Does it matter at all what religion one adheres to, or even whether or not one is religious at all? Many would answer in the negative – if not to both, at least to the first. If there is a God at all, they may contend, would he not simply accept me the way I am, not care in what exact way I go about doings things – for him or others – so long as I have good intentions? Surely – they may claim – any God who does not do so is no God at all.
To begin with, we may state with confidence that either there is no God, or there is only one. To posit polytheism as a viable option after both the proclamation of the Gospel (if not the zenith of Jewish thought) and the advent of modernity is, at the very least, to insult the imagination, the grounding moral horizon, the intelligence, and the general dynamism of the human being; without argument, a synoptic view of the vastness of history and human achievement at all levels is capable of a grandeur infinitely surpassing a mere multiplicity of–gods. No, either there is no God except man for himself, subservient to no other lest he violate his dignity, or there is one – and a One who is infinite.
That there is such a one is, I would maintain, objectively clear. Multiplicity; the abyss of man’s intelligence; the capability of man’s intelligence; man’s thirst and capacity for love; the knowledge of the infinite possibilities opened to man through the sciences; the capacity the search for a beauty that never ends, that never dies; the longing for a love whose depth and purderence never ends; and the hope that all of these be found, consummate their seduction of us and ravish us and bring all desire to rest – the hope that dies only the most violent of deaths we can bring ourselves to commit against any single hope – all of these, I maintain, requires as the absolute condition for their possibility the existence of one who can bring to fulfilment an infinite, an unfathomable hope. (Thank you, Ferdinand Ulrich!). No, if there is a God, there is one; if there were others who would seek to make us their worshippers, who would dominate us, we may make images of them and deface those very images with the utmost enthusiasm.
But – but – if there is only one God, only one worthy of the name, is he not the most this of this-es? That is, is he not the most singular of singulars, the most unique of those that are unique? If each and every person we ever meet is a wellspring of of actuality unto eternity unrepeated throughout all the ages of the world, is not the only one who can be the consummater of all man’s hopes and greatest dreams, the very ground of all that is best and noblest in man, would he not be infinitely more so? Infinitely–individual?
Consider, now, if you will, any individual. Is it not true, that if I would love him, or her, I must love him, or her, as him, or her? If I love this friend – this friend – can I say that I love him if I were to love him as if he were some other friend of mine? Could I say – really say – that I love my friend if I only love him as I imagine him to be, rather than as he really is? One must be intellectually and morally blind not to see the answers to those questions immediately.
But so too with God. If God is the ultimate this, the most unique of those that are unique – persons – and the very font and source of the perfection – if I may use a term so sullied by the Victorians – then if I am to love him, must it not be the case that I can only say that I love him – truly say that I love him – if I love him as he is, rather than as I want him to be, or as I want to think him to be? Anyone who has ever loved, anyone who has merely dreamed of love or finding love, need not be given answers to those questions, for the answers are already clear to them as is the beauty of their beloved; the rest, they are blind, beyond the reach of the action of any finite agent such as me.
Whatever else it is, isn’t religion just that – a way to love God? If the praise one gives to a beloved for having accomplished something great, if the thanks one gives to one who has born you or pulled you out of the rubble and away from the jaws of darkest death – if all of this is love, love lived out for the one loved, is not the praise and thanks so essential to the acts most essential to religion also such, also–love? So far as religion also concerns the living out of a life that is worthy of communion with the ultimate of lovers, is it not a way of love – as the living of a life pleasing to the human being whom you or I love is a way of loving that very beloved? If this all is true, then it may be seen – can it not? – that if there be a God, and if one wishes to love God – rather than hate him, for there is no middle between opposites – then one must seek out that religion that provides the surest way to love him whom one most ardently wants to love? This is not to say that those who do not find the true religion, those who do not find the way to love well the greatest of Lovers, would upon death find themselves forever cut off and against God, would find themselves–damned; for is it not the case that we would whole heartedly accept into our company those who have striven to love us well, even if they have been mistaken in the way they have sought to love us? That, however, cannot be an excuse for us, can it? If we have wilfully set up for ourselves an idea of how God ought to be loved, rather than sought the way that his very existence calls out to be loved, have we not set up in his place our ideas and so ourselves, and hated rather than loved him? And if we died, hating him, could we bare the very presence of so infinite and great a lover?
One thinks of the scrupulous, and those monotheists who have sought through the spreading of their religions to realize over against others their own will to dominate, to subjugate, to make others the stand upon which they could raise themselves – they have too often made the very idea of religion unpalatable to others. The scrupulous, one may excuse, for they have become such out of a twisting, a constricting, a choking of their own inner life, and such that is almost always out of their control – as any psychological disorder, in its genesis and deepest roots, so often out of the control of those who suffer them. The will to–power, that may too have grown well nigh ineluctably as inclination out of the abuse one suffered at the hands of others. These, however, are not ways to love; those who exhibit these, or live them out, they are mistaken about the one they love – possibly, and even often perhaps, inculpably so. But perfect love cannot but expect and encourage love; and love, ah, it aims for peace, for joy, in an immensity no finite lover can imagine. Love longs for rest with the beloved, and will be satisfied with nothing short of this; so much more so, Love Itself.