Is God dead?
I’m sitting on a plane waiting to fly to Atlanta the on to Tampa to visit clients.
And, I’m thinking.
“Oh no,” you say.”Not that! Not again!”
At the risk of getting too “heavy” into thinking – which is the blessing, as well as the burden, of our humanity, – the following are a few of the thoughts on my mind this morning.
What do some scientists and many fundamentalist have in common?
The Illusion of Objectivity
Both are blinded by the illusion of objectivity. Isn’t life, all of it, just a subjective experience? Of course, it is.
Some scientists, however, mistakenly assume their explanations of the cosmos are entirely objective, unbiased and based solely on empirical evidence. Certainly, every reputable scientist seeks to be as objective as possible. But complete objectivity is an illusion. What you attempt to explain objectively, you experience subjectively.
Many fundamentalist Christians make an equally problematic mistake. They assume, for example, ontological arguments both probe and prove the existence of God. St. Anselm, for example, Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, first popularized this argument for the existence of God. The existence of God is proven reasonably, or so he assumed, and rationally, without the need of perception or even evidence.
St. Thomas Aquinas summarized his popular cosmological arguments for the existence of God in his famous Summa Theologia.
Both of these men, and a host of others throughout Christian history, have held tenaciously to various explanations they mistakenly believed proved the existence of God. Their explanations, however, have become obsolete in our scientific world. As a consequence, in recent years, the argument for the existence of God most fundamentalist Christians rely on today is the one known as “Intelligent Design.” It, too, has credibility only with among those who want to believe God does exist.
All such arguments, however, mere feeble attempts to prove the existence of god, may sound logical, even very reasonable, and, if they do for you, there is an explanation for it. You cannot prove the existence of God. You only ever reveal the depth of your anxiety that SHE just might not.
What need would there be to argue God does exist except to overthrow the inner fear She might not?
You Cannot Prove the Existence of God
You seek to prove what you do not know. You argue God does exist, but only to hide the overwhelming feeling of insecurity at the thought He might not.
If you knew God, what would you need to prove?
May I suggest the following is infinitely more tenable and would serve your spiritual quest much more reliably in today’s world.
A Better Way
1. Let go of the need to explain or prove God. You can do neither.
God – whatever she is – cannot be explained or understood theistically. This is what the “God is dead” theologians were trying to tell us in the 60’s and 70’s. They were not altogether rejecting the possibility of God. What they were rejecting was our theistic definitions of God, or the God most of us have grown up being taught to believe in. In this, they were right.
And, what kind of God were most of us taught to believe existed?
If you are like me, you’ve grown up being taught that God is a kind of Super-human version of ourselves. This God humans created in their own image, therefore. The primary difference is that the God we created we endowed with all the capacities and capabilities that elude us.
Why else do you think super-heroes are so popular in print, in films, and in our imaginations?
Frail as we are and fearful of our death and disappearance, we project our fantasies for immortality, as well as our desires of transcending the limitations of human existence, onto that which we call God. In this way, we fashion a God in whom we might believe, as did the ancients before us, has the power that we do not have.
Furthermore, I was taught this God lived just above the sky and, as a supernatural being, he was a kind of Divine Superman, equipped with all the powers necessary to deliver us from our woes, wails, and fears of dying and death.
When you believe in such a God, you’ve got much to prove. Much, too, to explain. And, neither sound reasonable or convincing in the 21st century.
Consequently, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes it is your duty to seek to convert the world, then you’ll need to come up with a better argument for the God you believe in. No thinking person in our world is likely to be convinced by these old arguments that may have worked in the 19th century and for earlier generations, but no longer work today.
Still further, if you’re a five-point Calvinist (if you do not know what that is, consider yourself lucky) – and, I suspect this is exactly what Al Mohler is, in addition to being the President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky – then such arguments are no longer necessary. Neither is a defense for the evangelistic efforts to “win the lost,” as I heard it declared in my Christian youth and worked hard to do as a faithful believer.
A five-point Calvinist believes God will save those He wants to save (with or without your evangelistic help) and God will send to hell those he wishes to send to hell (regardless of what you think about it).
That kind of God I could never, ever, ever…did I say “Ever?” I could never believe in such a God. No wonder Southern Baptists have lost their way.
If all of this were not bad enough, when you believe in a theistic God who lives just above the sky and who has supernatural powers – or, powers you do not have – then, it is the inevitable consequence that you figure out a way to get this God to be on “your side.”
Hence, the birth of all religions.
Additionally, it becomes necessary to find a way to ingratiate yourself to such a God so that He will grant your needs, whatever you perceive them to be.
Hence, the birth of worship.
Do you need health? A healing? More money to pay the bills?
How about a little security? There are only so many AK-47’s you can afford to buy and place behind every door in the house to protect yourself against a government whose policies have gone wild? And, as a consequence, a world out of control, too.
