I thought I would attempt to articulate my religious beliefs. Lately these have coalesced into something fairly definite, and since I am not aware of a word for these beliefs I thought I would coin one. I am an atheologist.
“Theos” means “God.” “Logos” means “speech.” An “atheologist” is one who believes that God cannot be discussed. To an atheologist, all statements regarding the nature of God, or regarding God’s existence or non-existence, are neither true nor false, but simply nonsensical. They are nonsensical to the atheologist because they are attempts to discuss something that cannot be discussed.
I am not the first atheologist. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, also held this position. So did Ludwig Wittgenstein and U.G. Krishnamurti. Atheologism can be placed alongside atheism, monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, etc., as another belief that it is possible to have about God.
How did I arrive at this position? From the beginning of the year through the summer, I was practicing meditation and Yoga very intensively, according to the system set forth by Aleister Crowley and the Indian mystics. These people had claimed, as it is common to claim, that by meditating I could obtain direct contact with God and experience the reality of God for myself. I worked very hard to obtain such experiences.
In the summer my efforts began to pay off richly. I began to have vivid and overwhelming experiences which lined up very well with what was described in the books on the subject. By careful analysis of my experiences, and careful analysis of the descriptions given in the books of what it was supposed to be like to have “oneness with God” or whatever you care to call it, I concluded that I was having these experiences.
It would follow, I concluded, that I had touched upon the true nature of reality and this was now directly accessible to me and laid before my awareness.
It became a matter of great importance to me that I figure out whether or not this was so. Was this the truth? Was this reality? I became extraordinarily skeptical and subjected these experiences to the most intense scrutiny and criticism, trying to find any way that I could doubt that they were reality. All of my efforts crumbled feebly before their towering irreducibility. I finally concluded that I had found the truth, that I had found reality, and that it was totally immune to any conceivable philosophical criticism.
The next matter, then, was to lay down what I had discovered. I tried to do this for a long time. I tried to subject my experiences to rigorous analysis and explain exactly what it was that they were. I always failed. Though I had found the truth, I was not able to make any positive statement that sounded true even to me. Valiantly I continued my attempts.
Things went on like this until sometime last semester I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The bulk of this text is a highly esoteric analysis of the logical structure of language, which attempts to investigate the nature of meaning in order to draw a demarcation between what can be discussed and what cannot be discussed. The book then ends by veering off suddenly from its highly technical logical investigations into religious, ethical, and aesthetic considerations, ultimately concluding that the subject matter of religion is beyond language and beyond logic.
His conclusions shook me to the core, because he had expressed in a very clear way something that I had been painfully discovering for myself over the past few months. I was led to the massively counterintuitive conclusion that I had found the truth, and I could not talk about it.
This also made it clear to me why it was immune to philosophical criticism. Philosophical criticism is necessarily in the sphere of words, and this was outside of the sphere of words. It was like trying to grab space. Logic couldn’t refute it because it couldn’t even get a grip on it.
I have gradually gotten used to this. It is still somewhat upsetting. My current theory is that it needs to be this way, that somehow for the cosmos to accomplish what it’s trying to accomplish it needs to be the case that we can only find the truth by our own efforts, and not by others’ efforts. The theory goes that if upon finding the truth we could share it with everybody, this would somehow spoil the great cosmic game.
Though this explanation is highly speculatory, the facts stand firm independent of it. I still cannot doubt that what I found this summer is reality. I still cannot say anything about it that sounds true even to me. That the truth is inexpressible has become an irreducible datum for me, as concrete and factual as the couch I’m sitting on. Repeated and persistent experiment has shown it to be so. I invite all others to try and replicate my experiment; the methods are all given in Part I of Liber ABA by Aleister Crowley, among other places. If anybody more competent than I succeeds in expressing the truth, then I will joyfully recant my position. Until then, I am an atheologist.
I will end by quoting at length the final passage of the Tractatus, the closest thing I have to a holy text. (“The closest thing,” because an atheologist having a real holy text would be absurd.)
“How the world is, is completely indifferent for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.
The facts all belong only to the task and not to its performance.
Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.
The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling.
For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.
Scepticism is not irrefutable, but palpably senseless, if it would doubt where a question cannot be asked. For doubt can only exist where there is a question; a question only where there is an answer; and this only where something can be said.
We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.
The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. (Is this not the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)
There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.
The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other — he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy — but it would be the only strictly correct method.
My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”