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Steps on The Spiral Staircase

Don Feist from Dunedin wrote: I've just finished reading The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong's second version of the second volume of her autobiography. There are several passages in it which might be of sufficiently wide interest, and which can sufficiently well stand alone.

The first is quoted, on page 289, from the twelfth century Muslim mystic and philosopher Ibn al-Arabi: “Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not confined to any one creed, for, he says, ‘Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah’. Everyone praises what he believes; his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.”

In the second (pp210-292), in regard to her research for writing A History of God, Karen Armstrong wrote “To my very great surprise, I was discovering that some of the most eminent Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians and mystics insisted that God was not an objective fact, was not another being, and was not an unseen reality like the atom, whose existence could be empirically demonstrated. Some went to so far as to say that God did not exist, because our notion of existence was too limited to apply to God.

Many of them preferred to say that God was Nothing, because this was not the kind of reality that we normally encountered.

It was even misleading to call God the Supreme Being, because that simply suggested a being like us, but bigger and better, with likes and dislikes similar to our own. ..... All traditions went out of their way to emphasize that any idea we had of God bore no absolute relationship to the reality itself, which went beyond it. Our notion of a personal God is one symbolic way of speaking about the divine, but it cannot contain the far more elusive reality."

The last, from p295, is: “I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering ‘the truth’ or ‘the meaning of life’ but about living as intensely as possible here and now. The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to ‘get to heaven’ but to discover how to be fully human, hence the images of the perfect or enlightened man, or the deified human being. Archetypal figures such as Muhammad, the Buddha, and Jesus become icons of fulfilled humanity. God or Nirvana is not an optional extra, tacked on to our human nature. Men and women have a potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realize it within themselves. A passing Brahmin priest once asked the Buddha whether he was a god, a spirit, or an angel. None of these, the Buddha replied; ‘I am awake!’ “

Don Feist