as we can describe or apprehend it.

Thus it is that people use words in two basic ways: either they arrange their ‘signs’ in such a way that overtly or covertly the direction is back to them, which we call egocentric; or they use the signs to point to something bigger, something more, something that is not comprehendible, but which is more real than the words that are doing the pointing. And this is to use words to discover more about the spiritual path, or the way.

This, then, is true humility: to stand aside from the ego and the continual pointing at oneself, in order to say that there is something bigger, bigger by far, and more important than the self; and the universal testimony of mankind is that it is real and it is there. To accept this humility – to accept (and that also means not to be dogmatic about it or to start wrangling and killing people over words ) this humility is to begin the true path towards peace.