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Ground Of Being?


BillM
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I've lately been reading some of Process Theology and trying to understand Paul Tillich's views (which is a challenge for me). I find this approach to God attractive, but I have to admit that I am stymied as to what "the ground of being" means in common English.

 

Can any of you who have considered PT help me to understand this term better? I know it stands in contrast to theism, but I don't have a good grasp as to what it means. Any thoughts?

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Bill,

 

Tough question to answer in words.

 

While i can only speak for myself, it seems to me that the presence of "I" as in being or existing, not just the conscious concept of self and my story in the brain which i often refer to as little "i" in my posts is what i feel and sense as my ground of being. It is a substrate from which without there seems to be no thoughts, actions or even concepts of "i" or a story. When one asks the question, "Who am I" and holds for lack of a better word that "feeling" by continuing to ask the question it is like one (i) is at the door to being (I). To in a sense enter that door or merge with that "I", the question must cease or disappear and then only the "feeling" seems present without thought and then is experienced as the ground of being supporting the "me" or "i". By merging and exiting at will one seems to bring back communications (it seems to me many may do this unconsciously without knowing) but the communications is without language as i know it so this conditioned being translates it within its own limitations. This ground of being is what i personally sense as the presence of God.

 

How can what is more like a "feeling" or "knowing sense" of some sort to this brain of what is beyond but at the same time including it be accurately described by this human mind? Perhaps that is why "ground of being" is so ambiguous? As far as Paul Tillich goes, we have a thread on his book "A New Being" here but i found even his description lacking when i read his book.

 

Joseph

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It seems to me it is worth noting..... that you can't in reality get any closer to "ground of being" than you are yet it seems as 'self' gets less prominent whether through love, acts of kindness, humbleness, forgiveness, or dis-identification with the thinking self concept of who we we are etc we are 'in a sense' moving closer to the ground of our being. I see this in my own experience as we move from the waking state to to the dream state to the deep sleep state (as if dead to self) merging with the "I" . Howbeit , what many deem as consciousness seems lost at that time yet i know existence is still present.

 

As far as your question "do you think PT is closely related to pantheism?" , i don't think i can answer that question accurately as labels like that limit my response but i suppose it may come close. What do you think?

 

Joseph

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I'll have to give it some thought, Joseph. Ideas about both PT and pantheism are attractive to me as alternatives to supernatural theism.

 

As you recall, I was one of the ones here a couple of years ago who were not happy with the word "God" being removed from the revised 8 Points. But events in my life have caused me to see how limiting the word "God" can be for some people. And you well know that we can often make idols out of our words.

 

I know mostly about Process Theology through Epperly and Spong, not through reading the direct writings of Tillich, Hartshorne, or Whitehead. While these people do not seem to posit God as a being external to us, they still seem to advocate the notion of God as "presence", perhaps with some kind of consciousness (depending on who one reads). Pantheism does not usually posit God as consciousness unlike it is in us. In other words, if God acts in our world, it is only through us that God acts. In this sense, there is no dividing line between us and God, between humanity and divinity. It's an interesting notion, but I suspect it leads to religious humanism (which I wouldn't be opposed to).

 

Maybe more later. :)

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You are probably more well versed in Process theology and Pantheism than i. In fact i am certain of it. I don't read much except posts on this forum.

 

Some Christian people think Paul Tillich was an atheist. I think he is more Christian with a greater understanding than many professed Christians think. There are a lot of references in the recorded writings of Paul/Saul in the NT that seem to me to confirm much of what i read about PT and "ground of being". It seems words and labels always create a problem. But of course i pick and choose what agrees with my own personal experience and all this is just my view. Too many labels.... too many thoughts ...too little time :lol:

 

It seems to me, one has to take whatever works for them at any point in time. Perhaps others here more familiar with the subject matter than i can contribute.

 

Joseph

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You're right about words and labels, Joseph, but that is usually all we have to work with in order to communicate en masse.

 

As I've mentioned, I find this subject interesting...but not necessary. These days I'm an agnostic as far as an external God is concerned. But Jesus' teachings still carry a lot of meaning and example for me.

