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The Nature Of God


Veratatis
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As a whole, the question regarding the nature of God occupies more of my time than really anything else.

 

As a child, it was a given that God was a personal, person-like being that existed apart from the universe, yet still interacted with it. Around the age of 16, this stopped making sense to me. I wrestled with this for a couple of years, settling into a form of Atheism.

 

I have since thought of God in numerous ways, including the popular phrase of God being the "ground of being" that we all reside in. And I just.... Don't.... Get it.

 

To me, when you invoke the word God, it implies a being or force that is NOT man-made. God as love doesn't work for me. Love can be explained by chemical means. The explanation of God as the "transcending spirit" that pervades the world also doesn't make sense, and is just as full of holes as the God of supernatural theism.

 

My question is, why does God have to have human attributes at all? There seems to be an entirely different way of explaining God that isn't really touched on in any form of religion, conservative or liberal. The universe is hugely, complexly organized. There are planes which literally give objects mass. The universe is held together by a specific, organized system of laws, which cannot be broken. These laws can be bent, but never broken. The universe can be broken down and stored in information in bytes. Math functions exactly the same, when accounting for variables, in every corner of the universe, whether that be Earth, Neptune, or a galaxy 500 million light-years away. With this kind of predictability and organization, it makes sense to me that what could be called "God" is the sum of these systems and laws which give the universe its' existence and order. Could God be systematic, almost like a universal supercomputer? Does anybody else think like this?

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You ask good questions, Veratatis. I suspect that your questions are ones that each of us must wrestle with individually and decide for ourselves what (or who) we think God is. As you have said there are plenty of ideas about God, not just from religion to religion, but even within Christianity. My own ideas are fairly close to those of deism, but they don't fit comfortably into any one label. I, too, doubt many theistic notions of God. And I tend to think that God is more than just the best of our human emotions or ideals multiplied to the nth degree. Is God as systematic and logical as you hope? I don't know.

 

I guess that's where I am where God is concerned. I don't know. I suspect God is more than our human definitions of God, but I think we are limited to our own human experiences and language of God. So, to me, God is sort of a connectedness. God is a connectedness to reality, a connectedness to ourselves, a connectedness to others, a connectedness to our world. And the goal or purpose of this connectedness, IMO, is to bring harmony to things, which is not quite the same thing as unity where there is no differences, no differentiations. Harmony, to me, is where things work together for the good of all. So I experience and conceive of God as Someone (I don't mind the language) or Something (I don't mind this language either) that pulls us toward harmony, toward the good. To me, that is the nature of God. But because I, like you, think on this subject much, I reserve the right to change my mind about this. ;)

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I like the abstract and concrete God. The personal God is a God one can love with human emotions, but I relate to God as pure consciousness.

Mark Twain expressed it well when he said, “The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive ... but in spite of their religion, not because of it.” The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our present time. At one time the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse interpreted against Eve. Every step in astronomy, geology and science has been unremittingly opposed by bigotry and superstition. The restricted understanding by church leaders was already scrutinized by Martin Luther when Newtonian physics challenged the limited philosophy and the power projected by the church authorities. Thank God these great men moved forward the faith as far as it could go at the time. The work of Copernicus was banned by the church and Galileo was seized and threatened with jail for declaring that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo was found guilty, and was sentenced by the
Inquisition, issued on 22 June, 1633. On the next day his prescribed imprisonment was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life. Newtonian physics studied an external world that seemed to exist separate from us. Newton is quoted as saying that his studies for the fundamental laws of nature were inspired by a belief that the creator would have designed the world to run on simple principles so the church left him alone. He said, “Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.” Newtonian science set off to chip away at the assumption that the physical world is fragmented and divided into different parts that are separated from each other. He demonstrated that there were relationships between the different parts and he called the force between these different experiences gravity. Isaac Newton was a visionary he said, “If I have been able to see farther than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” He made the pivotal contributions to science to start it off on the journey to unity. Our founders of Western science did not comprehend the unified field that science recognizes today, but they did point us in the right direction. Newton could not explain the laws of the microscopic world because he could not observe them with the five senses. Galileo had a telescope, but Newton didn’t have a microscope. What Galileo saw through his telescope upset the Christian
theological worldview which was based on Aristotle’s observations without a telescope. The Church refused to look through the telescope with the same line they use today that the Devil could make those things appear in that instrument. What Galileo observed were new facts that were unknown to Aristotle, but what is disturbing is that the facts were presented to the Church, but they refused to look or consider them. Galileo who died in the same year Newton was born gave Isaac Newton the foundation for his laws of motion. The laws of motion lead to the theory of Conservation of Energy. The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed; therefore, the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant. This in my mind is how God is the ground of being. If we look at the universe from the atom to the cosmos, the majority of it is space. E=MC2 tells us that matter is energy. Quantum mechanics is descovering that the space is filled with subatomic particles which are also basicly energy at different frequencies and vibrations so we have the Divinity within and without. I like to think of this energy at pure, refined to the point of pure consciousness. Energy and purconsciousness contains information as was stated in the original post so this totality, unity of energy, pure consciousness I like to call God.

