The Faces of God

Having one image of the divine strikes me as at once particularly unimaginative and overly ambitious with regards to human thought.

I would like to first give an account, however brief, of my current metaphysics, as of this week, as a lens of sorts through which we can examine the previous statement.

I am of the opinion that the word “God” has become so besmirched by successive generations of evangelical business-Christianity and the current media focus on Islam that it has come to be more of a hindrance than a help. One is apt to be misunderstood greatly if one uses it to refer to a more sophisticated and nuanced conception of the divine than the traditional Western image, that of God as an old, white, male cosmic judge.

What I mean when I say God has little to do with this strange conception, which seems to have arisen out of the hierarchical social structures of the ancient Middle East, retaining their notions of kings, subjects and rule almost without deviation.

I would start by saying that when I use the term I am not referring to a thing or a person. A thing is a curious sort of abstraction; something with the same order of existence and realness as an hour, an inch, or a line of latitude. It is a function of the human nervous system, a way of grid-ing or bit-ing the wiggly world so that we may discuss certain sections of it through distinction and definition. Things, in my mind, do not exist in the real world. One never finds a thing in isolation, or out of relationship, and so I am more inclined to agree with the Taoist notion that all explicit dualities are implicit unities that arise mutually and imply one another. There is no genuine separation in the real world, this is a game we play with it using language.

All that can be said to exist is in relationship, and as such, to posit some “thing” having a basic or essential nature of its own is merely an abstraction, a conventional term that is useful for the purposes of communication but not to be confused for reality itself.

As for a person, who can say what they mean by this? The word “person” stems from the Greek, “persona”, which was the name used for the mask worn by dramatists during a play. Per-sona, that through which the sound comes, the role, the act. I do not ascribe identity to what we are pointing to when we say “person”, rather, it makes more sense to me to think that the term is a designation of position and behaviour. Here it is, and this is what it’s doing.

So God, for me, is neither here nor there. It is not an isolated existence, nor is it separate from the world.

Rather than through negation, “It is not this, it is not that…”, if asked to describe God in positive terms I might say something along the lines of:

“God is that which there is. What there is, and all there is, that is God. You are God, and I am God. God is the movement of the cosmos, the pattern, the form, the energy, the relationship. God is purposeless; what is the use of a billion galaxies? God is playful; why do you dance? God is playing at not being God. But more than this, God is what cannot be said about the above, that which resides rather in the direct experiencing of it, without words, concepts, or images.”

So when I say that there is a lack of imagination in the typical Western idea of the divine, I am contrasting it to the absence of that image and the coming into an awareness of the divine that needs no special adornments or attitudes; it is simply the awareness of what is.

When I say it is overly ambitious, I mean that we are making of ourselves an absurdity when we assume that through the limited range of sensory information we receive and the rather focused and particular set of tools we have to experience it, we are able to condense an account of the entirety of being into one symbol.

The cross is a rather common example of this, and it is easy to see how much is lost in translation when one takes this image of the divine to be one equal footing with the corresponding experience.

So what is this all for? Well and good to say, but what of it?

Well, I believe that we may be much better positioned to meet the divine, whatever it may be, if we simply stop looking for it in the most esoteric and bizarre of places, if we put down the figurings and sketches we have collected over the last few thousand years of religious history.

We need not seek the divine in temples, in dusty tomes full of occult meanderings, in the bottom of a bag of Dimethyltryptamine. These are as much images of God as the bearded father on white clouds surrounded by angels.

The divine is here, and now, for there is really nowhere else for it to be. If one finds it it a temple, that’ll be here and now, too.