It is often said that atheists and christians agree on what “god” is, they just disagree as to whether it exists or not. However, what if “God” was something outside of the understanding of atheist and christian alike, something that does not conform to the cultural assumptions of what “supernatural” actually is?
I believe the notion of “supernatural” is the characteristic of Hellenic deities and this cultural assumption has followed the evolution of Hellenism to modern civilisation, manifesting in supernatural deities in the temples of Christendom as well as the irrational anxiety of ghosts and evil spirits and boogie men throughout society.
A central philosophical basis of Hellenism was dualism, the separation of Heaven and earth, soul and body, spirit and matter. This is the basis of “supernatural” – that which exists outside of the “natural” world. Spirituality within this etherial, ideational supernatural realm is not considered a real and relevant factor on earth, in body and in matter. Those areas are the proper domain of kings, emperors and the state, not the supernatural god.
Scientific civilisation has rejected the supernatural, either philosophically or simply in scientific method, in doing so it has promoted the material half of the Hellenic dual equation to the totality of reality. It has not developed a different understanding from the ancients, it has just embraced half of it and rejected the other half. As such, ancient superstition and modern materialism share the same concepts of natural and supernatural, they just disagree as to whether the supernatural half of the old world view exists or not.
Words attributed to Jesus include “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. This Jesus does not believe in the dualism of the Roman invaders’ philosophy but in the holism of the tribal indigenous spirituality and philosophy of his ancestors throughout the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament – the eloihim (collective creator spirit) and Yahwey (the existential “I AM” with roots in the concept of living breath) are concepts of an incarnational God that exists in the same dimension as human history and the material creation.
The Uniting Church’s proposed constitutional preamble asserts the existence of God in this country before the European missionaries arrived and the legitimacy of Aboriginal relationship with God. Although yet unexplored, this opens the door for all of us to explore explanations of the cosmos that are not rooted in Hellenic and post-Hellenic imperial society.
The Australian tribal indigenous spirituality has much more in common with the cosmology of the tribal indigenous Hebrews than the empire of Rome and its creeds do. It is a spirituality that does not conform to the atheist/theist or natural/supernatural dichotomies and their underlying cultural base of post-Hellenic dualism.
In Aboriginal spirituality, material reality and hallucination intertwine in a singular dimension described by white anthropologists as the dreamtime.
Hallucination is not the same thing as belief in the irrational. Hallucination is generated by the mind. Belief and faith is an acceptance of the reality of something outside the mind’s perception.
The line that divides the conscious mind from the unconscious mind is, I believe, in a different place in Aboriginal culture (and the stories of the bible) than in mainstream European culture. In the Aboriginal mind, the subconscious is more active in conscious thought than in western society that either represses the subconsciousness or dismisses it as irrelevant or dysfunctional when it does arise in conscious thought.
Similarly, in the Aboriginal mind, factors and elements of the conscious mind more directly and purposefully generate hallucination in the subconscious than the western mind that involuntarily processes anxiety in a scatter gun fashion in its subconscious but, by dismissing the validity of the subconscious, obstructs even the resolution of anxiety applying into the conscious mind.
Aboriginal engagement with, and application of, subconscious hallucination must be considered by the anti-supernatural perspective as irrational belief in the non-existent, just like the church’s god. However it is wrong to consider that the rational western mind is not influenced by subconscious forces, it is as driven by its subconscious just as much as, and probably more than, the Aboriginal mind. The difference is the Aboriginal cultural mind is secure, competent and disciplined in matters of the subconscious but the western subconscious blows in the wind without direction, manifesting chaotically and often dysfunctionally, in which case it is repressed by medication. This medical repression of the subconscious is the antithesis of shamanic healing that might use hallucinogenic drugs to amplify the subconscious in order to reconcile it with the conscious mind and/or material body.
The western rational mind is just as capable of embracing illusion as the religious mind. In times past, the rational scientific mind has proclaimed that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth. Today, the theories have changed and we have the big bang and string theory. The outer reaches of sub-atomic physics are becoming increasingly religious in propositions that multiple invisible and unproven dimensions of reality exist as necessary and logical implications of current empirical data. The multi-billion dollar Hadron collider’s primary purpose is to prove the existence of the Higgs Boson particle, the “God particle” that transforms nothingness into matter. Science puts more energy into proving its assumptions (its part of the scientific method) than the church does into proving God, both being equally successful to date with occasional overhauls of the basic theories to accommodate new historical circumstance or empirical data. If the Hadron collider does prove the existence of the Higgs Boson particle then science is immediately confronted with the question of how does it work which can be nothing more than pursuing present fantastical hypotheses. I will be most curious to see what happens if Higgs Boson cannot be found as this will undermine, or at least reach a dead end for, present scientific hypotheses as to the nature of universe.
