To Speak the Unutterable

The “Tao” is too great to be described by the name “Tao”.
If it could be named so simply, it would not be the eternal Tao. (Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu)

A man from the ancient orient tries to explain the inscrutable. He tells us that there is something so great and incomprehensible that it is ineffable; it cannot be described or named. Once we ascribe a name to it, like “Tao,” then we must be speaking about something else because this “thing” is too great to be named, or its name is unutterable.

This situation precludes any further conversation about the matter, unfortunately. For this reason, we accept a convention of calling the unutterable the “Tao” simply so the thing can be explored and discussed. However, any realistic and intelligent exploration and discussion of this matter requires that we avoid confusing the Tao with the “Tao.”

…THE ALL (which is the Substantial Reality underlying all the outward manifestations and appearances which we know under the terms of “The Material Universe”; the ”Phenomena of Life”; “Matter”; ”Energy”; and, in short, all that is apparent to our material senses) is SPIRIT, which in itself is UNKNOWABLE and UNDEFINABLE, but which may be considered and thought of as AN UNIVERSAL, INFINITE, LIVING MIND. (The Kybalion, Chapter 2. P. 9)

A more contemporary work, The Kybalion, also attempts to explore and discuss the unknowable and undefinable. A notable characteristic that identifies it as “more contemporary” is the language employed is more technical in character. As scientific investigation produced technical achievement, technical language and affectations have been readily adopted, even in domains one might not expect. Of course, the purpose of language is for effective communication. If this is the language people understand, then it is what will be utilized. This may present a problem, though.

Science is engaged in the dissection and study of the material universe. Technology exploits scientific knowledge to produce physical marvels that people want because it makes their physical existence better, or entertains them. As science and technology are firmly rooted in the material universe, their tools do not function well (if at all) outside of the material universe. It stands to reason that their technical language may not only be inappropriate in studies beyond the material universe, but might also provide an impediment. In fact, the United States of America provides an example of this.

There is a continuing controversy between American Christianity and secular America concerning Creationism and the Theory of Evolution. At least some factions within American Christianity seem to have difficulty distinguishing the subtle from the gross; the spiritual from the material. An inability to distinguish the spiritual realm from the material realm and to understand how one acts upon the other is a more likely cause for a communal “crisis in faith” than any alleged attack from outside sources. A recently employed tactic in “defending the faith” was to couch Creationism in pseudo-scientific technical jargon and call it Intelligent Design. This ploy deceived nobody, except perhaps Christians themselves. Adopting technical language may indeed present an impediment since this ploy suggests spiritual stagnation rather than growth.

Science has been a historical nemesis of the Christian faith, so it seems ironic to adopt a pseudo-scientific stance at this late date. Science has consistently challenged Christian beliefs and appears to have endured, but this observation must be tempered by the apparent lack of spiritual understanding in the general Christian community through time. Historically, Christianity has been challenged by other spiritual beliefs as well.

He is the invisible Spirit, of whom it is not right to think of him as a god, or something similar. For he is more than a god, since there is nothing above him, for no one lords it over him. For he does not exist in something inferior to him, since everything exists in him. For it is he who establishes himself. He is eternal, since he does not need anything. For he is total perfection. He did not lack anything, that he might be completed by it; rather he is always completely perfect in light. He is illimitable, since there is no one prior to him to set limits to him. He is unsearchable, since there exists no one prior to him to examine him. He is immeasurable, since there was no one prior to him to measure him. He is invisible, since no one saw him. He is eternal, since he exists eternally. He is ineffable, since no one was able to comprehend him to speak about him. He is unnameable, since there is no one prior to him to give him a name. (The Apocryphon of John, The Nag Hammadi Library)

The early Gnostics were a Christian sect that was declared heretical and hunted by Catholics and the Roman Army. A number of their hidden sacred writings were discovered in the mid-twentieth century at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Among these scriptures were some previously unknown Gospels and the Apocryphon of John quoted above (among much more.) The notable aspect in the above quotation is an apparently common theme of an unnameable and ineffable “Spirit.” It is even more interesting to note that the writings of Lao Tzu (top) are about 2,500 years old, pre-dating Christ and these scriptures.

The First Council of Nicaea was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine I, twelve years after the Edict of Milan ended the persecution of Christians. Constantine’s interests appear very simple: there was controversy within the Christian religion and he wanted matters settled. He appeared to have no preference in how matters were settled; his interest was purely political. The clergy were happy to oblige, establishing a long running relationship between politics and religion well into the Age of Enlightenment.

The Intelligent Design ploy and the role of religion in American politics reveals forces that wish to corrupt the American “separation of church and state” in order to re-establish a religion of political power. This is a second recurring theme that demonstrates faith in the social power structures of a material realm, rather than faith in the ineffable and unnameable of the spiritual realm. While many American Christians allegedly believe they are under attack from atheists, humanists, homosexuals, minority religions, and various other bogey men, I submit evidence to the contrary.

The dark heart has no real experiential knowledge of the subtle and unutterable, so it seeks power in the realm of the gross. The darkness of the heart is known, so it is left to its own devices. The dark heart is not assailed from without, but rather decays from within. This is as unutterable in the congregations as is the unutterable name of the holy One. It is for this reason that it was said that nobody can see the Kingdom of Heaven unless they are born of the Spirit, because Spirit is Light.


6 thoughts on “To Speak the Unutterable

  1. Well, at first I was merely enjoying a thoroughly researched and eloquently phrased exploration of how much we screw ourselves over when we try to mix spirituality, religion and politics… then I read the phrase “religion of political power” and I shuddered a bit. Aptly phrased. I think we don’t realize just how much we lose when we try to define things.

  2. Your comment is aptly phrased in that it invokes many thoughts like: “I think we don’t realize just how much we lose when we try to” build a religion like theirs. How about: “I think we don’t realize just how much we lose when we try to” demonize others like the Nazis demonized the Jews. It does seem that the price of squelching, repressing, and oppressing spiritual beliefs is a corresponding lack of spirituality. Who would have expected that? Regardless, in your exploration of your inner self, have you considered the possibility that you might be a bit of a Muse, also.

  3. Steve, your post is very educational. I believe Christianity is slowly evolving into a more inclusive movement, although it takes a long time for some of its members to escape the stagnation which, like you wrote, is fueled by the desire for political power. Your last sentence sums it up beautifully: to truly experience the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be born of the Spirit. This process is much more profound than what most Christians assume. God, Tao, Truth or however we call it is incomprehensible; too big for our limited minds to grasp completely, but we can gradually move closer to it, while we continue to surrender our egos and give in to the service of others.

  4. You flatter me. I can’t direct the creative energy or insight. It comes when it will and no amount of forcing, begging or cajoling will convince it to do otherwise. Every now and again, though, I might qualify.

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