Truth Before God: A Conscious Construction of God

Guest Post By Philip Conner

As with all of Jonathan’s blog posts, I thoroughly enjoy reading his work and engaging it.  In that light, I believe that Jonathan stopped a bit short of something constructive in ending with Gandhi’s “If I had to choose between truth and god, I’d choose truth.”  To combine this proposition with Jonathan’s assertion that all conceptualizations of god are constructed is to work towards a construction of god based on truth, rather than truth based on a construction of god.  What I hope to do is set out my constructive view of god in search of some of my truth.

Before going any further, I should briefly introduce my purpose.  I am not arguing for an absolute truth in my construction of God.  All I am arguing for is the conscious construction of the sacred based upon some experiential truth.  Instead of subconsciously allowing myself to construct a god, I am consciously seeking a concept of god that fits my truth.  It is like rethinking a dream to change the dream from a nightmare to a fairy tale in order to get a better night’s sleep.  I will begin by explaining my truth as I have come to believe it, and follow that by a construction of God based on my truth.  In addition to my own personality and experience, I credit my ideas to a variety of sources, especially the radical empiricism and individualism of William James, the cosmology of Jacob Boehme, the psychological reconstructive theory of Ernest Becker, and the provocative questions of friends and colleagues.

As with all people, what I have come to believe as personal truth is a product of my life experiences.  Without burdening my readers with my autobiography, here are the two truths that I have come to believe most assuredly.  First, humans are both the ugliest thing on the planet and the most beautiful.  All humans have the capacity for ugliness and beauty, both are inherent in people.  Secondly, all perception is constructed in one way or another by the perceiver, whether consciously or unconsciously.  All of these constructions are different, as they are constructed based upon different experiences and personalities.  Therefore, it is most productive to consciously alter our perception of the world in order to see all things as equally capable of benevolence and harm.

From these truths, I have chosen to construct a god out of which all exists, a conceptualization deeply influenced by the concept of the unground in the philosophy of Jacob Boehme.  Essentially (there is no essentializing Boehme), the unground is the essence from which all has come forth, including the godhead.  The unground contains all the dualities of nature, as it must if it is to be the origin of all things.  Anybody who has ever tried to wrap their head around Jacob Boehme will understand my skipping over a discussion of his ideas, but I would feel deceitful if I did not acknowledge the origins of my ideas.

My personal nuance to Boehme’s concept of the unground is to combine the center of all life with the concept of a god.  What I am suggesting is that god is the passive beginning of all life, containing both the possibility of good and evil.  The capacity for anything that is represented in life is present in god, the origin of the universe.  God in this sense is not the “Creator,” as many monotheistic traditions see it; god is simply the nebula from which all has come.

With this construction of god, the only moral judgment that I can make based on god is that I am not inherently different from any other person, a truth that has helped me see the world with much less malevolence towards the world around me.  This construction of god also requires me to take responsibility for my treatment of other people; I cannot blame my actions on moral judgments coming from a concept of god.  I cannot ostracize people because of who they are; I can only be skeptical of their actions if other people are harmed.  While my conceptualization of god is constantly evolving, this is the groundwork for a spiritual worldview aimed at the equal treatment of all people.

Hopefully, my personal example is something Gandhi would have agreed with, god following truth, not vice versa.  However, my truth is not universal, and I cannot “presume the rest of the vast field” (William James).  In addition, I cannot say for sure that there is not an absolute truth that I have been blind to.  As William Blake correctly observes in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,

“How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
is an immense world of delight clos’d by your senses five?

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8 Replies to “Truth Before God: A Conscious Construction of God”

  1. Thanks Philip for submitting this piece! I especially like the thought that re-constructing our theologies can be like rethinking a dream. Beautiful!

  2. I must agree with Gandhi’s choice and I believe that if we follow his assertion that he would choose truth over God to it’s logical conclusion, we would find that they are one in the same and a choice is not required. A God that is not true is not really God at all. Dreams are beautiful, but I would still choose truth.

  3. Dear Michele,

    Thank you for your comment. I am not quite sure I understand what you are saying, though. Are you saying that you think God exists concretely as a being? If so, how can that be known outside of the use of the mind, which would be tainted by perspective? Or are you saying that each person’s perception of god is their truth, so there is no distinction between the two? If so, then I think we must seek ways of making a constructive truth and a constructive god coincide, as opposed to having conceptions of god that allow for hatred and dissidence.

