that "God" functions as a symbol. The concept of "God" is a product of myth-making and "God" is no longer credible as a personal, supernatural being. For me, "God" functions as a shorthand for the Universe and sometimes for qualities and aspirations I wish to pursue or to emulate.
Since junior high school when I first began to formulate critical thinking regarding faith, religion, and ultimately God, I have been on a quest to speak of God in a way that makes sense. Believe me, I have tried. Yet in the words of that old U2 song, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" at least as far as God is concerned. It has been and continues to be an honest quest. I really do/did want to find a way to say with integrity that I believe in God.
Along with critical thinkers both within and without the church, I have rejected an understanding of God as a personal being who exists outside of nature and yet created nature, interferes in its processes, and responds to prayer. Many theologians have admitted this for some time, but only fairly recently has this critique been voiced at the popular level. Bishop John Shelby Spong has been one of those voices. His chapter, "Is Atheism the Only Alternative to Theism?" in his 1999 book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, presents the problem of God clearly. Galileo made God homeless and Darwin (along with modern cosmology) put God out of work. The universe operates without supernatural agency.
Spong argues that there may be other ways to understand God, that God is not the same as theism. We just need to be more creative. Perhaps there are other ways of retaining the symbol, God, and speaking of God as a reality other than traditional supernatural theism. I am certainly game and open to suggestions. There is nothing I would like more, even if just to preserve my career, than to say yes to God. Now, if quizzed by the authorities and backed into a corner, I can certainly say that God is a symbol for an ineffable mystery or that God is a personification of Nature or some other such redundancy. But is God more than a redundancy?
Here is what I have tried so far:
Pantheism. God and the Universe are the same or God is a personification of the Universe. In this view, God is a term to point to the sacredness and holiness of life as it is. I like it, but then again, if God is the Universe, do we need to speak of God? Why not just talk about the Universe?
Panentheism. This is the same as pantheism except for one syllable, "en," which means that while God is in the Universe, God is also more than the Universe or is not exhausted by the Universe. This is a view that has been popularized by Matthew Fox and Marcus Borg among others. While this offers a place for God (both within and outside the Universe), my question remains, "What does God do?" Can we really imagine anything outside the Universe? Even if so, if the Universe operates without God, then what is the point?
Hinduism (and its variants). While not really a God religion, the idea as I have understood it, and I may be wrong, is that the Universe is not ultimate reality. Through meditation one can transcend sense experience and unite with the reality beyond the material universe that we know, see and touch. While I suppose this could be true, and I am certainly unable to prove it wrong, I find it incredible and undesirable. I see no reason to concern myself with speculations regarding any existence outside of the universe or beyond my earthly existence. The Universe and this life are cool enough for me. I do find that meditation has practical benefits, however.
The Unconscious. Carl Jung was asked if he believed in God. He said, "I don't believe in God. I know God." He was speaking of the unconscious. His insights into depth psychology are profound. Our motivations, desires, fears, and joys come from aspects of brain activity of which we are not consciously aware. Dreams are stories told by our unconscious. An artist, author, or musician may feel that their creative work is something they have discovered from outside of them, hence, the concept of inspiration or reference to "a muse." These artists uncover symbols and archetypes that are common among human beings, hence the collective unconscious. Nevertheless, the unconscious is still part of us, not outside of us. God may be one symbol in our unconscious or may be a symbol for the unconscious itself.
Creativity. The late Gordon Kaufman spoke of God not as creator but as creativity. He is a modern theologian who took seriously our natural world and sought to create a space for religious naturalism. I like his project and I think it is important even as we may let go of God (at least as a supernatural being) not to let go of religion. We need communities to explore and express our ideas and longings and to define and work for that which is good, enjoyable, just, and compassionate. It may be redundant to burden creativity with the word God, but I find this one the best redundancy so far.
Language. It is certainly true that God is the most influential literary figure ever created. One of my favorite books is God: A Biography by Jack Miles. He traces God as a literary character through the Hebrew scriptures. As a literary figure, God reflects the despair and hope of human life. Radical theologian, Don Cupitt, has done much with language. All language about God is our language. He speaks of the Universe as outsideless. "All this is all there is." God is being replaced in common language by Life. He advocates a religion of ordinary life. So far this makes most sense of all.
A heart for Jesus. I truly am a sucker for Jesus. This makes me more Christian than I often admit to be. Christian theology says that we see God in the Jesus story. I do like the idea that God becomes a human being. I think that Christian theology should have taken this notion to its logical conclusion. All human beings are the incarnation of God because human beings created through language the concept of God. I can affirm that. I affirm that the mythology of Jesus is the product of human creativity. Let me be clear. I don't think Jesus is alive any more than Elvis, or any less than Elvis. I reject as wish fulfillment thinking, heaven, hell and any form of afterlife. This life will simply have to do. That aside, I like the figure of Jesus. This is where I jump off the ship of rationality and choose to believe. I believe that the vision of Jesus, that is the historical Jesus, who through his life and teachings resisted empire and domination with love and compassion is a vision worth taking to my grave. If that is God, I say yes.
All pretty confusing, yes? I seek a religion, a philosophy of life, a Christianity even, that is based on the universe as it is. I don't need a God to fill the gaps of human knowledge. I don't need a God to usher me to lives after this life. I don't need a God to intervene in my affairs. I do wish, however, to be all in with this life. Perhaps God is the song I sing for living life all in. I am all in with Life's sorrows and loss. I am all in with discovery and with joy. I am all in with love. I am all in, simply all in...