Thursday, June 7, 2007

"God is a concept"

My accomplished poet and novelist friend Michael H. told me that he loved the Nemerov quote:
...a real killer. A couple of others came to mind when I started thinking about it. One of which is E. A. Robinson (fine poet), who described the world as a giant kindergarten where millions of people were trying to spell "G-O-D" with the wrong blocks. The other quote that came to mind was from John Lennon, in his song "God":
God is a concept
by which we can measure
our pain.
I wonder what Lennon meant by that. Does the rest of the song throw any light on it?
I don't believe in magic,
I don't believe in I-ching,
I don't believe in bible...
I just believe in me,
Yoko and me...
Could it be that the pain in question was his own pain? If so, perhaps his not believing (his inability to believe?) was the source of it. For my friend Maliha, "God" is crucially "tied to purpose and meaning." "God" supplies a narrative by which to answer the big question, Why are we here? or What is the purpose of our existence? Maybe it was the same for Lennon, and he was in pain over not being able to find in "God" a reason or purpose for his life.

Michael continued:
Lastly, given our universal ineptitude when it comes to defining that which is clearly undefinable (since it transcends, by definition, all of our attempts to describe it), I always like to remember something Joseph Campbell was quick to reiterate in this regard—he who thinks he knows, doesn't know; he who knows that he doesn't know, knows.
And that reminds me of Robert Frost's little poem, "The Secret Sits":
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
            [From A Witness Tree, 1942]
Something may know, but we don't.


  1. Peace Moristotle...
    Your emphasis on some people suffering because they are not "given" a purpose...was not lost.

    There is an underlying assumption of blind sheep mentality...but we shall leave it at that.

    I like the quotes you doesn't matter how we decide to define God (our limitations, understanding will differ anyway)...but it's what we do with the conclusions at hand.

    Does it matter? Is it a vain discourse...for the sake of it?

  2. Dear Maliha,

    I intended no "blind-sheep mentality" in the "'given' a purpose" phrasing! It does seem to me, though, that scripture-reading people do, in fact, look to scriptures to tell them the purpose. Isn't that so?

    I wonder whether the possible conclusions to be drawn from the various stances on God can be distinguished as to their source. That is, would a non-believer be able to draw equivalent conclusions regarding her moral conduct, for example, as a believer would be able to? (Sam Harris seems to think so, by the way. He asks a rhetorical question about whether the Israelites knew before Moses brought the tablets down the mountain that murder and adultery were wrong, and if so, why did they think the first two commandments [or whichever ones they were] were so terribly important for I AM THAT I AM to give them? Or maybe it was Christopher Hitchens who was quoted as asking this, in his recently published God Is Not Great.) Unless there is a distinct difference (and a significant one for life) in the conclusions, then, it seems to me, whether one "believes" or "doesn't believe" is irrelevant. In fact, isn't that perhaps just another way of saying what you say ("It doesn't matter how we decide to define God")? Would you agree with that?

    I don't think this discourse is vain. I feel zestful and alive engaging in it. It empowers me in some way that, though I might not be able to specify it, is real and palpable. I sense that it is not like that for you?

  3. Peace Moristotle,
    It's interesting that in the Quran belief and righteous deeds/moral conduct are always mentioned separately and hand in hand. There is purpose to that distinction.

    Belief may or may not inspire morality (it may inspire a skewed kind of moral conduct or hypocrisy or a number of other things...) A person maybe very conscientious and ethical and doesn't believe in God.

    Of course in the ideal world, sincere believe in God, a spark initiated in the soul, would be manifested naturally in the way someone conducts their life and the way beautiful manner they emulate the Divine.

    I don't think belief in God is irrelevant... To remove the "concept" of God from this world takes us right into the soul-lessness of modernity or the relativity of post modernity. Nothing is sacred anymore, and people end up in the quagmire of irrelevancies because really "What's the point?"

  4. Peace, Maliha,

    I wonder what is the source of my own often finding everyday routines and things holy or sacramental? If humans did "create God," then I suppose that the same thing in them that "made them" do that, in me makes me do what I do. And perhaps, in you makes you do what you do?

    A follow-up question might be: What differences among people tend to account for their different projections or dispositions in these matters?