Fiction and the nature of God

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:09 am

Followup to the discussions below:

I was thinking (as I walked down to move the car to a more distant car park to avoid a fine) about the influence of reading fiction on my thinking. And then, spooky synchronicity, in the 2 min I was in the car heard Dr Karl talk about reading one science fiction novel a day for 16 years. My rate was not quite as good as his – probably 2-3 books a week. But I’ve been reading that many novels – mostly speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), crime and horror – for well over 30 years and still am.

That has to have a huge influence on the way I think about these issues (along with my science courses and science teaching and sense of the size and wonder of the universe). I have spent time with very smart people thinking about the motivations and characteristics of *real* aliens (not bloody Star Trek bumpy foreheads).

In making the step to trying (and failing) to understand the motivations of an infinite, eternal God, trying to understand the motivations of an alien race with three sexes on the other side of the universe that has never heard of humanity is a useful first step.

So in comparing my way of thinking about these things with someone like Brad who reads a heap of psych and other literature and also has a theological background, Elissa who has that level of musical knowledge and thinking, and everyone else with their own experiences (and I know these shorthand sketches go nowhere in encapsulating the reality of your experience).

In particular, contrast my set of knowledge, views, ideas and experiences with those people who have read every ‘White Lie’ and ‘White Truth’ and every tract and treatise on the ructions in Adventist doctrine. I’m not those guys and they’re not me.

In trying to understand one another’s perspectives I think we make much too little (because we don’t know) of these immense bodies of knowledge and experience that each of us has.

And I haven’t even started talking about the extreme metal…

Me on the Nature of God

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:27 am

Just reposting (to preserve) some recent posts I’ve written on how I see God. I suspect almost no-one will agree, but that’s fine…

In a discussion about the possibility of multiple universes I wrote:

I believe our universe is within (through, interpenetrated by, etc) God, and there may well be a large number of other universes – there’s no in-principle reason why not.

My friend Glenn asked:

David – whats the basis for this belief? There are no in principle reasons why not for a lot of beliefs – but surely the more important question is ‘why?’.

I replied:

Good question. When I say ‘I believe’ it’s probably fairer to say I oscillate between that belief (which I’ll explain in more detail below) and an entirely naturalistic/atheistic view.

But if there’s a God, then I take seriously the list of attributes: immortal, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. Then run that through General Relativity, and assume that God is not made of the same kind of matter-energy that our universe is made of. Therefore no mass, no time, no space: not bound in space and time. Able to be everywhere, all the time. Not prescient, but knowing all of space and time, all the time.

Such a being is deeply, fundamentally alien to us. God is not a version of us writ large, with our fears and petty prejudices: that’s just superstition. Rather, God is something essentially beyond our comprehension. The powers and motivations of such a being are as inscrutable to us as ours are to an amoeba.

Such a view of God dispenses with pretty much all of the objections I have seen here. It recognises that the god-concept has very often (including throughout the Bible) been a convenient screen on which humans have projected their own fears, inadequacies and prejudices… but that does not change the essential nature of God, any more than projecting a movie on the side of the Opera House would change its essential nature.

I’m agnostic on any role God has played in creation. Reaching in and setting off the Big Bang, and the beginning of life, and leaving things pretty much alone otherwise, is plausible, but so is any other course of action, including creating the universe 6000 years ago but making it look 14 billion years old (or, heck, creating it 5 minutes ago and making it look old, including our memories).

Not sure I have an answer to the ‘why’ question. Maybe I’m just a contrarian: this view pisses off fundies of both Christianity and atheism! It’s certainly not because I need a supernatural guarantor for either morality or meaning. There’s an elegance and simplicity to it that I like…

Glenn replied:

‘The powers and motivations of such a being are as inscrutable to us as ours are to an amoeba.’

If this is true – what good is a god like that to us? I guess you could bring in revelation here – but I just don’t think the bible demonstrates its reliability or usefulness.

And I said:

“If this is true – what good is a god like that to us?”

That’s kinda the point: it’s not God’s job to be handy for our purposes. God simply is. God doesn’t mess with me and I don’t mess with God.

The Bible, like all other wisdom literatures, is the attempts of the amoebas to understand the human: it has some usefulness but any claims it makes internally to be God exposing Godself[1] should be taken along with the entire Bonneville Salt Flats. Take what is worthwhile from *all* literatures and traditions, and reject what is unworthy.

[1] sorry about the awkward grammar but I’m avoiding the masculine pronoun since an infinite God contains all possibilities of sex, gender, asexuality and sogtrikiniz

Then another friend, Elissa, asked:

a god who has no dealings with humans is far removed from a god who offers salvation through the blood he literally bled while being crucified by soldiers of the Roman empire

so… to a christian – what good is a god who doesn’t intervene?

and in another dimension of the same conversation: what does a non-interventionist god actually do?

And I said:

Again I say, the purpose of God is not to be ‘good’ for us by intervening, but to be there. And it’s true, there is little practical difference between such a God and no God in some ways.

The salvation by blood thing is (a) so tied in with the Mithras cult and a variety of other belief systems of the time and place and (b) at bottom, kind of a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in my scheme.

That is to say, why do we need salvation? Because God is angry and going to destroy the world, and only those who believe in the death and resurrection of his son will be saved from the destruction God causes. But my God is not angry and has no plans to destroy the earth or kill people. What is there to be saved from?

There’s no exclusivity, no ‘we’re saved and you’re not, nyah nyah’ in this view. It’s inclusive – everyone human is doing their life sentence together.

If there is an afterlife (which is, in this system, something in some ways separate from God, or at least not something God gives or withholds capriciously based on a set of rules that varies and you have to guess exactly the right one), then it’s for everyone, and could involve reincarnation, or subsumption into God… And if there’s no afterlife, that’s fine too – it’s always necesary to live as though that’s the case anyway.

There’s nothing in this view to attract… well, anyone really, I guess. Atheists think ‘why bother?’ and Christians get almost none of the wish-fulfilment that they’ve projected onto their little humanoid angry tribal god. The irony is, I arrived there by simply just taking the transcendant attributes that they ascrbe to their God and taking them seriously.

Kind of a long conversation (with me being by far the most verbose), and I don’t think it’s over yet.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:37 am

A life, a mind, like vellum
Too precious to discard
And so, instead, it’s scraped
Bleached a little by the sun
Then over-written with new words
A prayer, a sacred parable
A recipe, experiment or just
Something to be remembered
But no scrape, no sun
Erases every trace of life
Old stories bleeding through
Enrich and intertwine
So that this morning’s recipe
Or shopping list
Partakes of the divine