Paul P. Mealing

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Sunday, 1 June 2008

Is there a God?

This was the 'Question of the Month' posed in Philosophy Now, Issue 65 (January/February 2008).

To be put into perspective, this post should be read with one of my earlier posts, God, theism, atheism (Aug.07), and possibly also Does the Universe have a Purpose? (Oct.07) I need to add the significant caveat that I don’t expect others to believe what I believe. Religion is a very personal, even intimate, experience. As I said in that earlier posting, I believe atheism is a perfectly valid and honest point of view. I only have a problem with atheists when they insist they are axiomatically intellectually superior to theists, in the same way that some theists believe they are axiomatically morally superior to atheists. Both points of view are equally fallacious to me.

I’ve made the point previously that there is only one objective and honest religious truth: we don’t know. The corollary to this is that religion is an experience that is as subjective as consciousness itself.

Below is my submission to Philosophy Now.

To answer this question one must ask another: what is God? Even if the answer to the original question is in the negative then one must explain God away as a cultural artefact or a myth or a psychological phenomenon. I believe a good starting point is 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach’s statement: ‘God is the outward projection of man’s inner nature’. Yet it’s more complex than that, as it always manifests itself as an interaction. Firstly, I believe that God is an experience, and I readily concede that if a person has had no experience, that they would call God, then they would logically be atheists. I make this assertion from the simple pragmatic fact that the only experience we have of God is in our minds, not out there. Some people have this experience and some don’t. Those who don’t tend to think that those who do are either irrational or delusional. Those who do tend to rationalise their experience within a cultural context. So the answer to this question is very personal and very subjective. Whilst one can rationalise a ‘creator’ God based on the freakish laws of nature that culminated in our conscious existence, the experience of God is independent of any such rationalisation. For me, God is a response to introspection at the deepest level, that comes from one's sense of connection to humanity and even to other living things – in other words, to nature. If one considers that we live on a grain of sand on a beach amongst a shoreline of beaches separated by oceans from other shorelines of beaches, one gets the sense of our truly inconsequential existence, yet it also produces a great humility. It is a sense of a greater purpose that leads one to consider God, either as an entity, or a source, or perhaps a destination. It is only because we have the mind to stretch beyond our mortal existence, in this way, that we believe in its possibility. This perception of something far greater, beyond us, can create supreme humility or supreme egotism – it depends on the beholder.

Footnote: The best book I've read on this subject is Karen Armstrong's The History of God. As I mention in response to a comment below, The Unconscious God by Viktor Frankl gives another perspective again.

I also point out in my response to the same comment that I appreciate that different people have different ideas of what or who God is. I think that is an important, and often overlooked, point.

Addendum: I came across this quote in the I Ching, which seems appropriate.

"There, in the depths of the soul, one sees the Divine, the One... To know this One means to know oneself in relation to the cosmic forces. For this One is the ascending force of life in nature and man."


Nathan Hunt said...

Both atheists and theists make a huge assumption. One assumes that god doesn't exist, and the other assumes God does.

Neither of these assumptions are better really. In both cases you don't have 100% proof and yet still act in accordance.

I think the only belief that could consider itself superior would be that of a form of agnosticism. One in which the bearer held no assumptions.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Thanks Nathan,

As I said in my post, God is a very subjective issue. What I believe is often overlooked in this debate, is that God is an experience that is unique to the person who has it, therefore different people have different ideas of what God is.

It is obvious, from observation alone, that not everyone, who are theists, believe in the same God, or have the same idea of what or who God is.

Agnosticism, as you’ve expressed it, is purely an intellectual position. I probably would have called myself an agnostic once, but I don’t think I ever really was.

I would recommend Victor Frankl’s book, The Unconscious God, for a refreshing and unusual perspective on this subject.