 

"So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God." - Bonhoeffer

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As I've mentioned, I find this subject interesting...but not necessary. These days I'm an agnostic as far as an external God is concerned. But Jesus' teachings still carry a lot of meaning and example for me.

 

"So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God." - Bonhoeffer

 

I guess i could say "as far as an external God is concerned" it just doesn't fit in what has been revealed to me. And like you, Jesus' teachings for at least the part that has spoken to me, has great meaning to me also.

 

Concerning the Bonhoeffer quote... My experience tells me that we NEED NOT live as men who manage our lives without God . In my view, it is an illusion to think we can because it simply cannot be done in spite of our ignorance to the contrary. For those who see God as external perhaps it is true but for those who see God as the substrate of their existence it is not possible.

 

Joseph

Edited by JosephM
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Joseph, that thread on Tillich's book was an interesting read. I still think he was, to a large extent, way over my head. :)

 

Speaking only for myself, I'm caught in the middle on the internal/external God. My experience tells me that God does not act nowadays as the Bible said he did 2000 years ago. As I'm sure you're aware, the Bible says that this external God came down from heaven to our world in the form of Jesus, did miracles to prove he was God, died for our sins, was resurrected, and then ascended to return to God in heaven. Along with many of progressives, I think this is probably a distortion of God and of Jesus' mission. But that is another subject. But I know the protective heavenly Father figure no longer rings true with my life-experiences.

 

I am in great ignorance about the internal God. I guess I don't know what it means anymore. When I was an evangelical, I claimed that Jesus lived inside me, in my heart. But I found that I couldn't do what Jesus did, despite my claim. And despite the claims of Christians that Jesus literally lived inside of them, I found that they couldn't do miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead, or do the things Jesus did either. So it makes me skeptical of such claims. This doesn't mean that they are not good people, doing good things. But so are agnostics and atheists and people who know nothing of Jesus.

 

Having said that, I do know that mystics say that they experience God and unity with God directly. Jesus himself made this claim. And, perhaps, if this is a true and valid experience, then the line of differentiation or identity may indeed blur or disappear to where the person experiencing God doesn't know where they leave off and God begins. And vice versa. Whatever it is that happens, and from wherever it comes, it seems to have a profound affect on people and on those these people touch. I admire that. In fact, I'm a bit jealous of it (just being honest). But most say that it can't be transferred or taught. It "just happens." Ah, the mystery of the spiritual life.

 

I appreciate your input and views.

Edited by BillM
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Speaking only for myself, I'm caught in the middle on the internal/external God. My experience tells me that God does not act nowadays as the Bible said he did 2000 years ago. As I'm sure you're aware, the Bible says that this external God came down from heaven to our world in the form of Jesus, did miracles to prove he was God, died for our sins, was resurrected, and then ascended to return to God in heaven. Along with many of progressives, I think this is probably a distortion of God and of Jesus' mission. But that is another subject. But I know the protective heavenly Father figure no longer rings true with my life-experiences.

Yes, i think most of us all have been caught there. As you i don't buy that Jesus was God in the flesh anymore than you do. Also i don't think the idea has any real meat in the reported words of Jesus unless one takes a few quotes in contradiction to many others.

 

I am in great ignorance about the internal God. I guess I don't know what it means anymore. When I was an evangelical, I claimed that Jesus lived inside me, in my heart. But I found that I couldn't do what Jesus did, despite my claim. And despite the claims of Christians that Jesus literally lived inside of them, I found that they couldn't do miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead, or do the things Jesus did either. So it makes me skeptical of such claims. This doesn't mean that they are not good people, doing good things. But so are agnostics and atheists and people who know nothing of Jesus.

My experience was a bit different. I felt like God was within but i didn't equate Jesus with God anymore than any other person. The reported teachings of Jesus were the most important and instrumental lessons in my life experiences. Since we are human and have form, we seem to want to give form to God. So while many feel it necessary to worship a form such as Jesus AND we are taught to by many traditional churches, i somehow felt it was in error and the teaching did not stick with me.

 

i did see miracles like healing and experience the new birth experience and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by tongues for myself. While i don't expect others to believe in instant healing i was used in a number of the gifts that Paul wrote of so i don't deny so called 'miracles of healing' , the word of knowledge , wisdom and the gift of healing and faith. Having said that i never expect anyone to believe any claims because as WV grant Jr. , my pastor used to say "You'll never know that it's true til it happens to you".

