The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” He also wrote: “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself. It is the mystical.”
Since the mystical is inexpressible, there is nothing more to be said. I think Ludwig was on to something here. In any discussions involving religion, belief, faith, salvation and prayer, liberal use of “perhaps,” “possibly,” ‘I hope,” and “I’m not sure, but …” would seem to be in order. Certainty is slippery in these matters.
When you consider there are a 100 billion galaxies, the observable universe has 300 sextillion suns, the universe is billions of years old and will be around for billions more years, the thoughtful person really has to be pretty humble. We humans on this little planet earth truly are cosmic dust.
We know very little, and what we think we know often turns out to be wrong. Not that long ago, we deluded humans thought we were the center of the universe. The best minds explained eclipses as dragons devouring the sun. Recorded history is 6,000 years old. Think where we might be in 6,000 more years. Or 60,000 years. There is philosophic speculation that we know less than 1 percent of what there is to know. And that includes Yahoo! and Google. The mind reels.
I speculate that this uncertainty is a contributing reason why one in five Americans now claim no religious identity. I am not “Catholic” or “Protestant.” I am “None.” I’m certainly not an atheist, but those who are so certain of God’s existence seem as arrogant as the professional atheists. I wish I had the certainty of an evangelical or an atheist, but something tells me Professor Wiggenstein is probably right. There’s nothing wrong with “I don’t know.”
Thomas Hobbes thought life was short, nasty and brutish. Today things are better. We have cable and fast food. But each of us knows that in less than a hundred years, we will die, and after a hundred more years, we will be forgotten forever. So we seek experience that transcends our quotidian lives. We find it in different places: nature, family, friends, art, music, reading, volunteering, drugs, alcohol, material possessions or religion. We are the equivalent of sub-atomic particles, but unlike a quark or a meson, we are possessed of reason and emotion. We yearn for significance and meaning.
Religion, with its attendant belief in an omniscient God who watches over us and promises an afterlife, is one path to peace and happiness.
There are others.