I got to thinking recently about belief systems after listening to a radio interview with writer and director Kenneth Lonergan (about his film Margaret, now out in an extended DVD version). What caught my attention was his description of himself as a “committed atheist,” and more particularly his explanation of why. In his view, all religions are creations, stories, myths, that are constructed as a way of trying to understand something that is not comprehensible. In other words, we create belief systems to help us wrap our minds around things we can not understand. Things like why are we here and how did we get here.
He is right–to an extent. There are things we do not know or can’t understand, can’t explain, and can’t prove. It is true that we have limitations in this human form. We can not understand that which is ineffable: unknowable because it is beyond our mental capacities to access or know.
What was even more interesting to me was Lonergan’s acknowledgement that there is something bigger than us, something more than us “out there” (or is it “in here,” within us). He wasn’t describing an objective consciousness of any kind, more that he was saying there is something beyond our understanding. But it seemed his conclusion that religions are essentially false, man-made structures for understanding, rested on the premise that the working of the universe is bigger than us, and we are not capable of knowing what is beyond our limitations in these human bodies and minds.
This at least intimates there is some kind of awareness or intelligence beyond us, doesn’t it?
An athiest is usually defined as a nonbeliever, disbeliever, or unbeliever. But not believing in what? Mr. Lonergan is a self-identified atheist, but his reason for rejecting conventional belief systems is that there is more going on than what those systems teach.
I find this thinking intriguingly—and delightfully–oxymoronic. It wonderfully introduces the prospect that there is more for us to discover, there is plenty we will never discover, in this life or form, and that there are options in-between: ways to try to understand, to try to approach, that which we don’t know.
No one structure of understanding is the only one. The light shines through many windows.
And no one avenue towards understanding is the only one.
There is nothing wrong with creating structures that help us frame and communicate and remember that which we have accessed via our inner sense of understanding.
While it is true that we have limitations physically and mentally, we also have intuitive means of accessing that which we can not access mentally. Our non-rational, non-linear means of knowing are perfectly human! We need not rely solely on our intellectual and cerebral means of retrieving understanding. To do so is to use only some of the gifts and resources that are our birthrights.
Albert Einstein understood this well. He relied on his inner awareness to link intuitively and non-rationally to knowledge beyond what he already knew. Then, once he had an impression, an idea, he would seek ways to prove it scientifically. We call this genius.
We all have it. But not all of us are believers that we have it, we can access it, and we can create with it. Some of us are atheists.
As Einstein said:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Don’t forget to access your inner awareness, your intuitive, feeling sense, as you navigate your way.