I heard a great phrase on Being
the other day that helped me be able to articulate... well, what I try *not* to let my spirituality become.
The God of the Gaps. Basically, when we fill in the blanks in our understanding with "God." We see people try to prove the existence of God by challenging scientific understanding. This leads to stuff like the hilarious new insta-meme inspired by Bill O'Reilly's self-righteous ignorance
. (DO check out that link for an explanation and awesome examples. And know that as I was reading them aloud to lxbean
, who hadn't heard of the meme before, she came up with the "Food goes in, poop comes out" one BEFORE I got to it.)
The thing is, I think Bill O'Reilly and others that do this are not asking the right questions.
The problem with the God of the Gaps is that he keeps shrinking. That god used to explain everything from lightning to potato blight to hemorrhagic fever. But as our understanding grows, that God diminishes.
Which doesn't exactly have a positive effect on the notion of God as unchanging and eternal. If we can SEE that God change, in our lifetimes, of COURSE it's going to promote skepticism. I want to tell these people that they will NEVER come up with that ONE thing that defies not only all understanding, but the very idea that someday we may be able to understand it.
Scientific progress has gained such momentum. In this day and age, this generation of educated people watch the unexplainable get explained and exploited within their lifetimes. Of COURSE we'll reject the notion that there are things that will be eternally unexplainable, and that THAT'S where God lives. Not only does that not coincide with our observations of the world we live in, but that god becomes increasingly distant and irrelevant. That god is not particularly useful.
And that's the crux of it, at least from where I'm standing right now on my own path. Any concept big enough to explain God is too big to be of any real use to anyone.
The best I can put my
notion of God into words is with a Stephen Hawking quote:
“The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
" -Stephen Hawking
And that's pretty much God to me. Not
because this defies explanation - although I can't imagine we'll ever be able to explain what MAKES the universe organize itself into an existence (and neither can Stephen Hawking, apparently), I suppose it's theoretically possible that we'll someday find that equation that explains what we can now only call "will" - the "will" of the universe to exist. Sure. And even if we DON'T find it, I'm quite sure it's out there - everything really does come down to math in the end. Pure math, pure universal truth.
But to me, that's God - I mean, "God" is the short-hand and heavily loaded term I use for that tendency of the universe to go about existing. It can't be separated from the explainable and relegated to whatever science hasn't figured out - it's in our cytoplasm, it organizes our cell walls. It moves through us and exists around us the way we move through the air.
So for me at this particular point, the God of the Gaps becomes kind of... irrelevant and pointless. And he's increasingly irrelevant to scholars and rational thinkers of all kinds, for all sorts of reasons. But we live in a post-Enlightenment age where "religion" is separated from daily existence. That's how we're used to thinking about God, so the God of the Gaps is still dragged out as if it exists separately to be ignored or invoked at will.
The problem with God as I see it, and as articulated by Stephen Hawking, is... what the hell good does that do me? MY God can be ignored or invoked at will, too. That God doesn't tell me anything about how to live, it doesn't answer any hard questions. That God certainly covers pretty much everything I need it to, but as it's not particularly relevant to anyone else, I can't exactly invoke it for the purpose of offering guidance. It's got no need to proselytize itself; it's just as comfortable in Christianity as in Hinduism or Wicca or atheism or Islam or anything else, since none of these things are sufficiently contrary enough to contradict it.
Great, so I can see God in the very fact that I exist, that chemicals organize themselves into patterns, that those patterns occasionally become self-aware and grow themselves the desire to keep existing.
That's so fucking beautiful
to me, but meanwhile I'm still going to ask the questions every other human being asks: What happens when I die? What's the right thing to do in this difficult situation? I still want guidance. I have to look to other things for it, besides God.
And so does everyone else. Even atheists can't really opt out of this, because the very fact that they've addressed these questions means they're reacting to the same need for answers that we all have. If you call yourself an atheist or an agnostic, you've answered a fundamental question the best you can.
As for me, God becomes cognitive behavioral therapy. Religion and spirituality are so very adaptable. What I need right now is to change my thought patterns and make myself continually grateful for my life and not aggravated by it. I do that by trying to remember to pray frequently and to tell myself that I live inside God and my whole existence is encompassed in a womb that is designed to nurture. Patterns continually organize and reorganize themselves and when I focus on that dazzling reality, I feel a little braver and the scary things in my life become less scary. That's how God works for me.
For people like Bill O'Reilly, I guess God works to distinguish himself from The Other. Because he is a man of faith, he is therefore Other than an atheist, which gives a great fundamental justification for clashes of interest. But I think he'll find his God of the Gaps increasingly irrelevant and easily dismissed.
In that interview, he also said: "You're using science to explain that? You're coming off as desperate to me." I think that it's HIS narrow, ever-shrinking God that's becoming desperate to keep itself relevant.