April 27, 1978

Mysticism is the doctrine that there are things which cannot be explained or understood but nevertheless can be experienced and known.

One of these things, of course, is "God". Thus the mystics tell us that "God" cannot be explained or understood but can be experienced and known.

What is it, that can be thus experienced and known,
but not understood or explained?

It is bootless to say, "Well, it is God", because that tells us nothing. That would be like saying, "Blfgh can be experienced and known, but not explained or understood." I do not care how real your experiences of Blfgh may seem to you; if you cannot tell me in some general or partially descriptive way what it is supposed to be, the statement is meaningless.

Consider instead a tree. I might indeed say, "Trees can be experienced and known, but not understood or explained." And if you were to ask me, "But what is a tree?" I could answer merely by pointing to a tree, or a grove of trees, without needing any words. But unfortunately it appears that we cannot so easily "point" to God, except in more indirect and obscure ways.

We can and do "point" to God as the Creator of all things. This assumes that the earth and everything on it, as well as everything else in the universe, was "made", in the same way that I might make a mudball or a stuffed doll or a carved ornament, by some conscious entity exercising directive power over the form which things take. But the impossibility of certain physical events, such as square planetary orbits or trees growing wheels and windows, and the randomity of both destructive and creative occurrences and processes, make the proposition that there is any directive force at best a dubious one. And in any case it is an anthropomorphic projection, to assume that there was or is a humanoid or humanesque entity, thinking, willing, manipulating, which "created" or formed all things. The universe could just as easily have come about by chance, or physical laws, as by a Creator.

We also point to "God" as a binding spirit or force in the universe, which we sometimes call "oneness". That is, we feel that all things are one, united, emanating from the same cosmic origin; and we use the word "God" to refer to this pervasive unifying principle. Now such a property may very well actually exist, in fact, it is difficult to imagine the opposite; but in that case what does it mean? Are we one with volcanoes and stellar collisions? Are we one with accidents and suffering? For me to say that I "feel" one with all things may be a valid description of how I feel, but what can it prove about the nature of reality? For another to say that he is a separate entity, and that the rest of the universe is likewise fragmented and unrelated and against him, may equally well be a valid description of how he feels, but what does that prove either? In other words, our feelings about ourselves in relation to the universe are only the feelings that we particularly happen to have, and do not, can not prove anything about the nature of the universe.

Another picture of "God" is of a cosmic consciousness in which "all things live and move and have their "being". Now I admit that that is a comforting thought, that is, it gives us feelings of comfort and reassurance, that the universe is not random, that the genesis of creatures and planets is not fortuitous and chaotic, that the purpose of and reason for kindness and justice are not accidental or man-made, but rather that everything has its orderly place in some incomprehensible (to us) mind or Mind of the universe. However, this notion is also at best an anthropomorphic projection of our own properties onto the universe, and there is no evidence for such a "consciousness" nor even that "consciousness" is the highest form of evolutionary artifact. In the absence of any evidence whatever, the "feeling" no matter by how many persons it is shared, of such a "consciousness" again is no proof of anything but those feelings.

To illustrate further, if I have a feeling of hunger that does not prove the existence of a Universal Spirit of Hunger. If I experience satisfaction and contentment that does not prove either the existence of a Universal Spirit of Contentment. If I have a sensation of fear or a sensation of love, neither of them prove the existence of Universal Cosmic Beings who create those feelings. The only thing which any of these feelings prove is that as organisms we are capable of generating or experiencing those feelings.

God is also identified with the force or power of love or Love if you want to personify it. Now it is clear that those who experience love, and especially those who can feel it in the face of persecution and disaster are probably happier than those who feel hate and fear but what does this prove? Does the fact that happiness seems to follow from feelings of love prove that there is an external (to us) Being or Spirit of Love permeating the universe? Does the power of love in overcoming hate and fear (sometimes) in others prove anything either about any such entity? And even if there were such an entity, would it make any sense for love to be commanded as an order, for us to be coerced into acts of charity by fear of suffering or retribution from such a Power? Love is like sunlight; it illumines and warms and invigorates, but it is nonsense to say that it is omnipotent or omnipresent or omniscient.

To conclude, I am not a mystic because I do not know what it is that can be experienced and known, but not understood or explained. I can grant that it is conceivable that the Universe is inhabited by a form of consciousness which determines how everything happens, including our own existence; but I can only accept that as a hypothesis, and one without a scrap of objective evidence to support it, pure speculation; and no claims of "mystical" knowledge, not reproducible by me, can be accepted as evidence of anything other than the belief or opinion of the claimant. It is not possible that something which is real cannot be explained or understood, or at least perceived unambiguously by all observers; to pretend to know it unexplainably and unexplainedly is just mythology.

(originally published under the name of John Fitz)