I love to get free books. One of the benefits of being an active churchless blogger is getting review copies of books in the "spiritual but not religious" genre.
I'm about a third of the way through Galen Guengerich's "God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age." I like the title, and I''m liking the book -- though this isn't really a review, since I've still got most of the book to read.
Today I reached one of Galen Guengerich's core theses in the "What's Divine" chapter (he's the senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan).
A central premise of this book, and perhaps its most controversial and counterintuitive claim, is that God is not supernatural, and yet belief in God is necessary. Ironically, both atheists and traditional religionists agree about the nature of God; they disagree only about whether this God does or does not exist. For my part, I agree with the atheists that God is not supernatural, yet I agree with the advocates of traditional religion that belief in God is necessary.
My first reaction when I read this was, Good luck making that argument. It's tough to make a case for a "God" who/that isn't supernatural.
I've looked into pantheism, and it's less appealing (to me) variant, panentheism. Pantheism basically says that the universe is God, while panentheism posits that God interpenetrates the universe while extending beyond it.
When Guengerich said he agrees that God is not supernatural, yet belief in God is necessary, I thought "he's a pantheist." This would have been disappointing, because I've never understood why the concept of "God" needs to be added to the concept of "universe" if the two are identical.
Sure, its easy to say that God is everything there is.
But how is this different from saying the universe/cosmos is everything there is? Likewise, I could say God is love. Which, if God isn't anything supernatural or distinct from the universe, seems to be no different from saying love is love.
Thus the problem with pantheism is that it doesn't add anything to our understanding of reality other than calling the universe by another name: God.
Good writer and smart thinker that he is, I hoped Guengerich wouldn't take this easy philosophical way out in his attempt to salvage a belief in God while rejecting supernaturalism. Though I've got quite a few chapters left to read, it's looking like he has come up with a fresh way of looking upon a scientifically-defensible notion of God.
Because a few pages further on, I came to this:
For reasons that will become apparent in the next chapter, I believe this experience of being extensively connected to the universe and utterly dependent on it is an absolutely necessary aspect of a fulfilling human life. It also provides a foundation for the experience I'm referring to when I use the word "God." God is the experience of being connected to all that is -- all that is present, as well as all that is past and all that is possible.
When people ask me whether I believe God exists, my answer is yes. I believe God exists in a way similar to the way beauty exists, but not in the way a person or an apple exists. An apple is a physical object that can be weighed and measured.
...God, by contrast, is an experience, akin to our experience of beauty. Beauty itself never appears to us, but we find the idea necessary to account for our delight in the symmetry and form of certain objects and experiences: sunsets, symphonies, and sculptures by Degas. While different in many other respects, beauty and God are both qualities of our experience.
OK. This is a different take on pantheism. Rather than focusing on the objective existence of everything there is, the universe/cosmos, Guengerich seems to be emphasizing the subjective experience of everything there is, including its past, present, and future manifestations.
When I look up into the night sky while on a dog walk around our neighborhood's lake, and marvel at how mysteriously vast the universe is, along with the mysterious ability of conscious beings like me to marvel at it, seemingly I'm experiencing Guengerich's God.
I'm still skeptical about what is gained from calling my experience "God." I'm sure Guengerich will do his best to convince me why this is necessary or desirable in his book's remaining chapters.