Interesting question, isn’t it? Allow me to explain why I chose to name this post in such a manner before you delve too deeply and your thoughts become hopelessly distracted by the far reaching philosophical implications inherent in the question masquerading as the topic of this writing. It is easy to become diverted by semantics and find one’s thinking mired in the whithertos and whyfores while simultaneously failing to actually discuss the pertinent details.
I am writing this post to provide you with a deeper explanation to a previous blog entry I made on religiously inspired violent action. That entry became the impetus for an ongoing conversation between myself and (e)m, another blogger whom I follow with great interest and whose perspective incidentally happens to flow from an atheist worldview. Unfortunately, my choice of phrasing while writing my original material led to the understandable miscommunication of several key facets of the point I was attempting to make, a mistake I should like to rectify with this fully measured response.
It was my contention, as previously written, that those who justify violent action based on their belief in God do not truly believe in the God. (E)m was offended by this statement and rightfully so, for it implies that such people are actually atheists and therefore the further assumption can be made that evil actions can only be attributed to atheists alone for one who believes in God would not and perhaps even could not condone such behavior. If I truly held this position it would be not only unreasonable but utterly insane and I feel compelled to apologize to (e)m at this juncture and ask that I be allowed to clarify my initial statement with the proper explanation.
My use of the phrase “believe in God” in that context did not convey my thoughts correctly. I should have said, rather, that those people who justify violence in the name of God do not truly understand God at all. They do not know God. To blindly adhere to outmoded and archaic suggestions without taking the accumulated knowledge of human experience into account is, in my opinion, completely irresponsible.
The people who wrote scripture down in literary form did so under the influence of certain beliefs held to be fact during their respective lifetimes. To Moses, the sun appeared to revolve around the earth. To Joshua of Nazareth, the world was flat. They did not have a complete picture of the truth of creation, of what the universe really is. Neither does modern man of course, but our understanding is rapidly expanding day by day. Certainly we have a much larger piece of the puzzle than those admirable philosophers who preceded us but we must also be careful not discount their wisdom, for their perspectives provide a valuable insight into the evolution of our consciousness.
In my opinion, taking the position that every word of scripture is divinely revealed is a clear example of voluntary ignorance. Scripture cannot be the entire revelation of God’s will for God does not speak in words as we define them but rather communicates through the methodology of conceptualization. For instance, take the proposition that pride is a deadly sin. While this is a commonly held belief based on biblical writing, the concept is also an example of revealed Truth and can even be applied to the practice of religion itself. Allow me to explain my thinking here.
Can we, as reasonable beings, assume that any religious system created by mortal philosophy is even capable of encompassing every facet of our spiritual knowledge vis-à-vis the nature of existence? To make such an assumption places a defined limit on the actual nature of God, who by default exists without limit as an infinite being. Therefore I see the position of religious exclusivism as willfully ignorant and synonymous with the unabashed expression of human pride on a cultural level. How can any explanation created by a finite being such as mortal man encompass the entirety of God, of that which is infinite?
It is readily apparent that language in of itself is not truly capable of fully explaining the nature of God, for the use of language as a means of communication is inherently finite and any thought or possibility relayed through its use is entirely subject to intellectual interpretation by the individuals directly involved in the process or even by those who may be observing the exchange indirectly from the periphery. It is for this reason that honest, in-depth communication is so very important, not only to increase our understanding of God, but to facilitate the expansion of our understanding of each other as well. Language may not be sufficient to the task but it is the only effective tool we currently have at our disposal if we are to continue our evolution as a species
A true and complete concept of God should, to my way of thinking, equal not only the sum of physical existence on a universal scale but also fully incorporate a complete understanding of what it means to be conscious in the first place. Are we dualist in philosophy or monist? To me, that is the central question to this debate in the first place. Is the consciousness indelibly tied to the physical or does it exist independent of biological processes? When physical death occurs, does consciousness as we understand it continue? Do we, in effect, possess an immortal soul?
