Who or What is "God"?
The best answer we've found so far
article by LiveReal Agent Thomas
Who, or What, is "God"?
If, as Orwell said, "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men" - then let's try to be, well, intelligent about this.
Meaning, let's try to state the "obvious."
Before we start arguing and debating, contemplating and seeking, praying to and pleading with, let's get as clear as we can: what, exactly are we talking about?
What, in all the fog and frenzy around this little three-letter word, is real?
Phase I of our mission: simple data-gathering. Our task here is to exhaustively collect into one place all the various candidates that have been proposed as answers to the basic question...
Who, or What, is "God"?
(multiple-choice format God )
A) A big, bearded authority figure in the sky who makes the rules.
B) A fantasy, illusion, imaginary idea, or wild concept that mankind created in their own ideal image and likeness, which helps them cope with a life of inevitable suffering and death.
C) Whatever It (or He, She, etc) is, It (He, She, etc) definitely has a sense of humor.
D) Something that people pray to when they get into trouble, and forget about shortly after.
E) A "Something" who created mankind in order to teach them a few lessons.
F) A word that refers to something mysterious, genuine and sacred.
G) "Something" that created the universe.
H) Thomas Aquinas: The unmoved mover, the uncaused causer.
I) "I don't know, never will know, and think I don't want to know. Do I know that for sure? No."
J) An absolute, infinite, eternal, transcendent, immanent, intelligent, omniscient, omnipotent, good, something.
K) Richard Rose: "A being we conjure up that surmounts all space and time, and then pretend to know on a first-name basis."
L) Something that seems to have been very active a long time ago (in the days of the burning bush, parting of the Dead Sea, etc), but more recently has stayed hidden.
M) J. B. S. Haldane: "He seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles."
N) A name we give to anything we don't understand or to anything that feels more powerful than us.
O) A something that has many human characteristics: desires, emotions, pleasures, jealousies, dislikes, and so on . . . to the extent that it seems as though we basically create It/Him in our own image and likeness.
P) Job: Something that bargains for your soul, lets you go through utter hell, and if you endure and pass the test, gives you a lot of sheep and cattle and other things.
Q) A highly effective name to drop when trying to win an argument.
R) Something that has a will that we are supposed to figure out and follow.
S) An absolute state of non-duality which is the root of being, unknowable by the mind which cannot be captured by words.
T) "Love." (And what is "love"?)
U) T. S. Eliot: "The still point of the turning world."
V) Voltaire: "If God did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent Him."
W) Something that gives birth to us, and soon after, kills us.
X) Something that is, at various moments in history, angry, jealous, loving, threatening, forgiving, wrathful, comforting. intimidating, and confusing.
Y) A single actor who appears in many plays using a different stage name ("Allah", "Jehovah", "Tao", "The Void", "God", "The Absolute", etc).
Z) Something that enjoys praise and adoration.
AA) The answer to The Problem of Life. And, the one who created The Problem of Life.
BB) It is the Ultimate Advantage that each side of a war thinks is on their side.
CC) Something that created and gives us life, health, love, and sight, as well as death, disease, hate and blindness.
EE) Something that is "outside" and "transcendent to" the world.
FF) Something that is "inside" and "immanent in" the world.
GG) Something that makes some people blind, sick, maimed, and crippled, and occasionally takes credit for healing a few of them.
HH) H. L. Mencken: "A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh."
II) Something that created only the good things, and created something else which created all the bad things.
JJ) Something which "saves" very few and "damns" many more. (Also, Walter Kauffman (quoted out of context): "Surely, he must have some weaknesses if he saves only those who eat his son."):
KK) Thomas Szasz: "If you talk to Him, you are praying; if He talks to you, you have schizophrenia."
LL) Pindar: "What is God? Everything."
MM) Something you are born knowing, but soon forget.
NN) Something you are born knowing nothing about, and must find.
OO) Something that can be known, found, or experienced after death.
PP) Something that can be known, found, or experienced during life - for example, in "spiritual enlightenment".