 



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Thank you, Soma. That actually does expand how I view God. I guess the part of theology that's common within progressive Christianity is the mystical side of it. I have amazement, wonderment for the complexity and wonder of the balance of the system that holds the universe together, but I don't imagine that it's conscious. Mysticism seems to assume that God is conscious, and there really isn't any way to prove or disprove that. To me, something that can't be proven or unproven is essentially a moot point with no real possibility of discussing it. I can't feel the compassion of the Sacred because I know that what I feel can be explained by the chemistry within my mind. It's the external forces of the universe that lead me to the belief in God, but my own feelings are subjective and I don't think that God plays a part there.

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Excellent discussion and I hope one day I am even half as articulate as all of you on such matters. I pretty much view the nature of god the way you all do and will just add one thing. For many years, and perhaps it's even still true now, I defined god as Truth. I'm a scientist and an amateur mystic and I think both roads lead in the same direction and are not at all in conflict with each other - and it troubles me that they are commonly seen as contradictory. It's been my experience in life that the truth does set you free - whether it is a scientific truth that gives us greater possibilities to deal with issues or emotional truths that free us to fulfill our human potential (realize the inner Buddha, so to speak). I read a book by the Dalai Lama recently and one of the things I do like about Buddhism is it's openness to viewing these 2 aspects of reality side by side. I'll confess to going back and forth though as to whether god is more impersonal force toward the good for me or mostly an expression of love. I'm still evolving on that.....

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Is god transcendent? ie beyond all categories of thought.

 

If true, then my opinion is just that, and I can treat anyone else's opinion as that as well. And we can debate how many angels can dance on the head of the pin.

 

If false and god is not transcendent then we have a brand new ball game. Then we should be able to know god. As a devout agnostic I have a problem here.

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Rom,

 

Historic Christianity says that God is both transcendent AND immanent. But though it affirms this, I've found that it tends to focus on God's transcendence, as God "up in heaven" or "above". Little is usually said about the God "in whom we live and move and have our being" (the apostle Paul quoting Greek philosophers).

 

Personally, I'm a big believer in "it takes one to know one". If God exists as an objective being, I suspect we would have to be Gods also in order to understand what sort of existence that is. But we're not. We're humans. So I think when it comes to "God-talk", the best we have is metaphors and approximations.

 

So, using a metaphor, I envision God as an iceberg. Only the very top of the total iceberg is visible, maybe 10%. That is the part of the iceberg that is immanent and which we can know and experience from our normal vantage point. The other 90% is transcendent, down under the water where we cannot know its exact shape or qualities. We can ascertain from the top 10% that there is more below, but we need different equipment than simply eyes and binoculars to get a more complete experience.

 

This is where mystics come in. They claim to know more of God than the rest of us 10-percenters do. They claim to have understandings of and experiences of God that make the transcendent immanent. They also usually (but not always) say that the more they know, the more mystery there is to be known. I've only heard of a few of them that claim to know God fully. They are usually more humble than to make that claim.

