Having pointed out that a more sophisticated idea of God may actually be less useful to people than a simple idea, here I will explore what I believe constitutes a more sophisticated idea. The notion of more or less sophisticated, as used here, is analogous to the idea of better and worse interpretations of a work of art. There is no best interpretation of a work of art, but a comprehensive and completely coherent interpretation can claim to be better than one that is not comprehensive or coherent. Being comprehensive, it cannot ignore any significant aspects of the work. Being coherent, the interpretation must be logically defensible and capable of holding up to criticism. In the same way, a sophisticated idea of God must be inclusive and defensible.
In the first part of this series, I stated that there are a great variety of ideas of God found throughout the world. I will posit as an initial criterion of a sophisticated idea of God that it must be formed with awareness, and at least a degree of openness, to other concepts. From this it would seem that a sophisticated idea of God is in conflict with the idea of faith; should not the faithful hang on to their beliefs over and against any evidence presented against their faith? Genuine faith, I would maintain, allows a complete openness to other ideas. A sophisticated faith allows itself to change; it has faith that its core experience of the divine is a truth that will not be diminished by any evidence.
If a sophisticated idea of God requires an awareness of other people’s ways of thinking about God, in our own age it also means an awareness of the voices that deny God. In particular it needs to address the challenge presented by modern scientific discovery. A great deal has been written about his, and I will not try to rehash it. The bottom line, though, is that any attempt to define God as a being that exists in space and time and conflicts with the natural causality of space and time will conflict with science; and when a religious idea conflicts with science, science will win every time. A sophisticated notion of God has to be formed within this dialogue with the scientific understanding of the world.
I was brought up Catholic, and when I was young my family prayed the rosary together each evening. I had no interest in this activity, and my mind wondered. One evening I got to thinking about how prayer reached God. God had been presented to me as a being “up there.” I wondered if prayer was something like a radio transmitter that beamed up to God. As I was thinking about this, I heard a voice in my head say, “I am right here where you pray.” What this voice was saying is that God is not out there, but inside. As suggested earlier, this is how God enters and affects the causality of the world – through inspiring human action. With this view there is no conflict between the scientific view and the religious view. God does not violate causality.
The idea of God is beyond all category, thus beyond definition. Beyond this there is not much to be said about what God is. But I think we can list a few things that would not be a part of a sophisticated idea of God: God is not small or petty – the galaxy clusters in the photographs of the Hubble Space Telescope tell us something of the scope of God. God as concept is too big for the limitations of any language; all words are human words, all books are human works. God is beyond picking and choosing; there are no chosen people. Because God does not pick and choose, it is only natural that his world should operate lawfully; as a corollary, it is foolish to ask God to change the world. It is we who will change the world, or change our self, and God is the inner light by which we might find the wisdom to make enlightened change. Pray to experience the divine light and the divine love – that experience may prepare you to change the world; or teach you how to leave the world alone.