The Authentic Atheist – 2

Saying God is the result of a corporate wish is a kind of bathtub-drain mentality. Everything, bubbles and scummy bath water alike, can go swirling down into it until nothing is left. The problem can be stated like this: If God is simply a case of wishful thinking, then everything good, beautiful and true might also be explained away by the same devilish logic. So, for instance, if God is the result of our wishful thinking, then morality is merely our need to impose control on our society. Patriotism becomes a projection of our bigotry and xenophobia. Beauty is no more than my own erotic urgings projected outward, and truth itself is simply my sad attempt to impose order and meaning on the chaotic and meaningless cosmos. If all is wishful thinking, then this strange phenomenon we call Love may only be a projection of our own pitiful infantile needs. If all these things are simply the projection of my own mind, then perhaps the physical world is also only real within my own perception. We know the senses can be reduced to electrical impulses to the brain. Perhaps the whole beautiful, cruel, tender and hilarious world is nothing but an electrical fizzle in my head. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a fizzle.

Couldn’t it be that the idea of God as a projection of the human imagination is a simple reversal of the truth? The alleged atheist has strayed into a hall of mirrors and gotten lost. He’s mistaken a reflection for reality. It might look like God is a projection of our imagination, but in fact we’re the products of his. The ancient texts confront and correct this very problem. They warn us against making God in our own image and specifically tell us that we were made in his. Either position looks like it might be true, but then reflections do look like the real thing. Whether you think God is a projection of man or man a projection of God depends on where you start. If you start with yourself, then God is a projection, but if you start with God, then you are. This being the case, we must then ask ourselves which is the more logical starting point—you or God? Who is more likely to have been there first?

Arguing for the existence of God has always been a yawn. The most the philosophers can do is infer that God exists. But who wants to dance with an inference? Can you rage against a logical proof? Why debate the existence of light when such things as eyesight and color exist? Besides, if one has developed a believing mentality, the first step of saying not only “I believe” but also “I believe in God” may not be so difficult. However, when philosophers and New Age gurus speak of God, they use majestic and enigmatic terms like “Ultimate Being” or “Eternal Essence.. The problem with God being “Radically Other” or a “Force of Dynamism” is that we cannot imagine such a thing. It’s in our nature to imagine the unimaginable using images, and when we try to picture the “Elemental Essence” or the “Spirit of Cosmic Being” we end up getting a mental image of either a huge spray of cheap perfume or a vast, astral tapioca pudding. An impersonal force seems like a sensible starting point, but most people find swimming in cosmic ectoplasm rather sticky. As a result, we soon begin to imagine the amorphous God as a personal Being. The Force receives a Face.

There is a popular theory that the idea of a personal God is primitive, while the idea of an impersonal force is sophisticated. It is imagined that simple folk believe in a personal God, but as they become wiser they come to see that God is really an impersonal force. Isn’t the truth just the reverse? Isn’t it more sensible to assume that it was the grunting humans emerging from the ooze who first sensed that God was a kind of ooze? Wouldn’t the first religious instinct be a dim awareness that there was some sort of “impersonal force” behind all things? It was later, as man developed into a cultured, colourful, storytelling creature, that he figured out that the vague force actually had a face.

This is how infants develop. First there is the big, fuzzy, loud thing with a red spot in the middle and then as the child grows he learns to recognize his father’s face, complete with beard and bulbous nose. Isn’t this the way with all things and all ideas? They develop from simple to complex, and decay from complexity to simplicity. Therefore, the simpler idea that God is an impersonal force must be the more primitive. Certainly it is possible to move from faith in a personal God to acknowledgement of an impersonal force (many intellectual clergymen take this step) but such a move is always a decline, not a development. It is a slip down, not a step up.

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