“Well, does God have foreknowledge or not?” Mike responded.
“He knows everything that is known,” I said. “It’s hard to describe, but He knows it all without foreknowledge.”
“You’ve got my attention now,” Mike replied, “How exactly does He pull that off?”
“It’s in his freedom,” I said. “In nature, life, and culture we find God’s ‘self-expression’, and that–is an affirmation of God and God’s freedom.”
“Oh, this ought to be good,” replied Mike, “what kind of image is that? Is He still the old man on high, divine worker of miracles, dispenser of rewards and punishments, or am I missing something?”
“That image is a bit outdated, wouldn’t you say?” I said.
“Well is He limited by time or not? replied Mike.”
“No,” I said.
“Is He omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient?”
“Yes to all three,” I replied.
“Well, I rest my case. It’s the same-o, same-o,” Mike responded. “We humans are bound by law and limited by death. We don’t like it, so we imagine a God without limits. We get sick, but God does not. We are caught in space and time—not God. We face horrendous hardships and suffering—not God. Both Freud, and Feuerbach before him, had it right; god is a product of our own desires because, as cripples, we need a crutch. We need god, but he remains forever out of reach. Religion was born out of that need. God is our security blanket. In reality God is based in false hopes and promises, and exists only in our dreams.”
“There’s more to the story than that,” I responded. “The theologian, Paul Tillich, had a different idea. In fact, he believed the image of a superhuman God should be replaced by a more internalized ‘depth image.’ Instead of believing in an external God, he chose to believe in a God that was the ground of all that is. God, for him, became ‘infinite center,’ a ‘presence,’ a feeling, a reality, an opening to all sacredness and divinity. That’s kind of what I’m talking about when I talk about God, but I came to that image in my own way. And, by the way, as far as gender is concerned, God doesn’t have any.”
“That sound’s a bit pantheistic to me,” Mike responded. “So who or what is this god?”
“Pantheism is part of it, but there’s more,” I said. “I have always been attracted to those images of deity that identify God with nature. Spinoza, Lao Tsu, Whitman, Black Elk, all those guys believed nature to be sacred. God is nature, but nature is also an expression of God’s freedom, and further, God’s freedom is something ‘other’ than God. It is God when God is ‘not being God’–God’s own non-being. I know that sounds strange, but I can’t help it. That’s the way it is.”
“Sure,” Mike responded, “cut to the chase why don’t you, and we’ll see just how strange that idea really is.”
“I’m getting there,” I said. “All nature is a ‘way’ of non-being. And, this non-being is peculiar in that it is not a singular thing. It is dualistic in character, and takes the form of a double negation. In this double negative we find God as affirmation. We find God as freedom, and we find God as environment. Just as a receptacle is defined by empty space, non-being defines God. God, in the form of the ‘other’, is both God and freedom, and through reasoned analysis we can derive the meaning and significance of God. In fact, both freedom and reason, on some level, are present in all non-being, all nature.”
“That’s the chase,” Mike replied. “That’s it?”
“I told you, my god is not user friendly,” I said. “Freedom exists at every level of nature. It also goes through changes, and these changes represent freedom at more complex levels. After a sufficient level of complexity, freedom becomes less restricted. When it experiences its own double-negatives in the space of higher negation, it becomes alive. In that sense, freedom is always ‘stretching itself’ and ‘reaching out’ for more freedom. At a sufficient level of complexity, inorganic nature becomes organic, and freedom becomes freer. At death, nature’s double negation must be conserved, so higher expressions of freedom dissolve into less free states, and, ultimately, into God because God is affirmed in double negation—in being non-being. This is my religion. This is what I believe. God is not separate from nature, life, and/or culture. That’s how I understand the meaning and significance of God.”
“What has culture to do with anything?” Mike said. “Its just part of life. Hell, social insects have culture!”
“True,” I replied, “but they do not bring self-consciousness to culture; consequently, they are not free to expand that culture into self-determined orders of complexity. Only humans can do that. Humans are free in a way other animals are not.”
“That’s bullshit,” Mike said. “Culture keeps us alive. It’s the same with insects. It’s a matter of degree, not kind, and the same goes for what you call freedom.”
