What I believe (Part One)
By A. Colin Wright
Last edited: Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, June 02, 2009
A brief discussion of my personal beliefs
I initially wrote down “What I believe” for myself: in order to clarify those conclusions about life I had arrived at over the years. In making this an article I have modified it a little, since some things that were evident to myself require further explanation for an audience. Nevertheless, this will still be fairly compact rather than a detailed argument. One day I may indeed turn it into a longer piece, but for the time being it is no more than a fairly concise account of my own beliefs, written for the interest of others but with no intention of persuading them of anything. But to me it is important to be able to justify my beliefs intellectually, to myself. That is what these do, and yes, I can say they are helpful in my own life. Like everyone I have my doubts too at times, but when I feel depressed or complain about the way life is treating me (which really isn’t too badly) I always return to the fact that my ideas here make sense to me intellectually. (One small insight I often repeat to myself: “happiness” or otherwise has nothing to do with being in a good or a bad mood!)
I need to clarify one thing. Although I shall say that what is important is not whether “God exists” but what we mean by “God,” I shall still use the word “God” as a convenient shorthand. I am simply not aware of another word that serves the same purpose, and I can’t repeat at every point “whatever I mean by God.” Also, although I certainly do not see “God” as being male or female, I refer to “him” as “he.” I find it clumsy to write “he or she” the whole time, or to alternate between the two, while “it” is even worse. And then, well I was brought up with the image of God as a beneficent old man in the sky, and a lot of the time I cannot get rid of that image even when I firmly believe that “he” is rather a deep spiritual awareness within myself. These are limitations of language and of the fact that it is difficult to imagine “whatever we mean by God” in the abstract, so the only thing to do is use the particular words as conventions. And why not admit that in my mind I still think of “God” as a person a lot of the time—even if that’s not really what I believe about “him”!
Why one should believe anything at all.
Certainly, belief seems to be irrelevant for many people, particularly the young, when life just seems so full of other more important things. But I would still claim that at some stage most of us—whether as a result of age, of unhappiness, or simply of plain curiosity—ask ourselves seriously what life is all about and why we are here. Much of this goes into my writing.
I recently read an account by a former minister about his sadness in finally managing to give up a belief in a personal God or creator: this being untenable from a scientific point of view. Which it may well be. There are many who say that life is an accident, that we are simply the product of our animal natures and that individual life ends with death: a perfectly logical belief. Except for one thing. We are then left with the problem of explaining the universe.
Why, in fact, should an enormous universe (and perhaps more that we know nothing about) exist at all? It would be logical for nothing to exist, but once something does (not just life), in a truly fantastic form, how can one speak of accident? An accident of what? I know atheists who say we just have to accept the universe as given, but I think that not to question it further is simply a cop-out. The real question, as I’ve said above, is not whether God exists (“existence” exists) but what we mean by God—and we don’t necessarily have to posit an unknown creator or first cause, the traditional religious “old man in the sky.”
So where does this leave us? My point of departure, the only possible one, is my own consciousness. It is what most defines me: it is where I move and have my being, and it seems reasonable to assume that those around me think, feel, and perceive the world much as I do: that we all have a similar kind of consciousness. Now this may be illogical, but I am simply incapable of believing that this consciousness is purely the result of electrons in my brain and that it will eventually disappear. Sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. Thus I believe—and here, perhaps, faith enters in, although there is some outside evidence—that some form of consciousness continues. And this must surely apply not only to humans but to animals as well: for why should humans be different? (I would disagree that only humans have “immortal souls.” What exactly does this mean? At what stage in their development did they first acquire them?) I have no problem as seeing this consciousness within me as part of “God’s consciousness” within each one of us. A good biblical image for this is that of God’s being the vine and us being the branches.
What I believe is expressed most clearly in the various Conversations with God books by Neale Donald Walsch. For those who don’t know them already, these are a whole series of books starting with the premise that Walsch had an actual conversation with God by means of his asking questions and receiving answers—all of which he wrote down at the time. Now a reader’s first reaction is obviously “Oh yeah?” or “He’s just making all this up.” However, even if he did “just make it all up,” what he actually wrote is so amazing that many people, such as myself, soon came to realize that it doesn’t matter. For we are dealing here with the “God within,” whereas churches have always tended to stress the “God without,” the God who is separate from ourselves rather than the God who is ourselves.
I was immediately impressed with Conversations with God not because I read it and was convinced of its argument but rather because it reflected what I had come to believe myself all along. (It was the second time I had read a book which reflected my own deeply held beliefs, the first being Thomas Sugrue’s There is a River, about the life of Edgar Cayce and the basis for reincarnation.) Thus in the book I found expressed what I already believed: in more detail and with extra things I hadn’t really thought of, even perhaps a few things I wouldn’t quite agree with. But in essence the views in Conversations with God are my own.
The series of those books contain a lot of reading, but I will set down here those things I feel are most essential to me. I had already expressed something of them in my still unpublished novel Veronica’s Papers—written well before I had ever heard of Neale Donald Walsch. (That particular novel is where I express most of my serious thoughts about the meaning of life.) The passage I quote below provides a handy overview. It is one of the most important things I have ever written, for I find that I return to it time and time again.
Gerald, the book’s major protagonist, is in conversation on board ship with a writer of fiction:
Gerald sat against the wall on one of the benches running the length of the glassed-in promenade deck. Duncan Harrison had raised his eyebrows again, a mannerism Gerald remembered from fourteen or fifteen years ago, when they’d been teaching at the same school in Manchester. Duncan, who could be either virtually silent or jovially talkative, was in one of his quiet moods as he sat listening with his wife Joyce, who rarely said anything at all. Ping-pong balls bounced in the background, on a table at the forward end of the deck, shooting off in unexpected directions each time the ship gave a lurch.