 

There are, as you say, a number of distortions in teachings by the church system. As you know from my first book, i published 5 of those i considered important which ended my career in the church system i was associated and previously accepted in. While it was a painful time, i have no regrets.

 

 

Having said that, I do know that mystics say that they experience God and unity with God directly. Jesus himself made this claim. And, perhaps, if this is a true and valid experience, then the line of differentiation or identity may indeed blur or disappear to where the person experiencing God doesn't know where they leave off and God begins. And vice versa. Whatever it is that happens, and from wherever it comes, it seems to have a profound affect on people and on those these people touch. I admire that. In fact, I'm a bit jealous of it (just being honest). But most say that it can't be transferred or taught. It "just happens." Ah, the mystery of the spiritual life.

 

I appreciate your input and views.

 

I am no mystic but my experience would agree with what you have written. The "i" never felt like anymore than a blissful vessel during any genuine experiences i have had and as you indicate it seems to "just happen" for me when conditions are in a sense "ripe". Perhaps as you wrote, most say it cannot be taught (perhaps only pointed to) but i sense and it seems to me it can be transferred to some extent because we are connected to each other. While we may all not be in the limelight or used in a noticeably grand way, i think we are all used and touch each other in unseen ways. Just ask the many readers who have been blessed by your past insightful posts. It seems to me, in spite of our own progress or lack of, we are all used in some way even when we don't realize it to give the other just what they need at the time they need it. I have seen this in your writings many times. Your past peer rating points say so even if i don't.

 

I appreciate your questions, views and inputs,

Joseph

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Bill,

 

I think Tillich went beyond pantheism and considered panentheism. I may be mistaken but I think pantheism describes God as being the universe, whereas panentheism says God is the universe and beyond, and everything that moves and happens within.

 

So my understanding, and I could be wrong, would suggest God as a fishbowl and water would be pantheistic, but God as a fishbowl, water, the space in which the fishbowl sits, the fish itself, the water flowing through the fish and all its molecules being changed and used within the fish, is a more panentheistic understanding.

 

Some say when the Apostle Paul says about God - “‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17.28) that he possible was considering a panentheism view.

 

Cheers

Paul

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From reading Spong's books and listening to his many talks, I know that he is a fan of Tillich. Spong is, by his own admission, a non-theist. For him, God is "that which calls me to live life fully, to love wastefully, and to be all I can be (as a human)." This rings true for me as well. In this sense, I find "God" both internal and external. God is found in my conscience, in my rationale, in my inner sense of self, in my longings to be the best person I can. But I can also find this kind of God in the scriptures, in the Church, in nature, in astronomy, in my family and friends. And I realize that there really is no separation between the internal and the external (IMO). This kind of God really does go beyond our human boundaries.

 

This is what I think that panentheism points to, Paul. As you say (or quote) "In him we live and move and have our being." Of course, the Bible was written from the theistic, male-God point-of-view, so we have to make allowance for the term "him." ;) But I agree with both you and Joseph that *some* of Paul's writings stress quite heavily that nothing can separate us from God or one another. This notion may come out of Paul's theistic framework, but I think it transcends it.

 

For my own reasons, I am not a huge fan of church growth or "Christianizing" culture. As Joseph has said, we are not much about proselytizing. But I do think that people who consider themselves to be spiritual are seeking for God. In that sense, I, perhaps a little like the bishop himself, seek the kind of God-language that would make the term "God" appealing to 21st century people who can no longer hold to a literal, theistic view.

 

Just some musings.

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I appreciate your input, Paul. What appeals to me about both pantheism and panentheism is the theme that God works through and in concert with the natural forces of our universe instead of by suspending them as supernatural theism often posits.

 

From my studies, pantheism usually holds that God always was (or at one time became) nature. Nature and God are synonymous, no longer having any separation. I’m not sure if this is animism or not. But many pantheists which I have interacted with seem to think that everything is in, in some sense, alive and conscious. While this view champions the notion that nature is to be respected (because it is God), I’m quite skeptical that rocks and rivers are alive and conscious.