Do you need a little more assurance that longevity is part of this God’s plan for your life? How about a little religious narcotic to anesthetize you from the fear of death? Or, the thought that life after death might not be real?
When your God is the version of God you’ve grown up believing in – a kind of Divine and Super-duper Santa Claus – only you’d better be good and believe in this one – then, it only makes sense why for most humans worship is something you do to “please” this God – as if, what this God wants is to be pleased by your groveling worship.
Yes, isn’t this what worship is for many? That time we set aside each week to fulfill our duty in order to have the right to lay claim on this God whom we need to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? So, we praise and worship him, hoping he’ll be pleased enough to care enough about little you and little me? We offer our prayers in order to convince him to think more kindly toward us and to rescue us from our infirmities.
God is Dead
What does it say about this God you and I were taught to believe in who needs flattering cleverly disguised as worship before He’ll be pleased enough to regard our helpless estate?
Pretty hefty thinking for so early in the day, wouldn’t you agree?
What would you think of a father who had to have the groveling of his children and the bowing down of his children and the begging and pleading of his children before he’d muster enough love to respond to the needs of the child?
Yet, we behave toward this kind of God all the time and do not realize that, to the world, our God must be something worse than the Grinch who stole Christmas.
This God, and such notions of God as I have described, were part of our history and humanity, even a part of your upbringing as they were mine, but it is time they die. It is time we let go of them. It is time we stop fashioning God into ourselves – only a better version of us – and let God, whatever God is, be the Mystery we neither try to explain or presume to know.
God is not the Superman in the Sky.
In fact, God is nothing at all.
It’s OK to say this. It is infinitely more sacred than the primitive nonsense that passes for worship and devotion today. A statement such as the one I’ve just made only creates anxiety in those who are afraid it just might be so. Again, if you and I really KNEW God to be the big Kahuna in the sky, why would we feel offended when someone suggests that the God we’ve created does not exist? We only feel offended because we cannot tolerate the anxiety of thinking they might just be right.
There is a better way. First, let go of the primitive need to believe in the God you were taught to believe in. That God never really existed, except in our wishes. It will not destroy you to let go of such a God and you will not despair. Oh sure, it’ll be a little disappointing at first. And, a little scary. Not unlike the day you learned Santa Claus was a just a joke dressed up in a colorful outfit with a bag of toys draped across his back.
2. Every now and then be aware of nothing. You might just be surprised to as to what you find.
“That statement makes no sense whatsoever,” you say.
To the contrary. It makes perfect sense. What is there around you, for example, that is more than nothing? More than emptiness, spaciousness?
When I was young I was always fascinated by the planets and stars in our solar system. On a clear night, for example, I was often thrilled to look into the heavens and try to identify the many constellations.
Something happened to me a few years ago, however, and a shift took in my awareness…in my consciousness. I suddenly became aware of the nothingness that comprises most of space. It is emptiness. It is nothing. Or, so we think. And, we think this only because, if there is something there, we cannot perceive it with our ordinary five senses. But maybe there is something in the nothing that’s all around us. Just to perceive this that is no “This” is itself a mystery.
But a Mystery worth giving some of your attention.
God is nothing. No-thing-ness. Anything more we say is to diminish God, the infinite, ineffable, even inexplicable reality we probably should just stop calling God altogether.
Why? Because God, as a name has been so over-used, and abused, as well as associated with this Super-human version of ourselves living just above the sky, that the mere mention or use of that word conjures up the very image of God that is not God.
What I have discovered is that in the awareness of nothing, I find such peace, stillness, even more than I ever found trying to conceptualize God the way I was taught to think of Him, Her, It – whatever God is.
All I am suggesting is, give this a try. Do not let your fear of letting go of the Divine Santa Claus that Christmas, or the Christ story, will lose its significance.
For me, it has not. In fact, it has become infinitely more believable. And, vastly more meaningful. Consequently, my final suggestion to you is this:
3. Let go of everything. Your explanations. Your beliefs. Even your infantile need to explain everything, as if you have it all figured out. Which of course you do not. Practice living by faith. Faith has no need for props. Beliefs do. But not faith. In fact, genuine faith is foundation-less. Which is why you will often hear people say, “Faith is stepping up to the edge of reason…beliefs…all props and taking one more step.”
Trust what you can neither explain nor ever defend. Let go. This is what it means to be spiritual. To be whole. To be complete. To know beyond knowledge. Even to believe beyond beliefs. This is what it means, when Saint Paul says, “To grow up into spiritual maturity” (Ephesians 4:13).
You have nothing to fear. “Perfect Love,” said Saint John. “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To try and believe in what does not exist only compounds the very thing you wish to avoid: fear, hopelessness, death, and the end.
Be aware of nothing.
Trust what cannot be proven.
And needs no proof.
If you like the things you read that I write, may I invite you to visit my website blog at www.SteveMcSwain.com, follow me on Twitter @DrSteveMcSwain. Facebook, too. I’d love to be friends with you. Have an enlightened day.