The rational scientific mind is not more accurate than the religious or tribal shamanic minds, it just believes and has faith in different illusions. Its explanations of the cosmos are equally dependent on belief and faith in cultural preconceptions.
I do not accept the dichotomy of Hellenic dualism. I am in God and God is in me and there is no dimensional separation. There is conscious and sub-conscious and God is perceived in both. Perception of God, especially in the sub-conscious, is a very different thing to perception of an idea about God as represented in text. Relationship with God is a very different thing to agreeing with an idea about God.
Since the council of Nicaea, Christendom has insisted that agreement with an idea about God as the defining point of Christian faith. Human perception of God, conscious or unconscious, has been artificially forced into the framework of the Nicene template or rejected as heresy or demonism. This is the basis of contemporary irrational belief in doctrine.
I say, if we look at the theology of the bible, the spirituality of indigenous people and our own “inner light”, as the Quakers describe God, independent from the doctrinal preconditions of the church and the cultural preconceptions of Western civilisation, then we have solid landmarks to observe and platforms to build a new spiritual paradigm relevant to 21st century Australia. Within this framework, it seems to me, arguments about the nature of God are irrelevant and foreign.
The church has confusing doctrines about the revelation of God. It insists that God is selectively revealed in specific times and people and fully and completely revealed in the person of Jesus. This entire way of thinking assumes that God hides from us except for these special times of revelation. God does not hide from us. The only reason humans have not been able to see God is because of our own spiritual blindness. God does not reveal to us, we remove our own obstacles to our own vision in order to see God.
We see God every day, in our conscious sensory uptake and our subconscious processes and hallucinations. We are in relationship with God when we breath. This existential divine reality is the nature of the creation of which we are a part. An authentic spirituality simply acknowledges this and facilitates its understanding.
All perceptions of god are illusions and all descriptions of God are descriptions of the illusions of the describer. This much an atheist would tend to agree with. However, what the Western atheist mind might not so readily accept is that everything is an illusion, not just our understanding of god but also our understanding of our self and the universe, from the grand cosmos to the fine minutiae of daily life.
Our ego is a distillation of memory of the past. It does not exist in real terms anywhere, it just an idea that we are aware of. Our sensory organs provide the experience from which memory is constructed through electro-chemical reactions to specific stimuli such as radiation frequencies (light and heat), kinetic force (touch and hearing) or chemical agents (smell and taste). The raw data from our sensory receptors is uploaded into our mind where it is processed according to the framework of memory and understood in terms of that pre-conceived framework. e.g. when we touch something hot and it hurts, we perceive this as heat because we already know what heat is. This is what stops us putting our hands in fire. If we had no knowledge of heat, such as a baby’s consciousness, we would only experience pain, although a new sub-category of pain is created in the baby’s memory.
If we see a red apple, we only know it is red because we have a memory of the colour red. Red is not really the colour of the apple, it is really the colour of the perception generated by our eyes. The notion of “red” is itself a construct of the chemical/electrical process that has nothing to do with the nature of the apple.
Our ego and our understanding of the world is a construction of the past that only manifests now as an idea, just like God.
Memory is not real, it is an idea. The ego is the historical compilation of the ideas. The true “self” is the being that is conscious of that idea, a separate entity from the idea itself.
Our true self is usually invisible because it is distracted with ideas and illusions of egoic memory to the point that it forgets itself. Meditation and silent prayer that deliberately and methodically represses thought, ideas and preconception allows the space in our mind for the true self to be aware of itself, independent of historic memory and electro-chemical sensual perception.
When we are in a state of awareness of our true self, we are aware of God. The dividing line between God and ourselves is an egoic thought that presupposes the ego. That point at which we detach from our ego is the point at which our consciousness and god are a unified whole, for without the ego there is no “me” and no “other”.
Many religious practitioners have tried and failed to find God through meditation and prayer because they have not been able to let go of their egoic preconceptions in the process. They have gone looking for their own preconception of God and been disappointed when they have not found them. When we pray and meditate and find that stillness without egoic thought, we must accept it on its own terms and in its own definitions without trying to pigeon-hole it into some theological theme or other that we have heard about in the past. Our task is not to find God for God is not lost. Our task is simply to remove the obstacles to seeing God.
While this might sound like some freaky eastern mysticism, and perhaps it is, if the New Testament is read without the christological assumptions of the Roman empire, it is the spirituality preached by Jesus of Nazareth.