Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Does God “Exist”

Originally posted on March 28, 2013

Does “God” exist? It’s a hard question because so many people have different conscious and unconscious understandings of that word, “God.” We must remember that it’s only a word, and more, there are different words in different cultures to refer to sort of the same thing. But actually, the complex of associations called up in each culture are slightly different.

The vast majority of people in many cultures associate God with an image, generally masculine, of a king, lord, law-giver, conscious miracle distributor, somewhat receptive to intercessory prayers. (An intercessory prayer is one that pleads for special help: even if most may be afflicted with this disease or that earthquake or whatever, one’s self or one’s loved ones will be spared because of this humble and earnest prayer.)

One step removed but still associated closely by virtue of grandness and authority is that the rules, commandments, laws supposedly made by Divinity may be inexplicable, but yet are not to be questioned.

Interestingly, the interpretations of what a given culture takes as the Divine Will by supposedly non-impartial clergy are also to be believed (at least, according to this self-same clergy). The laws may seem foolish to a skeptical mind but yet are deemed by authorities to really be deeply wise, considering their origin. It’s also vaguely taboo to think that that such laws and their interpretations are fairly clearly a projection of the authoritarian practices of parents and kings, in spite of innumerable episodes in which it these rules of these lesser beings often patently serve as justifications of  perverse desires. This authoritarian religious establishment is then projected onto the cosmos—i.e., it is not eminently fallible humans, but rather the one God of a hundred billion galaxies who wants this to happen, who makes these often-obscure rules—though this seems to me to be a rather pitifully obvious human device for justifying the power of religious authorities and to make sure their prerogatives remain unquestioned. (e.g., Of course you can’t tax a religion, no matter how much it exploits people or evades normal secular rules!”)

But there’s another angle here that few people can actually understand because it’s somewhat subtle: For the more mystically inclined, the word “God” could also refer to “the Everything,” which may operate in very inefficient, organic, not-determined ways. My own myth is that there’s this great unfolding going on, not centrally located from an anthropomorphic center “location” in “heaven,” but rather the everywhere alive. The value of this is that it hints at a great unfolding whose moral direction is sustained not by particular regulations so much as by general directions: Differentiate and integrate. To do this in a pulsing, multi-dimensional way is a challenge.

Differentiate and Integrate

Become all the variables that you can: Live, live well, and live better, as Alfred North Whitehead said about the purpose of life. Follow aesthetic values. Do what feels good. But Integration also notes that what seems like fun can be destructive and non-integrative. It’s fun for a warrior to really get into killing and to go on a rampage, murdering many innocent people. Or at least it was fun for a while, it carried that spirit of fighting forward in a burst of emotion. But now that we have far more powerful weapons, many more can be killed or hurt gravely while this emotion over-shoots. Similarly, we have so many concentrated forms of addicto-genic substances that moderation becomes a much-needed practice in modern civilization. So all movements can be overdone.

Integration is thus in part an activity of discrimination, of separating the baby from the bathwater. And even this metaphor is limited: There may be a time or need for further refinement or distillation. What was worthy of being thrown out a century or two ago now becomes a source of useful further resources, or better care needs to be taken of trash and waste as we become more populous. On the whole, though, the game of going back and forth plays out in many ways.

There’s individual freedom versus the needs of the community for some safety and continuity. There is increasing inclusion of previously discriminated-against populations, human and animal, as the circle of caring expands. So here, too, the dynamic operates of re-thinking what was right in the past and recognizing that some continues to be valid for now and the foreseeable future, but some needs to be revised. This process is not without conflict from all sides.

Still, it gives a more philosophical or general frame for the discussion of the mysterious vibration, back and forth, that goes on over the decades or centuries: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, as the philosopher Hegel described the process of “dialectic.” Differentiation, integration, it’s not easy to work out the particulars.

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