The past week has delivered a plethora of commentaries leading to strings of thought-provoking reflections on our forum at some very foundational stuff to do with belief and where civilisation is heading. Vince Exley brings us a commentary today that seems to tap into this 'stream of consciousness' going on in the Catholica community. His thought-provoking commentary, written having just moved into a retirement village, is a kind of credo as to where all his musing and meditation has led him to in his foundational beliefs.
WHAT IS GOD?
You will notice first of all that I speak of WHAT is God, not WHO is God, for I believe that God is a thing that we cannot comprehend, understand or explain. God is just so different.
I recently viewed 36 by 30 min. Teaching Company Lectures on the subject "The Philosophy of Religion".
The Course was presented by Professor James Hall, Chair of the Department of philosophy at the University of Richmond, USA. He is an unusually qualified teacher. The son of a Baptist minister, Professor Hall first trained at a seminary before taking his doctorate in philosophy and embarking on a teaching career nearly 40 years ago.
The central questions of the course were:
What Kinds of Evidence Count?
If evidence is what makes the difference between mere belief and real knowledge, then it is important to discover what kind(s) of evidence work, as well as what quality of evidence is required for effectiveness in a given setting.
Various arguments have been put forward over the years to prove the existence of God, Ontological, Cosmological, Teleological and Divine Encounters. However Professor Hall was to very ably show how every argument was shot down in flames by the testing of each one with the techniques of philosophical thought.
The Ontological Argument: For this argument, famously advanced by St. Anselm and René Descartes, divine existence is entailed by the very concept of Godhood.
The Cosmological Argument: This argument, famously advanced by St. Thomas Aquinas, holds that the very existence of the world proves the existence of God, without whom there could be no first cause for all of being.
The Teleological Argument: This argument, articulated variously by the psalmist, St. Paul, and William Paley, claims that the magnificent design of the world necessarily implies the existence of a designer. Paley argued that if we walk along a beach and find a clock, we assume that a clockmaker created it.
Divine Encounter: This argument points to individuals who are said to have had direct communication with God. If their reports are true, then the other arguments are a sinful waste of time because we would have direct evidence of God.
The ultimate answer is that there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of God, either of the monotheistic type or any other.
Professor Hall did say as a final word that he believed in a monotheistic God that is very worthy of our adoration.
Science has shown us that the Universe we are part of has been in existence for 14.7 billion years plus or minus a few million. Throughout this time it has been expanding at the speed of light, that is 300,000 kilometres a second. If you follow this expansion back to its origin science takes us to what has been called a 'singularity'. Science can take us to within 10-32 part of 1 second of the beginning of this singularity, but it can go no further.
Science hasn't revealed by a long way everything about our universe and it certainly can't tell us anything about what there was before the singularity. It cannot say there is a thing we call God NOR can it say there isn't.
Albert Einstein once said that IMAGINATION was greater than KNOWLEDGE. And for the problem we are facing he is proven right. The only way to go beyond the singularity is to use our imagination. Any God we have has to be a God of our imagination. All that has ever been taught, written or said about God stems from someone's imagination.
HUMANS HAVE A PSYCHOLOGICAL NEED FOR THE SUPERNATURAL
Archaeologists have shown that primitive man, with primitative superstitions, has down through the ages, invented mythological gods. It apparently fills some sort of psychological need. Just look at the massive community labour required to build ideological monuments in such great ancient cultures as Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Harrapan civilisation in the Indus Valley of present day Pakistan, China, the Minoans in Crete, the Maya area in central America and the Inca cultures. All of this evidence shows an extremely very, very deep need within the human psyche.
In many cases chiefs took the title of god for themselves so as to exercise power and control. (That sounds familiar to a Catholic.) I was reading recently about Egyptian leaders who took this so seriously that they would create a special caste of their families by binding their malleable young baby's heads in boards so as to give them a special elongated head shape. The leaders claimed that the prosperity of the State flowed from them. I smiled when I read this sometimes rebounded on them because if they fell ill they would be put to death in fear that that welfare of the state could be jeopardised.
