.. The facetiousness of which should clue you in to how seriously you can take this.
So, on one of the home ed lists there is naturally talk about the nature of God.
So, not wanting to muddy those waters any further, or seem like I’m personally getting at anyone, here’s a bit on where I am at the moment.
1. I’m a Reform Humanist Druid.
Which is partly a joke, but also very much the truth. I don’t believe in a personal entity that can be called “God”. I believe the concept of the divine to be somewhat of a con. If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing us he didn’t exist, it’s as nothing compared to the con trick by which God convinced man of his existence.
I’ve found the structures of Paganism and Druidry, such as they are, very useful in developing a relationship with, well…
2. I believe in something greater than us…
Scratch that, I believe in many things greater than us. Our families. Our friends. Our colleagues, our communities, our countries, our species, life on Earth, Earth itself and the cosmos itself stretching unimaginably vast in reach in space and time to an extent that while to call it infinite may or may not be true, at this scale it’s just sophistry.
And I believe that our relationships with all of this are kind of the point of being here. But I have nothing but my own convictions in this. More of which later.
3. I believe in evolution
Actually, I’m pretty confident in the current scientific view of the universe, as much as there is a consistent one. I love poking around the edges. I love Fort’s “damned data”. So do the vast majority of scientists. Science is the best apparatus we have for understanding the material universe. Yes, it’s a human and political process, but how could it be otherwise? And it contains many, many checks against the preservation of folly, not the least of which is that it inherently values new insights over old, while using the old, where not disproved, as a stepping stone to ever greater insight.
So yes, I think the whole ancient universe, ancient world, life from chemical soup, Darwinian evolution thing is pretty much right as far as I can see. No, it’s not all perfectly worked out, because science doesn’t work like that, because it’s a human endeavour. Hell, by invoking dark matter and energy, cosmologists pretty much have “Work in Progress” written all over their best work. But the progress bit is the important bit.
4. I believe in the limitations of the human mind.
Now, I had to tell you that (number 3), in order to tell you this, in the words of Bill Cosby. I believe that the human mind and perceptions are emergent properties of an evolved entity; that they are adapted to dealing with animal needs of food, shelter, reproduction and the social gain, maintenance and regulation of the same in an environment of relative scarcity.
Which is to say that we have great problems with conceiving anything that is too large or small to eat, cause us pain or shelter in. We have great problems directly dealing with social groups larger than a couple of hundred people at most.
5. I believe in the boundless potential of the human mind
Conversely, I believe that the mental and social hacks we have applied to ourselves (language, writing, stories, metaphor, religion, science, culture, politics, engineering, electronics, computers, the internet, the thrice-cursed internal combustion engine and the most sublime and transcendent MUSIC, mathematics and logic) mean that while there are things that are beyond the ken of man, the ultimate unknowable is the limits of our knowledge and understanding. That understanding may be at a flawed and metaphorical level. I don’t think anyone can understand much below the level of molecular physics in the same way they experientially understand the pull of gravity, and similarly full on gnosis of the depths of cosmic time and space may well be beyond the reach of anything recognizably human… a but I get ahead of myself.
But note I say “boundless”, I do not say “infinite”. Like Zeno’s arrow, the human perception approaches the infinite which, by definition, is always unattainable.
6. I believe “God” must be alien.
No, not “an alien”, but utterly inhuman. Anything worthy of the name should be capable of omniscience, yes? Such an intelligence is so vastly beyond human scale that it is as unknowable as all the vastness of space and time itself. How could we classify anything so vast as “good”? As I understand, one Jewish position is that “God is good, but as humans, how are we to know what is ultimately good?”
This is, of course, running completely counter to Descartes. Descartes argued, essentially, that because he can conceive of God as a perfect being, God must therefore exist, as non-existence is a flaw. To all non-philosophers out there, yes, really, that’s where “I think, therefore I am” ended up. I’m on the flip side of that: any god that can be adequately conceived of by the human mind must be, of necessity flawed. God cannot be flawed. Therefore, being human, I cannot conceive of God. I cannot speak whereof I cannot conceive, therefore I cannot speak of the will of god, the mind of god, the intent of god, god’s plan.
