What does the idea of 1GOD mean to me?
God is a tough assignment to write about. How can you take something you consider to be eternal, infinite, and universal and put it into the crudeness of mere words? How can you assemble the insights of personal spiritual experience and translate them into of all things- the English language? Even the very word ‘God’ itself has problems depending on what associations it brings up for people – old white guy in the sky, anyone? As soon as you reduce something to words, you inevitably alter what you are trying to speak about, sometimes subtly, sometimes significantly. The moment ideas about God are put into words is usually when the division begins and arguments start. A poet, an artist, or a musician are more equipped to convey the beauty and infinitude of God than any theologian or philosopher.
Still, words are important. They are tools for describing concepts, ideas, thoughts. If we are going to communicate about matters spiritual then while poetry, art, music, and dance are expressions of feeling and inspiration, at some point we’re going to need to tell each other what we think; to express our actual philosophies and theologies. This is the domain of religious texts, their countless interpretations, the interpretations of the interpretations resulting in dogmas, doctrines, and eventually settling into so-called “orthodoxy”. And this has been where the great religious controversies have arisen.
There is no doubt that many great theological disparities exist between the world’s monotheistic traditions. To name two – belief in the trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ are fundamental disagreements between Christianity and Islam as well as Judaism. While there is indeed much in common, denying there are serious religious differences between faiths would be foolish. Once the “inner” spiritual experience has been “outed” – that is crystallised into word-concept then inevitably we are going to have some level of argument. There is a reason why throughout history the mystics of various faiths have enjoyed far more inter-religious harmony with each other than the theologians.
If we imagine religions as “continents” then there are definitely theological “fault-lines” separating them and yet we can see that all inhabit the one world. To many people the idea that there is only one God is just as clear-cut as this geological analogy or there being only one sun that we spin around despite its many, many names. Not only are there many names for the one sun but also a variety of ideas and opinions about it – in Australia we are a little scared of the sun because of its power to burn skin, whereas in northern Europe the sun is glorified on the odd occasions they get to see it. Different names, different ideas, one sun.
Even the fundamentalist view that one flavour of religion is “right” and the rest are “wrong” while simplistic and unfortunate, does no real damage to the idea of one God. Atheist thinkers like to point out that there are thousands of “gods” from Odin and Jupiter to Allah and Yahweh and everything in between. The irony is that they are being just as literalist as religious fundamentalists, – mistaking human god-concepts for God. All the confusion can be swept away as soon as we see one simple truth – that anybody’s current ideas about God are not the same as the transcendent reality, the actuality of God. Subjective concept and objective reality are just not the same.
No human being and no religion has God so figured out that their ideas of God are perfect. There is always mystery and there is always more to know. Even people from the same religious group, from the same church, from the same subgroup within that church, have unique and personal ideas about God distinct from one another. The writers of the Christian Scriptures all had their own views on God – Paul’s doctrinal ideas are somewhat different to Peter’s preaching and both are distinct to John’s mysticism. Even an individual across one lifetime will hold different views about God, religion, and the nature of the universe. What you believe today is unlikely to be exactly the same five years from now.
It is important to point out that not all ideas about God are equal, some are more enlightened than others. If faith encourages the believer to try to love all people then this is good. On the other hand if one’s ideas about God lead them to harm others then we have a problem and it needs to be addressed. It is not enough that billions of people believe in some kind of God, we must believe in a Universally Good God in order to achieve the spiritual unity we seek.
So – millions of different ideas about God? Yes.
Does this mean there are millions of Gods? No.
The idea that there is one God is philosophically sound and enjoys a distinguished heritage. From Plato’s “First Cause” and later Aristotle’s “Prime Mover” the idea of there being one single origin of the universe is just as convincing today as it was 2500 years ago. This is not getting into an argument for God’s existence – both sides of that debate are largely futile and people will simply believe what they wish. I am however arguing that for those that do accept a spiritual element to existence, then it only makes philosophic sense if there is one universal origin. Everything has a cause, how could the universe be any different?
Now any atheist worth his salt would be quick to counter “ah but who made God?” which is on the surface a pretty good question. It is a good question coming from a 6 year old and is likely to remain a good question for ever. God, being spiritual in nature, is so very much a mystery and in a category all His own. If proposing God as self-existent, the one and only “Uncaused Cause” is good enough for Plato and Aristotle then it is good enough for me. Accepting mystery is an act of faith.
For a lot of people this may raise the question – why believe in God at all? The Big Bang supplies the origin for the universe, evolution explains how we got here so what do we need God for anyway? The answer is that the true “need for God” is personal and spiritual, not philosophic. There might be some people who come to believe in God because of intellectual reasons but they would be few. Reason may support faith but it is rarely the gateway thereto. There are of course many people who believe in God because of cultural inheritance, though this is less prevalent in the western world than it used to be. The most compelling reason to believe in God is personal, spiritual inner experience. Once you have experienced the reality of God in your heart and soul how could you deny it to your mind? Ultimately, faith is more of an inner personal reality than an outward one.
So people will choose to believe in God or not based on their own experiences, judgments, their inner life, and their outer conditioning. For the majority of the world who do choose to believe in God, we need to come together to accept that there is but one God, a good God who is loving, merciful, and just and that we each worship, understand, and relate to the universal God in our own totally personal and unique ways.