Over the years, I have sporadically tried to explain my theology or lack thereof. It has resulted in arguably weird posts like this one. Last night I tried again at the occasion of another monthly meeting of my covenant group. The topic of the month was big questions. We started with one that will usually draw a different answer from every one of my fellow Unitarian Universalists: Do you believe in God?
My bet is that most Americans can answer that easily. Ninety percent or so will say yes and the other 10% will say no. Many of the ninety percent though will put asterisks next to their answer. The whole question though is very hard to answer because you first have to ask: what kind of God are you asking about? Paternal? Maternal? Non-sex specific? Singular or polytheistic? One that listens and responds to your prayers or one that is absent? A God that cares about you in particular? Or a very removed God who has hosts of angels, archangels, sub-archangels and other intercessors that handle prayers from relatively meaningless people like me?
My forebrain may be too developed because I could not give a definitive answer. I remain sort of the agnostic I decided I was some thirty plus years ago. I neither believe nor disbelieve in the paternalistic God that I was introduced to by my Catholic parents. I can say that I never particularly felt the personal presence of God. For me, attempts at prayer are like radio waves; they bounce off the clouds and come back to me. When the Magic 8-Ball replies, to the extent it replies at all, it says “Reply hazy, try again.” I do feel spiritual at times, for example, when nature reveals itself in all its majesty. The experience is very mystical when it happens, but doesn’t feel like God is tapping me on the shoulder saying, “See, here’s all the proof you need that I exist.”
No doubt to some I am being unforgivably ambivalent, but I have developed a certain comfort in my murkiness. I know many people feel the presence of God and I think that’s fine. I don’t mean to say they are deluding themselves, but at the same time I cannot take their testimony with whole cloth when it is not my experience nor the experience of millions of others, including Mother Teresa. I take some comfort in physics, which is slowly peeling away God’s mask.
I suspect God’s existence or non-existence is just one of these questions that is impossible to satisfactorily answer. I do not think there is any definitive answer because we can only perceive what we can experience through our very limited senses. Moreover, our lives are relatively short.
I have read enough about quantum physics to feel strongly about a few things. What I believe is eternal is consciousness: mine and yours. I think consciousness is eternal and like energy itself cannot be created or destroyed. So I very much believe in the soul. I see my soul much like a driver and my body like a car. My body’s brain is like a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedal. I use them to move my body through life. At some point in the future the car will refuse to start. At that point my body dies. However, my soul, the driver, is still around. Perhaps at that point I exit the car and look around the car lot. I pick out another car and use it (the new body) to continue to experience the universe.
This is really not as crazy as it sounds. String theory may be a theory, but it is a very well developed theory with lots of sound empirical evidence. What science does teach us is that energy is never destroyed. It is merely transformed. If string theory is correct then we also know that everything is irrevocably connected to everything else. Buddha understood this 2500 years ago. It also essentially means that individuality is an illusion.
So who or what are we then? I think what we are is a singularity: a point in space-time (or perhaps more accurately, a time-series in space-time) where an infinite matrix of superstrings intersect and it is different from some other point. So you might say we are both individuals and we are all part of the same thing. What is unique about living is that it provides the illusionary experience of individuality. We may prefer this illusion, similar to the way that some people prefer chocolate.
To the extent that I can formulate a belief in God, it is just the suspicion that I am not separate from God, but intrinsically a part of God and God is a part of me. It’s not a question about being separated from God. How can I be separate from something I am already a part of? I am irretrievably part of everything and plugged into the universe as are you.
I am consciousness. You might say I am a thought racing around the mind of God. Each of us is a thought of this larger collective being. A thought is both permanent and transient. We may only think a particular thought in one moment, but the thought is stored in collective memory. It is always retained. That thought is my consciousness and is what I call the eternal me.
Where we came from, I don’t know. I don’t see the point in speculating. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, if everything is caused by something else, then something caused God, which begs the question and points to the fallacy in the argument. Consciousness exists because I experience it. I think it continues after death and I choose to call this eternal part of me my soul. I suspect I live multiple lives and inside this consciousness I call myself time simply does not matter. It does not matter how many lives I have experienced or will experience. However, I do think that it is this experience that feeds the consciousness. Perhaps over many lives we do grow in understanding and maturity.
I believe in consciousness because I feel it and ultimately I can only trust what I feel. I can look at science like string theory to support parts of my beliefs, but I also recognize that because the universe is immensely complex so our understanding of reality is going to be poor at best too. If “I think, therefore I am” then “I feel there is an immortal part of me, therefore it exists” is also valid. At this point in my life, it not only feels right, but it need be no more complex than this.