7. I believe that I cannot know of God… and nor can you.
And it follows then that, being human, no-one else can know. Not you, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, not the Pope, not all the Saints, not the Nicean Council, not the apostles, not, if he was fully human, that great teacher Jesus of Nazareth. There is no authority on the nature, or even existence, of the divine. Appeals to any such authority are futile to me. “It is written…” by whom? A human, a human-scale being.
When believers say to me that, not being based on the word of god, my principles are based on sand, they are, in my eyes, saying so while standing on a sandcastle and declaring it solid granite. Any appeal to “divine will” is a human claim based on human claims of the divine will. Sand built on sand built on an idea of what rock could be.
And this is the problem with most religious arguments i get into: they end up as appeals to an authority that I cannot recognise, while those arguing against me cannot ignore it.
Furthermore, there’s a flip side to this, which is that we would be alien to God. Admittedly, there’s no reason why a vast, supra-universal omniscient being shouldn’t care about even a whole race of beings that are, by definition, vanishingly small in it’s perceptions, but equally, I cannot conceive of why it should, or even could. Even the concept of being part of the plan of a vast, unknowable alien intelligence who’s definition of “good” is beyond human comprehension… well, it’s Lovecraft country, isn’t it?
(NB: yes, this is definitely MY problem with the concept of an omnipotent omniscient god, not a logical objection. But even the paternalism of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god is creepy to me.)
8. I believe some believers limit their concept of God
Creationists, especially. Why not believe in a God that created a universe so absolutely perfect in its self consistency that it behaves exactly as a universe which was not created by an intelligent being, a being comprehensible by humans and therefore limited? Why not believe that, if God’s intent is guessable, then his intent was to make a universe that could explain itself to itself without explicit divine signatures, like Slartibartfast signing Fjords? If I’m to believe in a God, a good God (and that, in itself, in my flawed human vision, precludes eternal damnation for failing to be divine or properly beg forgiveness for failing to be divine), then I cannot believe that God would also create a universe that requires, in a gross sense, a sign that says “God did this bit” as apart from everything else, that needs you to accept that some parts of reality don’t make sense because God did them, stop asking awkward questions and go away.
That argument for God, the old “God of the gaps”, by necessity shrinks God every time discoveries are made. I cannot accept anything that shrinks in the light of knowledge as divine.
But then again, doesn’t any belief in a given creed or dogma about the nature of God limit God? If we say “God is THIS”, then God, by definition, is not “not THIS”. And then we get into semantic games again. God is good, god is omnipotent, but God allows that which is not good… so our concept of good must be lacking compared to God’s. But if our concept of good is how we define “God is good”, then “good” no longer has meaning. It’s a semantic placeholder for “the will of god” when talking about god and “what we think is good” when talking about pain and suffering on a human level.
Never mind that the nature of God is, to me, like the colour of the King of France’s beard. Oh, let’s be generous, the colour of the king of Jupiter’s beard.
9. I believe in reality.
Slightly out-of-place, but bear with me, nearly there. To get back to Descartes, I believe I exist, even if it’s as an illusionary emergent property of a massively complex biological system (and to anyone who says “And only that?” I pull out my tongue and say “The wonderful, even miraculous event of the illusion of human consciousness isn’t ENOUGH? A process which is at best only dimly perceived and understood and has generated all of human culture and achievement and you say ‘only’!?!?!”). I believe that, at a human level, I can trust my perceptions, as long as I’m not given good reason to doubt them (another reason that I love, love, love stage magic and everything that goes with it). Recognizing that I’m an evolved being, not a create being, I have imperfect perceptions and judgements, and I accept that I am limited in my capabilities, but also recognize that I cannot know my limits until I push them, and that I’m operating in an ever evolving cloud of relationships with similarly flawed people striving to be as good as they can be.
10. I believe in relationships
Remember way, way up there when I said about things that are bigger than us? I believe that we’re part of those larger structures, that cutting ourselves off from any of them is essentially cutting us off from a part of ourselves. I find the structures of Druidic practise useful in affirming my relationship with my family, my community, the earth, the solar system, the stars… and, by definition, parts of myself I have neglected or let down.
It’s not quite do as you be done by (my tastes may not be yours), but by extending my self-interest outwards, by recognizing that by looking after my family, friends, etc. I am looking after part of myself, even a selfish old git like me can gain the appearance of altruism and, if you like, goodness.
And to anyone who’s made it this far… well done. Now go and have a lie down. The scary ranty man has finished now.