An unusual oxymoron, I know, but, like anything delivered tongue-in-cheek, it contains an element of serious conjecture. Many years ago (quarter of a century), I read a book on anthropology, which left no great impression on me except that the author said that there were 2 types of culture world wide. One cultural type had a religion based on a ‘creator’ or creation myth, and the other had a religion based on ancestor worship.
I would possibly add a third, which is religion based on the projection of the human psyche. In a historical context, religion has arisen primarily from an attempt to project our imagination beyond the grave. Fascination in the afterlife started early for humans, if ritual burials are anything to go by. By extension, the God of humans, in all the forms that we have, is largely manifest in the afterlife. The only ‘Earthly’ experiences of God or Gods occur in mythology.
Karen Armstrong, in her book, The History of God demonstrates how God has evolved over time as a reflection of the human psyche. I know that Armstrong is criticised on both sides of the religious divide, but The History of God is still one of the best books on religion I have read. It’s one of her earliest publications when she was still disillusioned by her experience as a Carmelite nun. A common theme in Armstrong’s writing is the connection between religion and myth.
I’ve referred to Ludwig Feuerbach in previous posts for his famous quote: God is the outward projection of the human psyche (I think he said ‘man’s inner nature’), so I’ve taken a bit of licence; but I think that’s as good a definition of God as you’re going to get. Feuerbach also said that ‘God is in man’s image’ not the other way round. He apparently claimed he wasn’t an atheist, yet I expect most people today would call him an atheist.
For most people, who have God as part of their existential belief, it is manifest as an internal mental experience yet is ‘sensed’ as external. Neurologist, Andrew Newberg of University of Pennsylvania, has demonstrated via brain imaging experiments that people’s experience of ‘religious feelings [God] do seem to be quite literally self-less’. This is why I claim that God is purely subjective, because everyone’s idea of God is different. I’ve long argued that a person’s idea of God says more about them than it says about God.
I would make an analogy with colour, because colour only occurs in some sentient creature’s mind, even though it is experienced as being external to the observer. There is, of course, an external cause for this experience, which is light reflected off objects. People can equally argue that there is an external cause for one’s experience of God, but I would argue that that experience is unique to that person. Colour can be tested, whereas God cannot.
Contrary to what people might think, I’m not judgemental about people’s belief in God – it’s not a litmus test for anything. But if God is a reflection of an individual’s ideal then judge the person and not their God.
When I was 16, I read Albert Camus’ La Peste (The Plague) and it challenged my idea of God. At the time, I knew nothing about Camus or his philosophy, or even his history with the French resistance during WWII. I also read L’Etranger (The Outsider) and, in both books, Camus, through his protagonists, challenges the Catholic Church. In La Peste, there is a scene where the 2 lead characters take a swim at night (if my memory serves me correctly) and, during a conversation, one of them conjectures that it would possibly be better for God if we didn’t believe in God. Now, this may seem the ultimate cynicism but it actually touched a chord with me at that time and at that age. A God who didn’t want you to believe in God would be a God with no ego. That is my ideal.