Since publishing my book, I’ve made it my business to ask anyone using the noun ‘God’ (and who is up for discussing such things) to define what they mean by the word.
My experience (and at this point I’ve asked quite a few people) is that the only available (coherent) definitions are: ‘a man’ or ‘the Universe’.
I think it’s instructive that people struggle to usefully define a word in such wide and ubiquitous usage, and of such profound cultural and historical significance.
On that note, here is the latest piece of follow-up to The Jolly Pilgrim:
To my mind, almost all the theism-atheism ‘debates’ in the western world are mainly fluff and nonsense, and really arguments about semantics (i.e. words) not metaphysics (i.e. the underlying nature of reality).
- Atheists (I know a lot of these) ‘don’t believe’ in an ‘all-powerful’ invisible sky-man, and are often smug and self-righteous about (what they regard as) the bullet-proof intellectual credibility of their position.
- Theists use ‘God’ to describe their general sense that there is an underlying rationale and order to the universe, which it is appropriate to have faith in (admittedly, some of the less empirically minded ones are prone to sounding-off with goofy metaphysics).
I don’t think the two positions are necessarily at odds with one another, let alone mutually exclusive, and if the word ‘God’ can’t be defined, then the classifications ‘theist’, agnostic’ or ‘atheist’ are non-useful sources of confusion.
What might ‘God’ mean?
‘God’ either means:
(A) A man
(B) The Universe
(C) Something which is neither a man nor the Universe
(A) Includes when the vague nouns often used to define God (e.g. ‘force’, ‘power’ or ‘being’), but which don’t really mean anything, are substituted for slightly more blatant anthropomorphic projections (e.g. ‘consciousness’ or ‘sentience’) – i.e. words that describe qualities of some of Earth’s life forms.
If it’s (C) then it needs an ontology (i.e. meaning) and until it has one, arguing about its existence is pointless.
If it’s (B) then, in my opinion, this would lead to the view that:
1) There is a synergy to all the extant non-goofy world views both modern/scientific (based on data) and traditional (i.e. the doctrinal belief systems of the established religious traditions, formed before we had much data). I appreciate plenty of people have previously suggested this.
2) The productive conversations regarding: ‘God’/religion are really those about the underlying nature of the Universe, and our context within it.
Those strike me as precisely the conversations worth having.
And I’m not trying to tell anyone they’re wrong in their religious beliefs (in most cases) – but that the belief systems of the 21st century do not represent the final word on anything.
That link again:
While I’m on the subject, if you fancy setting aside an hour for learning, here are two of the most engaging minds in the world talking about some of the most interesting things one can talk about:
In peace, and with hope
I am unaware of any other field of discourse than theology where you’re allowed to get away with making such strong claims about something you cannot even vaguely define. – Eric Pepke