Posts Tagged: God

May 16

Does God Exist? Yes and No

When people say they’ve lost their religious faith, the core reason is nearly always that they observe the world to be a mess, that cruelty and despair are integral to the world–probably to the cosmos–and God does not intervene, “hence God doesn’t exist”. I don’t blame them. They’re both right, and wrong, in my view.

There are various rationales offered to us for the existence of evil in the world–”it’s necessary so that free will can also exist” is one–but in fact evil probably exists because nature simply iterates that way, ramifying so that we receive “evil” (relative to our consensus reality) along with “blessings”. But a “blessing” seems doomed to be crushed eventually, as if it were a happy woman suddenly abducted and murdered: victimized by the infinite rolling of the cosmic dice; by entropy, and the bitter shortness of life; by death.

To me, there is no God per se, but that doesn’t mean there’s no Supreme Being of any kind. The mistake is in assuming that there must be a higher being defined by our childish notions. “The Supreme Being has to be our creator!” Then who created the creator? “The Supreme Being has to have deliberately designed this Grand Absurdity!” Says who? Primitive tribesmen in the Middle East 2500 years ago? “It has to be all-loving and good according to what humanity thinks is loving and good.” Same answer, and that presumption is your need for a perpetual parent which you superimpose on the world.

And these notions of your God’s loving kindness are strange in the context of the Bible where God does at least as much mass murdering as blessing–drowning millions of babies in the Great Flood for example. This same fellow sends billions of people to burn for all eternity for entirely arbitrary reasons. That should have been a sign from the first something was wrong with the whole concept.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no supreme, or higher being. Sunlight can be cruel. Be congruent with its nature, however, and it cultivates you. Darkness can be a blessing–modify harsh sunlight with shade, a modicum of darkness. . .

To me this pervasive, intrinsic consciousness–this hypothetical higher being– has some background, rootlike connection to our own consciousnesses. Then again, it’s like a river one goes to for irrigation– you must fetch out the water yourself, but it is, by its nature, always on offer. Just remember that a river is a natural force that might drown you as well as quench your thirst. The Nile is not kind or unkind. Nor is it a distinct god. Tillich said, the being that pervades the cosmos is “not a person–but not less than a person”.

It seems to provide a mysterious kind of guidance, and nourishment. But it’s not going to listen to your prayers for money or physical healing or saving innocents–it’s for us to save the innocents. The consciousness intrinsic to the universe is beyond listening to us as individuals…Do you hear the individual splash of every raindrop that falls in every storm?

Childish, self pitying notions of its obligations to us merely obscure it from view. And when we look for it, we tend to look with the wrong part of ourselves.

Nov 14

Thanksgiving–Is it Meaningful? Yes, Even for Atheists.

I sympathize with people who dislike the commercialization of every holiday, certainly including Thanksgiving. I sympathize with those who wonder if the Native Americans who are said to have given the Pilgrims a helping hand that day were only opening the door to misery and inexorable invasion. But the concept of ritually or consciously giving thanks, as well as the notion of celebrating “harvest”, whatever it may be, with family and friends, makes Thanksgiving, perhaps, the most sensible of holidays.

I give thanks I’ve got my wife Micky Shirley–I’d be lost without her. Thank God I’ve got the friendship of those few close friends who have put up with my eccentricities, my fits of depression, and occasional louche backsliding over the years. I’m thankful I encountered a few adventurous book editors willing to take a chance on some quite outre fiction. Thank God I’ve got three sons who are employed, intelligent, kindly people. I fully appreciate the fact that I’ve got opportunities to earn money to pay a mortgage on a home, to pay for a celebrative meal, and, thanks to America’s first African-American president, full healthcare coverage at a reasonable cost.

These considerations are valuable. The underlying idea of Thanksgiving, if I open up to it, makes me a better man than I usually am, however briefly. If I give it a chance, it lifts me out of my self-pity. It reawakens my feelings of charity toward others even as it encourages volunteerism and charitable thoughts in many people who otherwise are caught up in their own troubles; these same people are sometimes found handing out hot dinners, on this day every year.

The philosophy implied in thanks-giving is a holiday even my many friends who are sturdily atheist can appreciate; praying Pilgrims or not, the occasion has lasting ramifications for a healthy secular society. One doesn’t need to thank God, in particular. One can simply be thankful. (In the end, the same thing–but don’t tell the atheists.)

Thank God for giving thanks.

Dec 11

God: Now Under Investigation. He’d better get a lawyer.

Debating with friends in email about whether or not there can be empirical evidence of God. I said: Well, people argue about what an empirical perception is, and how it can be limited or not. Philosophers like Jacob Needleman argue that there is reasonable empirical experience of God for an individual and if you follow instructions you can have the same experience so then it becomes ‘replicable experience’. (Instruction does not involve prayer or hallucinogenic drugs.) He has a book called What is God? That explains. And for example if every night you get a phone call from a correspondent, Joe, whom no one you know has met, and he’s a really wild interesting guy on the phone and you tell them about it but they see no other evidence of Joe, after some years they perhaps suspect you’re making him up. So your experience isn’t at that moment replicable to them. But you are absolutely certain Joe exists, not only because of the phone calls but because of the content of the phone calls, his voice, the consistency of information and so on despite some mystery about him. (Joe gives no last name and no address. etc) . You are not going to say, “Maybe Joe doesn’t really exist.” You can claim, “Oh he may be a computer program or something.” But actually you get a “sense of verisimilitude” from many conversations with Joe that make him clearly a real person. So even if it’s not replicable for others you’re convinced he’s real. But others can have the Joe experience if they follow instructions. They must come to your house at a definite time and listen on the speaker phone, and this must happen many times before he’ll take their number and call them too and before they are convinced he’s real…

Sophisticated models of a higher consciousness investing the universe, which some call God, do not describe a being that is omnipotent. Compared to us, it’s perhaps omniscient, everything being relative. If you insist that by definition God must be omnipotent, the creator of the universe, your judge in the afterlife, etc, then no sophisticated thinker believes that God exists. But a supernal higher intelligence that is benevolent but not able to help us in everything exists, according to this more sophisticated model.

From my personal experience I’m convinced that there is a consciousness that exists outside individualized physical organisms, outside physical brains, which is essentially ubiquitous. I believe we have a connection to it, we’re sort of like waves on its sea, and temporarily “separate” as waves on the surface seem (in some respects) to be. I think there are evolved consciousnesses within this supernal consciousness, which are intermediate between us and it. I believe this conscious is not omnipotent and has severe limitations but it is possible to interact with it with some benefit to oneself. I have no good name for it.

Once there was an eskimo.About four hundred years ago. This eskimo was out in his kayak and got swept out to sea in a storm. He was then caught in a powerful current. Injured and without his paddles now, he drifted helplessly south. he lived on rainwater and two small fish. He was within a few breaths of dead when he was picked up, weeks later, by Islanders in the warm pacific. They took him in, saved his life, and taught him their language. he told them about a place he’d come from, where water in the cold turns to white stuff you can walk on like sand. Called ‘snow’. He described fantastic mountains of water that keep their shape, called icebergs. The islanders had never been so far north, had never seen any such thing, and assumed he was crazy. he said, “No see, if you go in your canoes with me, up north, eventually I can show you this place. But it’s a long long journey and hard to get there.” They said, “Don’t be ridiculous. Why would we believe such a thing exists. You’re mad.” He got quite angry and frustrated and told them they were smallminded fools. So they figured he was cursed. So they killed him and ate him in a fun feasting party. The end.