It seldom interests me anymore that a growing portion of the World’s people believe they can be saved from death, injustice, suffering, or some other aspect of life by a deity. Most days, I would rather drink a tasty beer than contemplate salvation from those challenges of living which seem to disconcert our species the most.
This evening, though, I’m for once interested in the notion that so many of us feel salvation can come from a deity. How did our most wondrous and often unfortunate species ever come up with that one?
Is the answer to that question buried in India or the Middle East? Who were the first people to concoct the apparently comforting notion that a deity can and might save us from at least a few of the challenges of living? I wish I knew, but I don’t. It’s a strange notion though.
Of course, the notion is strange because it is wildly speculative — for in its most popular formulations the deity saves us only after we die. Many people have wondered why billions of us would believe something so obviously speculative.
Myself, I think the definitive answer to that important question must wait until we know more about the workings of the brain. So many of the “answers” people currently give to “why do we believe a deity might save us after we die” are not really explanations, but are instead descriptions couched as explanations.
So far as I can see, the only time you need a deity, is to explain salvation beyond the end of life — beyond the end of nature. That’s to say, the notion that a deity exists is an unnecessary hypothesis: There is nothing in nature that you need to posit the existence of a deity to explain.
Of course, the fact god is an unnecessary hypothesis — is unnecessary to explain any natural thing — does not entail that “god” cannot be not an apt description of something.
I have from time to time used the word “god” on this blog to describe a certain kind of experience — the kind of experience that often seems to occur when there is an end to subject/object perception while experiencing continues. This evening it occurs to me that I might have confused some people by using the word “god” in that special sense, so maybe it would be helpful to discuss my peculiar notion of god.
Please allow me to begin by stating that I sometimes wax and wane between ontological and epistemological naturalism. Naturalism, as you might recall from your second or third year studying philosophy, is the intellectually sexy notion that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes. Thus, naturalism is the opposite of the doctrine that at least some phenomena can be explained in terms of metaphysical causes, such as god.
Ontological naturalism is the species of naturalism that asserts nothing metaphysical exists. Nature is all there is.
Epistemological naturalism is the species of naturalism that asserts we can know only nature. Our ability to know ends where nature ends.
I usually find ontological naturalism too speculative for my tastes: How can we possibly know whether or not anything exists metaphysically — beyond nature? So most days I am more kindly disposed towards epistemological naturalism than ontological naturalism.
On the other hand, I come across extremely few metaphysical claims that I believe are reasonably worth investigation. Most have only a tiny chance of being true — are merely curiosities. After all, what are the odds the Christian god exists? So while I accept epistemological naturalism, I might on some days behave more like an ontological naturalist.
Of greater interest to me than the existence of god is what I have sometimes on this blog called the experience of god. That’s a label I sometimes use for the experience that can occur when there is an end to subject/object perception while experiencing continues.
However, in labeling that experience an experience of god, I do not intend to imply I know anything at all about the ontological status of god. Instead, I am using the label merely to suggest something of the effect that experience can have on us. In other words, experiencing the world after an end to subject/object perception can, for numerous reasons, be described as experiencing god.
Must we posit an ontologically real god to explain the sort of experiencing that sometimes occurs after an end to subject/object perception? No. The experiencing could conceivably be explained in terms of natural processes, including the workings of the brain. So, while such an experiencing could be explained as the experiencing of an ontologically real god, it is not logically necessary to explain it as the experiencing of an ontologically real god. Moreover, if we attempt to explain it in terms of an ontologically real god, we are immediately shoved up against the epistemological wall of “How can we know that?”
It is an interesting question whether the very real god of some mystics — that is, the god which can and has been experienced — can save us from death, injustice, suffering or other challenges of living. Put much less poetically, can experiencing the world in the absence of subject/object perception significantly benefit us in dealing with death, injustice, suffering, etc.?
So far as I know, the answer is “yes”. That is, I don’t know that it necessarily must, but I do know that it can. I think much depends on how skillfully we deal with those mystical experiences — especially how skillfully we deal with interpreting them. The wisest course seems to be to refuse to interpret them at all.
So there you have it. “God”, for me, is usually a label or placeholder, or at best a description, for a certain kind of often beneficial experiencing. As for whether there is an ontologically real god, I think I more than adequately addressed my interest in that question here. Of course, I’m probably wrong about the whole thing and — instead of confusing myself with such issues as I’ve discussed here — should stick to discerning which tasty beers I like the best.