“Suit yourself,” I replied, “but at least hear me out. According to the way I perceive God, human culture is a product of God’s freedom. In culture, God acts out the self-aware expression of freedom. This higher-level experience is two levels removed from God’s least free expression. This freedom brings with it an ‘empty box,’ a box of negation—a box attached to consciousness. Other animals are boxless. Consciousnesses–self-consciousness—uses this box to see what’s not, and ask ‘why?’ With the good comes the bad, however. This box also permits ruthless people to value greed over knowledge, violence over peace, and vengeance over beauty. Without this box, though, agreements for the purpose of securing peace and preserving beauty would not be possible. Judgments would not be possible. Self-expression would not be possible. The history of civilization would not be possible. In fact, the history of civilization is the history of this box, the history that records the struggles for liberty and the freedom to overcome that which prohibits liberty. When we seek the origin of freedom, we end up in religion.”
“You think religion can save the world!” responded Mike. You think if only people believed as you do, they would act differently? How ignorant! How pretentious! Who is shortsighted and stubborn now?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “Actually, I try not to think of it in those terms. It’s too scary. After searching all these years, it’s enough for me to have a security blanket that works for me.”
“You deserve an ‘at-a-boy’ for that,” Mike replied. “Everybody’s entitled to their beliefs; that is, as long their beliefs do not deny the beliefs of others. Even if you wanted to change the world, in my opinion, you couldn’t, not with what I just heard. The truth is I don’t understand a thing you just said. But, if it’s any consolation, I did enjoy hearing it. I don’t know why. How about another beer?”
“Sounds like a winner,” I replied, “but indulge me for just a little bit longer. I will be specific.”
“If you must,” Mike replied, “Waitress, two more beers pa’ lease.”
“First, God is the inescapable depth and center of all there is. The immanence of God is what I call freedom and this immanence is present as nature. When freedom achieves self-consciousness it is able to name and create truth and beauty. In fact, it calls us forward into life, love, and wholeness. The biblical Jesus was, most likely, so completely transformed by his awareness of the divine that his thoughts, words, and deeds were recognized as divine. Not surprisingly, the gospel writers saw him as the Son of God, and translated his story into the Passion Play that it was, — it is. My religion has nothing to do with ‘revealed truths,’ and it is not about heavenly rewards or punishments. Rather, it is simply a way to perceive and process the God experience, the experience that pulses in every human being. As far as proselytizing goes, all I want to do is open people’s minds to the idea that ‘terra firma’ is hallowed ground. I mean that both literally and figuratively. In our relationship with others we share that ground, and that ground becomes sacred or profane depending on how it is shared. That is what I believe, and that is really the end. Now I’m finished.”
God And Love
Since the Enlightenment, minds at the cutting edge of intellectual development worship at the logic and reason alter. Emotional disturbances are either irrelevant to intellectual progress or worse– prohibit it. Our emotional nature, particularly in this Age of Reason, has been relegated to the irrational part of the animal brain. But not here—not in God’s love attribute!
For me, affirming God is easy, however, getting to know the meaning of the relationships behind that affirmation is the all-important next step. Fortunately, Martin Buber was there first, so I’ll let him do most of the talking here. Affirming God, for Buber, is no more difficult than affirming the ground out of which duality arises, and Buber understood this. In his book, I And Thou, he alludes to the spiritual significance of this affirmation when he says:
“Dimly we apprehend this double movement –that turning away from the primal ground by virtue of which the universe preserves itself in its becoming, and that turning toward the primal ground by virtue of which the universe redeems itself in being –as the metacosmic primal form of duality that inheres in the world as a whole in its relation to that which is not world, and whose human form is the duality of attitudes, of basic words, and of the two aspects of the world. Both movements are unfolded fatefully in time and enclosed, as by grace, in the timeless creation that, incomprehensibly, is at once release and preservation, at once bond and liberation. Our knowledge of duality is reduced to silence by the paradox of the primal mystery” (1970, p. 149).
In freedom’s dialectic, double negation, life, and the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self may be thought of as representing Buber’s turning away from the primal ground, while double negation, death, and the physical event may be thought of as turning toward the primal ground that conserves and redeems being. Affirming a transcendent God then becomes no more difficult than affirming the ground out of which duality arises, but in doing so, one is also affirming God’s immanence—God’s thou-ness.
