The world must be a certain way for there to be “God”

August 7, 2013

I was reading opinion pieces and comments on prayer on the NYTimes website the other day, and there was the usual dismissal with certainty of what many people with faith believe and do.  It occurred to me some time after that that it’s not just about rejecting the straw man or red herring of God conceptualized as a cranky parent, it’s got something, I think, to do with reacting to a notion that God’s existence should mean that the world is perfect or on balance pleasant.

But I don’t think that thinking about the “existence of God” as an all or nothing proposition is all that helpful.  Lots of believers experience God as a force who strengthens and comforts and imparts flexibility and resilience for life’s difficulties.  God doesn’t even have to be a “who,” God can be much more impersonal than that and still be the source of the kind of energy that guides us and gets us through.  It’s a matter of accessing that guidance and help, the strength, flexibility, and resiliency — it is such a matter for believers, and I don’t see why “non-believers” wouldn’t be able to seek things like strength, flexibility, and resilience through a process of their own.  I don’t think it’s necessary to “go through” “God” to access those things, in the sense of believing in a particular concept of a divinity.  I think the idea of asking God helps some people focus and open themselves up to accessing these resources (strength, flexibility —  which I mean in the sense of not being brittle and breaking —  etc.) — but I think they are accessible without traditional belief in a traditional God.

I think theism vs. atheism is one of our dualistic pieces of human nonsense.  There’s no reason for us to form up into two such teams.  Once the world is allowed to be as it is, and a more perfect world is not the objective of belief in God — the controversy stops being about whether there is a happily-ever-after — and then maybe more people can entertain that there is more to the world than what is visible and material.

This is a version of what I had written this afternoon, and I’m too tired now to do much more with it tonight, but I wanted to try to post something on it before I head south to New Jersey tomorrow and probably become even further removed from my original thoughts on the topic.

[God is part of creation, we are in a sense inside the belly of God — God is not outside of creation. — This is a note leftover from before, I’ll leave it here as an afterthought.]


11 Responses to “The world must be a certain way for there to be “God””

  1. Matthew Brooks Says:

    “I weave for God the garment thou seest him by” -Goethe via Carlyle

    For me strength and flexibility (faith) come from understanding first that the universe is entirely determined, and second that good is primarily selected for. What we consider good is simply what works best ~to maintain harmony, order, balance, etc. – ie. the things that sustain life.

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Great quotation.
      Reading your second paragraph, it occurred to me that when people engage in attitudes, thoughts, emotions, and behavior that do not work to maintain harmony, maybe it’s a little like they are driving the wrong way down a one way street. (Or maybe I’m just worrying about getting on the road this morning.)

      • Matthew Brooks Says:

        Hehe, well yes, but I also have to mention a caveat.

        If everybody’s driving one way towards and over a cliff, then it makes sense to head in the opposite direction (or at least find another path).

        Sometimes one must court or accept conflict in order to oppose/resolve prevailing disorder/wrongdoing; local disharmony in the pursuit of a greater good.

        “Only faulting faults is faultless”.

        Sometimes going with the flow (local harmony) is wrong. We don’t consume dairy because of how the animals are (mis)treated. This is sometimes socially uncomfortable (locally disharmonious), especially for my oldest daughter (at sleepovers, birthday parties, school, etc.), but fitting in is not worth the moral cost, imo.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I was thinking as I was driving down here how a person may worry there is something “wrong” with them that might put people off, when the only thing wrong with them is that they think there is something wrong with them.

  2. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    Honest and pregnant thoughts, Diana.

    Had I ability to write a book, “Psychology and Sociology of ideas,” (which, sadly, I do not) ideas of this kind would certainly receive full treatment.

    In 1994, Pope John Paul II condemned Buddhism as an atheistic religion, or “a largely atheistic system,” as though that should be enough to place it “beyond the pale” for genuine Christians.

    What you speak of is, in substantial measure, the psychology of religious belief and the effect upon the believer, usually most favorable.

    I have a niece whose father abandoned the family for another woman when she was quite young. She loved her father. This was a devastating and incomprehensible blow to her. She sought solace at a nearby church, becoming deeply religious and, as she put it, learning how to “talk to God.” I believe she is now working with with her equally religious husband in some form of missionary activity. She had earlier refused a suitor whom her whole family thought would be an ideal husband because he was of scientific orientation and thus “did not believe the right things.”

