Namaste

Continuing in a spiritual vein (although rather tangentially), I will attempt to tie up some threads in my own thinking…

A few years ago, when I was considering how a non-literal interpretation of God might work (and thinking of theism and atheism and agnosticism as a spectrum rather than binaries, and wondering about clergy I’d met who would be labelled heretics in different circle), I stumbled upon the idea that God could be interpreted as the best that humanity is, was and would be. (I remember the moment distinctly, driving over the prow of a hill into fields covered with bright yellow flowers in the sun.) Of course, this is among the myriad other perceptions of deity that people of faith, or agnosticism or gentle atheism, hold, but it struck me in a profound way. This was partly because I was thinking of ‘the best’ as something that transcended each individual person, as something that had pressed on through history despite every attempt to suppress or ascertain or commodify it, and something that had its being as a conscious or unconscious, ever-evolving communal creation.

And part of my excitement about this idea was how it would conceptualise the Arts. Some works of art…an exquisite statue, a beautiful sonata, a joyous novel…could be seen as gifts for humanity. Others, and many people describe their favourite songs or books this way, as a reassurance that someone else understands…someone knows what it’s like. Others still function more like the ancient prophets: ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re better than this!’. And some get the same message across more subtly, through (as I explored before) encouraging empathy. All of these are expressions of love–the kind of parental love that many people associate with God. (And from this perspective religion itself could be seen more as an art form, some traditional art and quite a lot of ensemble performance art…)

Not much later, I started doing yoga–aided by YouTube (natch). On one of the channels I eventually grew attached to, the instructor explains in 21st c. Western talk what Namaste means. Now I do realise that a video of a Texan yoga instructor informing a Calibritain about millennia-old cultural meanings from Hindi-speaking countries isn’t exactly rigorous research. But I understood it as ‘the best in me bows to the best in you’. This seemed to echo quite significantly my ideas around alternative perceptions of God and humanity (not to mention Judeo-Christian concepts of humanity possessing the ‘image of God’ or of God dwelling in people).

So what? So this all pulled together in my mind so that, when the conversation in the Manifesto in perpetual progress took place, I could come out with something coherent that I also believed in. But I’ve missed out two important things.

First, it was yoga, with a special shout-out to airplane safety videos, that prompted me to add the bit about looking after yourself first. I think this is what religious or spiritual practice is meant to do, at least for those of us who are in a position to help others (and for most people this status might change from day to day); it’s a rest or a reflective break or a refreshment or a kick up what is locally termed the arse so that we can then go out and do what we’re really meant to be doing: loving others.

Secondly, this is something that humanists can fully subscribe to as well. They won’t be thrilled with the performance art and whatnot, but it’s a thin slip of common ground. Which would be nice to have.

Because…to me, all this means something very difficult, and something for which we’re going to need all of our ‘fit your own mask first before helping others’ stuff. Namely: we’re going to have to ‘bow to the best’ in everyone.

This ties up one more thread: the discussions between voters for rival candidates that I blogged about earlier could only be accomplished by all participants acknowledging, to some degree, the [whatever you want to call it…essential humanity, image of God, etc.] in their interlocutors. This is what we need when communicating with–or even thinking about–anyone. From Trump-voter Grandma to Isis.

Namaste

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