“Only God Can Save Us”

By Jim Selman | Bio


It was said that the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s last words were “Only God can save us.” He was, perhaps, one of the deeper thinkers (at least in modern times) on the question of who we are and what is really going on. As far as I know, he wasn’t religious. So what he meant by these words, if indeed he said them, is open to question.

My view is that he was talking about the fact that all human beings live in interpretations of “reality”—cultural and linguistic inventions—and that humanity is now ‘trapped’ in an interpretation that has no back door. That is, the ‘Cartesian’ worldview that now dominates the globe is so powerful that, like a black hole, it consumes all other possible interpretations. This might be viewed as analogous to an alcoholic who becomes locked into his or her ‘internal conversation’ and lives in denial of any other possibilities. They will continue to think and act as if the world is the way they think it is—even to the point of justifying self-destructive behavior long after everyone else is clear that they are ‘out of touch’. It isn’t that the alcoholic doesn’t know they have a problem or that the problem is even killing them. It is that they have lost the capacity to choose: they have no control and no possibility of recovering the capacity to choose on their own. In the tradition of AA, “…only a higher power can restore us to sanity.”

Another way of thinking about the dilemma in which our country and the world seems caught is in acknowledging that human beings always become captives of their creations. We invent organizations to serve us and then end up serving the organizations. We create ideals and values to govern our conduct as civilized people and then are dominated by our own values to the extent we will violate them in self-righteous indignation without even realizing what we are doing. One of my favorite insights into the human condition came when I realized a profound ‘truth’ in the maxim “We get what we resist.” In our rush to control everything (including ourselves, our circumstances and other people), we are resisting all the stuff we don’t like. In doing so, we become victims of the very things we want to control. When we believe we can control something that we cannot control, then it will control us!

My notion of ‘faith’ is the capacity to commit to a possibility before there is any evidence that it is possible. We can never prove the existence of God (at least not by any standard for objective proof), yet a good portion of humanity have some faith in the existence of a ‘higher power’ and then believe all sort of things depending upon their history and traditions. Whether any of these beliefs are true is academic, since it is impossible to prove the premise on which they are based. But their value is not in whether they are true or false (they aren’t either). Their value is in how they open or close possibilities for the ‘believers’ in the present.

If someone ‘sees’ or imagines a bigger possibility and then organizes their actions and behavior based on their commitment to that possibility, then (sooner or later) either that possibility becomes a ‘new’ reality or, in the process, the person can see what is missing or in the way of having that possibility become ‘real’. Either way, their actions and behaviors are consistent with something that in one moment doesn’t exist but which, over time, is brought into existence.

I suggest the same approach is what will be required to transform many of the current intractable problems. We must create a vision for our lives and for the world that is ‘outside the box’ of our predictable situations and then ‘walk the talk’—live the vision—until it becomes our future. This is what Gandhi meant when he said, “If you want your vision to be realized, then be the vision”. He might have said to ‘come from the future’, for in doing so, you’ll see that you are already there as a possibility and have everything you need to bring it into reality.

We can see it works in AA and, in retrospect, we can see that this is essentially how all great transformational changes have happened in our personal lives and in the world. The first step is to see that we’re trapped, and the second is to consider the possibility that Heidegger suggested (that we can’t get there from here alone). Finally, we need to commit ourselves to a vision bigger than is reasonable and go into action to clean up our messes and create the world we want—a world that works for everyone.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All
rights reserved.

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