 

Personally, I am for balance in this area of theology. If God is completely transcendent, there is no use in even wondering about or discussing God. A completely transcendent God would be like a newly discovered language with no Rosetta Stone whatsoever. Gibberish to us. But mystics claim that God can be somewhat known, and, IMO, they encourage others to do so rather than lifting themselves up as God's only revelations. It is in this sense that I don't think God "sent" Jesus from heaven. Rather, I think Jesus was simply more sensitive to God in and around him than most people are. Another metaphor is that radio waves are all around us all the time, but we need the right equipment and the ability to tune in for the signals to mean anything to us. Jesus, IMO, was "tuned in". This doesn't make him God, it simply makes him a spiritual person. On the other hand, if God is completely immanent, then God is no "more" than a metaphor for our best human ideas or pondering about the nature of the universe and the meaning of it all. If that is correct, if there is no "moreness" to God, then, yes, all we have is opinions which lead us to declare that either God doesn't exist or that we ourselves are gods.

 

In closing, and put another way theologically, classical deism is God transcendent. God is not here any longer. Or God does not interact with us in any way (which has the same result as God not being here). Pantheism is God immanent. Everything is God or part of God. In this sense, everything is divine. But there is, IMO, a fertile middle ground of panentheism that asserts that God is more than we are, but can still be in some sense known and experienced. Christianity started off, before the doctrine of the Trinity was invented, by saying that while we can't know everything about God (because of God's transcendence), we can know something of God's human-like attributes in the life and teachings of Jesus. This is Christianity's "middle ground", but it is often lost in the "Jesus is God" paradigm.

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Bill

So god is like an iceberg - immanent up top and trascendent below (at least for you). Fair enough.

 

Panentheism - so this god that is inside matter, fundamental particles, whatever ... does it respond to cause and effect? Does the second law of thermodynamics apply to it? Would a carbon atom behave differently if it had no god in it?

 

A deistic god has been described to me as deliquent dad ... theologically speaking in the vernacualr.

Edited by romansh
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Rom,

 

As you probably know, I am fairly ignorant of atomic theory, quantum physics, light as a wave or as a particle, etc. I like Star Trek, does that count? ;)

 

Seriously though, when it comes to God-concepts, I am much more concerned about the immaterial attributes that we either derive from or overlay on God (I can't tell the difference) than I am the material or physical nature or composition of God. I am interested in the effects, not the first causes. For instance, as an epileptic, I take Depakote to help keep my seizures under control. Now, chemists can tell you that Depakote (Divalproex sodium) is a stable co-ordination compound comprised of sodium valproate and valproic acid in a 1:1 molar relationship and formed during the partial neutralization of valproic acid with 0.5 equivalent of sodium hydroxide. Chemically it is designated as sodium hydrogen bis(2-propylpentanoate). That's fine. But what I want (and need) to know is can it help with my seizures and what are the risks/side effects from it?

 

Similarly, what I want to know from theology (the study of God) is what are the effects of our God-concepts and God-talk upon us and our world? For theists, what and how we think of God influences how we see the world and our place in it. And I find that theology is at its best, not when it is trying to prove the existence of God or scientifically dissect God (as I think Dawkins and Co want to do), but when it seeks to be pragmatic, when it moves from orthodoxy (getting our beliefs right) to orthopraxy (doing the right things). Having a solid understanding of science does not necessarily lead to good morality. Science is a tool we can use to better or destroy ourselves. Likewise, theology does not necessarily lead to good morality. It is a tool we can use to try to understand if God is there, what God might be like, and how we should live wisely in the world. But theology, like science, can be used for good or evil. I'm interested in "good" theology - things like justice, compassionate, mercy, benevolence, good will, making a difference, etc. - the effects of theology. These things don't require me to dissect God.

