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Defining God

Defining God
March 26, 2013, 10:23:28 AM
People like Dawkins and Dennet sell huge quantities of books and seats at lecture halls by combatting what I think we can all say is a pretty weak form of the notion of "God" (the "big man in the sky").  However, many of those who are called upon to rebut their claims treat similarly weak interpretations (e.g. modern folk interpretations of the Abrahamic God), thus "New Atheism" is still seen as a viable platform by many.  The only way this anti-religious dogma can be quelled, as far as I see it, is by looking closely at what we mean when we say "God", and what is actually meant by the instigators of spiritual disciplines when they use similar terms.  I'll be treating the Christian God, since that's the one we, predominantly Westerners, have grown up with.

The BMS idea is pretty popular amongst exoteric (casual or fanatical) Christians, because it's a nice and easy story to comprehend: a man bigger than the universe got bored and made everything the way he wanted it, then made a small version of himself to make different things.  The big guy doesn't live here, but somewhere really really high up, and has an evil child under the earth.  Evil comes about when the little man forgets the big man and listens to the evil child.  Clearly this is dumb, I don't think it needs all that much exploring.

A more esoteric notion is that God is some fundamental force that creates and controls the spatiotemporal universe according to its own essential qualities (an idea found in a large amount of monastic literature).  It is not a "person" in the way that you or I are individual "people", but both contains and suffuses all people.  It's something like a "pinnacle of existence", a collection of ideal qualities, whence all lesser entities (such as ourselves) originate - the Form of the Good, as Plato would call it.  It is perfect, and so its expressions - love, laughter, happiness, bliss - are also perfect, though imperfect forms of them - fear, crying, sadness, discomfort - are also to be encountered in this world.  Don't worry, though: it's all part of the bigger plan, and it all works out in the end!  Evil is only perceived by imperfect people; the perfect God sees no such thing in the dramas that unfold on this planet, as he is all-loving (meaning even the bad bits are loved).  We all end up diffusing into this originating force at the "end of time", if that actually happens (death?).

Now, that's a much more agreeable notion of God, though it still has some holes, and is also really quite difficult for the uninitiated to understand (hence the downfall of religion over the ages).  I'd like to propose an even more esoteric understanding of God that is nevertheless simple enough to be understood by anyone: God is the one who's watching.  God is the one observing everything through everything.  When there is sight through your eyes, it is not the person who sees, but God who is seeing; indeed, when you think of yourself as that person, it is not the person considering itself to be itself, but God who is aware of the idea of an "ego".  When there is pain, it is God who is aware of the pain, and when there is joy, it is God who is aware of the joy.  At the most fundamental level, when I say "I", I mean "God": the feeling of being alive, of existing, is what is fundamental to "me", for if I didn't exist, who am "I"?

When scrutinised, this can be seen to be a refined form of the previous notion: all phenomena occur in God, and all phenomena grow out of God; however, God itself is not a phenomenon to be perceived, because it is the one perceiving (thus we can call it "noumenon").  It has no qualities of its own - no shape, size, odour, colour, thoughts, feelings, dispositions, or anything - for it is that which is aware of qualities.  How could it make anything out if it was something itself?  All things would be blurred by its own qualities, and yet the variety of the universe is perceived unhindered.

And now, notice how our definition has progressed: the common modern interpretation is obviously faulty, the older esoteric understanding pretty but overly complicated.  Where are we now?  Right back at the beginning: "in principio verbum est, et apud verbum deum, et deus verbum est"; "before all else ('in principle') is the Word, and with the Word is God, and God is the Word" [John 1:1].  Or this: "the Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be perceived... but I tell you, the Kingdom of God is within you" [Luke 17:21].  The New Testament itself contains this streamlined notion of God, though so many are blind to it (as prophesied).  We have come full circle: what grew out of wisdom became knowledge, and knowledge dwindled to ignorance, whence wisdom was born again, as per the cycle of the ages.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 10:38:32 AM
Well put. Goes down well with Haydn's 104th.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 10:46:27 AM
Good stuff. When people turn up concepts like these, then all is not yet lost.
We go on a lot about reality, but do we ever consider what reality is?
There is only one, and that only one is Reality.
When people get out of their own way, they may come to realize that Reality is God.

God has always been said to be watching, and seeing everything, but what does that mean?
No more than this: nothing happens without there being consequences of that happening.
Do this, and that is caused. Things happen as a result of other things happening.
There is no escape from this, nor should there be.
But it becomes necessary to understand how this is so, in order to not create really bad things as a result of really bad choices.

The simpler things are, the better they tend to work.
Revering Reality is as simple as it gets.
Respect what is, and very little goes wrong.
In fact it never goes wrong, because what happens becomes what is.
Respect that, and what might have been thought-of as 'wrong', becomes the ideal education.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 03:56:31 PM
There is a Christian mystic text called The Cloud of Unknowing.  I have not actually read it, but I know of it by reputation.  I can tell, without even reading it, that it is exactly how I think.  The idea is that as you take things away, one by one, you get closer to defining God.  Once you take everything away, all preconceived notions, and all knowledge, then what are you left with?  God.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 04:02:11 PM
That seems to be the essence of taoism.
But without the oriental-sounding name.
Subtraction is what lies behind the eye-of-the-needle parable.
An alien concept to modern Western man.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 06:10:14 PM
I focused on Christianity in the OP, but parallels can of course be drawn with numerous other religions.  For example, if the "common modern interpretation" of Christianity might be compared to the layperson's Hinduism, that earlier "monastic" notion might be conflated with Dvaita Vedanta (Jiva/Atman and Ishvara are separate but ultimately conjoined), the primordial wisdom nothing other than Advaita Vedanta (Atman = Brahman; Tat Tvam Asi).

Isn't the Dao "that which cannot be qualified"?  I was also going to write a bit about how the world, from the perspective of the Advaitin, becomes nothing more than an organic process, sentient or non-sentient (it doesn't matter); as far as I can remember, this is close to (if not exactly) the Daoist perspective, that the Universe is growing, its growth watched from within and without, and that is all.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 07:19:09 PM
God is the one who loves, In a non egoistic way.

Re: Defining God
March 26, 2013, 07:32:51 PM
Hehe. Welcome back.
You're like a comet, on a slightly irregular orbit.
We know you'll be back, but we don't know when, or with what.

Re: Defining God
March 27, 2013, 10:43:32 PM
God's the First Principle and not some anthropomorphic dude up in the sky. He's an 'it' not a he. It's like our millenial questing to find the tiniest part of matter and the cause of it all therefrom. We started with the myth of prime elements, moved on to atoms and molecules, then their quantum precursors and possibly cosmic strings as their origins. What causes these strings then?

Like the regress of reasons or Russian nesting dolls, we can keep tirelessly drilling down, but we can never, ever find the very last one. There is always more within and that's perhaps at best toward God, recessed against time from our point of view behind infinite causal layers to become, in effect, infinity and therefore perfection itself, if forever beyond our perception as a consequence.

Re: Defining God
March 28, 2013, 10:00:40 AM
There was always something about the title of this thread that bothered me.
"Defining God..."

Being as how if there is a God, then I, and you, as in y'all, are creations of the creator.
Does a creation define its creator? This seems unlikely.

"Describing God" might be a better way to put all of this.