Two approaches...

I think that there are two ways of approaching the discussion about God. One is to DEFINE God and then proceed to seek verification for or against this possible or traditional God. The other is less popular, and it goes to the experience of people and tries to define what they may all mean from that, be it “God”, in the traditional sense, or something less so.
In the Truth=God tread, someone asked me just how could such a formula resolve theistic dilemas. This is my answer.

Theistic dilemas, as well as atheistic ones, begin with an idol, a deinition of X, that is the proved or disproved according to the agenda of the proponent. If it is a theist, then all they defend is an idea that lacks a pulse. He defends something he inherited, for example, from his chosen religion, from the religion he was taught as a child, so his level of engagement is parasitical. This is the God of the religion, the God of his parents- only his or her God by accidents or his or her birthdate and birth place. But this idol/idea they defend tooth and nail, through mental manuverings that compensate for the weakness of the argument. They also defend the idol/idea very emotionally because it is tied with much that they hold dear. An assault on their idea is an assault on their own person.
Atheists often find an easier way to object religion if they echo the theists way of arguing from definition. Therefore a lot of times the discussions between atheist and theist about things that seem crucial, like the existence of God, are in fact trivial, and are just words to justify even more words. Neither side proves anything but a formal consistency or inconsistency here or there.
A better approach, I think, is to abandon the security of what one thinks he or she knows; to abandon dogmas that filter Reality. This is a dangerous thing. It detaches a person from irreplaceble bonds of family and society, so very few attempt it or should attempt it. But one should examine just why THIS (instead of some other) idea has formed in their mind about God (or in the mind of others). This means to go back to the personal reason one has for holding on to his or her idea that Gos is this or that or exist or not. We forget that we are all human because someone along the way claimed exclusive access to Ultimate Truth or Ultimate Reality. But by that time, we have already begun to discuss an idol. Behind that idol is the human, all too human experience of Reality that tells him that something animates It, that something transcends It, or that it is Self-Transcending. The reaction, similar across cultures, is a reorientation of his or her life to live in harmony with the what is ultimate, be it a Law or Will. This is the epitome of wisdom. The premises might be laughable, but the conclusions are not.
A person is influenced by his or her experience, and it can be a very ordinary event or scene that they witness, but an extra-ordinary interpretation they assign to it. It is at once both a diagnosis of their condition and a prescription for their condition. The promise is always harmony. Now, to me, even though the details of the dilemas are important, they do not recognize the sincere experience of another person. The first problem for me in theistic dilemas is the refusal to concede another access to what is Highest. The second is the replacement of actual experiences one may or may not have had for the experiences of others UNQUESTIONABLY. It is not just that your “yes” should be yes, but that it should be your yes or your no and not yes or no according to the dogma you inherited somewhere else.
Like our personality, much comes from our culture and our upbringing, but a sign of maturity is to strike out on one’s own, to develop our own personality, even if informed by our society and society but still unique to us. No one should be dogmatically this or that person simply because your father was this or that kinda person. It is a matter of maturity.
Rather than having a defined idea of God, one should attempt the risky task of abandoning his or her preconceptions and open one’s self to Reality, to let it speak to you, to humbly invite in Reality. It may say nothing, you may find no deeper Truth, but the value of a bowl is it’s emptiness, the capacity to receive rather than it’s fullness. What these controversies lack is openess. They are filled with arrogance and prefer asent rather than sincerity. A discussion that makes a priority the sacredness of a personal experience, whatever the source, whatever the implications to ideas, has at least the ability to refer to a Reality rather than an idea as the goal of the terms in the discussion. What they would want to relate to one another is what they felt. Even if we should not agree on what (sacred) Reality has meant for us all, we can agreed on what it has meant for every one of us individually. If you on the other hand receive Reality as a simple collection of instances, states, as mundane, I can agree with you that that is what Reality has meant for you. It is useless to cap the discussion to the artificial limits of artificial concepts. But it is useful to recognize where everyone is and their right to be there, in respect to their understanding of Reality. The strenght of an argument won’t change that. I rather suffer an honest atheist than a fake theist. Everyone’s feelings should guide them, not formally consistent formulas. Sacredness cannot be dictated from the top (some authority like family or society) down, but must originate within the individual. Granted, the need to conform, to fit in will affect how we feel about Reality. We will find what others we care about find holy, what else? “holy”. But nonetheless we must be charitable and grant to others what we grant ourselves.
But isn’t that a sure path to relativism? You’re right, I am right, meaning in reality that NO ONE IS RIGHT? Right is interpreted Reality. What is Highest is an interpretation, just like Beauty, just like Love. Reality will therefore support ALL interpretations about it according to the lenses used to view it. It is an uneasy feeling but because of our need to power. As I said, it is at once both descriptive and prescriptive, and so we worry about right. We do X and avoid to do Y because we believe that doing X invariably, objectively, has this effect and so on and so forth. If we concede that other behaviours have the same effect, then what is the causal value in our behaviour? All other behaviour must be inneffective for our behaviour to be effective. Yet here we are in the realm of power, in the realm of ideas and the experience has been dropped and replaced with the golden calf of our own making.
What is Highest is not…no, what is Highest should not necessarily be conceived in strict terms, like “Omnipotent”. It is not in our shouts that it is found but in our whisper, not in the rumblings of a powerful volcano, but in the beating of our hearts.

