God—The Topic Of Conversation

Creation Of Adam

Okay, the other day I found myself mulling over whether or not I wanted to go to my next High School class reunion and almost immediately I was overcome with this feeling of dread; after all, do I, a life long janitor, really want to throw myself into that mix of story telling, story telling that on one level amounts to real communication, while, on a different level, offers up the evenings real entertainment of pinning the tail on the people who made it as opposed to the under achievers. Well, I didn’t have to think very hard before I came up with my “no answer” to that question. The problem was, though, that I couldn’t help but keep thinking about what it would be like if I did go to that class of ‘66 reunion. It was a slow Friday at work, so I proceeded to follow my imaginings until I had enough content to proceed with this writing project, which I now offer up as a light hearted “time out” from my structuralism posts. I guess I should point out that it’s been twenty years since I last attended my high school reunion. I do not feel bad about that, but I do feel a bit guilty about not attending the last scheduled reunion because a high school friend telephoned to encourage me to attend that reunion and begged off. Anyway, what follows is a bit of what I imagined I would say to my friends if indeed I ever do attend a future class reunion, but first some context details.

In high school I grouped with the smart kids (I was kind of an outlier, but my curiosity and enthusiasm for learning always garnered approval). All my friends were on the fast track to success. I came from a small school in a small town, so the kind of success I’m talking about is mostly the kind that keeps society moving along on an even keel– middle class success, but there were/are always exceptions. For instance, after I googled the name of the friend that telephoned me (let’s call him Paul), I stopped clicking the computer mouse after page seven. The list of his accomplishments continued, however.

So, to begin this imagined conversation: after a few beers and the friendly chit chat out of the way, and after hearing the life stories of everybody sitting at the table, it was my turn to contribute to the conversation. After verbally celebrating my wife, two children, pets, and my never ending love for music, I had run out of things to say; that is, until the conversation had turned away from health issues and the topic of religion came up. After listening to my friends religious views which ranged from non-belief to Christian belief to a belief in a kind of pantheism, I surprised everyone by giving a different point of view. I said, “I’ve been searching for God most of my life, but after about 40 years of searching I found something to believe in.” Well, as you might imagine, everyone wanted to know which God I had found. So I told them—“God, the God of all religions, even the God that is purported not to exit, is alive and well and doing just fine.” And again, as you might expect, this assertion was quickly challenged and even became the object of some ridicule. Paul, however, came to my rescue when he asked me to expand on what the God of all religions means.

“For me,” I said, “God is not only one with nature, God is also one with the learning process that both asks and answers questions, questions pertaining to God, nature, and everything else. And because of this, God has many names; in fact there is no one name that can fully express God’s divinity. The expression of ‘difference, no difference,’ since that expression encompasses all distinctions, all identities, all differences, all that ‘is’ and ‘is not,’ seems to me to be the best description of the God that I believe in. So, basically, my search for God ended when I found that I could express God, the functionality of God, in the linguistic expression ‘difference, no difference.’”

“And what pray tell is the functionality of God?” asked Paul.

“The short answer to your question,” I replied, “is that there isn’t a short answer to your question, but I’ll give it a go anyhow. We encounter the manifestation of ‘difference, no difference’ in the physical nature of ‘quantum strangeness,’ and again in the terminal state of death in the biological sciences, and yet again in the maintenance of our own ‘conscious identity,’ the identity that demonstrates a degree of permanence in the midst of constant change. All of this and more is the functionality of God. In other words, everything—our physical environment, life, identity, analysis, truth, justice, and religious meaning, are attributes of the functionality of God.”

“So how is your vision of God different from pantheism,” replied Paul.

“As functionality,” I responded, “God manifests ‘difference,’ but as Divinity, God manifests ‘no difference.’ In other words, God is both immanent in nature, while being transcendent to nature. Also, God’s functionality, as it evolves, evolves qualitative differences, differences that emerge in the human being as the quest for truth, justice, and religious meaning. Functional differences, all of them, are made whole through Divinity, but in human consciousness, the qualitative difference of free will emerges. Free will separates and divides Divinity, but even this divided Divinity is made whole in the God of transcendence, and that is why the concept of pantheism is really not adequate when it comes to expressing my vision of God.”

“Christians understand ‘judgment day,’” responded Paul, “as a balance to free will. How does this God of yours handle unnecessary suffering, rewards and punishments?”

“Even though I am expressing my own personal vision of God,” I replied, “others have expressed concepts of Divinity similar to mine. In Whitehead’s process reality, for instance, the judgmental God of Christianity does not exist, but Divinity exists, and within this Divinity judgment, rewards and punishments also exist. God is ‘eternal presence,’ for Whitehead, and as such God bears witness to all past and present occasions. The future, however, is like an unused role of film. Being exposed, it is always in the process of being developed. God works through the transition from the eternal to the actual, and from the actual back to the eternal and in this respect, the entire physical universe is processing its way back to God. God is the reason for all becoming, and nothing exists that is separate from God. So how does Whitehead deal with unnecessary pain, cruelty, and injustice? He combines freedom with feelings and that unique combination changes everything because if a retributive justice is called for here, then one has to look no farther then the first mirror to pinpoint the guilty. Insofar as occasions conform to their environment, insofar as the ‘self-aim’ conforms to its immediate past, there is determinism, but insofar as any entity modifies its response through the subjective element of feeling, there is freedom. Feeling and freedom are codependent for Whitehead, and God is in touch with all feelings. God is there, inside agonizing screams, and God is there in suffering, especially suffering caused by injustice. God is there also, however, in all hopes, joys, and happiness, in addition to fears, regrets, and sorrows. Good feelings move the world forward to a better place. It is feeling that gives subjective aim to occasions. We encounter, in good feelings, the ‘allure of realization.’ It is possible to create a more humane, peaceful, and loving world. Whitehead said as much, and Gandhi told us how to proceed, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’—both in life and love.’ This is the Divine dynamic that shouts out for change in the world and if no action is taken to prevent unnecessary pain, cruelty and injustice then we only have ourselves to b
lame. In my vision of God, feelings and freedom are necessarily connected also. Ultimately then, all that is meant by spirit and the spiritual— all intuitive sensitivity and religiously felt compassion—is there in the whole of Divinity, embracing human nature and nature’s creatures, up through the many levels and transformations of freedom until it finally becomes manifest in the life long pursuit of love, caring, happiness and reverence. And, all of this too, represents the functionality of God.”

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