Sabbath Musings: The Reality of God

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The following is based on a post I made three years ago at MUBI.com, of all places. I happened to be rereading old posts there this morning, and I wanted to put this one down here so I could think more about it. I was in conversation with someone who had asserted that believing in God can be compared to belief in the future, which, even though it doesn’t yet exist, we believe in anyway. I begged to differ with the aptness of the comparison.

I’d love to hear what others think about all this. Please leave a comment below if you’re so moved:

Our belief in the future is constantly supported by the fact that we seem to move forward in time. In fact, the future is just as much an artificial concept as time. It’s really only meaningful because humans have noticed that we expect things to happen that haven’t happened yet. That expectation is constantly being corroborated. That’s why I believe in the future.

Belief in God is just not the same thing at all. For one thing, try to get everyone to agree on what God is. Is that anything like trying to get them to agree on what the future is? When we imagine the future, most of us can imagine it looks a lot like the present and then a bit less and a bit less and a bit less and so on the further you try to imagine it. Can we imagine God in the same way? The reference for what the future looks like is the past and present. What’s the reference for what God looks like?

Robert Wright has written a book (which I haven’t read) called The Evolution of God which, if reviews are accurate, argues that religion is evolving from dark-aged precepts of vengeful and angry gods that have to be placated to the benign if entirely aloof mono-God of our enlightened day, a God who must be actively sought and the search for whom instructs the seeker in universal love.

If this is true, what exactly about religion today is anything at all like religion of olde. The God of today seems entirely unrelated to the gods of yesterday. Worship of today is far removed from the worship of yesterday. Belief today is abstract, intellectual, meditative, internal, personal; belief back then was real, physical, active, social.

So what exactly is the relationship between those gods and this God? Isn’t this evolution more a sign of the radical changes in human social structures and technologies? Of course it is. This change isn’t about the gods at all. It’s all about us.

The future exists as a concept. God exists as a concept. But there is still a huge difference between our experience of the future and our experience of God.

For example, we can all agree, most of us who are more or less rational, that tomorrow is in the future. We can agree that June 8, 2014, is a date, as of June 9, 2013, that’s in the future. We can agree that in the immediate future, the month of July and the season of summer (in the northern hemisphere) loom—unless something happens in the even more immediate future to end the way we refer to months, for example, or to throw any of the earthly or solar mechanisms that make summer possible off kilter. Neither of which is very likely, most of us would probably say. In any case, we can judge predictions of the future based on our past experiences. If someone says to me, “There’s going to be a huge snowstorm next week,” I can judge that based on past experiences of snow around this time of year. If someone says, “Angels will visit earth next week,” I’ll judge that based on my past experiences of angels visiting earth (which is never, for the record).

Now if someone talks to me about God, what it is and isn’t, I have less frame of reference because I have no direct experience of god, to my knowledge. I’ve only had experience of my own and other people’s beliefs about god. In other words, I have an idea of the future. I don’t have a very good idea of god. The closest I can get to god is that it requires a lot of belief–vastly much more belief than belief in the future. To get anywhere near god, you need to understand people, what they say and how they think. God-talk, in my experience, is always really a kind of people-talk. You’re always really talking about people, in other words, when you’re talking about god. And that’s because no one really knows what the fuck they mean when they’re talking about god.

But what we’re really talking about when we talk about something is at the core of what we mean by “truth,” isn’t it? If what I’m saying is true (maybe it isn’t, who knows?), then no one has ever said anything true about God, and it’s a great misdirection to even bring God up, because no one is really talking about it anyway.

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One thought on “Sabbath Musings: The Reality of God

  1. Pingback: NYT Asks: Should Atheists Pray? | Tragic Farce

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