Saturday, September 4, 2010

The God Thing

[lightly edited after first being published so the "ands" and "buts" make a bit more sense...]

Chris posted on FaceBook:
I'd like to join Robert and Glenn and simply observe that if you accept that magic isn't real you don't have to worry about making such distinctions. It really does make life a whole lot easier. There is neither God the Father nor God the Judge. There simply is no God, or god.
and I responded:
Chris: Hmm. That's kind of a put up or shut up statement there. So I'll put up in a blog post... Too long to post here... And thanks for being blunt!
I've kind of resisted any real statements of faith: little pieces here and there, but maybe I ought to just put out there where I stand on this basic "is there or isn't there" thing:

Magic may not be real in the same sense that the sofa I'm sitting on is real, but then neither is love real in the same way. I believe God as a person is a human construct made to explain and give sensible shape to an observed set of patterns in the world. I don't believe God has personhood in and of itself.

Actually, I think God is the strawman in this, in that there are so many shapes and visions and experiences that all get lumped together, and everyone who "believes in God" ends up actually believing in a subset of them, either through their own conscious choice or more often through personal experience and social pressure.

I think of it in the abstract as the difference between matter and energy: we can't see energy, only its effect upon matter. Some energy is utterly chaotic at a human scale (the weak and strong atomic forces, for example, are way too fast and small to register with us, and the resulting molecular interactions, or even the basic chemical reactions of living cells, happen at staggeringly rapid, small-scale speeds). Other evidences of energy (Hurricane Earl for example) have clear, directional force but a mindless intent. This sense of a hurricane's mindlessness is comparatively new: people may pray for a miracle, but few liberal religionists really understand God as the one who puffs His breath and makes the tornado wipe out one house and not the other. On the other hand, there are still plenty of people out there who think God decides baseball games. Or who believe in good luck charms.

And then there's energy with intent: life. Weeds that "want" to grow into the tomato patch, the virus that "wants" to take over your body. Love. War. My point is, while living things are concrete, life itself is essentially defined by the flow of energy through these concrete systems.

Now, I do not personally believe in a cosmic mind, in the sense that humans have minds and individual wills. I think a Universal Will looks an awful lot like gravity, in that it's things we really don't think of fighting. But, of course, people do fight gravity all the time. And death. And taxes, but that's only marginally related to the topic here. And I'd argue that the fight is not on the whole a good thing. Dancing with gravity and death, sure, but in the end they will win. Your plane will need refueling, and you will eventually die.

On the other hand, I see people rely on the cosmic mind, aka God the Father or the Trinity or Allah or Jehovah, or whichever construction the particulars of their faith entails. And for the most part, it seems to be a force for good in their personal lives. Now, I know about Messrs Falwell, Swaggart, Roberts, Robertson et al. And pedophile priests and Osama bin Laden and suicide cults. But I see that none of these perversions could have existed without the love and trust created amongst people: there has to be something real there for demagogues and opportunists to twist to their own advantage; something internally forceful and good that people can be persuaded is threatened by external forces. But for the people themselves, this God thing seems to heal them, support them, and frankly make them better able to play with others.

Which is where I am right now: that it isn't actually all that important to show that God has physical manifestation, or that it can be measured and recorded. But as part of a religious organization or two (if you count my marriage as an organization), I want to see how we can make a place where folks like me on one hand, and folks who live a life with God on the other, can live together and learn from each other, as opposed to beating each others’ orthodoxies over each others’ heads.


RantWoman said...

Enjoyed this a lot, especially the last paragraph.

It's not darn help as far as how to say very concisely "theological" diversity for soemthing I am editing, but oh, well.

Olof Hellman said...

Personally, I'm very conscious of the distinction between two different meanings of the phrase "to believe in something". There's the "I believe in UFOs" sense and the "I believe in democracy" sense.

In the case of UFOs (or ghosts, or aliens, or the Great Pumpkin, or the immaculate conception), it is the existence of the thing which is in question. In the case of democracy (or capitalism, or gun control, or homeopathy), it's a statement about the power or the efficacy of the thing in question.

It seems like you are trying to say that you think of belief in God the same way you think of belief in democracy. And I'd agree.

Michael Bischoff said...

Very thoughtful post, Nat. I appreciated how the fleshed out some of the things that can be in the "God" package. I also appreciated the respectful tone of it all.