Panentheism usually says that nature is found within God, but that God is not intrinsically nature. In this view, God is more theistic (outside of nature) but still able to work in and through it. I see panentheism as “God pregnant with nature.”

 

Both of these views suffer from the fact that nature, while powerful, is not intrinsically moral or good. Nature seems to be morally neutral, although it does seem to lean toward higher and higher complexity (evolution). But God, in these views, is just as much behind a tornado as God is behind a gorgeous sunset. It is just the way the universe is and the way the universe works. Nature is violent and harsh, sharp in tooth and red in claw (if that is how the saying goes). This cannot be denied. As to whether this is God or not, it depends on how one defines God. Christianity *usually* says that God is all-good but that he is a mystery i.e. his sense of goodness is probably not our sense of goodness. When this is asserted, IMO, it makes God’s goodness unintelligible.

 

Recent studies (although I can’t cite them specifically) say that many people (at least Americans) long for churches that affirm the reality of God. But the kind of God that most churches affirm, the supernatural theistic God, no longer makes sense to modern sensibilities and experiences. So, having no other framework for considering God, people leave. People like Spong and Tillich have given Christianity other ways to consider God. Spong admits that his framework probably will not work for the institutional Church, tied as she is to the Creeds and supernatural theism. But he says the Church is not his primary audience anyway. If people are happy with supernatural theism, why rock the boat? But I, for one, am glad for Christian thinkers who give us alternatives. It’s always good to have choices, is it not?

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Bill,

 

I found this quote from Eckhart Tolle which also speaks of "Being". it might help to understand the Paul Tillich term "ground of being" from an Eckhart Tolle perspective. While it is not a definition but rather an answer to a question of .... How do you equate surrender with finding God? i think it eloquently describes what i would call the experience of the "ground of being".

 

"Since resistance is inseparable from the mind, relinquishment of resistance --- surrender --- is the end of the mind as your master, the impostor pretending to be "you" , the false god. All judgment and all negativity dissolve. The realm of Being, which had been obscured by the mind, then opens up. Suddenly, a great stillness arises within you, an unfathomable sense of peace. And within that peace, there is great joy, there is love. And at the innermost core, there is the sacred, the immeasurable, That which cannot be named." ---Eckhart Tolle

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Joseph,

 

Just being honest, I don't think this kind of spirituality would be a good fit for me. I value the mind and our ability to think as reasoning creatures. I also value judgment, without which we could make no moral or ethical decisions. In my opinion, it is the religions which refuse to use their minds to think and reason that often do the most damage to people and our world. Speaking only for myself, love is an act of the will (which arises in the mind), not the absence of thought. For me, this is because love is bound up in actions (which require thought as activators), not in feelings.

 

But I do realize that this form of spirituality appeals to and works for many people. I am simply wired differently. :)

 

Thanks for the info anyway. As they say, "Different strokes for different folks!" :D

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You are welcome. No problem Bill,

 

I understand your concern but i think you misunderstand the quote. The mind is indeed a very useful and valuable tool to use. The problem that the quote addresses is what happens when one confuses the mind for who they are at the deepest level. When the mind is a servant to our innermost being it is highly useful for navigation within this world we see. However when the mind takes on an identity of itself (as ego) and one confuses it for the master then it controls us and obscures that experience. That's what i think Tolle was trying to say. But whatever seems to work or speaks to you on the subject of "ground of being" is okay with me.

 

The only reason i mentioned it was because of your post #9 where you said .....

"Having said that, I do know that mystics say that they experience God and unity with God directly. Jesus himself made this claim. And, perhaps, if this is a true and valid experience, then the line of differentiation or identity may indeed blur or disappear to where the person experiencing God doesn't know where they leave off and God begins. And vice versa. Whatever it is that happens, and from wherever it comes, it seems to have a profound affect on people and on those these people touch. I admire that. In fact, I'm a bit jealous of it (just being honest). But most say that it can't be transferred or taught. It "just happens." Ah, the mystery of the spiritual life." ( my emphasis in bold)

 

I must have misunderstood / misread what you said. The experience doesn't come with reasoning by the mind so i thought the quote might interest you concerning this topic and the experience you reference. Oh well, as you say "Different strokes for different folks!" ;):rolleyes::lol:

 

Thanks for reading,

Joseph

Edited by JosephM
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What I'm saying, Joseph, is that I would like to better understand (which requires the mind and thinking) the concept of "the ground of being."