In the human being the I-thou, I-it, aspects of the world arise. It is in “presence,” a presence other then I-it, that the eternal You achieves the power of articulation—the God-presence that occurs in and through human relationships. In, I And Thou, Buber illustrates this point often and with elegance:
“…in every You we address the eternal You, in every sphere according to its manner. All spheres are included in it, while it is included in none.” (p. 150)
“Of course, God is ‘the wholly other’; but he is also the wholly same: the wholly present. Of course, he is the mysterium tremendum that appears and overwhelms; but he is also the mystery of the obvious that is closer to me than my own I.” (p. 127)
“…in truth, there is no God-seeking because there is nothing where one could not find him. How foolish and hopeless must one be to leave one’s way of life to seek God: even if one gained all the wisdom of solitude and all the power of concentration, one would miss him.” (p. 128)
“The word of revelation is: I am there as whoever I am there. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which has being is there, nothing more. The eternal source of strength flows, the eternal touch is waiting, the eternal voice sounds, nothing more.” (p. 160)
“The encounter with God does not come to man in order that he may henceforth attend to God, but in order that he may prove its meaning in action in the world. All revelation is a calling and a mission.” (p. 164)
“God embraces but is not the universe; just so, God embraces but is not my self. On account of this which cannot be spoken about, I can say in my language, as all can say in theirs: You. For the sake of this there are I and You, there is dialogue, there is language, and spirit whose primal deed language is, and there is, in eternity, the word.” (p. 143)
Bottom line here is that communication occurs between God and the infinite regress of Being. God is there in my relationship with nature and God is there in my relationship with human beings, but the highest order of that communication resides in the I-thou relationship. That said, one question remains: If we are already in a God relationship then why all this fuss concerning communication?
The Passionate Need To Express And Understand Life’s Meaning Drives (For Some) Their Mental Life
For me, the God qua God idea is barely comprehensible. Emotion is another thing all together, though. Without emotions consciousness would not exist. Thinking and feeling, are so entwined in consciousness (see footnote below) that some have argued language development follows from the human need to express complex emotions. William James held that “stream of consciousness” is comprised of both thinking and feeling elements. Feeling, for James, participates in knowledge and understanding. Echoing this sentiment, in his article, Reason and Feeling, Professor Creighton explains:
“In the development of mind, feeling does not remain a static element, constant in form and content at all levels, but…is transformed and disciplined through its interplay with other aspects of experience…Indeed, the character of the feeling in any experience may be taken as an index of the mind’s grasp of its object; at the lower levels of experience, where the mind is only partially or superficially involved, feeling appears as something isolated and opaque, as the passive accompaniment of mere bodily sensations…In the higher experiences, the feelings assume an entirely different character, just as do the sensations and other contents of mind.”
(Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy In A New Key, p. 100)
Of course, there will remain an inefficacy concerning emotion and language. Language is after all a poor medium for expressing one’s emotional nature. But, when looked at holistically, it is certainly possible that myth, ritual, art, language, and the abstract logical necessities encountered in mathematics and science are products of one’s passionate need to express and expand meanings. One might even go as far as to say that the passionate need to express and understand life’s meaning drives one’s mental life.
Staring into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy on a warm summer’s night, it is impossible not to feel the emotion. Or, again, picture yourself perched on a mountain peak, the setting sun’s soft yellow rays illuminating the range of peaks before you. In very special moments like these something happens, something sublime! What could possibly be more sublime? Perhaps sharing the sublime with others! It is, I believe, the need to share the sublime that answers the question Why Exist? But even on this mountaintop Buber was first:
“That you need God more than anything,” says Buber, “you know at all times in your heart. But don’t you know also that God needs you–in the fullness of his eternity, you? How would man exist if God did not need him, and how would you exist? You need God in order to be, and God needs you for that which is the meaning of your life.” (1970, p. 130)
In freedom’s dialectic, where self-consciousness, life, and duality—the affirming structures of God—become transparent to mind, divine love emerges. Love is, according to the great mystic sage from India, Aurobindo (1892-1950), “a union of self with self, soul with soul, and spirit with spirit.”
Footnote: F.S. Northrop has this to say about the aesthetic continuum/the b~b of (b~b~bb): “Now it is precisely this ineffable, emotional, moving quale that constitutes what is meant by spirit and the spiritual. Thus in order to do justice to the spiritual nature of human beings and of all things it is not necessary to have recourse to idle speculations, by means of which one tries to pierce through the glass beyond which we now see darkly, to supposedly unaesthetic material substances behind, or into some unreachable and unknowable realm where mental substances are supposed to be. On the contrary, the spiritual, the ineffable, the emotionally moving, the aesthetically vivid — the stuff that dreams and sunsets and the fragrance of flowers are made of — is the immediate, purely factual portion of human nature and the nature of all things. This is the portion of human knowledge that can be known without recourse to inference and speculative hypotheses and deductive logic, and epistemic correlations and rigorously controlled experiments. This we have and are in ourselves and in all things, prior to all theory, before all speculation, with immediacy and hence with absolute certainty.” [F.S.. C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West, p.462]