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Monday, March 16, 2015

Do you believe in God?

"Do you believe in God?" I am sometimes asked.

No, probably not the god the asker is talking about. I do not believe in some separate supernatural entity out there beyond. Certainly not a superhuman person, a Big Daddy or Mom in the sky, someone who answers my requests if I pray to Him or Her, someone who punishes bad guys and rewards good guys, someone who gives rulers authority, someone or something who starts and ends everything that is. I understand those images and where they come from; but I no longer find them useful or even worthy.

I accept that I am being heretical in Christian, Hebrew, Muslim, and probably most other religious teachings. But I am not writing this for persons with religious beliefs. I am writing this for myself and for others who like me reject most religions and their beliefs. I write this for fellow skeptics, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, infidels, postmodernists, and nonbelievers. I write this to affirm that you and I are people of great faith, love, and hope and that in our thinking and acting we are as devout as religious people. And maybe more so because we criticize and transcend our myths and doctrines, our moralities and institutions, our communities and nations. And we would never sacrifice a person to a belief.

Nor do I mean to disparage religious persons or their religions or their religious practices. Indeed many of them also have great faith that surpasses their own myths, rites, and doctrines and that drives them to the same infinity of meaning which we all experience in our thoughtful action with each other beyond belief in God.

Asking if I believe in God is like asking me if I believe in my Self, other Selves, and the World. I have discovered that my Self, Others, the World, and God are all constructions of my/our thinking and acting or, better, are in process of being constructed through our interactions with each other, the world, and the infinite. I affirm them. However, they/we are not fixed, final, or absolute constructs, but are discovered becoming in the awareness of our thinking and acting in space and time and community thrusting to infinity.

Let me say what I mean by "becoming constructions" starting with my Self.

I was born a body with a genotype. That genotype equips my body with capacities and proclivities evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. And over the years of my body's life, despite my body aging and changing almost every molecule, I pretty much retain the same structure of genes. But I am not my genotype.

My body becomes a self with the awareness of individuality or an "I" only when it exercises its capacity to think. And though my genes provide me a nervous system with this capacity, it is only realized when it is exercised in interaction with others who are using symbols and categories to communicate. First my mother, then my father, siblings, friends, teachers, colleagues, communities, and, most of all, the person with whom I choose to spend my life. Without them I would not be able to think. I would have no "I." They are contributing to my character or soul, that is, who I am choosing to be; and I am contributing to theirs. We are constructing ourselves over the whole period of our lives; and we die unfinished.

And at the same time we are co-creating our world through our language and symbols. I am not saying that there is nothing outside our minds prior to our ideas and constructs. Matter aside from mind is real. But we are creating and finding the patterns and forms of matter by constructing categories and applying them so that they work for us to live and get along.

I constitute my world using words, symbols, ideas--constructs which have been given to me and which I extend, expand, and reshape to form my world. I have many worlds--an artistic world patterned by images, a common world of ordinary language, a scientific world of mathematical formulas, a mystic world of religious myths. I try to integrate them into one world which I call my world. I try to integrate my world with yours so that we can learn from each other and so we can build one integrated world where we can all live and thrive, grow and know together. The creating of our world, one of integrity, justice, and love is not a useless enterprise; but it is an endless one.

Together we construct more than our world; we create the Future. Together in this human experiment we are intending the Infinite of which we have an inkling in pi, the infinite number for understanding the perfect circle, in the vastness of the expanding universe, and in our eternal desire to understand. Future, Infinity, Universality, Eternity is known by us only in our personal and collective in-tension to it.

Spinoza and St. John called it Divine Love. And this myth is connected to the Stoic image of the divine spark in the soul that comes from and returns to the Universal Fire, the neo-platonic image of the idea that receives from and points to the Eternal Mind of ideas, the rationalist image of Reason working its way through History, the Christian image of a Beatific Vision seen through a dark glass. Spirit of life, truth, and love are some of its other names in poetry and mythology. And God.

But does that Infinity, Eternity. Universality, and Future exist now is what you are asking. No. I would rather say that it exists in the now, in our tension towards the Infinity, Universality, Eternity, the Future. Poetically the Future beckons to us. It calls us. It guides us to itself. But the Future is truly future--not now. Infinity, Universality, Eternity--like when pi runs out of numbers, like when we know everything there is to know, like when when we achieve an end where there is no end--are also truly and forever Future. And like the gods of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, they exist only if and to the extent that we believe in them.

By that I mean only if we have the faith to commit ourselves to construct the Future, to know the Infinite, and reach towards Eternity by continuing to think and act humanly now with each other in the world to construct the Universal Community. And that means holding this faith in the manifest absurdity of war, of destruction of the earth, of death of self and loved ones, of selfish fear and hate of others, of millions of refugees living in tents and children traumatized by abuse and slavery, and of a broken world. There is as much reason to succumb to nihilism with the conviction that nothing matters as there is to grasp meaning in the creativity and loving kindness of greathearted men and women affirming the Future in which everything matters. It is our choice, our conviction, our faith, our wager that will tip the pendulum.

Fellow skeptics and seekers, let's help each other keep the faith.

1 comment:

Laurie Lester said...

Rollie--This is so wonderful; I am always delighted by the breadth of your references and the largeness of your vision!