Does The Existence of God Really Matter?
As many of you know, I continue to be an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have been in the program for over 28 years. I am still hopeful that I will continue to learn more things about my own recovery, my relationships, and my psychological/emotional evolution.
As many of you also know, I am a non-theist. By that, I simply mean I don’t debate whether God exists. I am a product of Roman Catholic schools, and I learned all the alleged “proofs” for existence of God. Intellectually, they appeared full-proof at the time I learned them.
Over time, however, I moved away from the God debate. I also began to discover that many religions claim to know and experience their own sky-god divinities. I was no exception, even into my early adulthood. God, I was taught, was omnipotent and omniscient. He could, as the saying goes, “move mountains.” And there was nothing beyond his ken or capabilities.
On my sometimes eclectic spiritual journey, all proofs for the existence of God became less and less important to me. His existence or non-existence became moot since humans of every stripe, after all, still have to “deal” with the realities of life that are denied or given to them, regardless of whether a God exists or does not exist. And I see no reason to alter my behavior under any threats of after-life punishments or rewards.
I was late in coming to the realization that, regardless of any institutionalized belief-mandates, I would be who I am: an evolving human being tapping into the compassionate spirit of my tribe, for I began to see compassion as the great cathartic spirit capable of softening or even eradicating resentments, revenge, rage, fear, enmity of all kinds.
Compassion, for me, does not come from an exterior übermensch. Like happiness, as a friend of mine said, “it is an inside job.”
Admittedly, I have, and have had, great role models for compassion. I continue to observe so many people in the “helping” professions who generously give their time and energy to listening, nurturing, healing, saving, advising, recommending, guiding. They represent, for me, the spirit of regeneration, the great force that raises humanity to its best levels.
But these helping caretakers are in the world. They are clearly visible to me. They walk the walk every day. They are, if you will, my true gods.
All of this does not mean I don’t have an internalized concept of a greater reality. Or what some traditions call “The Great Spirit.” In AA, that Great Spirit is call the Higher Power. In many traditions, that greater reality is called God.
The Higher Power that I have come to experience is not a mandate-giving, anthropomorphized sky-god. It is force of real humans drawing me into its circle of benevolence, wisdom, nurturing, and shared experiences (When you share with me that your mother recently died of cancer at fifty-one, you become part of that sacred space of all of us who have lost someone we loved.)
The “God of my Understanding” or the “Higher Power,” if you will, I have also experienced in the sheer awe I have felt in reflecting upon the near-perfect symmetry of nature: the force of gravity; the axis around which our world turns and slowly spins around the sun; the near perfect processes of photosynthesis and gestation; not to mention the sheer beauty of electrons, the pumping of a heart, blood flow, neurons.
I could spend hours debating the causal relationship between all of these natural wonders and a God some believe is ultimately responsible for all those wonders.
But that becomes an intellectual debate. A debate in which someone wants to win an argument. A debate where someone is going to be perceived to be a loser. And then I get lost in the miasma of arguments and counter-arguments about what ultimate force is at the head of this chain of natural occurrences. As the Latins say, Cui Bono (For what good?).
Being a non-theist takes me out of the arena of proving that one divine force, particularly an anthropomorphic one, is the ultimate cause of everything. I could certainly do that; I choose not to.
I can point to the communal benefits of being among like-minded theists for support and nurturing (often a good thing, in my judgment). But I can equally point out the radical departure from compassion among many theists who exclude heretics, even punish or condemn them, for being outside the circle of mandated beliefs. These punishments have often taken the forms of persecutions, ethnic cleansings, Inquisitions, fatwas.
I have no interest in trying to support or dismantle whether one God exists or not or whether one God seems more credible than another.
I do know, however, that those on theistic paths have often reified their beliefs in avenging journeys that have taken them further and further away from what needs to be at the core of all ethical behavior: compassion. Without that capacity to feel into another’s pain, belief systems, in my judgment, fall into the trap of rigid self-delusion, arrogance, and of ego-driven moral superiority.
I also know from history, that many religious institutions, if not all, have made claims of ultimate and superior legitimacy.
Who doesn’t know of some religion claiming to have inherited the moral authority of truth from some prophet, seer, religious text, or from someone who was alleged to have had direct contact with a divinity. Suffice it to say that, in the marketplace of religious truth-sayers, there are many competitors.
So, I have experienced many human divinities of compassion in my lifetime (teachers, doctors, nurses, fire workers, clergy, police, emergency medical teams). Juxtaposed to their profound service to the world, the debates about God’s existence will always ring hollow to me. And all claims of being the final word of truth pale by contrast to the healing, saving, and nurturing work of those who continue to do service among the living.