 

If the response to that (to my seeking to understand) is that "the ground of being" is beyond understanding or that it is past words or that it is ineffable, than, yes, there is no sense in wasting time discussing it. No harm, no foul.

 

But you do bring up an interesting subject and I hope you don't mind if I probe you a bit about it. You said:

 

"The problem...is what happens when one confuses the mind for who they are at the deepest level." You speak of "our innermost being."

 

I don't know what your metaphysical view is, but, IMO, without the brain, there is no mind. Without the brain, again IMO, there is no "innermost being." People who have suffered severe head trauma or have had portions of their brain removed have definitely experienced a change in who they are, in their "mind", in their innermost being. That is a scientific fact. Change the brain and the mind and the person changes. Ask anyone with Alzheimers.

 

At the same time, I know that many (most) religions teach that there is a part of us (some call it spirit or soul) which is our true identity apart from our brain or mind. I don't think this view can any longer be substantiated. Modern medicine can dissect the body down to the most minute particles, and there is no sign of a spirit or soul. It simply isn't there, despite what popular religions teach about an "immortal soul" or some other such metaphysical view.

 

There is a sense in which it doesn't matter to me what people believe about such things. (Humor - ) They can believe there are fairies under their front porch, I don't care. But if they insist that *I* accept their claim solely on faith, they have lost credibility with me. I'd prefer to see evidence. As has been said, "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence."

 

Thanks for the conversation.

 

PS - Oops, forgot to ask my question. Duh! Joseph, if you don't believe your inner self resides in your brain (in your mind), where do you believe it resides?

Edited by BillM
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One can discuss it but the only way to understand it is by experience. Science proves nothing.

 

(snip)

I don't know what your metaphysical view is, but, IMO, without the brain, there is no mind. Without the brain, again IMO, there is no "innermost being." People who have suffered severe head trauma or have had portions of their brain removed have definitely experienced a change in who they are, in their "mind", in their innermost being. That is a scientific fact. Change the brain and the mind and the person changes. Ask anyone with Alzheimers.

(snip)

 

PS - Oops, forgot to ask my question. Duh! Joseph, if you don't believe your inner self resides in your brain (in your mind), where do you believe it resides?

OK i'll play...

 

I would have to politely disagree. Chop off my body part and i am still me. Take away my memory and I am still me. My story changes but I am not diminished. I will be perceived by others differently but it is still me. When you were a baby you did not look like you do today, talk like you do today, reason or act like you do today but you are still you. It is no scientific fact nor has it been proved that because of some physical change a person experiences a change in who they are. You may become more or less familiar with who you think you are because you change your story of what you do but i assure you... you are still you.

 

On the PS. It resides without location. Location is merely a physical concept in time and space.

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. Take away my memory and I am still me. My story changes but I am not diminished. I will be perceived by others differently but it is still me. When you were a baby you did not look like you do today, talk like you do today, reason or act like you do today but you are still you. It is no scientific fact nor has it been proved that because of some physical change a person experiences a change in who they are. You may become more or less familiar with who you think you are because you change your story of what you do but i assure you... you are still you.

 

On the PS. It resides without location. Location is merely a physical concept in time and space.

 

 

Joseph

The atoms/energy that makes up me are continually added to, replaced and eventually returned. The pattern of the atoms and energies change overtime. It is like a vortex we see in a pond sometimes after an ore has moved through the water. The vortex sucks in water from the surrounding pond and throws it out again. Eventually it fades. Nevertheless whilst it is a vortex it remains a vortex.

 

I must admit I find the phrase ground of being not very illuminating. The only thing that makes sense to me is if it is more or less synonymous with universe. And here is the point where theism and atheism can become one ... in pantheism. Or sexed up atheism as Dawkins described pantheism. I suppose a similar charge could be laid against Spong's world view. Which is not so bad I suppose.

