Comment of the Day

“If you were defining “God” as “Jaybird”, allow me to back up and say that I absolutely believe in the existence of God.”

–The Inimitable Jaybird.

Comment #36 in our on-going comment marathon on Myth & Atheism.

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26 thoughts on “Comment of the Day

  1. Did we ever get a working definition of “God”, by the way?

    For the most part, when I ask “what do you mean by ‘God’?”, it usually gets responses similar to the following:

    1) Of course you know what we mean when we say “God”, don’t be obtuse.

    2) Do you contribute anything at all to the discussion but threadjacks asking for definitions that nobody needs but you?

    3) I’ll condescend to answer your obviously trollish question and say that God is, erm, well, it’s a, erm, well… you know what, you are a troll and, with God’s help, I will endeavor henceforth to not feed trolls.

    4) I know It when I see It.

    Given that those tend to be the definitions of “God” that I get, I don’t tend to see why “atheism” is necessarily a belief system in and of itself. It’s not like there’s anything to refute! And when someone says (let me quote it here to give the full effect):

    “But you do believe in your own existence, perhaps even dogmatically, which in the end is really the same thing. It really is two sides of the same coin, and both sides are necessary for either to exist.”

    One is stuck, at the very least, reconsidering one’s opinion on the legalization of marijuana.

    Give me a definition of “God”, and then we can have a discussion of whether the folks who don’t believe are “deniers” or what have you.

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  2. Whoops, forgot one.

    5) I already defined it for you. (Sometimes it comes with a pointer to something that ain’t a definition, sometimes it does not come with such a pointer.)

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  3. Jaybird,

    For my part I think your question is perfectly valid and I intend on penning a post that in part attempts to answer just that question. I’ll leave it at that for now and offer that you keep a look out for said post hopefully later today, thereby making this comment more obnoxious than an episode of Lost, if ya know what I mean.

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  4. Heh,

    6.) Allows that the question is valid, promises to answer it in a future post, and then never gets around to writing said post.

    Not becoming 6.) may just provide the requisite nudge to ensure the post does indeed get written.

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  5. “Not becoming 6.) may just provide the requisite nudge to ensure the post does indeed get written.”

    Calling Mr. Thompson. How ’bout that post on the 14th.

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  6. It is a messy subject. I have my thoughts but they need a bit more refinement. I hope you eventually get a post out on this, if for nothing else to help sharpen my own thoughts.

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  7. I didn’t define God because I find that usually the definitions are dependent (only appear) on the stages. So there are if you like different God(s) for each world. Or at least different conceptions/understandings of God which to me is basically the same thing.

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  8. “Or at least different conceptions/understandings of God which to me is basically the same thing.”

    If “God” is defined as “my conception of God” then allow me to echo my comment about myself. If “God” is defined as “my conception of God” then I am not an atheist but a True Believer.

    I’ve tended to define God as, at a minimum, something external to my conception of Him/It.

    You know. Like “Chris Dierkes” is something external to “my conception of Chris Dierkes”.

    If I were to say “So there are if you like different Chris Dierkes(es) for each world. Or at least different conceptions/understandings of Chris Dierkes which to me is basically the same thing.”, would you say something to the effect of “huduwha?”

    Because that’s my response to your comment, Chris.

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  9. J,

    I don’t think we ever experience/think about/know God except (in part) through our human self. Even though I always get labeled a conservative around here, technically speaking in theological terms that makes me (partially) a liberal. That’s really all I’m trying to say.

    Relative to New Atheism, it strikes me they (and not just they plenty of religious believers too) are still lost in an idea that God’s a thing out there (or not in the atheist case) and really don’t have a sense of their own construction of their world. They are in that sense, philosophically, very modernist. All observation, no interpretation/construction.

    I’m not saying there is nothing external to our perspectives–I do exist separate from your perspective about me–just that we never come into contact with that reality or whatever you want to call it except in part through our perspectives.

    I think the same goes with God.