QQ) The guy who lit the fuse on the "Big Bang."
RR) The "something" that created the whole of the immensity of the universe, the incomprehensible origin beyond the most staggering reaches of the mortal imagination, the designer of the splendor and magnificence of all of creation, and is only able to communicate with humans through a book.
SS) Meister Eckhart: "Why, oh why, do you prate of God? Whatever you say about God is untrue."
UU) "God is sex, unconscious and buried in the body."
VV) The Force: "...is what gives a Jedi his power. It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."
WW) Nyogen Senzaki: "You cannot see it with your eyes. You cannot hold it with your hands. You cannot smell it with your nose. You cannot hear it with your ears. You cannot taste it with your tongue. You cannot form it in your thoughts. Here it is!"
XX) Whatever It is, if you are in touch with It, you'll be happy; if you're not in touch with It, you'll be miserable.
YY) Alexander Pope: "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is Man."
ZZ) Something that can be found by: chanting, lighting incense, praying, having sex, hugging, meditating, stretching, reading, being still, observing, worshipping, bowing, doing nothing, introspecting, immense effort, no effort, dying, sitting, being quiet, all of the above, none of the above, or various other methods.
AAA) Saint Augustine: A "circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."
BBB) It is what is there when we - our "egos" - get out of the way.
CCC) Lee Lozowick: "The Divine is not meant to be discovered in heaven. If that were the case, we would be in heaven, not here."
DDD) Ananda K. Coomaraswamy: "...an incessant multiplication of the inexhaustible One and unification of the indefinitely Many. Such are the beginnings and endings of worlds and of individuals beings: expanded from a point without position or dimensions and a now without date or duration."
EEE) Meister Eckhart: "To get at the core of God at his greatest, one must first get into the core of himself at his least, for no one can know God who has not first known himself. Go to the depths of the soul, the secret place of the Most High, to the roots, to the heights: for all the God can do is focused there."
FFF) God is "IT".
GGG) The Old Testament: "I Am that I Am."
HHH) Something that must be known and understood in a very real way if we are to find any true happiness.
III) I don't know.
JJJ) Richard Rose: "We take too big a step when we conjure up a God that surmounts all time and space and then pretend to know Him on a first-name basis."
KKK) Ranier Maria Rilke: "My God is dark, like a knot with a hundred roots that drink in silence."
LLL) Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov: "We can sense the presence of God, but we cannot say who He is. Even the greatest initiates will not be able to tell you. And if you ask them, they will answer with silence, because only silence can express the essence of the Deity. Indeed, it is not enough to try and say everything God is, and to say what He is not is not enough either. To say He is love, wisdom, power, justice . . . is true, but these words overlook the divine reality, they say nothing about the infinity, the eternity and the perfection of God. We cannot know God by talking about Him or listening to others talk about Him. The only way of knowing Him is to enter deep within ourselves in order to reach the region of silence."
MMM) Simone Weil: "It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in, God. He only has to refuse his ultimate love to everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose any belief. It is enough to recognize what is obvious to any mind: that all the goods of this world, past, present, and future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire that perpetually burns within us for an infinite and perfect good."
NNN) None of the Above
OOO) All of the Above
PPP) Other _____________
What Is Your Answer? ________
When you finish your quiz, please pass your papers to the front.
This is a quiz that, whether you know it or not,
you're kind of already taking;
and you will probably be graded, but may not be;
we're not sure when or even if you'll ever find out what your grade is,
and we might know who will or won't be grading your papers,
- but then again, we may be wrong.
OK, so...who or what is the "Real" (not phony) "God"? Here's the best we've found so far.
So, what's our "answer" on the Quiz above?
Which definitions of God do we think are real, and which phony?
Let’s try to sort it out.
But before we have to do this, we have to answer one little question that seems kinda important.
Who the heck do we think we are?