“Look at it like this,” Gerald continued, anxious to win Duncan’s approval. “God: omnipotent power. Creator. But why create? Because it’s His nature: power can’t exist in a vacuum. And so He creates his universe, life, human beings.”
Duncan was nodding, but it was impossible to know what he was thinking. Joyce sat staring through the large windows at the plunging horizon.
“Now does He just throw the materials together, as though into an enormous cooking-pot, turn on the heat and let it develop in its own way? And then sit back and watch? Or is He more like a painter, continually creating, living his creation? You’re a writer—four novels you’ve published altogether?—you don’t just throw it all together and let it stew, do you?”
Duncan pulled on his grey beard. “Of course not. It’s not that simple.” A gruff, self-conscious voice. “I have to enter into each of my characters, live it with them as I write. That’s where the excitement comes in.”
“Exactly. Now surely it’s the same with God. As I see it, He’d want to experience His own creation in the same way. Not just sit back and look, that’s not omnipotence.”
Duncan was thoughtful. “That’s consistent with the traditional Christian view of God’s loving man, I suppose. Of God’s being in each individual. If one believes in God in the first place.”
“If one doesn’t, there’s nothing to be said: the universe is an accident. Billions and billions of worlds and it’s just there, meaningless. But why should anything exist at all—not to speak of life? It doesn’t make sense.”
“If it’s a meaningless accident, of course it doesn’t make sense.”
“I can’t believe that. How can an accident happen unless there’s something for it to happen in?” When Duncan had nothing to add, Gerald continued: “I’d go farther than the traditional Christian view of God’s loving man. I see God, in order to experience His creation, entering into each individual and actually living that life. And, to do this, having to limit Himself to human perception. Living out each life in turn—although ‘in turn’ is a human concept I use for the sake of clarity, it’s meaningless in the timelessness of eternity. In other words, I’m no more than God living out His incarnation in me. When I die, I’ll know that I am God, and my next incarnation may well be in you, or in Joyce. Or in the old tramp down the road, or in the militant atheist, or in the tyrant, or in the pope.”
“In a sense, but reincarnation supposes the consecutive rebirth of souls which differ from one another. I mean the total incarnation, simultaneous and eternal, of God in his creation. To say ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ is no less than a statement of fact. I can say legitimately ‘I am God’ without its being megalomania because you’re God too and so is everyone else. The Christian idea of seeing God in others is literally, not metaphorically, true .”
Duncan scratched his beard. Ping-pong balls bounced in the background. “Meister Eckhardt said that without man God wouldn’t know He existed.”
“Yes, that’s it!” Gerald was pleased that Duncan seemed to be reacting positively to his own enthusiasm. But the next bit was more difficult to explain. “The thing is,” he went on, “if I’m God it’s none the less, for that incarnation, a God who’s neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Which is no more than logical. For a God who’s omnipotent must also, if the word’s meaningful at all, be able to do nothing, to be limited. The concept must include its own opposite, must indeed include everything, or it’s not omnipotence.”
“And that, I suppose, would solve the old problem of how an omnipotent God can be only good and not evil too, which is a paradox. I suppose God could then live out evil in man.”
“Yes, and He could live out pettiness too which, in human terms, is the very opposite of omnipotence and omniscience. He could live out everything. Which, incidentally, solves the other age-old problem, of how a loving God can allow His creation to suffer. He can allow it because He is that creation, He’s the one who’s suffering. To be omnipotent He has to be able to suffer too.”
They stared at the eternal sea in front of them. Gerald had always admired Duncan, who, while still writing unpublishable novels, had encouraged him to write too. It seemed, though, that Gerald was capable only of journalism, while Duncan now was producing saleable fiction. He reflected that, according to his own philosophy, he and Duncan, and everyone else, were all one anyway, all God.
Surprisingly, Joyce spoke up. She was one of those rather faded women, whom one rarely noticed or remembered. “What about heaven and hell?”
“Hell is another name for earth,” Gerald answered. “Or anywhere else in the universe where God experiences part of His creation. Imagine what hell life in a single creature must be for an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God! Don’t we, as individuals, know that only too well?”
“Perhaps,” Duncan said, “people might find some consolation in your view. Those people we envy: we’ll be them too, or have been them already, in that particular incarnation of God.”
“Yes. But we’ll also have their problems we don’t know about. And we’ll also be those we despise or pity. But it’s the totality that’s important: we, or rather God, remain omnipotent and omniscient and experience all of life.”
A ping-pong ball suddenly landed in Gerald’s lap, as though he’d laid an unexpected egg. They laughed as he threw it back. Shadows were already falling on the sea.
“I’d go further than that. If God lives out His entire creation He must also live each animal, each plant, each stone. He must experience all matter, down to each atom.”
“I’m getting cold, I’m afraid,” Joyce said.
Essentially I believe that each one of us is God, living out his own creation, for good or for evil (for to experience everything, he must be able to experience evil as well as good). God enters into everyone and every thing, he is his creation in its entirety. Which means that basically I’m a metaphysical optimist (but a pessimist as far as the present world is concerned): in the end we, I, are all God.
Many other things follow from this, some of which I have written about as well, and some which are to be found in Conversations with God. I will try to elaborate on some of these things in my next “article.”
(To be continued.)
A.Colin Wright's novel Sardinian Silver can be ordered from any bookstore, from www.amazon.com and other amazon sites, from www.barnesandnoble.com, and from www.iUniverse.com.