Jay B. Gaskill
Intellectuals have debated the “G-d question” for several millennia, only to discover that the most thoughtful and well informed minds can never quite agree on the question of proof.
Rather than argue for the “existence” of G-d, I am content to negotiate an approach strategy that can take any receptive mind into some level of contact with the “holy-as-divine-persona”.
The approach I’m advocating here consists of a series of heuristic steps. Our ultimate encounters - whether to the “holy”, the “numinous” or the very face of deity - must necessarily remain personal and provisional.
The steps of Approach can be repeated in sequence over a lifetime without getting to finality -- as one might listen to Mahler, Bach or Saint-Saëns, or stand in the apse of a cathedral or in awe at the night sky over time. There is rarely – if ever - one definite moment when the ultimate embedded meaning in a truly great work of art has finally been fully mined.
The discovery of the significant mind-to-mind correlations that can be mined for universal experiences.
We necessarily begin the Approach with a shared insight – that there are no fully adequate mechanical explanations for the shared states of aware being that constitute adult, self-aware and other-aware consciousness. All great art represents an exploration of this very realm. Only by correlating our experiences with others are we able to reliably infer that our “subjective” states are not only local but also general. The analysis and deep correlation of our shared “subjective” states yields an emergent picture of the recurring deeper universals in all human experience. This sets the stage for Approach.
The mutual recognition that one’s very states of “beingness” are aspects of a larger, ineluctable mystery.
We share the sense that all of the behavioral “explanations” leave an Essence that is experienced and therefore real, but beyond the scope of any mechanical level description. This threshold acceptance that there really is something much more than the mechanical level of explanation constitutes a heuristic mindset. The sense of mystery represents the natural and reasonable response of any thinking, rationally ordered mind that is seeking unity of understanding with the intellectual humility that not all can be immediately known; it is a state of directed openness; it is the beginning of Approach.
An honest acknowledgement of potential the reality and significance of the shared “encounter” experiences of being, whether they are described as “awe” or “grace” or as the experience of the “presence” of an Other, greater “being” or “beingness”.
This is the necessary first stage before our actual of the apprehension of the “holy” or the “numinous”. Note the heuristic key here. We must suspend any a priori rejection of our deepest experiences of the transcendent. Anything less will frustrate the search for ultimate meaning. We humans – all of us on some level – are equipped with an appetite for meaning and thirst for the transcendent. When we deny this thirst and hunger, we can injure ourselves on a deep level. To abandon the Approach is to embrace despair.
An intentional expansion of deep context for all that matters to us (and therefore an open-mindedness towards the greatest possible scope of meaning); this mindset or quest is necessarily adopted as a life project.
Even secular thinkers are occasionally forced to look at reality from “the God perspective.” The very existence of this “universal perch” and the utility of its perspective hint strongly at the “there is something more to all this, something more than the mundane” mindset which is the first stage of Approach.
The ascent from confusion and mental compartmentalization.
We humans tend to build and rebuild our “world models” by a process of reasoned differentiation and global integration. Differentiation invites compartmentalization; but the rigid compartmentalization of key elements of our experience, reason, artistic and spiritual apprehension will bring the integration process to full stop. The heuristic mindset insists on breaking through our compartmentalizations by seeking the larger integrations that fold in and illumine all that is real. Integration at this global level entails expanding and deepening the experience of meaning and the meaning of experience. The project quickly becomes an integration of all of the significant elements of our internal mental and emotional life, and the integration of all of this “internal stuff” with the living beings and events that fill the world “outside our heads”.
Meaning is always increased and enhanced by integration, while confusion represents a failure of integration. Our natural tendency to take refuge in compartmentalization or mental encapsulation is actually a defensive response to confusion. The project of the integration of our individual states of beingness, all mystery acknowledged, and the integration of our apprehension of the holy or numinous with the material realm “outside our heads” is both healthy and heuristic, even when - as is inevitable – the integration remains incomplete.
To live into the reality model that there really is an integration of the holy and the numinous with the purely physical, material realm.
All belief starts with a decision; in this instance we decide to adopt a world view and to live into it while always holding the possibility of correction in reserve. Our strongest beliefs are anchored in authentic personal experience and in trust of those whom we deem worthy of trust.
The state of mindedness I have called “On Approach” is rooted in a life-derived, heuristic faith stance: that the mystery of shared being is always reconcilable with “the world”; that the arch-materialist mindset, the fad of this age, always can be transcended; and that our deepest urgings, that sense of connection with being-as-universal, including our intimations of the numinous, all these things represent our glimpses of that greater reality that transcends the mundane.
I personally understand this stance to be a reasonable act of faith, no more or less reasonable than the faith-perceptions that allow us to see into the hearts of other persons, to recognize them as persons and not objects, and to see, in them, something of ourselves. The very suite of cognitive faculties that allow us to be social and sometimes moral beings, to apprehend and create beauty and to experience awe - and even reverence - for creation, also allows us to apprehend G-d, by whatever name or no name at all. Destination may elude us, but not purpose. As long as we are on approach, nothing more is required of us, because the patience of heuristic faith is self-rewarding. I am therefore persuaded that the G-d who approached Moses and said – “I am with you” is the same being that approaches our Buddhist friends in a state emptiness; because emptiness is openness; and because nothing is truly empty when it is apprehended by a conscious being. The distance between self and G-d (however we choose to name or not name) is no greater than the distance between self and self- knowledge.
JAY B GASKILL is a writer, lay theologian and recovering trial lawyer.
Find links to his books, essays and articles on The Policy Think Site – www.jaygaskill.com
This work is Copyright© 2017 by Jay B Gaskill
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RELATED ESSAYS by the Author
Stages of God Awareness http://www.jaygaskill.com/Awareness.htm
The Coming Collapse of Atheism http://jaygaskill.com/PopGoesPEAS.pdf
Renaming the Universe http://jaygaskill.com/ReNamingTheUniverse.pdf
The Case for a Religious Renaissance http://jaygaskill.com/Renaissance.pdf
 Not all religions and spiritual disciplines name deity; for many, the full name of deity is considered too sacred to speak or write; for many others, the assignment of any name, however well meant and carefully considered, always includes an implied limitation. I am using the form “G-d’ out of deference to all these traditions.
 I love this word – from the Greek heuriskein, “to find”. I’m using it here in the sense of a strategy or stance that is adopted or favored because it aids in learning new truths about “life, the universe and everything”. I note that the usage has slipped over into the software realm; heuristic algorithms are designed to “learn” from experience. I note that any sufficiently rigid dogma, which it not itself designed as an open process, can become anti-heuristic. For reasons that should be evident as you reflect on my design for an approach to G-d, a reasonable faith stance can be profoundly heuristic.
 Or was approached by Moses – the approach is always mutual.