Seriously. Are we – a ragtag bunch of LiveReal Agents really trying to settle what’s “real” behind the word “God” and what’s phony? Is that not the most arrogant, egotistical, conceited, presumptuous stance anybody in the universe could ever take?
Here’s our answer to that.
We don’t see ourselves as arrogant, presumptuous, etc etc. In fact, quite the opposite.
We aren’t at all pretending that we’re settling the issue somehow. We aren’t passing laws here. In fact, just the opposite: we’re really trying to decide on a starting point, not an ending point. A point that pretty much everyone – from hard atheists to fervent believers – can more or less agree and find common ground on. And that gives us a place to work from, so we can dig deeper.
In other words, we’re looking for answers.
And what we have below is, well, the best answer we’ve found so far.
A lot of folks seem to have the idea that there’s an Authority somewhere (Harvard, probably) who is THE EXPERT on the matter. And all we need to do in these matters, simply enough, is to consult that Expert. Because he or she really, really Knows Their Stuff, and the rest of us, at least compared to him or her, don’t know crap.
So what we should do, presumably, is leave the matter to the Experts, let them handle it, and the rest of us…well, should basically, in so many words, shut up about it.
If things were that simple, we’d be all for it.
The trouble is, we’ve had a rough time of finding that particular Expert in this particular matter.
Don’t get us wrong here. There are plenty of genuinely brilliant people out there. Tons of blazing insights. Crowds of folks who seem to really, truly know their stuff and have some seriously light-shedding things to say. (Many of those folks supplied the bulk of the material from the Quiz above.)
But they also contradict each other. They give different answers. Many of them seem to disagree, strongly and in some pretty fundamental ways, on what The Answer is. (We know, because we’ve been investigating them – “them” being the folks who are supposed to be, or are pretending to be, The Experts. Including the Harvardians.)
So when The Experts disagree…or when it isn’t even all that clear who The Expert is, or even if there even is one at all…where does that leave us?
Well, that means it’s up to us to sort it out. “Us,” meaning, well, you and me.
After all, each of us, one way or another, in our own way, is working to sort this all out on some level.
Everyone faces these questions on their own. It’s not unlike eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing – we each have to do this on our own. No one can do it for us. Even if we adopt someone else’s answer – well, the decision to use someone or something else’s answer is still an individual one.
Meaning, at the end of the day, we’re all working out our answers to this stuff on our own.
We – your lovable LiveReal Agents – are just doing it in public.
We are willing to be the proverbial pandas who are in the unenviable position of trying to mate in captivity, and on full public display.
So basically, we’re willing to make fools of ourselves and do this out in front of everybody.
So…we really don’t see this as some kind of arrogant, egotistical, presumptuous endeavor.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. We see ourselves as pretty humble. Humiliated, even. The way we see it, we’re merely doing the same thing everybody else is doing: trying to work it out.
This article isn’t The Answer. It’s an ongoing chronical of our quest.
Now, with that out of the way, we can get down to business.
So…who or what is the real “God”?
First of all, let’s face it: there’s a lot of argument and insanity around this word.
That part is pretty clear.
That said, our job here is to try to strip those slimy peels of insanity away in the hopes of getting at any whatever good stuff there might be inside – whatever is good, true, rational, calm, grown-up, and real.
“Us,” in this sense, (and it’s important to note), means your loveable LiveReal Agents: a group that includes, among others, a hardball scientific skeptic, a religious believer, and a no-nonsense pragmatist.
Our definition had to satisfy those three (and others.)
We had to get their signoff on the below. And we did. We left no one behind.
So, how did we arrive at this "answer"?
Phase 1 – our first priority – was to look under every rock we could.
The idea was first to gather as much data as possible. So our mission was to hunt down the greatest minds and hearts throughout history that we could find and explore what they had to say on the matter. We read everything we could get our hands on. We listened to anyone and everyone we could find. It was an open cattle-call on perspectives on the matter; everyone is welcome, come one, come all. This phase was basically a public restroom of ideas: it wasn’t pretty or graceful, but well, we had a job to do.