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Rom,

 

You are correct that the phrase "ground of being" is not very illuminating. It can be pointed to only by saying it is the substrate of your very being. What else can one say except to reside there and experience it for oneself? There are many paths religions and methods people use to get there so to speak, (not really a place to get) but it seems many only get a glimpse and are still found lacking for words to explain.

 

Personally, i would not use the word universe as i see it limiting and more as a product / result rather than source yet even that statement is not accurate by experience.

 

Joseph.

Edited by JosephM
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I must admit I find the phrase ground of being not very illuminating. The only thing that makes sense to me is if it is more or less synonymous with universe. And here is the point where theism and atheism can become one ... in pantheism. Or sexed up atheism as Dawkins described pantheism. I suppose a similar charge could be laid against Spong's world view. Which is not so bad I suppose.

 

I find that to be the case in my own understanding also, Romansh. Supernatural theism, for all of its centrality to mainstream Christianity, presents a deity who is a mystery, whose ways are not our ways, who is ineffable, who, being God, is beyond our understanding. I suspect that Process Theology has tried to "save" theism by presenting God in an alternate view. But I find this alternate view as much a mystery, past my understanding, as supernatural theism is.

 

Speaking only for myself, I've found that it takes too much time and effort to try to "save" theism in our post-Christian culture where we have to admit that there is no evidence or proof for God other than anecdotal claims. To me, the universe operates exactly like I would expect it to if there were no deity in charge and running it. We, not God, are responsible for ourselves and our world. Some may see this as a loss of faith. And I suppose it is. But I see my loss of faith as an embrace of reality as it really is...and I find that empowering.

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Jack Spong shares this very interesting analogy, though I don’t think it is original to him. He says, “If horses had gods, they (those gods) would be horses.” And he similarly says, “A horse can’t tell you what it means to be a human.” If horses could converse, they could share their experiences of humans with one another, but they couldn’t tell you what it means to be human. In other words, it takes one to know one.

 

I think there are two ways to come at what Jack is saying. In the first case, in the theistic view, the notion is that God is a higher being than we are. God is the superlative being, outside of us. We created God, probably to try to deal with our human angst and the problems of existentialism, and attributed to this deity powers that we don’t have, believing that through prayer and ritual that we can get God to intervene and act on our behalf. But because we are not gods, religious tradition holds that we have no chance of understanding God. We simply don’t exist on God’s plane. Now, Christianity makes the claim that Jesus came down from God’s plane to make God somewhat understandable to humans. In other words, because we couldn’t get to God, God, in Jesus, came to us. Unfortunately, the diversity found within Christianity seems to suggest that Jesus didn’t do a very good job. Even amongst Christians, there is little agreement as to who God is and God’s relationship to the world. This makes theism very problematic for our culture when it comes to God-talk.

 

The other way, the notion that I might call the mystical view, is that what we call God is part of us. God is inside us, perhaps as a higher consciousness or as what some may call “Christ.” This way, IMO, focuses more on God as an experience rather than as a being to be believed in. But this view also suffers from the fact that there is so much diversity found with human experience that there is no consensus as to what God is. What we call “God” is different in each person, though, of course, there is overlap because we are all humans. And, as Joseph points out, who amongst us can find words that can adequately and accurately explain our experiences of this God to one another? Poetry and metaphor are better suited to this than prose, but words always fall short. Again, we struggle with God-talk.

 

Having said all of this, I realize that some people are very committed to theism and others are committed to mysticism. As a rationalist who believes we do better to understand reality through science and our five senses, I question the validity of both theism and mysticism. I’m not saying that these views of God don’t work for people and can make people compassionate. I just suspect that BOTH theism and mysticism are human creations originating with our own minds instead of some kind of external or internal revelation of God.

 

But then, everything I’ve just said comes from within my own mind. ;)

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One could always consider the simplistic option that says God and creation are one and define God as Being itself. God by that definition requires no proof, as "being" is self-evident.

 

Very true, Joseph.

 

Of course, things are defined over and against other things. In this sense, everything that exists is either God or part of God. This option certainly leans more towards pantheism or panentheism than supernatural theism which gives us the dualism of natural and supernatural.

 

BTW, have you seen the movie, "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

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