Sunday, April 15, 2007

God Redux

“The only option if one is to be true to what we know to be true is to abandon the word “God” altogether.” This from an email responding to my essay on the God of Science and the Science of God.

It seems to me that this idea is too narrow. We have, in fact, three choices: We can maintain the ancient and medieval gods of our various tribes and competing religions and allow them to take us to war over and over again. Or, we can, as the emailer suggests, abandon all notions of God and find solace in a universal scientific materialism. Or, we can, as I propose, reinvent God and proselytize with a vengeance.

I don’t think people can do without God. The idea has been around almost as long as homo sapiens sapiens, but it has not always meant the same thing. What I propose is a new vision of God, one that transcends tribe, gender, ethnicity, race, etc. One that leads us beyond the politics of piety and its toxic mix of nationalism and religion. One that does away with reward and punishment, heaven and hell, and salvation and damnation.

This new image of God will draw heavily from philosophers such as Spinoza, theologians such as Tillich, and philosophers such as Whitehead. It will be unabashedly panentheistic, seeing God as that which manifests and transcends the world open to us through our senses and machines. Such a God does indeed incarnate as man, as many claim is true of Jesus, and also as woman, roses, oceans, bees, and bedbugs. The universe, indeed the multiverse, is God’s body. And it is forever changing for God is change as well as the changeless. God is paradox, and nothing less that the tools of paradox—quantum physics and Zen koans, to name but two—can help us realize God.

The prophets of this God are people like Amma, the hugging saint of India, Ramana Maharshi, Alan Watts, Sri Aurobindo, Toni Packer, and J. Krishnamurti. Erich Fromm (To Have or to Be), Aldous Huxley (The Island), and Ken Wilbur (Integral Spirituality) will be among our pundits. Einstein, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King will be our guiding lights.

My point is simple, people need God. They need a word that reveals the greater reality in which they live. I am not hung up on the word, and one is free to use any number of synonyms, but to abandon the idea of God in hopes of creating a better world is a waste of time. What we need is a fresh and relevant God-talk. What we have is idol worship among the conventional theists, and idol bashing among the conventional atheists. Both of these are silly.

No, the fearsome god of Abraham, the god who destroys peoples and planets and who demands blood sacrifice either of sons or his, will not die overnight. But if we can powerfully and plainly articulate a vision of a truer god (God itself being beyond knowing) the old god will eventually go the way of Zeus. I only hope this happens before his followers literally love bomb us to death.


Ely said...

Hi Rami,

A while back ago I stopped using the word “God” and starting using G-d.

I took some grief from fellow Reform Jews since, it was pointed out to me, this is a convention used by Jewish Orthodoxy.

I’m not sure of the rationale of the Orthodox, but I assume it has to do with not saying the name of G-d, (as if one could).

My rationale is a bit different and perhaps speaks to your comments about the history and future of the G-d concept.

The pre-Socratic Greeks (approx 350-500 BC) had a concept called ”nous” which named “that which runs through all things” which is the precursor to the Existential concept of “Being”. I like both of these notions because they point to the ineffable nature of the concept.

My understanding of why we Jews are enjoined from saying the name of G-d has more to do with the temptation to reify the concept. That is, to make concrete something that is not.

For example, making an idol that asserts to represent G-d is dangerous because, all “things” have attributes and by trying to take G-d out of the realm of ineffable to be more convenient and accessible we cross that line in the sand where we can begin to think “I’ve got it (and you don’t). in selecting some attributes.

The very act of naming assumes the “thing” named can be captured within the bounds of language which, I maintain, it cannot.

The enjoinder not to try to name G-d (or make the concept into a name/noun) has to do with the dangers of thingifying it. That is assigning finite-word bound attributes.

It’s the naming thing. I like the convention G-d because it is a non-word which reminds me that the mystery of this G-d concept is not a “thing” which can conveniently be named and defined and possessed (my God – as apposed to your god or gods).

For me the term G-d is a pointer to the rather unwieldy set of experiences I’ve collected over the years and put in my “spirituality” folder.

I’ve done a bunch of thinking about and revering a number of people like Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity) and Alfred Korzybski (“The map is not the territory and the name is not the thing named” but I think that’s enough for now.

What do you think?

Aaron said...

"The fearsome God of Abraham who destroys peoples and planets and who demands blood sacrifice...will not die overnight." No kidding. Nor will he die if replaced by a kinder, gentler God. However we concieve of God, nature remains violent and unpredictable: Vesuvias, Mt. St. Helens, Katrina, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, bubonic plague, AIDS, etc, etc, etc. This fact necessitates a corresponding theology.

At its weakest, theology might excuse violence as part of a divine plan or morality which we simply don't understand yet. At a slightly stronger level it suggests I might mitigate God's wrath by slaughtering something. At it's best it offers figures like Job and Abraham, humans willing to call God to account and demand he behave within a more subjective framework of justice.

While such accusations may seem arrogant, they are pretty much the only times God's wrath is effectively stemmed--not stopped mind you, but stemmed; God does, for example, apare Lot at Abraham's request. Here, there is at least some negotiation between the human and divine.

Panentheism, however, does not necessarily allow for this. It suggests that violence is simply part of God's nature. While it refuses to validate or excuse that violence within a anthropocentric ideology--putting it one up on the divine plan idea--it simultaneously negates the idea that we as humans can do anything about it--or even that, as cells in God's body, we ought to do anything about it. After all, in the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna recognizes the divine interconnectedness of all things it enables him to justify joining in a bloody battle to annihalate his enemies.

It seems to me that the total perspective panentheism promotes can degrade the value of individual life and experience just as easily as foster compassion and connectedness. I prefer the Job model, des[pite (or perhaps because of) its intimation of binarism and an adversarial I/thou relationship. Here, I can insist on the validity of my subjectivity even as I acknowledge its limitations in the face of a larger order. To do so, and to find ways of realizing that philosophy through praxis--political, interersonal etc, is (I hope) at least one way to enable Tikkun Olam.

Aaron said...

Hmm. In paragraph four, where it says "anthropocentric", read nationalistic. Ah, editing.