Hi Omar,

I agree that this is probably the best choice of methods, but to define a God as “a Being” must mean to have experienced that Being or, as you say, risk making an idol out of my imagination. I assume that your second choice would include defining something like considering selfless love as being divine and our capacity to be selflessly loving as an indication that the divine is in us.

I agree with this since it is my experience amongst Christians and I suppose it is quite normal for traditional tribal religion. It just seems to me to be outdated and a prime example of all the things which Jesus criticised in his day – and probably the true reason why he was crucified. However, it is still rampant in the world of fundamentalism, whatever religion is concerned, and is consequently the cause of uprisings, wars, oppression and ethnic cleansing.

Which is the real problem of atheism, which seems stuck with the fundamentalist views and can’t see anything else.

I’m not so sure that at the end of this observation there is a Law or a Will, but just an observation of what seems to be reality which has to be conveyed in some way. The most effective and long-lasting method seems to be by using poetry, analogy and metaphor, since otherwise you would have a dreary scientific report (if you have science) or a drab description of what people see every day – and both would be far too long for anybody to find interesting.

A second step attempts to make this observation authoritative and accepted. If the observation draws the conclusion that non-observance could cause problems, the method of conveyance may have a moralistic approach with some figure of authority – perhaps a god. A re-orientation needs someone to push it, unless the threat is obvious, it becomes authoritarian.

I don’t think that an intelligent observer needs an extra-ordinary interpretation, but like I said above, it can be poetic or analogical. I also believe, as I have said before, that the degree of subtlety in the past was higher than we often accept, mainly because we have the mob in view. The association of love to the divine is easy to understand, since it is hard to find, although human beings are clearly awed by it and are known to have the capacity to love.

I think you have covered the question of assuming the arguments or experience of others instead of your own above.

I think that what you are describing here is really simple humility, or a “beginners mind” whereby you approach each experience with an open mind. If we could learn that, inter-religious discussions would have a completely new character.

A transliteration of the mountain experience of Elijah if ever I’ve read one …

Relativism is feared because we seem to need an answer. You’re right about no one being right simply because nobody can contain their experience of reality, let alone a group experience, in a concept. That is probably the best approach to take, since then everyone can contribute to something which is known to be incomplete.

Take Care!

Hello Bob,
If not for you no one would have saved this post from Limbo. I actually thought about you while crafting it. This stems from a discussion about “Truth=God” tread you may have seen already.

— I’m not so sure that at the end of this observation there is a Law or a Will, but just an observation of what seems to be reality which has to be conveyed in some way. The most effective and long-lasting method seems to be by using poetry, analogy and metaphor, since otherwise you would have a dreary scientific report (if you have science) or a drab description of what people see every day – and both would be far too long for anybody to find interesting.
O- Sure, when it comes to espressing what has traspired in one’s life, poetry is a better vehicled than a hypothesis. But what I mean is that if you feel that you have encountered something Ultimate, you probably attach to it the Highest importance. It is not the sole response, but a response to finding the Truth of all being, The Noble path, the Way, or God, or God’s Will, is to be changed, because of the quality of what is found and the importance one gives it.

