“Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” Did the first man in space actually ever say anything like that, or was it Kruschev fishing around for something new to say in support of the then-USSR’s official state atheism?
Centuries before, in his famous sermon on the former Saul of Tarsus and his transforming encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road, Meister Eckhart wrote: When Paul rose from the ground he saw nothing, and this nothingness was God.
Heroic atheist Jean-Paul Sartre, who claimed in his famous “Existentialism and Humanism” (Paris 1947) to outdo all others who had gone before him, could also admit: “That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.” Maybe another time we’ll look at his assertion that everything that gapes (a yawn for example) is obscene – but here is a gaping hole of nothingness in his elemental humanity that this brilliant thinker was honest enough to identify.
And of The Beaver, his lifelong companion, (Simone de Beauvoir) he wrote, wittily but tellingly: “She believed in nothing. Only her scepticism kept her from being an atheist.”
There’s something about “nothing” that draws together the most heroic atheism and the deepest faith.

Strange, isn’t it, how sometimes ways of thinking that seem diametrically opposed can end up very close to each other. Take Friedrich Nietzsche, of “God is dead” fame. It would be hard to find a fiercer critic of the New Testament, and his deliberately provocative little book “Beyond Good and Evil” goes to town in its castigation of the Church and Christian morality for opposing the development of human potential.

In an early chapter, he famously rails against the standard model of thinking and its “search for truth” be it in philosophy or in science: “It is no more than a moral prejudice that truth is worth more than appearance”. No surprise then that any claims to universal moral laws or principles turn out to be founded only in personal fears or self-interest – the title, after all, is “Beyond Good and Evil”.

But how carefully had Nietzsche actually read the New Testament? I suggest that his reading was substantially coloured by his early exposure to sceptical theology and his distaste for the kind of church life he saw around him.
His taunt to local church-goers: “If you’re redeemed, then look redeemed!” says it all.
“ ‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer” was Francis Bacon‘s bleat. But a Roman court, in any case, was hardly the place for the answer that could have been given… The Roman Empire didn’t have a lot of time for philosophy, and the prisoner had been putting about a radical, “Beyond Good and Evil” teaching about truth that challenged both Eastern and Western thinking. Aristotle’s binary logic of “A is not non-A” just as much as Nagarjuna’s Tetralemma, where A is non-A.
“I am the Truth” He had openly declared to His disciples.
Shocking to the Jews, for “I AM” was the version of YHWH, the Secret Name of G-d, revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush, during his commissioning to liberate the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. Jesus of Nazareth was identifying Himself with the G-d of their nation.
But shocking to anyone, in the first instance.  A human being claiming to know “The Truth” is one thing…claiming to BE The Truth seems monstrous.
Besides, how could such non-verbal Truth be communicated?
Saul of Tarsus, who had taken his time about becoming a disciple, and then changed his name to Paul, understood very well. Writing to 1st century believers in Corinth he reminded them of the relationship they were in with “Jesus the Truth”: he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with Him. (1 Corinthians 6:17)
This is truth beyond the European philosophy of Descartes, Hume and Kant. The real-life weaknesses of that immense, impressive and cerebral undertaking were all too clear to Nietzsche. He was the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. He had the guts and the intellect to challenge that whole tradition, but missed so much of what the New Testament, that simple but amazing collection of writings he so consistently despised, is all about when it comes to truth.
Next week’s thrilling instalment: So what about Right and Wrong?

…”a blind man in a coal cellar at midnight, looking for a black cat that isn’t there”.

So maybe he doesn’t get to find the black cat…but you can find a whole lot of interesting stuff when you go poking about in a cellar…

I’m sort of between jobs…my last lecture in the SE ended last month with a wholemeal cake and Prosecco. We’re heading west, to the extreme SW, with 5 contracts, starting in Oct. “The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Philosophy” rides again.  So between now and then, looks like it’s gonna be digital dialogue.

So since you’ve landed on this site, if you’ve found any interesting stuff while poking around in your coal cellar, why not post it?… and see what happens.