I see three sacred mysteries:
- matter, and
By ‘God’ I mean whatever it was that prompted what might have been nothing to actually be something. As an agnostic, if I’m going to talk about ‘God’ the best I can do is say that ‘God’ (for me) is met at the paradoxical boundary beginning of the universe, in which there are only three answers to the question—“Why is there something when there might have been nothing?”—all of them involving question begging: (1) the universe made itself from nothing; (2) the universe has always existed; or (3) a necessary ‘mind’ of some sort—a telos—preceded matter and made it.
Whatever is true, it appears that what was just ‘prior’ to matter (or the laws coexistent with matter) cannot be explained in terms of the consequent matter created. That is, the properties of matter do not explain that other ‘thing’—call it ‘God’—that prompted matter’s existence in the first place. Likewise, it seems that just as matter was a vast disjuncture from all that had gone ‘before,’ so consciousness seems to be a disjuncture that resists explanation in the terms familiar to matter. In other words, consciousness is not like anything in the material world before or since (just as the material world is nothing like anything at the moment just ‘prior’ to the ‘beginning’ of time).
Scientists committed to strict naturalism have been trying to bring all three of these mysteries into the realm of material explanation. In other words, naturalists believe that there is a material explanation for consciousness, and there is a non-teleological, material explanation for the beginning (or eternal existence) of matter. For the strict naturalist, the mysterious trinity of ‘God’, matter, and mind are, ultimately, one (matter).
But my question is this: What if these three things are not reducible to a single explanation? In other words, what if mind, matter, and that other ‘thing’—‘God’— just ‘prior’ to the ‘beginning’ of the universe—are sui generis—ontological mysteries without any ability to be further reduced, in their emergent mystery, to one another? Put differently: What if they are not explainable—and capable of being reduced—to the terms of any of the others (including matter)? What if they are just existent divisions, part of the mystery of being?
I mean, if you can have one mystery of being, why not three mysteries of being that ‘transcend’ one another? What, in other words, if it is a category mistake to try to explain mind in terms of matter, and the beginning in terms of matter? What if mind, matter, and the triggering ‘telos’—or ‘God’—are completely unexplainable in the terms of each other? If this is the case, it would seem that the Hindu intuition that God, in relation to the phenomenal, is “not this, not that” is true also of the human mind in relation to matter and matter in relation to mind. None of these categories can be talked about in terms of the others except as allegory. This was Thomas Aquinas’s argument about God, by the way.
So that’s my current take on the three sacred mysteries: ‘God,’ matter, and mind.
Would lighting a candle for each one be a form of idolotry? If you don’t reduce this trinity down to matter, must it be (necessarily) reduced to ‘God’ because ‘God’ was, well, ‘first’?
Or are all three sacred?
Here are two people reading Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl”: