Thursday, April 30, 2009

Divine Incomprehension

In his Berry Street Lecture of 1871, Charles H. Brigham detaches the category of principles from that of doctrines. The former, he argues, pertains to the ideas that move a religious community and give it power. Conversely, the latter embodies constantly shifting, temporary opinions. At the start of his lecture, Brigham teases out seven core values that animate and ground Unitarianism: the right of private judgment, that reason is the arbiter of truth, that no man is infallible, that no creed can contain the whole of religion, that differences of faith are inevitable, that sincere faith is the only true faith, and that character is better than profession of any kind. Brigham then goes on to address the doctrine of God. He writes:

The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. And [Unitarians] say of God, that no searching can find him out, and that all dictation of what he must be and what he must do, is foolish and irreverent. They affirm, as much as any sect, the mystery of the Godhead; only it is to them real mystery by its greatness and fulness, and not by its mathematical enigma. God is the eternal wonder of the human soul, so high, so vast, so complete in glory, that no thought can attain his being.

This statement, while explicitly marked by a specific context (and witty anti-trinitarian jab), resonates with the wholly Otherness of the divine as expressed in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib:

ਅਕਲ ਕਲਾ ਨਹ ਪਾਈਐ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਲਖ ਅਲੇਖੰ ॥
God is not found by intellectual or clever devices; God is Unseeable and Incalculable.
(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 1098)

ਖਾਲਿਕੁ ਖਲਕ ਖਲਕ ਮਹਿ ਖਾਲਿਕੁ ਪੂਰਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਸ੍ਰਬ ਠਾਂਈ ॥
The Creation is in the Creator (God), and the Creator is in the Creation, totally pervading and permeating all places.
(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 1350)

In both Unitarian and Sikh formulations, then, the act of meeting God trumps the futile attempt to name God.

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