— I don’t think that an intelligent observer needs an extra-ordinary interpretation, but like I said above, it can be poetic or analogical. I also believe, as I have said before, that the degree of subtlety in the past was higher than we often accept, mainly because we have the mob in view. The association of love to the divine is easy to understand, since it is hard to find, although human beings are clearly awed by it and are known to have the capacity to love.
O- If it is interpreted as mundane, as just one in a thousand others, then what value is there inherent in that moment? How can you be changed by what is ordinary? The moment the Gautama is enlightened is unique in his biography. The moment that Moses faces a burning bush is unique in his biography, the moment that Paul is confronted by Jesus is extraordinary; same thing for Muhammed. Even Socrates is faced with an oracle that to him is extraordinary. Yet in all cases that day was followed by extra-ordinary behaviour. What they did not think to do before, now becomes a mission.

— I think you have covered the question of assuming the arguments or experience of others instead of your own above.
O- I have had moments which I cannot quite describe, but which impress you with a content that was extra to the ordinary event. And I felt…nothing more is needed for me to say. I call it an encounter with something Ultimate. I felt an openess and a gratitude that I have not often felt. Though extraordinary it was not unique. As a Buudhist you understand the concept of cultivating this aptitude towards…the Heavens. To become receptive. if for no other reason, this is why one needs poetry, because if the limits of my language are the limits of my world, as a german philosopher once put it, then it is the poetic language that opens up the Heavens for a person. It is the most appropiate because it is never quite definitive, even when descriptive. It uses words extra-ordinarily.

Hi Omar,

I think I know what you mean, having myself been prone to such experiences. My new way has me enquire into these things rather than put it into a context that may not be fitting. Even though I have held the opinion that Christianity is about finding wisdom in myth, poetry and stories for some time, it seems to me now a bit presuming to immediately put such experiences in such a context. The path of enquiry, the beginners mind seems more fitting. However, just starting out, I think that I should just remain humble.

Do we meet something ultimate in such experiences? If love is something final, then probably, but I tend to think that we are often confronted with the mysteries of reality which contradict our take on life. I have found myself contradicted and challenged by such experiences, but also led into open spaces and shown a horizon and a direction. The dark nights haven’t been long but fierce. The Ultimate is probably ineffable because of its intense complexity and our inability to express it in any other way than with poetry or analogy – but like you say, that language can be inspiring.

Yes, I think we must give such an experience priority in order to enquire about it. Sometimes even the people close to us can’t see the reason for such a priority, but that is where love once more plays a role. I am going through a phase at the present in which my path doesn’t find acceptance with many people I have known for so long. They have the feeling that I have finally jumped overboard. I have told Christians that I feel that to follow Christ I have to go down a Buddhist path, but that it is Christianity, not Christ to whom I feel contrary. That doesn’t go down well.

I think that all events are ordinary from the perspective of those versed in such things because it is the path we all have to travel along, but in the experience itself it seems extra-ordinary. The enlightenment of the Buddha is, after all, just an awakening. The Burning Bush is the same kind of confrontation, as is the conversion of Saul and the others. But to those experiencing these things for the first time they are not everyday, but breakthroughs to a new stage of development. I thought about this when teaching my son to ride a bike, which was something that I had learned twenty and more years before.

These experiences open up life for us and give us a more panoramic view. The reality behind the metaphor “God” is non-defined and is needfully so. Why else should the Jews be warned about misusing his name. YHVH is a mystery, as we can read in the burning bush episode, and refuses the attempts to give it imagery – except as something that we possess, but are seldom aware of. It is something that is given us at birth, but which must awaken. In the NT it is called by John “the authority to become sons of God”. In Buddhism it may be seen to be the Buddha nature. Sometimes I feel that both are attributes which we have moved away from in our present day.

Take Care!

[+1] Cool points.
What an honest thing to say.