 

For whatever it's worth, I agree that a classical understanding of the deistic god is a delinquent dad. But I also think that the traditional supernatural theistic God is a meddler who plays favorites with people if they get their prayers and practices right. I don't find that God-concept to be satisfying, moral, or reflecting how the world really works. To me, God is more a source for good that we can tap into to empower ourselves to be better people and to make our world better. But that's me.

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Newton said, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” He took Galileo’s thought and built bridges where the Church built a wall and refused to consider it. Newton changed our understanding of the Universe by formulating the Three Laws of Motion. The second law came from Galileo and the laws of motion lead to the theory of Conservation of Energy. The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed; therefore, the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant. This is also the definition that some could give to God. This in my mind is how energy or God is the ground of being. If we look at the universe from the atom to the cosmos it is 70% to 80% space. Quantum mechanics is discovering that the space is filled with subatomic particles which are basically energy at different frequencies and vibrations so we have the Divinity within and without vibrating at different frequencies. I like to think of this energy with different frequencies as a unified force field or ocean that is pure, refined to the point of pure consciousness to solid matter that is vibrating and interacting on a Quantum level. Energy and pure consciousness contain information so this totality, unity of energy or pure consciousness I feel people call God. The church built a wall around a small party of the infinite and called it God with itself as the authority. I think when the church did this they divorced science and expelled it from their walled compound out of ignorance to the fact that science is describing the same phenomenon. I feel everyone is the authority of their experience of the infinite which is expanding with their awareness. In my mind the people who say they know God are expressing their experience which is not the total view because they would not be able to talk, write or express it in anyway. As a Christian I have chosen the powerful image of Jesus Christ to represent the expression of the tangential point between the predicaments of living in a duality that exist in a unity. He embodies the awareness as seen through my dualistic mind to the universal mind that is aware of unity. It is not that the material world will one day dissolve into Jesus Christ, but that my ego's extroverted tendencies will disappear exposing the ocean of diverse frequencies, vibrating, and communicating on different levels.

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I like Star trek too, so you are not all bad Bill. :)

 

Valproic acid ... well whether it is the salt or the acid is likely irrelevant to its efficacy. It will revert to the salt/acid mixture in your stomach as dictated by the pKa of the acid and acidity of your digestion system. Whether it will work? Depends on the type of epilepsy you have. Valproic acid was the first medication we gave to our son for his epilepsy. It did not work. But then his type of epilepsy was described initially as refractory. As time went on the doctors described it as intractible. Hope yours is well controlled.

 

So you are trying on different types of god to see if it works for you?

 

Science is a tool we use to better or destroy ourselves? In a sense I agree with you, but I disagree with terminology you use. This is a highly dualistic mode of thought. Now, I understand this is how the universe has unfolded and this is how you are. Using your example of blowing away intruders intent of harming your family. Now I don't know whether you justify this as the right thing to do ... but thinking in terms of good and bad ... right and wrong ... while a useful short cut, is not (in my book) accurate. I think a more accurate way of looking at things is what do we want ... and be honest about it (at least to ourselves).

Edited by romansh
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At the risk of stealing Spong's thunder, I really like the answer he gave in a recent Q&A. The questioner was asking about the trinity, but answer really addresses the nature of god. Specifically, Spong wrote,

 

"The Trinity is a definition not of God, but of the human experience of the divine and is, therefore, an attempt to make rational sense out of that human experience.

We experience God as other, beyond anything that our minds can grasp. This is what we mean when we say God is Father – the Ground of all being.

We experience God as an inward presence, so deep within us that we cannot name the reality we know is there. That is what we mean when we say God is Spirit, ineffable, life-giving, inward and real.

We experience God in the life of others. Sometimes to lesser degrees, sometimes to what seems like a total degree. This is what we mean when we call Jesus “the son,” and why we frame doctrines like “the Incarnation.” Our experience was and is that in Jesus we saw the presence of God flowing through his human life.

Is that who God is? No, but that is what our experience of God is and so we claim it.

The Trinity is not a definition of God; it is an experience into which we live."

 

That has resonated with me since I first heard him expound it during a workshop I attended some 3 or 4 years ago.

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