Searching for God?
(April 9, 2014)
In the face of all the media hype surrounding the so-called “New Atheism” and its promoters, many people are perplexed, not only as to what they should think about the subject, but even as to what is meant by the word “God”. This situation is really not all that surprising. After all, if both educational and developmental psychologists have shown that most people never progress much beyond their middle teens in their level of ethical or critical thinking, can we expect that it will be any different when it comes to most of our ideas about God?
So just how might we come to a more adequate grasp of what is meant by the word “God”? As I see it, the subject might be approached in a number of ways, but that one that makes a lot of sense is to approach the question in terms of the three dimensions of time.
The first of these ways is to look backwards toward the past – to the beginnings or origins of whatever exists. It follows in the footsteps of the ancient philosophers who asked the most fundamental question of all: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Or what has caused the universe to exist? As they saw it, the changing universe, even if it had always been in existence, nevertheless had to rest on something more permanent or unchanging, a kind of “uncaused cause”, a “unmoved mover”, a “ground” or foundation of all being. Yet, rather than being completely answered by now, that same question has become all the more perplexing, especially pressing as modern science (if we can believe scientists like Stephen Hawking) has revealed that prior to the “Big Bang”, apparently nothing at all existed. Or, on the contrary, might we say that “nothing” was in fact, “no mere thing”?
The second way might be described as being focused on the present – that is on our own experience of life as human beings. Of course, there is nothing new in this. Historically it has been the way of the prophets and mystics who, as the ancient Greek poet put it, experienced the God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” In fact, we can probably say the origins of all the world’s great religions can be traced to those individuals, who like Moses, who experienced God as “He Who Is”, or like Jesus, who considered him to be a loving “Father” who provides for us or forgives, or, who like Gautama, the original Buddha, although he refused to give this mystery a name, nevertheless, sensed that he had come in contact with that source of all life and being. Are such experiences or “intuitions” of the divine or the transcendent “ground” of our existence possible for us even today?
Finally, is there is a third way or approach to finding God, one which focuses on the future ? I believe that there is – one which is being gradually revealed in our own times as we search for a goal, a purpose, or a meaning of the whole evolutionary process. I think that we can see this especially when we realize, that on a cosmic scale, all biological life, even if it develops elsewhere in the universe, will eventually come to an end. If so, then its “meaning” or “purpose”, if it has one, is not something that we have conjured up with our own puny human minds which, after all, didn’t even begin to exist until maybe just a hundred or so thousands of years ago. Instead, I believe that we, who are, as one scientist described it, “Evolution become conscious of itself”, are still in the process of discovering this something or even Someone that is not only the source of our existence, but also the key to its ultimate Meaning.
But for such discoveries to take place, we do not need those who are sure that they already have all the answers. Instead, we need dialogue among people who are still searching, the so-called “agnostics”, or even those who think of themselves, even if somewhat reluctantly, as “atheists”.