Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving God a shot

Hmmmmmm, looks like I'm doing a last-minute update.

I've been listening to Deepak Chopra being humiliated in public on this delightful youtube playlist, and it's been making me think about God.

Atheists (one of which I am) are in the habit of talking about God in the silliest terms they can think of- as though to believe in God is to believe in a magic man in the sky whose zombie son died to save you from spending eternity (of which less than 10,000 years have gone by so far) in his burning cavern beneath the earth. There's a place for this kind of coarse mockery, but it doesn't constitute an argument against the existence of God in general or the worthiness of the conception, and if this kind of caricature is the beginning and the end of one's thoughts about God, then one has failed to appreciate the depth and subtlety the idea can achieve, and failed to earn credit for having truly confronted it.

I have tried to build up, in my mind, the best case I can for the kind of God that I could most respect. Imagine with me, if you will, that all of the competing religions we know to exist among all of Earth's peoples are driven, not only by anxiety over mortality, lust for power, and sheer ignorance, but also by a genuine encounter with what might be called "the numenous", or "the transcendent", or "the ground of all being"- or any of the various titles that have been given to God or the level of existence that God is taken to signify. It might be said that this encounter is what inspires us to rise above the level of selfish striving and seek meaning in our connections with other people, with nature, and with this even deeper essence that we might call God, to look upon all creatures with respect, with compassion, and, when we can manage it, with love. In this way, we can understand God as an ultimate reality that is not outside of us, but rather which permeates and transcends each and all of us, and all of space and time, acting not as a dictator or tinkerer, but as an inspiration to evolve to ever greater degrees of good will and creativity, whenever we are open to it. Worship becomes less a way of getting a personal entity to do things or pay attention to us or feel better about itself, and more a way of experiencing the God which is the unity of all things, sharing that experience with others, and reinforcing in ourselves the virtues it is always ready to inspire.

Is that something I believe in? Not especially, but I can certainly respect beliefs of that kind when held by others (and there are people who believe in just that sort of thing), and I think that conception of God can get by relatively well under any atheist's critique. Its only fault, as far as I can see, is that there's no good reason to believe in it. Of course, even the notion of "good reason" is not one that can be precisely pinned down.

What I like about respectable forms of theism, such as the one I've outlined above, is that they are ways of acknowledging, with genuine humility, that our experience as conscious living creatures is ultimately one of mystery, that the ineffable will always have a place in it, and that art, myth, and ritual are more ready means to express it than head-on rational explanations and descriptions.

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