Friday, March 2, 2012

The Idea of God – Part Two (Is a Naturalistic God an Oxymoron?)

There are a great number of different concepts of God and most of them are patently incompatible with the idea of naturalism, i.e. that everything has a natural cause.  But are any of them compatible with naturalism?  I believe the answer is yes. 

Many people pray to God with the hope that God will favorably change a situation.  Such a notion of God is incompatible with naturalism.  But there are also people who pray to God, knowing full well that there is no being who will perform these miracles for them.  Their prayer is not to a God that will interfere with the natural workings of the world, but the prayer is to God as the paradigm of wisdom and strength that will allow them to wisely conform to the way things must be. 

For such a person the concept of “God” is the ultimate perspective from which to try to understand one’s situation or one’s fate.   One does not look to God to change the world, but to give one the perspective to change one’s self.  This perspective is fully compatible with a world that runs according to natural law.  Deism and Taoism are example of this perspective.   The challenge isn’t to petition God to change the world, but to find and to hold to an inner wholeness or holiness, amidst the shocks and insults the world inevitably provides.

These days one often hears athletes make a claim that God helped them win.  Taken literally, this is a claim that God fixes sports contests.  If the claim were true, bookies wouldn’t make money.  But if such an athlete makes the claim that her prayers helped to give her the inner focus and determination to do her best – there is no gainsaying that claim. 

The idea of God also can provide a sense of orientation and meaning to an individual.  It has been stated that humans can patiently endure great suffering, provided they find meaning in their suffering.  Here again, the idea of God changes the way a human responds to the world. 

In this way, the idea of God actually can become a causative factor in the workings of the world.  By changing how one perceives the world, it can make the world a better place for an individual.  It can strengthen focus and resolve, make one cheerful in the face of adversity, make one more generous and compassionate.  Unfortunately, the belief that God is some particular being, who has some pre-determined way that humans are supposed to behave, and that one has some unique insight into this pre-determined way, can cause a person or group of people to behave quite atrociously. 

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