We now understand the Old Testament to be nothing more than a collection of mostly tribal myths. There was no Abraham, no exodus, no ten commandments, no conquering of Canaan, no miraculous events.
The early Christians were immersed in this Old Testament culture and wrapped Jesus up in miraculous events that for me serve as a distraction from the real and wonderful Jesus.
There was no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection, and no ascension into heaven. And down through the ages the Christian church has amplified this process by declaring such rubbish as the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, papal infallibility and the ontological difference ordination bestows on priests.
What sort of cruel God would it be to miraculously cure one person and not another.
Jesus came to show us a 'Way' of life, but his message has been drowned out by an overlay of supernatural rubbish dreamt up by clerics and others.
A SELF-LIMITING GOD
In his book 'The God of Evolution' Fr. Denis Edwards, priest, theologian and prolific writer of the Adelaide diocese, writes of a Self-limiting God. I suppose we are all used to a God who has given us freewill, because we cannot love unless we are free to either love or not love. In this sense we are therefore used to a God who cannot interfere with our free will. However Denis Edwards goes on to say that God is committed not just to respect human freedom but to respect the integrity of the created universe along with its laws and processes. All of this means that God may not be free to overrule natural process. A God who creates through physical process may well be committed to the integrity of the process. If this is the case, then God is not free or able to simply abolish all suffering. God, in creating, accepts the limits of physical processes and of human freedom.
SO WHAT IS GOD?
We come to this question with so much institutional garbage that it is difficult to start to form some views.
I can only agree with Albert Einstein and go to my imagination for an insight.
However I must first admit that there have been many people who were gifted with greater insights into what God is than I am. I can imagine an essence of love and compassion permeating human nature. There seems to be much evidence for it. I can call this essence the 'Cosmic Christ' who proceeds down through the eons of time like a wave, surfacing at times in various people. I believe Jesus of Nazareth was a person who responded to the 'Cosmic Christ' with a special insight as well as others like Skakyamuni Buddha, Mohammad, Gandhi and such modern people as Nelson Mandela.
None of these can actually tell us what God is but they do tell us what God is like. Jesus, for example refers to God as 'abba' or daddy, thus saying that God loves us.
However, there have also been far too many Christian scholars, theologians, popes and bishops who have come up with very inadequate and stupid understandings and have formulated complicated doctrines, creeds etc.
I imagine God as present within me and within the whole universe. The Greeks invented the proposition that everyone had a soul, but the Hindus came up with a better imaginative insight and saw the soul as a 'piece' of God. I like this insight because it means that when I meditate twice daily I am bringing myself into that presence. I rejoice in the fact that when I become distracted during meditation, saying my 'mantra' interiorly is an act of faith in and love of God. When I die, that piece of God, that is me, will return to God. None of that rubbish about last judgments, heaven and hell, purgatory, limbo and such.
There is an enormous amount of research going on about what is consciousness. Researchers are now looking into the extraordinary behaviour of sub-atomic particles revealed by the phenomena of quantum physics for an explanation of how it works. In my imagination I am able to see my consciousness as that piece of God within me.
I can also let my imagination run riot and think that God is perhaps that mysterious thing known as Dark Energy that makes up 70% of the universe. Why not? Nothing is known about dark energy just as nothing is known about God. Both therefore seem to be compatible.
So to sum up, I believe there is a supernatural thing I call God. I don't really know there is but I believe there is. This God created the universe and sustains it. At times throughout history people have had special insights into what God is. I can use these insights to satisfy my psychological needs. I can try and follow my hero, Jesus of Nazareth, throughout my life.
I love the Eucharist. Here is a wonderful ritual handed down to us by Jesus of Nazareth — "Do this in MEMORY of me". At the Eucharist at least two things happen — I receive SACRAMENTALLY the body and blood of the Cosmic Christ, but as Jesus of Nazareth is not present I offer myself up as a sacrifice, an offering, to that God that I love and adore.
If you want to know what God is just use your own imagination.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?