What makes the best ‘case for God’ to a skeptic or non-believer, an open-minded seeker, and to a person of faith and Why?
The Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton remarked that God is always a step ahead of the seeker, having just departed wherever the seeker arrives. That’s true for anyone who seeks proof of God. The debate is constantly changing its ground. But it wouldn’t be true of personal experience, which is the most convincing proof to any individual, an immediate sense that God’s presence is here and now (although much less convincing to friends and family who stand by as spectators). The Bible contains almost no intellectual arguments for God’s existence, being entirely filled with direct experience. Jehovah talks to the prophets: Jesus performs supernatural miracles. In modern times the reverse is true. We hunger for objective evidence of all things, even things that cannot help but be subjective, such as beauty or for that matter, thinking itself.
The essential question isn’t which type of proof is convincing but whether any proof is possible. Science has steadily eroded religion by saying, in essence, that there is no proof that satisfies experimental inquiry. In the eighteenth century most people would have accepted the argument from design, a rational proposition which pointed to the intricacy of Nature and declared that there must be a Creator behind it. Although such an argument can be updated, not through the creationism of Intelligent Design but by a rigorous argument against randomness, that has proven to be too great a leap for people inculcated to believe that randomness is, in fact, the basis of the universe since the Big Bang.
I’d offer that convincing arguments for God depend upon several factors:
— Getting rid of the notion that God is a person.
— Throwing out all dogma and religious conditioning.
— Looking into the nature of consciousness, which links the observer to reality.
— Taking seriously the concept of an intelligent universe, which implies self-awareness as primary in Nature, not a chance development in human beings.
There are now countless books by a diverse range of thinkers to support all these avenues of exploration. But ultimately, without an understanding of consciousness one can’t possibly explain God or the numinous, or expand from personal awareness to divine awareness. Perception changes with the perceiver, including perception of God. Such an ever-elusive deity cannot be the real thing, only a mirror of our own restless awareness. Therefore, to be fully real, God must be perceived at a level of consciousness that isn’t personal or shifting. In the East such changeless consciousness is available in a state known as enlightenment, the Christian equivalent of grace. In a secular society such a state of consciousness has yet to be defined and widely accepted (although millions of people meditate or pray, hoping to meet the divine face to face).
Theology has lagged far behind in helping us explore God personally or define the state of God consciousness, unfortunately, being occupied with side issues like defending one faith against another or trying to lure believers back into the church or synagogue. Scientists have done a far better job, ironically, by dismantling outworn notions about reality, but it’s rare to find a scientist who is professionally interested in either God or consciousness. God is considered so unscientific to begin with that few researchers consider this a valid field, except for the purposes of a debunker a la Richard Dawkins, who does nothing more than repeat the tired clichés of skeptical materialism. Telling us all the reasons that finding God is impossible, attempts to prove a negative and is useless in explaining the great thinkers, sages, and saints who assure us that God is real.
So where do we stand now? On our own two feet — seekers must find proof that satisfies them, one person at a time. It’s not an easy journey, but it never was, except to those who preferred blind faith over personal exploration. The reason that the Kingdom of Heaven is within is that God is a state of consciousness; there is nowhere to look but within. The deity may be infinite, all-pervasive, and ever-present, but proof of God is on the move, shifting as fast as our own perceptions.
Published in the Washington Post OnFaith
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