We now return to the main discussion: religious faith is, in principle, a bright spot, a potential source of light. What evidence supports that thesis?
My first argument is that “thinking upward” is not a gratuitous business. It leads to something, and with it one gains access to the metaphysical world. A world beyond the horizon—a world completely irrational that is impervious to rational, logical analysis. That world is not empty: humans cannot easily manage a vacuum, they tend to fill it up. A lull in a conversation is filled with words; in the case of a metaphysical universe, with undeterminable forces that influence one’s life as well as that of the community of which one is part. The forces imagined to operate in this metaphysical universe, may remain vague, unformed, noncommittal; this I call spirituality. Alternatively, the forces fancied are brought together in one, omnipresent, omnipotent, all-embracing mythical being, called God; this I call religiosity.
I use the term “mythical” not to denigrate. On the contrary, I consider myth as a superior way to express in a narrative, symbolic way experiences that are tenuous, those that cannot be concretely defined but are nevertheless intense and full of meaning and significance. The God-myth is of that nature. It is solidly rooted in human society, and its influence there has been profound and permanent.
For men of faith, that conception, that effigy, that likeness of God acquires a variety of functions. I will mention some. It is, first of all, a symbol of unlimited creativity and ultimate morality. As such it becomes for the faithful a role model, a touchstone for one’s own behavior>—imitatio deï. It is held as an absolute unattainable ideal, and at the same time, as a supreme guide for life. In his capacity of sublime example, God encroaches on man’s conscience, integrates with his conscience. In that capacity, God warns him when he threatens to go astray and stirs up guilt feelings if that happens.
The word symbol, metaphor, just like the concept myth, lacks any denigrating connotation. A metaphor is the very means to express verbally something actually impossible to catch in words. It provides an image of something ineffable and unimaginable.
Moreover, both fatherly and motherly qualities are projected in an idealized form in the God-effigy. In the experiential world of the faithful, God is both advisor and supreme protector. He steps in during times of emotional upheaval and provides solace or resignation, as needed.
Finally, God, as perceived by the faithful, has expectations. He expects man to sanctify life, to single out a destination with an altruistic character. A destination that contributes to the well-being of a society on a social, cultural, or scientific level. The destination can be less lofty but no less important by trying to make the best of one’s family or one’s professional and social life.