    Best,
    Phil

  4. I’m saying that if God is defined by our perception, than how can he be a God for all people for all time. Certainly I agree with you that our perception of God does influence our actions and ideas, but I believe that God is greater than our perceptions and deserves to be sought out for who he truly is, not for who we want him to be based on our biases and past experiences. If God is truly the source of our universe than he should both transcend individual experiences as well as be applicable to them. The reason for my comments can be found in your sentence which includes, “. . .I have chosen to construct a God . . ” To me this indicates a desire to create a God to fit your needs rather than a desire to seek out God for who he truly is. Please correct me if I have misinterpreted your article. For the record, I do agree with you that the true God we seek would logically seem to be a God without hatred. The variety in his creation would seem to indicate that he enjoys and celebrates differences rather than hates them.

  5. Dear Michele,

    I will do my best to explain my article. It might be helpful to explain myself via your understanding of god as male. The problem is that understanding god as male leads to harmful practices because of the symbolism inherent. As Mary Daly correctly observed, “If God is male, then male is God.” This is the great source of patriarchy in religion that has oppressed women for centuries (and continues to oppress women in many circles). Regardless of whether or not god is male, it is dangerous and oppressive for religions to think of god as male because it places males as more important than females.

    In light of the dangerous moral judgments that can come from a misinterpretation of god, I have proposed a constructive theology wherein god is not the source of moral arbitration. God does not say who is right, who is wrong, and who cannot speak in church. Theology should not be used for oppression. Plain and simple.

    Out of curiosity, how do you plan to know who God truly is? It seems to me that such an endeavor is impossible. All that would occur is that you would get closer and closer to a certain image of God that either you or somebody else wants you to perceive. In other words, if you were to hypothetically use the Torah as your guidebook for who God is, then your perception of God would only be morphed closer to the construction by the authors of the Torah.

    I hope that I have made my purposes in my post more clear. There have been many images and perceptions of God created, and they are rarely used for entirely benevolent ends. I am trying to create a God that does not end in hatred and destruction (like all monotheistic perceptions of god have).

    Phil

  6. You both are saying valuable things, but they seem to be passing each other like ships in the night.

    Michele, I hear you saying that if God has any objective existence, then the spiritual path is about constantly refining our perceptions to get closer to that truth. We may always be limited in our perceptions, but some perceptions are closer than others. It’s like an asymptote. From this perspective, the idea of constructing a God seems to miss out on the crucial heart of the spiritual journey which is about seeking God.

    I’m not convinced that this is at odds with Phil however.

    Phil, I hear you saying that our perceptions of God are not only limited, but have powerful consequences in our life and culture. Specifically, if these perceptions lead to oppression then they are most definitely false. You also point to the difficulty of defining truth around a concept that by definition is beyond our understanding. What are the criteria for knowing that something is more or less true? Any standard you use, inherently dictates the God you find.

    But you both seem to be pointing to the common ground that love, equality, justice are solid standards for truth around the divine. Values are the criteria by which we can check our closeness to the asymptote.

    I’m reminded of the apophatic traditions that do not approach God directly. Instead of approaching truth, they back away from untruth. We may never know what the source of the universe is, but we definitely know hurt and suffering when we see it.

  7. I think Jonathan has found our common ground – kudos to Jonathan. We’d both like to see a God who is universal and relevant to all creation. I’d rather err on the side of seeking God as a universal truth, because I believe that true God is the most benevolent to creation. The danger of not doing so is to make up an imaginative God who is no god at all and who has the potential to harm anyone not in the realm of that imaginative God. You, I’m sensing, would rather err on the side of a less specific God, allowing for more individual interpretation as you see the damage that specific religions have wrought. I would contend that leaving God to the human perception has just as much potential to harm. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the harm you see in organized religions is due to human interpretations and perceptions rather than to God inspired truths. Humans have been well documented as being naturally self centered and willing to harm others for their own gain.

    When I speak of seeking truth, I speak of seeking spiritual truth from God’s perspective, not spiritual truth from man’s perspective which I agree has often caused pain and suffering. I also believe that humankind “in the name of God” has caused much grief to the heart of God. So as we both continue our spiritual journey, I think we could agree with the apophatic tradition. We may never know all that God really is in this existence, but we definitely can see what God is not.

    For the record, my use of the male pronoun in my previous comments was done for convenience sake and meant in the generic sense of the pronoun and was not in any way intended to state God as uniquely male. If God is the source of all being, and human kind is created in his image, then God must transcend gender specifications.

    And finally, let us not confuse unanimity with unity. As fellow pilgrims on a spiritual journey, it is good to have challenging and uplifting discussions. I believe God is honored in these discussions and we all just might learn something in the process.

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