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?”