IDOLATRY III

“What is an idol? Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.” –Rabbi Abraham Heschel, “RELIGION AND RACE” (14 January, 1963)

This quote tells us that what excludes is idolatrous. Any conception of God that excludes is idolatrous. But this also implies that any conception of God at all is essentially idolatrous. To say, “This is God; these are His (!) attributes,” is an act of identifying God within limits that exclude. This need not lead us to a definitive conclusion that there is no God; atheism is as idolatrous and exclusionary as any other absolutist belief.

What we are left with is utter not-knowing. All is Mystery and therefore every “thing” is existentially adangle and itself mystery.

The rational mind nevertheless works by virtue of its ability to include and exclude. We know what something is by knowing what it is not. Is this a sheep or a goat? It’s a goat, because sheep have this attribute, while goats do not. The mind is dualistic by its nature.

Recognizing the essential Mystery that is our life-in-a-world enables us to open up into the totality of our experience without excluding anything. This experiential opening up is, to my thinking, what Zhuangzi is about when he speaks of Oneness. He treads very carefully here, however. Saying all is One is just another absolutist, and therefore exclusionary, statement. Oneness is an experience, not an explicit fact. Thus, he also says, “Not-One is also One”.

Once again we find ourselves on two roads at once. By virtue of our experience as self-aware, rational beings we participate in a required dualism. Yet we also have the possibility of a non-dual experience that informs our dualism. We are by nature exclusionary, especially as evinced in our addiction to good and bad, but we can inform this with a broader experience that, though it does not negate our not-oneness, can render it non-absolutist. We can open up to our unopeness and realize some openness in that.

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