We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, February 8, 2013

The God That Is Not God

"God the Father" by Ludovico Mazzolino (1480–1530)
Source: Wikipedia
Michael Dowd's book, Thank God for Evolution, raises one of the key theological issues of our day, namely our understanding of the nature of God.  Dowd especially points to a God that resides within the Universe and is the Sum Total, the Whole of the Universe.  He argues, "From a holy evolutionary perspective, God is no longer envisioned as a supreme landlord residing off the planet and outside the Universe.  This ancient view of the divine is now much too small to embrace the vast, intricate, and nuanced realities that have been revealed by science in the past few hundred years." (paperback edition, p. 87).

While word meanings can be fluid and change over time, the usual definition of the word, "God," is, "the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe."  In 2013, we can agree that God is indeed not "a supreme landlord," nor is God a Santa/Grandfather like figure peering over the rim of the Universe and pulling our strings.  It seems, however, that envisioning a God that does not reside outside of the Universe is pretty much throwing the baby out with the bath water.  It begs the question of origins, that is the question of how All Of This came to be.  It also gives too much hermeneutical power to science, which for Dowd is the chief vehicle of "divine revelation" in our age.  That is to say, at the moment we are aware of an amazing set of parameters in our Universe that make it uniquely suited to life on Earth and which, otherwise, defy odds so great as to make the existence of this universe virtually miraculous.  We are aware of an incredible set of evolutionary processes within the Universe, which exhibit an almost holy level of ongoing creativity that on the face of it has direction and feels purposeful.  Finally, embedded deep within us is an equally holy sense of awe at the Beyond, however we name it, a sense experienced by those who deny any possibility of a Supreme Being as well as by those who have faith in One.

For me, personally, our religious traditions and the findings of science together point to God, who/that is at once Beyond and Present.  Meta-science may one day attain a better understanding of God than is possible for us today—assuming, of course, that the human race survives its own creative but chaotic evolutionary experience long enough to move beyond science to whatever will come next.  Until such time as we discover a deeper understanding of God than is now possible to us, we live in faith.  (Once we find that "deeper understanding" what we may also find is that faith is still the only way to live because faith is not believing in something we can't see - it is a life-orientation).

The idea that God does not transcend the Universe feels like a detour down a dead end street.  We can affirm that God is not a great big landlord in the sky.  God is not a bearded Granddaddy or Santa Writ Large.  Still, given what we know now living in faith that there is a Creator, both Beyond and Present, is a viable option validated by our sense of God's Presence in the Spirit in our life of faith.  Anything less feels inadequate to the Created nature of the Universe and our deepest experiences of the Holy.