Martin LeFevre,

To a large degree, religion is a straw man for atheists. Even as people “cling to guns and religion” (to borrow a slip of the truth from President Obama during his campaign), organized religion is dying, its increasingly irrelevant accretions falling onto the midden of history.

Many atheists reduce the question of God to that of a separate creator, a ‘Supreme Being.’ Doubting whether there is anything beyond thought and knowledge is one thing; asserting there is nothing is another. Attacking religion, without addressing the universal religious impulse, hardens believers in their positions, and does nothing to advance enquiry that isn’t defined solely by evidence.

The question is not, is there ‘a God,’ but is there God? Though the word is open to as many interpretations as there are people, is there an actuality that can be experientially, not empirically, duplicated?

Perhaps the leading guru of the global nihilist, I mean atheist movement, is Richard Dawkins, of “The Selfish Gene” fame. Extolling the religion of rationalism, he was asked what his response would be if at death he found God exists after all. Dawkins glibly replied, “To quote Bertrand Russell, I suspect I would say, ‘there’s not enough evidence, God’.”

The atheist’s insistence on evidence for anything beyond the mind of man is hubristic; it takes the rightful standard of science and makes it a wrongful approach to religion.

Adding nonsense to inapplicability, Dawkins adds, “Within 50 million years, it is highly unlikely humans will still be around and it is sad to think of the loss of all that knowledge and music.” Is that his definition of what it means to be a human being–the accumulation of knowledge and music?

Dawkins is making a contribution by exposing superstition and supernaturalism, but he is doing nothing to explain the religious impulse. The idea that “when the world was an inexplicable and scary place, a belief in the supernatural was both comforting and socially adhesive,” just doesn’t cut it. And calling religiosity a ‘meme’ that persistently refuses to die, a “virus of the mind,” is a philosophical program without a human heart.

The religious impulse is much more than a meme, “an element of a culture or behavior that is passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means.” As distorted by organized religion as it is, the religious impulse springs from two authentic sources.

The first is the human mind’s capacity for mystery and wonder. That capacity, I submit, is the sine qua non of a sentient species.

The second is a response to the evolution of symbolic thought, which, paradoxically, gave us the capacity for mystery and wonder. Thought is inherently separative; that is, the human mind removes ‘things’ from our seamless environment, and reconfigures them into artifacts of all kinds.

That evolutionary capability carried over to the psychological dimension and produces a feeling of being separate, apart from life. That’s why all indigenous creation myths, as well as our own (the story of Genesis), have the theme of separation at their core. The religious impulse springs from the deep urge to redress separation and recapture the wholeness we unconsciously felt before we became consciously thinking primates.

As such, the religious impulse is our inner lodestar; it should be heightened and developed, not derided and squelched.

I submit that the perpetual question for believers and atheists alike is this: Is there an intelligence beyond the mind of man, and can the individual human being live in regular contact with it?

Believers answer the question of God with certainty in the affirmative, out of their own self-projected ideas and the conditioning of religion. Atheists answer with certainty in the negative, out of their own self-projected standards of evidence and the conditioning of rationalism.

The truly religious mind has nothing to do with either mindset. It eschews belief, as an impediment to experiencing, and even doubts its own prior experience, up to a point. (Too much doubt, while not as destructive to society as too little, is debilitating to the individual.)

Dismissing the very question of God as irrational, Dawkins lamely admits, “there are large gaps in our knowledge.” That’s both spiritually and epistemologically misleading. Knowledge has nothing to do with experiencing the sacred; in fact, it’s an impediment to doing so.

That doesn’t mean the flip side of the coin, faith, is correct, anymore than it means that ignorance is bliss. Rather, all forms of knowledge, including beliefs and theologies, must be negated in unwilled observation for the mind to fall silent and come into contact with the nameless.

I’m not sure whether the intrinsic intelligence of the universe gives a damn about man. But with passive observation and the ending of the illusory observer in meditation, a movement of negation is available to the individual. With it comes what can only be called grace.