Ruminations

The chewy thoughts of a queer Christian

The End of Wishy-Washy

The God DelusionI have been reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Honestly speaking, I did not think it would have any effect whatsoever on my faith. It has.

I got through the first sections of the book fine – taking in my stride the scorn and ridicule that Dawkins pours upon religion. This is what I had expected. One section – the argument for religion based on personal experience – I did think could have had the potential for knocking my faith. But he seems to have limited himself to ridiculing religious visions and hearing voices and leaving it at that.

No. What got me was the chapter on the Roots of Religion. There is a much under-developed argument (most of his arguments are under-developed) that the existence of the soul, or the ‘God within’, or even Being, may be a psychological trick:

The psychologist Paul Bloom… points out that children have a natural tendency towards a dualistic theory of mind… A dualist acknowledges a fundamental distinction between matter and mind. A monist, by contrast, believes that mind is a manifestation of matter – material in a  brain or perhaps a computer – and cannot exist apart from matter. A dualist believes the mind is some kind of disembodied spirit that inhabits the body and therefore conceivably could leave the body and exist somewhere else. P. 209

He goes on to develop this theory very poorly and, I think, has missed out on an opportunity to strike out a very powerful argument for God – ‘I feel that He exists within me’. But I have developed it myself and it has given me a real problem.

How do I know that feeling the God within me is not just a trick of my brain? There is no way of knowing whether or not such a God exists. Essentially, believing in such a God is wishful thinking. To believe in such a God is almost an act of will – a choice. I want to believe in God; therefore, I will search for that which is God and when I find something that fits that label I will call it God. It doesn’t matter if that is not what people will conventionally call God, because I have found it. And I will maintain such a loose understanding of what God is that when people challenge it, it will morph. This understanding of God as ‘Being’ is essentially the making of the ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ or ‘inner self’ into the divine. It is making dualism (as defined above) sacred.

God as an inner reality was my trump card. All other qualities of God were secondary – such as transcendence, power, ability to work miracles, creator, goodness. The question was not whether or not God exists as figuring out what God is.

So what changed?

First of all, I’m not doing spirituality on my own any more. That happened before The God Delusion. I am grateful, at the moment, to be in a Church and building a new faith based on a tradition of rigorously figuring out how to make good sense of God.

I had to lay to rest the idea that I could figure God out by feeling. I had to stop trying to access God by efforting.

I had to move the location of God to outside myself. I had to stop turning inwards and start looking outwards. The point here is that connecting with God is not so much us meeting Him as Him meeting us.

I picture it like this: meeting someone can happen in a number of ways. I can meet you at your house, or you can meet me at my house, or we can both meet each other, say, in the park. Under my old model, meeting God was like meeting in the park. I was searching, and I found who I was looking for because I really wanted to. I didn’t know when God was going to show up and wasn’t sure what he would look like, but I found something that looked pretty much like God and named it so (Waiting for Godot much?). Under my new model, God is coming to my house at my invitation. In Revelations 3:20, God says:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I think that more what it’s like. God is coming to see us, and we can let him in. But I think we have to invite Him first.

If God is a reality outside of me, I can’t know Him well enough to be able to just say what I like about Him and believe it to be true. I cannot be wishy-washy. I actually might be wrong. I have to be careful, I have to check my statements against reality. I have no control over Him; and I don’t have to like everything He does. I cannot use Him for my own ends. I cannot own Him. This, I believe, is why He gave the commandment, ‘Do not use the Lord’s name in vain’.

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2 thoughts on “The End of Wishy-Washy

  1. If you’re interested in reading more about the idea of god being a ‘trick of the brain’, as you put it, there’s this book i’ve read which is entirely about that:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-God-Instinct-Psychology-Destiny/dp/1857885600

    probably there are other books or material online but that’s the one i’ve come across..

  2. Thanks, I’ll bear that in mind. I’m also considering reading Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I am Not a Christian’ – but have a whole lot of other books I want to read besides! There are many sources cited by Dawkins in the God Delusion that would be well worth following up, and are probably (I should hope) a bit more meaty.

    By the way that long discussion with you definitely influenced the process explained in the post… it helped me crystallise my thoughts and experiences.

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