“God” and religion

What does The Mystery of Matter (MM) tell us about “God” … and how important is “God” to religion?

The first problem in dealing with this question has to do with words — specifically the word “God.”  If I ask, “is there a ‘God’”? just by using the word I have already predefined what I am looking for, because in our culture that word comes already loaded with imagery and associated descriptors. That imagery, it hardly needs to be emphasized, is completely anthropomorphic and “other wordly.”  It projects human characteristics onto “God,” and believes that “God” is “other” than us and dwells in another world.

As a way of avoiding the pre-emptions lurking in the term, therefore, I have chosen to begin with the commonly observed phenomenon of the “sense of the sacred” and work backward to the source, “neces­sary and suffi­cient” to explain it, whatever it may be.  Whether that source should have the word “God” applied to it is a second issue and requires further discussion.  Any other procedure, to my mind, runs the risk of begging the question.  But notice.  “God,” as a heuristic notion, cannot survive being reduced from a premise to a conclusion.  For once it is recognized that “God” is, logically speaking, a derivative of some more fundamental human experience, “God” changes character and takes on the features of of its conceptual wellspring.  “God,” in a universe of matter, derives from a sense of the sacred that is itself the echo of a material drive.  It suggests that whatever “God” there is, is material.

In MM we discovered that our impulse for self-preservation— the conatus — springs from the very nature of the material elements of which we are con­structed.  Matter’s energy, the homogeneous substrate of the entire universe — that “stuff” from which all forces, energies, valences, properties, particles, as well as their composites have sprung — is existence.  It can be validly de­scribed as that in which we live and move and have our being.

I realize that very phrase was used by Paul in his speech on an “Unknown God“ at the Areó­pagus in Athens.[1]  Be that as it may, the description, according to MM, is phenomenologically valid.  Some may personally decide to accept the identity with Paul’s traditional description and call it “God.”  But that is their choice, and they must accept full responsibility for the use of a term that comes pre-loaded with spiritual and humanoid connotations that we know are not true.  MM does not conclude that material energy is “God.”  But it does recognize that material energy has characteristics that have been traditionally associated with divinity: Matter is (1) neither created nor destroyed, (2) the transcendently creative source of every con­struction and organism in the universe, (3) the matrix in which all things “live and move and have their being,” (4) the source of the sense of the sacredand (5) something we can relate to with trust (that was the burden of the previous chapter). The free decision to conflate material energy and the traditional language surrounding “God” is a choice, not a conclusion.

Making that choice involves some caveats. Our traditional religious “doctrines” are imbued with the archaic scientific world-view in which they were born.  They believed that “God” fashioned the universe and mana­ges all the events that occur in it.  That world-view is factually erroneous and its projections about “God” anthropomorphic; they are scientifically false and philosophically untenable.  The scientific facts are primary and must remain primary.  I limit myself to saying that the traditional poetic religious descrip­tors may validly be applied to matter’s energy as metaphor if done with due regard to the con­trol­ling dataThe funda­mental facts must always be respected: I am related to matter’s energy as to the source of my existence; that relationship is reflected in my conatus, and from there in my sense of the sacred — sep­arately from the religious poetry traditionally used to evoke it.  I have no knowledge of “God” that is independent of the religious traditions in which I was formed.

There is no problem with religion as metaphor (although some religious metaphors may require serious dis­claimers).  In fact the poetry that is religion may be essential if our sense of the sacred is to have its full creative effect.  The major problem is that religion generally does not project its constructions as poetic metaphor but rather as scientific fact.  Such an insistence is destructive not only of science, but also of the power of religious expression.  A religion that calls its mythic constructions “fact” stifles thought and opens itself — deservedly, in my opinion — to ridicule and rejection.  But, just as important, it simultaneously robs “myth” of its power to bring light and life to our existential experience.  In our “modern” era, the combination of an arrogant reductionist scientism and a religion that offers a set of parallel “facts” whose existence it pontificates by pure ungrounded fiat, has been fatal.  We in the west live in a state of spiritual impoverishment because, in the main, religion refuses to apply its sacred song to reality as science has discovered it to be.

Let me be clear: that there is a personal “God”-entity who designed and created the universe and all its forms and features by rational choice, is not a fact; … that there was an “original sin” responsible for human “concupiscence” and the loss of a natural immortality, is not a fact; … that the man Jesus was “God” as defined by traditional western notions, biblical imagery and perennial philosophy, is not a fact.  To claim these items are anything but metaphor, in my opinion, is illusion.  Insistence that they are “facts” will continue to feed the pathologies of religious bigotry, disdain for the “flesh,” disre­gard for rationality, ethnic self-aggran­dize­ment and a world where genocidal plunder has been justified in the name of someone’s ersatz religious “facts.”  Religion has no “facts.”  What it has (and can lose) is the poetic power to make richly human our relationship to that in which “we live and move and have our being” — transcendently creative reality as uncovered and articulated by the science of our times.


[1] Acts 17:28.  The Jerusalem Bible, Garden City, Doubleday, 1966, fn “t” on page 231 of the NT in referring to that particular phrase says: “Expression suggested by the poet Epimenides of Cnossos (6th c.  BC).” The origin of the phrase is not “Christian.”