This is where my perspective on the nature of scripture flows from as I see most scripture as an eloquent example of humanity’s desperate attempt to come to terms with our fear of death. It does however contain important kernels of Truth and therefore cannot be relegated to the status of useless drivel. Scripture is, in its own way, a record of everything we know to be spiritually true as a species. The challenge lies in separating the wheat from the chaff, in discovering which components of both spiritual and scientific theory are not only correct, but actually remain relevant to the discussion.
From my perspective yes, God does exist, but I do not accept the existence of God simply because I have faith. I see such a position as a philosophical cop out, an easy answer to a question that deserves extraordinarily deep contemplation rather than simple off the cuff answers. Additionally, to say that God exists simply because scripture says that S/he does is to rely on faith alone and discount the value of our own perceptions. In contrast, an enlightened theist is one who both acknowledges the existence of God and also bases that acknowledgement upon one’s understanding of the nature of existence as a consciously aware being.
To be a spiritual person is to know in the depths of one’s being that we as individuals are made up of more than our constituent parts. In order to achieve true harmony or what others may choose to define as “enlightenment”, one must actively and vehemently refuse to fear the unknown. I see fear as a product of limited perception, an emotion perhaps best defined as the instinctive reaction to an individual’s exposure to uncertainty. Stated simply, our drive to ensure self-preservation on an individual level is predicated by our failure to completely understand the root nature of existence as an integrated whole. The attempt to define this process is an example of philosophy at its deepest level. By contributing to the discussion we make substantial progress in advancing the evolution of our own thought and in so doing we increase our understanding of what it really means to be conscious.
I demand substantial thought from my human brothers and sisters and I do not feel this to be an unreasonable expectation. It is easy, after all, to propose that the debate over written theology is nothing more than another method by which we engage in a circular argument that cannot be resolved by intellect alone. At some point in the search for meaning in one’s life it becomes necessary to adjust one’s perspective and consider the existential nature of reality. Faith alone does not play a part in this growth process for it requires the collaboration of the intellect to possess true meaning.
As a human being, I know I exist, unequivocally. I trust in the information I receive from my physical senses as interpreted by my conscious mind. To quote Descartes, “Cognito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am”. If I did not exist I could in no way affect my surroundings in the physical world and clearly that is not the case. The supposition that the nature of reality itself is nothing more than illusion is, in my opinion, patently ridiculous and defeats the purpose of the discussion entirely. I consider such thinking to be another example of insubstantial thought and to me such a position has no practical value other than to promote the importance of our ongoing search for the ultimate meaning of Truth.
I do not expect anyone to see God exactly as I do for they would have to possess my exact perspective to see in such a manner. Short of downloading my consciousness and immersing yourself in the substance that makes up the entire nature of my personal being, such a feat would be impossible. What then do I hope to achieve by initiating this discussion in the first place? The answer to that question I can readily provide. It is my hope that, given enough time and discussion, humanity will come to know God as I do, to understand that God does not want to be isolated and subsequently relegated to some immaterial plane of existence while humanity alone provides worship to soothe the divine ego.
We cannot deny that there are innumerous planets in this universe and many surely possess the capability to support the evolution of life. Can we then reasonably assume that humanity is the only sentient form of life in all of existence? What gall, what massive sea of conceit must we drown ourselves in in order to assume that we are the penultimate creation of God? We are but one small part of this awe inspiring and marvelously beautiful universe. God chose to implement the whole of creation as we conceive of it and in so doing subsequently instituted the process of evolution as a means of producing the potential for the growth of conscious awareness. We are as a species, in effect, the direct result of God’s own foray into the realm of existential thought.
In conclusion I would like to reference the following statement my atheist acquaintance made to me, and I quote, “until you provide credible evidence, I will not believe in any god or gods”. Now let me actually apply that statement to the concept of God as a conscious being for it is perfectly conceivable that God, like humanity, also struggles with the question of whether S/he truly knows nature of reality or if there is in fact something more. Is God an atheist? I suspect you know my answer but I think I’ll leave that question up to you.