This, by the way, included hard-core atheists, skeptics, fundamentalist scientific materialists, folks who just don’t give a tin hoot about any of this business, folks who see “God” as the equivalent of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. If anyone had something to say, we were willing to listen. And some of them said some good things. And we listened.
Then it was time for Phase 2.
Time to sort through all those answers.
This was a really interesting process. We won’t give you the blow-by-blow here for brevity’s sake. (Hopefully we can show our math later.)
Then– Phase 3: share our findings with you.
Here is Phase 3.
The best definition of “God” that we’ve found so far…and the winner is…
“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to be, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”
- Albert Einstein (Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 44.
We think he says it pretty well.
This is an answer that satisfies all the LiveReal Agents that really had a hard time getting on the same page: a hardball scientific skeptic, a religious believer, and a no-nonsense pragmatist.
The above isn’t perfect for anybody. It’s ragged and unfinished. It isn’t enough for the believer, who claim to know (or believe) a lot more about what’s in those books; it’s a really hard sell for the skeptic, who insists that we don’t know what’s in those books; and it’s tough for the pragmatist, who usually wants things to be settled one way or another.
But that said, they all got aboard.
After all, even the most hard-nosed skeptics – like Dawkins and Hitchens – experience awe and marvel at the immensity, the complexity, even the grandeur of the universe. Whether it’s sprawling galaxies or the intricate intelligence that engineered the human body, with its organs, rib cages, veins, capillaries, worlds within worlds within worlds…masterpieces of art or the miracles or children…
- we can pretty much agree: there’s something astonishing going on.
We might disagree on exactly what created it, or how, or why. All of which could be a secondary concern.
But we can all pretty much agree on some kind of intelligence that isn’t us.
Whether it’s the mind of a traditional God or some kind of different intelligence that’s the source of the “laws of Nature”…it seems safe to say that, well, there’s some kind of profound intelligence in the universe.
OK, so now what?
If we can agree that there’s some kind of “mysterious force” that’s evident to anyone that takes an honest look around, and that we’re in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages…
…then well, what’s the next step?
It might seem to be the case that we should start studying. If we’re entering a huge library filled with books in many languages, then well, it seems like the smart thing to do would be to start studying the languages. So then we could start studying the books.
But let’s not go that route.
That seems like a very worthwhile project. And it should be done.
But that said, we only have so long. Eighty, ninety years or so, tops. We probably don’t have enough to learn all the languages and then read all the books before our time is up.
So, what should we do instead?
What if we go look for the author?
"When you travel to the Celestial City, carry no letter of introduction.
When you knock, ask to see God - none of his servants."
- Henry David Thoreau
If there are “books,” and Uncle Einstein said, and if there’s an “author” of those cosmic books – whatever form he, she, or it might take – then it seems like a shorter, more efficient, more direct and time-saving route would be…well, to pay a visit to that author directly.
What we’re getting at here is firsthand experience. Not secondhand.
After all, this stuff is eventually, at least to some degree, personal. (Not solely personal, but at least partly. And that can be a key part.)
This brings us away from speculation and mere opinions and into the realm of real knowledge.
"In what concerns divine things, belief is not appropriate.
Only certainty will do.
Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God."
- Simone Weil
Once you’ve smelled a rose for yourself…you know what you’ve experienced. Nobody can take that away from you.
(Proving it to someone else, of course, is an entirely different matter. And a secondary one.)
Once you’ve had a firsthand experience, a lot of arguments become unnecessary. And without some kind of firsthand experience, arguments, theories, or mere secondhand beliefs won’t really help anyway, and will sometimes just confuse things.
OK, but HOW?
But after all, isn’t all this stuff all about faith? Isn’t all this stuff about hearing something, and then deciding whether to believe in it or not? Isn’t it all about deciding to form an opinion, and then working really hard to stick to that decision?
The way we approach it here, it can be like a series of experiments.