    Using Habermas for a sec….there’s 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person perspectives. If I approach God in 1st person that is an entirely different experience (‘seeking the divine within’) than is approaching God in 2nd person (calling out to God as You, like in the Psalms), which is again entirely different from God in 3rd person (God as He or The One).

    Which one is “really” God? Well it depends in part on our approach. I would say all are real, but I wouldn’t say one is more real than the others.

    What we would really need in order to complete the circle and where this all hits the faith button is we need God’s experience of God’s self.

    In the example you used with me, I have my own perspective on myself. And even if you wanted to say that my body is still alive when I’m sleeping and no one is thinking about me then that’s still a thought. Really a perspective. A true one and one that points to something outside itself, but still at base a perspective. Plus the definition of me as a body in that case is only true when someone approaches me as a 3rd person (i.e. a body).

    This is why in theological terms this is all analogy. It works on one level and then eventually breaks down. You’ve pointed out where it breaks down. I’m trying to point to where it works, but both are in fact necessary.

    I think the much trickier thing is how to philosophically locate any experience. God is for me only a little more complicated version of what I think is a really wild reality anyway.

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  10. That might have confused more than clarified. Let me try again. I’m not saying God is defined as our perspective-conception of God. But those are always a part of it at the same time. We don’t exists as theological blank slates on which God writes as it were.

    Our conceptions/interpretive frames can change, evolve, grow, which to me is a kind of grace (the reality on the other side of our perspective in your example), but they are always a part of it.

    To use a somewhat esoteric example—in Islam icons are forbidden. Religious images of God are forbidden. As a result Sufi (Muslim) mystics classically have no experience of seeing God in visions. They have visions but often they consist of illuminated scripts of the Qu’ran–a practice this allowed by their religious tradition. Christian mystics, coming from a religion that does allow icons, have visions of God/Jesus with faces. That’s not accidental. The frame shapes the experience in the first place. Just like when A.J. Ayer and Bertrand Russell had mystical experiences they had atheistic ones–because they were atheists.

    There’s a reality on the other side of their experience–in this case I think a divinely inspired one–but notice that the experience is profoundly shaped by their belief system going in as well as how they will interpret it on the way out of the experience. The two (the perspective and the reality external to it) are always in play. They are not separate. They happen simultaneously.

    So when we have the “Does God exist” debate, my sense is that (at least) half of the issue is not being discussed right out of the gate. The part of human perspective and worldview comes into play (it has to) but does so without any real awareness of it and generally (on all sides) is projected out onto the Universe or whatever. Then the debate goes nowhere as a result.

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  11. So let’s say that my response to your definition is “oh, sure. then I’m a theist too!”

    Then what? If all we’re talking about is, effectively, The God Of Spinoza, then so friggin’ what? If “God” is defined so broadly, what *USE* is the making of distinctions between “theists” and “atheists”?

    If I defined “God” as “The Creator of the universe, Who loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, Who has laid the Foundations of Morality and has created certain Moral Imperatives for you to follow, and Who will judge you after you die”, would you agree with this definition? If someone said that this was the entity that they were talking about when they talked about “God”, would you say that they were using a significantly outdated, though appropriate for that time (that, sadly, we’ve outgrown), definition? If not, why not?

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  12. Avoiding being 6.) Update

    I’m 932 words into this promised post and there just ain’t no way I’m going to finish it this lunch break. Look for a posting either tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow evening.

    Apologies for the delay, JB.

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  13. J,

    Sorry if you think I’m being too cute.

    On Spinoza. If we are talking about the God of Spinoza, then that’s already a whole interpretive reality. This would be a whole side post, but Spinoza’s conception of God is usually really misunderstood. That for another day. But his view largely emphasizes the 3rd person mode. He didn’t have 2nd person devotional experience relative to his God. The perspectives are always there.

    It requires getting under the frame of any statement. So in answer to your question about: God has laid the Foundations of Morality, has a plan, then I have to ask: How do you understand that?

