Friday, January 18, 2013

What I mean when I say "God" January 2013

God, that's complicated!

This is partially adapted, though different from, something I wrote a couple of years ago. I included a date in the post title, because I expect my concept of God to change over time, and then another attempt at explanation will be in order. Multiple definitions of God are floating around out there, many of them absurd or worse. A friend had this Facebook status a while ago: "The God that many atheists think doesn't exist, doesn't exist." In retrospect, I think part of why I adopted the label "atheist" for a while was because I didn't want anyone thinking I believed in that kind of God. I've thrown out any notions of some sort of super powerful being, but I don't throw out the word "God," despite its anthropomorphic connotations, in part because I think it's too powerful of a word to let fundamentalists have a monopoly on it.

I think that what I call God is synonymous with names found in other traditions (Tao, Brahman, the Ultimate, Life Force, to name a few). The only honest thing I can say about what God is, is that I don't know. A metaphor I can think of is bread, like the manna that fell to the Israelites during their wandering in the wilderness following the exodus. Bread from heaven also makes me think of the encounter with God's presence in the Eucharist. "What is it?" the Israelistes ask when they find it. It's hard to describe what God is, but I know that it's sweet, that it sustains and nourishes me, but it doesn't keep. I have to trust that there will be more as needed. I have to continually make the effort to gather it, but as long as I make that effort, there is always enough. With repeated encounters, I more easily recognize it when I find it.

I think there is Something greater than ourselves, and that the mythologies and rituals that have evolved in the world's religions are gateways to understanding that Something. A friend of mine put it this way: Religion is a bridge, not a destination. People get caught up in the bridges, including anthropomorphic versions of God, and think that's It; they stay on the bridge instead of crossing it to where it's intended to get you. I think the anthropomorphic images are something we've attached to something much bigger and more complex, something we can't fully define. Joseph Campbell said, "God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being." Metaphor is perhaps the only effective way to talk about God, which is part of why I love poetry so much.

And that is my concept of God, not summed up in three paragraphs. This concept guaranteed to not keep, at which time I will remake my God in an image that once again feels true.

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