It parallels science. Science is less of a “belief system” than it is a method of searching for truth. Science doesn’t just sit back and pontificate, talk, argue, debate; it gets hands dirty. It tests ideas, verifies theories, puts concepts under pressure to see if they hold up or crumble. In many ways, with science, nothing is taken on faith; every idea gets put to the test. Anyone can repeat and experiment and verify or reject anyone else’s results. In this sense, it’s open-source; anyone can find the truth if they’re willing to do the work.
We can do the same thing here.
These matters can also be open-source and open to experimentation. We don’t have to merely adopt certain beliefs and sit on them, defend them, dig our heels in and really believe them even harder, and harder, and harder (as if we could even do that.)
We also don’t have to just wait around for insights, experiences, revelations. We can go seek them out.
That said, scientific experiments often merely confirm or refute a theory, yield data, maybe spawn a new hypothesis. All of which is fine…but in these realms, we can go further. Experiments in this realm are more designed to produce experiences.
“We do not need theories
so much as the experience that is the source of the theory.”
- R. D. Laing
After all, experience is supposed to be the best teacher, right?
It might be the case that a great deal of theology is the effort to put something into words that came about as the result of an experience. (Something that can’t be put into words very well, or at all.)
It could be something like getting an insight into a difficult problem, and then trying to explain it to someone else. Having the insight is one thing; being able to explain it to someone else is another. And the more profound the insight, the more difficult it is to communicate. And the more easily it gets misunderstood.
So theology and philosophy might be the effort to take something beyond words and make it verbal; beyond concepts and make it conceptual; beyond out intellect and make it intellectual.
Which is why they seem to fail and frustrate so often. Which is why they never seem to capture the essence of the experience. Which is why they always seem to miss the mark, grasp at straws, feel incomplete.
And maybe the best way around that is to ease up on the words, and instead work to replicate the original experience itself.
It might be the case that what you believe (and especially what you say you believe) matters much less than what you understand.
Or even further: what you believe might matter much less than what you realize.
And of course, in running experiments, skepticism is not only welcome, it’s necessary. As we discuss in Spirituality for Skeptics, we see the dilemma between an arid skepticism and a gullible faith as a false one. The apophatic wing of the Perennial Philosophy welcomes good, hard thinking. It can provide the concrete for a sturdy foundation to build from.
And eventually, once we get to this point, then idea is that we can answer like Jung did one time: “I don’t have to believe, I know.”
To be clear: this isn’t the kind of believing where you “believe” something so super-super-super hard that one day it crosses over into you “knowing.”
It doesn’t work that way. It’s closer to the way that you “know” that you love someone. It’s “obvious.” It’s so obvious that it’s easy to miss. Sure, you might not be able to prove it to anyone else. But it’s obvious to you.
Of course, that’s the ideal.
But getting there isn’t easy.
Getting to that point we’re talking about – of having conducted valid experiments and come to valuable, verified, validated firsthand knowledge – isn’t falling off a log. It’s closer to climbing Everest. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of opportunities for some severe self-delusion – hypoxia of the soul – along the way.
So this road can be hazardous. We can’t explore all the various hazards here, but as a general rule, caution in these matters is a pretty good idea. Investigating these issues can be a thrilling adventure – maybe the most thrilling adventure there is, if you’re into this kind of thing. But we need to be careful that we don’t let ourselves get carried away, as Nietzsche said, and devoured by some Minotaur of conscience.
So this might be a better way to say it:
(Maybe it's a cliche, sure - but that doesn't make it bad advice.)
We’ve put together a few experiments here. They aren’t perfect, but hey, there are worse ways to blow an afternoon.
(And we’re always looking for better ones.)
What we’re ultimately getting at here is what we could call "Inner Work." Which we can define here as really figuring out how to get firsthand knowledge.
It’s a journey. And a quest. And the way we see it, one worth taking.
And then it’s time for Phase 4.
Phase 4 is where we return to Phase 1. We start gathering more data and looking for better answers.
What we’ve laid out here is, well, the best answer we’ve found so far.
But we’re still searching for better ones.