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The Dartmouth
February 25, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Theistic Thought

Drowning in Religion," by Brian Reilly '99, [The Dartmouth, Nov. 7] is a disturbingly pessimistic column that encourages the "erasure of all questions and articulations of faith." Reilly argues that contemplating the question "What is God?" is irrelevant and sacrilegious since human minds are incapable of completely understanding the complex and holy nature of God. He concludes that this theistic question exceeds its theism and erases humanity.

I passionately disagree.

The theistic question is anything but "irrelevant." That which most markedly distinguishes humans from other creatures is the ability to contemplate or think abstractly. Abstract thinking reaches a pinnacle when contemplating something as mysterious and undefined as the nature of God. The theistic question does not erase humanity, but allows humanity to flourish by means of doing that which only humans can do -- ponder abstract concepts. As Plato expressed in The Republic, life is a journey, and we are travelers in search of truth. The truth that Plato describes is not of this physical world and can only be sought by the proper use of reason. The human need to perform its function as an abstract thinker and the human desire to know "divine" truth makes the theistic question relevant to humanity.

The question that logically follows this conclusion is that of how God views the relevance of the theistic question. I contend that it is viewed as relevant, based on the assumption that God desires acknowledgement, or faith. True faith demands acceptance based on contemplative thought. Thus, if religion is defined as faith in God, God must view the theistic question as relevant and religious in nature.

So, by human and divine standards, the theistic question is neither irrelevant nor sacrilegious but quite the opposite. Religion and contemplative thought are not exclusive concepts.

There is no doubt that "God's nature is beyond the human capacity of knowledge," as Reilly notes. However, this fact in no way implies that we cannot understand certain generalities of God's nature. It is true that the information we can accumulate regarding God is limited and minuscule in comparison to the amount of information requisite to complete comprehension, but it is not insignificant. Its significance lies in the exhilaration of its acquisition and the generalizations that it provokes.

Reilly continues to write that "The [theistic] question ... becomes a fixation of the finite upon the supposed infinitely expressive." While we cannot imagine God because our minds are of an inferior level, we can still contemplate him with some validity. Take for example, research in higher dimensions. Higher dimensional beings, like God, are unimaginable to our three dimensional minds. No one can envision a ten-dimensional being. However, researchers can still accurately predict certain characteristics of 10-D beings, using their 3-D minds. For example, researchers know that the beings would be capable of performing god-like actions in our world -- they would be able to walk through walls, disappear and reappear at will, and see through buildings. They would be omniscient and omnipotent, just as we humans would be in a 2-D world.

In conclusion, let me offer my highest praise to Reilly for writing a thoughtful column that contemplates and validates (to an extent) the extremely relevant question "What is God?" by examining the nature of God in analysis of the question's relevancy. But, there is absolutely no way to exclude contemplative thought from religion since religion is faith and true faith demands contemplation. Thus anyone who "believes" in God must also ponder "What is God?" The theistic question does not "erase" humanity, but to the contrary, exalts humanity, by providing for unique thought. Humans are demeaned by the absence of contemplative thought, not by the presence of such abstract thought.