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7 comments on ““God” and religion

  1. That was very well thought out and stated and I almost agree. While you are right that religion/faith/(Christianity?) has no scientific “facts” in the sense that its truths and historiosity is not based upon scientific evidence. That Jesus existed is a historic fact tht is verified by contemporry outside sources. That other characters and setting in the Bible are real and factual have been verified via outside sources and acheological evidence. So Christianity is not withou facts. The Truths of the Bible are another matter. I could say that the Gospels are first and second hand accounts of Jesus’ ministry and based upon what is and has been verified through the historical and acheological evidence, it is not imprudent to accept the veracity of these accounts as well, circumstantial though they may be. I totally agree, though, that rejection of science by the faithful is unwise and does a disservice to the God Who created all things. Pseudoscience based upon assumed Biblical constructs is is n ignorant proposisition and is rightly condemned.
    The other thing I think you should ponder and we all need to remember is that science is science, philosophy is philosophy is philosophy, and theology is theology. None should be confused withthe other and will ever prove nor disprove the other. They are properly consdered as complementary of one another and not contradictory of one another.

    God Bless,

    Christopher

    • tonyequale says:

      Christopher,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I do not dispute the historical facts of Jesus’ life and work. What I dispute is the alleged religious “fact” of his theist divinity, i.e., “God” as we have traditionally conceived it. Based on what Jesus actually said as recorded in the gospels, I am convinced that he would agree with me. He never claimed to be “God,” and on one occasion at least, positively denied it. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. He would have considered being called “God” blasphemy. I think the prudent course of action would be to side with him on this.

      I also dispute the “fact” of a cosmos-changing “original sin,” which supposedly turned the world over to the “evil one” and which required Jesus’ death to “buy it back.” But, there is no “evil one.” Jesus made no mention of any such cosmic mission. Jesus was a Jew. He directed himself to Jews about the renewal of their Judaism through the imitation of a generous forgiving “father.” If we want to follow Jesus, I believe it would be most prudent for us to live in the spirit of his preaching as recorded in the gospels, and forget about imagined “facts” that do not exist..

      I dispute the existence of a theist humanoid creator-“God,” a “person” who is “other” than matter, lives in a place other than this material universe and providentially manages the affairs of humankind. Thousand of years of belief in such a “God” have not conjured it into existence. The holocaust still occurred. Rwanda still occurred. Plagues and earthquakes still occur.

      With “original sin” we surpressed our spontaneous sense of the sacred and our conscious common sense; we told ourselves our world and our bodies were evil and we needed something to make them good. And so we conjured a redeemer-“God” to replace the source of our existence in which “we live and move and have our being.” Once we dispel those illusions of “fact,” perhaps the horrors we perpetrate on one another will cease … perhaps the response to natural disasters will be swift and effective … and maybe even the way we manage our social and economic lives will finally be ruled by justice.

      Whatever “God” there is has need of nothing. It is we who have needs. We need to live with a sense of the sacred. Be careful of the “God” you believe in; it may actually prevent that from happening.

      Tony

      • I suggest that you read or reread John’s Gospel. The divinity of Jesus is its primary theme and Jesus communicates this quite well and quite often.

        Why do you refuse to believe the rest of those things?

      • tonyequale says:

        John’s gospel is one of my favorites. It is the most literary and poetic of them all. It is universally accepted as “theology.” Even very early observers realized that “John,” whether he was the “apostle” or not, presupposed the existence of the synoptics and went further. That “John’s” gospel includes the actual sayings of Jesus is not generally believed. Do you? That means that Jesus’ statements in “John” are the insertions and projections of the later Christian community. That was entirely valid.as interpretation, but not as an indication of what Jesus thought. HE DID NOT THINK HE WAS “GOD.” Jesus, I contend, would not only disagree with you, he would have been APPALLED. Jesus was a JEW!

        Tony

  2. Christina Hebert says:

    “.. religion refuses to apply its sacred song to reality as science has discovered it to be.”

    Thank you so much for expressing this! I go even farther, that “science” and “religion” should be merged. Called a different name, perhaps.
    When I first “saw” that the energy (FORCE), inside of a cell, holding everything in its place while filling the majority of that space … I just knew it was “god” in that I was awed …

    When we climb over these scientific and religious walls … what an amazing world we see!

    Christina

  3. Jesus is God. Like I said. You need to go back and read John’s Gospel. I know the Bible to be fully accurate and God’s self revelation to the world. The Bible says that Jesus is God. The Bible says that Jesus claimed to be God. He wouldn’t be appalled by this truth. He knows Who He is.

    Personally, I think that the idea that John’s Gospel was penned by a follower of John’s and after the synoptic Gospels. So that makes it a second hand account. Way closer than any history book that we could study and accept as valid. Which, of course, invalidates your point.

  4. Or just come on over to my blog. I’ve got a bunch of posts on John’s Gospel, You could even show me were I’m wrong on those. that might be fun. 🙂

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