    The words themselves are I think usually quite meaningless.

    Do I think there is literally some big ego in the heavens who has a literal book where my lifestory has been written. No of course not. If an adult in Western society told me they did I would–and here I’m speaking in my pastor role not my blogger voice–respond by (if I felt they were open to it) asking about how they understand that meaning and if they see any potential conflicts/limitations to that view. I could of course ask such a person about the reality of evil and has God written the pain in their lives into that book they literally believe in. And if so, is God to blame?

    Now for me since you asked me, I could answer yes to your question but I would understand it very very differently than I get the sense you meant by the question. You might find that cheating or just that I really mean no. This is why analogy is so central and tricky in theology.

    Lots of (certain) religious believers would also argue that I’m cheating. And those people, I’m saying, New Atheists subscribe as “the real believers”. Which means that in the end New Atheists have to have a definition of what true faith is. Which is their interpretation. It’s not without plenty of evidence (lots of people believe in the basic plan they lay out) but others don’t. And then a New Atheist has to be in the position of telling a religious believer that they (the New Atheist) knows more about their beliefs and their religion than they do. Which I think is a crock.

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  14. When it comes to the individual I find I have to first locate where they are. Whatever else general society may have gone is not particularly relevant in that case except as a general marker. If the person is going to grow they have to grow from where they are. This requires meeting people at their own level.

    Now I’m assuming in that example they aren’t crazy or doing evil–the kinds of people Myers always brings us. Obviously there are no go zones no matter what. But let’s not use the extreme examples (the mother refusing medical care for her child because she wants to pray it away and science belongs to the Devil madness) and focus on a ‘regular’ mythic believer. Whatever or whoever that is. The problem with the attacking position is not that religious people need special recognition (as some comments in the other post asked about) but rather that it generally stunts growth. In my experience. Others maybe have a different one. But in my experience that MO (generally) just humiliates/angers people and they hold (cling?) to their beliefs all the more firmly.

    The exception tends to be people who have become alienated from/by that mythic world and there is quite often a not so subtle revenge vibe going off.

    In the end someone like Myers wants it both ways. Either the “moderates” should leave the religion OR they should stay and try to keep the others in line, bring them along. But they can’t do both. If they leave, then they’ve lost whatever social cred they had within that group. If they stay then they are giving cover.

    The extreme (il)logical conclusion to which is destroy that belief system (and thereby those people’s identities). But to do so ends up replaying the mythic system: good guys/bad guys, one story/truth fits all, violence on those who are heretics.

    Uh and oh.

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  15. Chris, it’s not that I think that you’re being too “cute” (that ain’t my style). I am beginning to suspect, however, that your definition of God will be one that will make me shrug and say “sure, one of those might exist… so what?” or worse, “of course that exists, so what?”

    But suspicion is not the same as confirmation.

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  16. (For the record, my definition of “having received a definition” might be different from all y’alls. I consider myself to have received one if someone asks me “what does he think the definition of X is?” and I’m confident that I’ll be able to give an answer, in his absence, that will make him say “yeah, close enough.”)

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  17. You drive a fair bargain, friend. I may well extend my deadline to tomorrow evening/Friday morning so that I can incorporate some of the discussion that has gone on in this post and elsewhere and not feel rushed in pulling everything together.

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  18. As Meister Eckhart said God is not a this or a that.

    Which is why I don’t like definitions of God. As metaphor, Christians hold to the notion of God as Love.

    Though then you have to ask what you mean by Love?

    It’s a never-ending hermeneutic circle.

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  19. If you want to define “God” as “Love”, allow me to say that I totally believe in the existence of God.

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  20. Okeydoke.

    Let’s say that “God” is somewhat more than an amorphous concept that exists only in one’s head but something more like a Social Construct.

    If “God” is analagous to, say, Gender Roles, why should I care?

    I mean, Gender Roles exist. But so what?

    How is God not something to be overcome?

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