    One point I would make in reference to what you have expressed is that the Christian or Jew, in private communication with his God, is doing much of what a Buddhist does when he “rises above the self.” It is a mistake to consider egotism as merely self-love or selfishness. It is also a frame of reference, with “the self as the center.” This “frame of reference” can affect all our thinking in ways we are not consciously aware of. Fully overcoming it requires what Prince Gautama described as “a turning-about at the deepest seat of consciousness.”

    At a less exalted level, carrying on in one’s mind a conversation with God, and seeing things from what the believer considers to be God’s purpose or point of view, is in effect a means of escaping the egocentric frame of reference. Thus there will be more objectivity and integrity of thought, because such prayer-like thinking requires disciplined thought — not merely the “mental automatic pilot” of ordinary human thoughts and feelings.

    Your particular ideas have genuine depth, but the special skills of someone like David Brooks would be needed to organize and present them in manner as would penetrate indifferent minds and hold the attention of a mass readership. Do you know any person with such skills who would understand your ideas well enough to collaborate with you ?

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Why David Brooks? How would someone so attracted to dualism convey what I seem to think? On the other hand, if someone who speaks that language could actually convey what I’m trying to say in language that reached people attuned in that way, it would certainly be a help. Which goes along with your “indifferent minds” and “mass readership” points. And no, I don’t know anybody like David Brooks, especially someone who could sustain such humor as he did in that column about Mitt Romney last year. Nor do I know anybody who wants to collaborate, let alone someone who understands what I am struggling to explain. If I knew how to write a biography, I’d be interested in trying to write one about David Brooks. Maybe I could get him to ghostwrite it.

  3. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    David Brooks is a skilled expositor who knows how to reach a mass audience, both when speaking an writing. I only used him as an example of skills needed to make your points clear to more than a few. You really do have something to say.

    • Diana Moses Says:

      I’m gnashing my teeth over his column today. I have yearned for a collaborator to help make my presentation more reader friendly. It is unclear to me what the universe’s response is to this. I wanted help sorting through and disposing of a bunch of files soaked during a basement flood. It took 3 years until that happened (thank you, Mariann!). The previous summer I actually ended up helping someone else with sorting through their piles of files. Thank you for your encouragement about having something to say.

  4. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    I must read David’s column, even if only to find out what induces you to “knash your teeth.” I do not subscribe, so I can only read ten NYT stories a month, but I am generally favorable to Brooks.

    I agree you appear “struggling to say” something that needs to be said, but only a few people are listening.

    Suppose you are not able to find a collaborator who fully understands your ideas. If you could only find a willing critic with adequate dialectical skills, or even general academic skills, putting to you questions about what you mean here and how to take what you said there, this might give you enough food for thought (even if in taking that food, there is some “knashing”) to clarify or expand upon at least some of your points. After all, real thinking is hard work. I used to say to myself, “If I learn only one valuable thing from a book, that means it was worth reading.”

    Diana, neither of us could claim to be philosophers. But I think we are both concerned with meanings, interpretations, and ideas “accredited philosophers” have failed to deal with.

    • Matthew Brooks Says:

      Hint; if you copy the text of the URL and stop after “.html” you can copy and paste it in an “incognito window” if you use chrome and it bypasses the paywall.

      FWIW, I think Diana qualifies as a philosopher in the truest sense of the word.

  5. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    Undoubtedly, Diana has some philosophic aptitude or I would not take her intutions and expressed ideas as seriously as I do. She has a fundamental quality essential to all genuine philosophers: intellectual honesty. But I am reminded of a quotation from the Spaniard, Baltasar Gracian: “Many would be great but that they lack something.”

    If Walter Lippman was anything, he was a false philosopher, more attuned to the arts of propaganda than honest expression of sincere thought. He delierately confused moral and practical arguments — only one of several devices in his “bag of tricks.” He was a polished artist at intellectual deception — a virtual demagogue of the written word.

    What we need is someone with his intellectual dexterity combined with Diana’s insight and integrity of thought.

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