They say religion is a method of realizing God. Hang on! Before I continue further, I must clear the air as to the ‘confusion’ bit. The ‘confusion’ is not about God, it’s about the theories, superstitions, and beliefs, both good and bad (somewhat subjective as that qualification is) that the concept of God has engendered.
Observing the discontent and disharmony that goes on in the name of religion, purportedly a means of realizing God makes me uneasy. Even though I have never been able to convince myself of the necessity of religion, that is, in practice of its precepts and more so its rituals, it surprises me no end that this identity can override any other consciousness that the masses are endowed with. Religion, then, seems to be an end in itself instead of a means to an end. That is perhaps because religion is essentially a way of life – a consummation of the values of the time and culture that engendered it, a set of guidelines laid down for the followers and of beliefs that pass on over generations of believers.
As for God, it is clear that religion is distinct from God. Religion is supposed to lead the believer to a realization of God. It is NOT God in itself. However, it is when religion and god are mixed together so much so that you mistake one for the other that the problem, and the confusion, thereof, begins. For, despite one’s disbelief in the effectiveness of a religion, one may believe in God. This is not to discredit any particular religion, or religion in general, nor to assert the effectiveness of any religion in realizing God. To comment on the effectiveness of a method, one has to know what the method is and practice it before one comments on its utility.
An armchair criticism or appreciation of religion, or for that matter any other concept, is neither good nor of any real value. To make any comment or contribute ideas of any value on any concept, whatsoever, one has to write from observations rooted in experience, reason, and experimentation.
I prefer Spirituality to religion. Because perhaps the latter is subconsciously taken to mean something divisive and the former a common meeting ground for people from all spheres of life. Spirituality, as I conceive it, will be dealt with some other time (when the gestation period is over, I guess!). However, if you choose the word religion for it, it is not ‘religion’ as in the social context. It is religion in the individual context. In its social context, religion stands for a group identity in society based on the culture that gave birth to it. So, different religions, in the social context, are essentially reflections of different cultures that engender them.
Having thus clarified as to what the word religion as used herein means, I will move on to the more important and interesting bit – “What/Who is God?” Though I’m more for the “what” than for the “who” of god, I’ve included the “who” to make the question more comprehensive. Expect me not, however, to comment on the “who” of god for I’m too ignorant. I haven’t experienced the “who”. If you’re thinking, you’re thinking right. I have experienced the “what” of God. Now, I’m not some saint or mystic or enlightened soul, whatever all that means.
Despite a believer in, as H.G. Wells put it, the “miracle” and the “mystery” in the “moment”, I’m against all kind of obscurantism in matters of faith or reason or otherwise. So, putting aside obscurantism of any sort, I define what I know and understand of God thus: God is an explanation to the inexplicable! I’ll explain this “explanation”. But before I explain this objective idea of God, I’ve something to share on a more personal and subjective level.
The bane of any organized religion today is the immutability and the fundamentalism that accompanies it. You simply cannot change what your religious scriptures say, even if you know and everyone else knows that something in the religious texts is incompatible with the noble ideal of humanity. We are human beings, that is, rational beings gifted with the ability to think and decide what we need and what we do not need. The need of the hour is that religion and its doctrines should be dynamic, in sync with what is ethically acceptable and needed, as opposed to static and rigid rules.
Religion, like Science, should be susceptible to constructive changes in view of the observed facts. If a religious text says that non-believers should be prosecuted and persecuted, does it not make sense to remove such an instruction and amend the text lest the followers be misled and the religion abused? The purpose of religion, if any, is to enlighten us on living our lives meaningfully, to help us realize the importance and sacredness of human life, and not to instigate us against anyone. Idealistic you might say, but I call it the truth, because if religion is meant to lead us to a realization of God, it must embody the noble ideas that the human psyche generally attributes to God, usually considered an epitome of perfection. If we cannot learn this we might, as well, not learn anything from it and there’s no point in being a believer either.
The religious texts are not the “Word of God”; God doesn’t need words to convey ideas. God is an idea. God is to be felt, not “obeyed” or “listened”. I was a bit surprised to find that some good friends of mine said they didn’t believe in the notion of God for there isn’t any evidence of his existence. The surprise isn’t because I want them to share my beliefs; it is because the rejection of the idea of God, on their part, was immediate and outright. Inasmuch as this disbelief pertains to the “who” of God, I share their disbelief, not, however, their rejection of the “who” of God. Not otherwise, however. As Carl Sagan put it, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” I have my reasons and a notion of God; God can be anywhere in any form, be it in the form of help in the time of crisis, in the form of an inspiration that gets you out of desperation, as a hope when you feel dejected, in the form of the joy and satisfaction you experience in doing your job, the miracle that saves your life when you survive a near-death experience, or the idea that changes the course of your life forever. Isn’t it amusing that “An atheist’s worst moment is being truly grateful with no one to thank”? However prejudiced and subjective these notions may appear, I do have a more objective idea of God as embodied in “An explanation to the inexplicable!”
Of God, something I know,
Or at least I think I know;
When Man isn’t able,
To comprehend the incomprehensible,
Or measure the immeasurable,
“God” becomes Man’s last resort,
To the Inexplicable!
The awe and adoration the early humans had for nature, for the heavenly bodies like the Sun and the moon, led them to the concept of nature-worship so as to appease the ‘Mysterious’ because of their ignorance of the reason behind the regularly and periodically occurring events such as the sunrise, the changing phases of moon et al. Because they could not understand these phenomena, they made an assumption and called it “God”. They conceived myriad explanations to these phenomena (embodied in mythologies even today) and constructed a picture of the universe centered around “God”.
To fully appreciate this point, you have to consider the way our reasoning faculty works. If you were to seek a reason to everything you encounter, you would find a cause to every effect and a cause to the cause of each effect. Keep doing that – searching for a cause to one thing and following it up by looking for a cause to the cause of each effect you encounter in the process – and sooner or later you will find an effect that has an unknown cause (if it has any!). This effect turns out to be the “ultimate” cause unless you manage to find a cause to this effect. But if you do find one, you wonder: what is the cause of this cause? The point where you give up looking for a cause becomes your fundamental assumption. It defines your limitation in being able to ascribe a cause to all effects. Thus to begin with you have to make a fundamental assumption – the “ultimate” cause that leads to everything else. This Ultimate cause is “God”. Since the early humans had not the knowledge we now possess, they had to make the fundamental assumption, “God”, the moment they encountered anything “other-worldly”. Despite having progressed as much as we have in understanding the Universe, the fact remains that our understanding is always based on some fundamental assumption underlying our theory.
Einstein, taken aback by quantum mechanical results, found it hard to believe if God plays dice with the Universe; he wanted to know ‘His ideas’ for the ‘rest are details’. Having pushed to the limits of our intellect and knowledge and still pushing the limits further, we do realize how ignorant we are of nature and how much more there is to be known about the Universe. In this unknown, “how much more there is to be known”, lies the domain of our fundamental assumption, God. Thus the concept of ‘God’ is axiomatic in nature. The domain keeps on shifting higher and higher as we come to understand more and more of the universe, and thus, of God.
To the atheists I say:
Of course we would not “need” ‘God’ the day we explain everything that is there in the Universe, the day we can find why coincidences occur, the day we know the exact dimensions of the Universe, the day we learn to be our own masters not dependent on anyone’s help, the day we can predict even human actions, the day we can explain the inexplicable!
Until then God explains the Universe. And if I say you’d always need God, the spirit behind it is: No matter how much you know there’s always a lot more to be known!