Paul P. Mealing

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Sunday, 17 August 2008

Theism as a humanism

Yes, I know, it’s an oxymoron, but it’s appropriate to my worldview. For over 2 weeks I observed and participated in a discussion on Stephen Law’s blog (see side-bar) with a guy called Sye, who maintains he has a proof for the existence of God. Sye’s idea of an argument is to make an assertion, call it a proof ‘by the impossibility of the contrary’, then insist that you prove him wrong. His favourite ploy is to ask you to prove something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist, or something that has never happened, never happened. ‘Prove the Bible is not the Word of God.’ ‘Explain how God did not reveal Himself as an objective reality.’ When I say, ‘I can’t explain something that never happened’, he says, ‘It’s your assertion, you prove it.’ In this way, he deludes himself that he can beat the best ‘atheist’ minds at their own game. But his victory is so hollow that it’s not even hot air, more like a vacuum. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t mix my metaphors. (Sye’s web site, by the way, is

Stephen was patient in the extreme, and kept coming up with new and original arguments, which was an education in itself, and refused to be drawn into the ‘intellectual black hole’ as someone aptly called it. But even arguing with someone who thinks an argument is an endless round of assertions and refutations, and whose most common response is ‘prove it’, can help you to better understand and appreciate your own beliefs – hence the subject of this post.

Ludwig Feuerbach was a 19th Century philosopher, whose most famous quote was, ‘God is the outward projection of man’s inner nature’, which I used in the introduction to my essay: Is there a God? (Jun.08). Feuerbach, by the way, claimed he wasn’t an atheist, but perhaps he would have been, if he had lived in an age when being an atheist didn’t make you an instant pariah and social outcast. As I’ve said before, I’m not an atheist, and I live in a different age, so I don’t have the same problem. He saw religion as a ‘consciousness of the infinite’ or as ‘the infinity of the consciousness’, but his attempts to elaborate on this conceptually are not very edifying; at least, not to me. But, more significantly, he saw that God, in whatever guise we perceive Him, Her or It (perhaps One is the best label) does not exist independently of humanity. And this was the particular approach I took in my arguments with Sye on Stephen’s blog. At the risk of offending some people, I have to say that I have ‘issues’ with the Bible, not least, because I believe it was a contributing factor to my neurosis as a child, and that’s all I care to say on the subject.

So how do I justify the statement: theism is a humanism? Well, firstly, I don’t believe God exists independently of humanity, or perhaps, even life, and it is only through human expression that God is given human traits – look no further than the Bible. I read somewhere, possibly in a magazine on Eastern philosophy, when I was studying it, a supposition that the collective karma of humanity creates God. If this is true, then we would not only get the One we believe in, but the One we deserve. So I would suggest, rather provocatively, that we are responsible for God rather than God being responsible for us, simply by living our lives. It's an 'existential' view of God, if you like. And it certainly overcomes the ‘problem of evil’ as philosophers like to call it (read Stephen Law’s satirical post on ‘The God of Eth’). In this worldview, even atheists contribute to the One just by being humanists. Which is why I don’t have a problem with atheists: it is not their beliefs that I judge them on, but their actions and attitudes towards the rest of humanity. And, likewise, I judge all theists as humanists.


Nate said...

If god comes from us, what is the objective of worshiping him? What do we gain beyond a sense of self appreciation?

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Nate,

I need to say a couple of things at the outset: this is not an original idea and I don't expect, or ask, anyone to believe what I believe.

When I was 16, I read Camus' La Peste (The Plague) in which one of his characters says something like: 'Maybe it would be better for God if we didn't believe in God.' I reinterpreted this personally as the only God I could believe in is one that doesn’t want us to believe in God, and it evolved from there. I don’t believe in worshipping God at all. I believe that God comes to you, but it is an internal experience that has more to do with you than with God. I eschewed the Biblical God a long time ago, and I think that Jesus was a human who was more Buddha than the Buddha (read Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s The Lost Years of Jesus). My personal ideal of God is Quan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, though it felt like she came to me, not the other way round. I don’t tell many people this, but not many will read this comment so it doesn’t matter. I think at least one aspect of God is a projection of the ideal self or maybe a reflection. But I think a sense of God, or the ineffable, as Karen Armstrong calls it, can only happen when one feels a genuine empathetic connection with greater humanity.

Regards, Paul.

26 August, 2008 09:12

I've re-posted this comment as the original had too many errors.

larryniven said...

Be careful with your terminology, though: a lot of theistic beliefs are pretty much anti-humanist, such as various interpretations on hell in which it's morally right for certain kinds of people to spend eternity suffering and doing evil. I think maybe this would have some value psychologically and might even be able to contribute something new to religious ethics, but I sort of have a hard time conceiving of your system as actually existing in the world. At the very least, though, one getting the god one deserves as opposed is an interesting idea.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Thanks Larry, for your comment.

I have heard of you, but, I have to admit, I've never read you. A quick visit to your website makes me aware that you're in a different league to me.

In response to your comment, I don't expect other people to agree with me, and I'm not proselytising, just offering another view.

I argue that God is an experience of something 'beyond us' to put it in the most prosaic terms, and the people who have this experience usually rationalise it in the context of their culture. I attempt to rationalise it in a context where it doesn't matter whether you believe in a god or not, which sounds paradoxical, I know, but it's what I really believe: it doesn't matter if you believe in a god or not.

In another post I wrote titled, 'Does the Universe have a purpose?' (Oct.07), I quote the Confucian scholar Tu Wei-Ming, who effectively says that we create Heaven by living our lives and I like the idea, even if it's a fantasy.

Regards, Paul.