I would not wish to imply that this is a subject that I can cover with one post, or even a larger but finite number of posts. It is my purpose here to try a slightly different approach to the problem of the God word, to try to step into the darkness in the hope that that act of faith is answered by the gaining of something of practical value. As in science, an hypothesis that does not tally with practical experience is of no real and lasting value.
Of course the first problem that arises is, "What is God?" It is a similar, if not the same, question as, "What is Truth, the Self, Consciousness, Life Force," and so on. However, it occurs to me that such questions as these do not necessarily need to be answered before progress can be made along our chosen path. To develop this argument further I would like to use an approach which has already proved to be eminently successful in the lives of many men and women.
There are many people around the world engaged in spiritual recovery, using Twelve Step Programmes. From the first programme developed in the 1930's which was to lead to the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organisation which benefited from some vital, spiritual input by C. G. Jung, further programmes were developed by other self-help groups with great success. So much then for history.
I would like to quote the first part of Step 11 of that programme, the latter part not being relevant to the point I wish to make. The quote is as follows:-
"Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him................."
Now how may an atheist alcoholic or an atheist narcotics addict approach this Step? Particularly with the latter, this can be a matter of life or death. Does she/he simply say that without a belief in God this Step, and hence the whole programme, is not for them? If that line is followed, the consequences can be dire. They may on the other hand say that, whilst not believing in God, he/she will follow the Step anyway. Unlike most of us, addicts do not have the luxury of debating the existence or otherwise of God, as if dealing with a theological or ideological debating point with little or no practical significance. For them the programme must offer a practical solution to their most urgent problem. The programme must work; this 11th. Step of the programme must work.
Let it be supposed that our atheist friends have chosen the path of survival. Referring to the quote given above, the first point that this Step implies is that there is something, namely God, towards which one can move but about which, or about whose identity, we are free to remain in doubt. The second point to be noted is that this bringing down of the hidden into consciousness can be brought about by prayer and meditation, and I would also add contemplation. That is the chosen method for working this Step.
There will come a time, and more than just one time, when certain psycho-spiritual realisations emerge from the underground of the mind. Some of these realisations may not be anything to write home about, but a start will have been made; a sound practice will be developing. Sometimes, however, the realisations may be greatly uplifting, exciting, may even be shocking or frightening, but of such a nature that life will never again be seen in quite the same way. What may be concluded from this experience?
One conclusion might be that one has experienced God, albeit not a divinity that one might have expected to meet, simply because this Step implies the existence of God. In short, it might be concluded that one had effectively been hoodwinked by a particular form of words. On the other hand it might be concluded that a door has been opened into a higher, perhaps more spiritual, existence of which one had previously been unaware. In other words, something profound and useful will have been encountered without a prior requirement to believe in God. The spiritual realisations experienced, might just indicate that life is not all it appears to be, and that there are rewarding paths to be travelled, even though the ultimate goal may lie in darkness and uncertainty. Now of course we are not dealing with the laws of hard sciences here. The implicit element of choice may possibly lower the probabilities of success, if the word success has any meaning in this context. But the probability will nevertheless be statistically significant. For what more can one ask?
At some stage in this process, I would begin to ask questions about the origin of these spiritual experiences. (Is life worth the having without questions and doubts?) I might query the nature of these experiences, and what are their origins. I might, with some wonder, notice the changes that have occurred within my being, not brought about by my little consciousness. A door begins to open onto a new, fresh experience. It may well be that God is experiential, that there may come a time when I might say, "So that's what God is!" Spirituality is about an awakening and about presence. It is essentially a personal and practical experience. What a stunning experience to have.
Freed from dogma, whether it be religious, political, scientific (and oh yes, science too has its dogmas and its high priests) or any other form of straitjacket of the mind and soul, I can come alive to new possibilities, new paradigms even, a continuing opening to the wonder of the "inner" as well as the "outer" universe, and my small part in it. It seems to me that it is only by refusing to adopt the role of a spiritual sheep before the shepherd in the pulpit, or enculturated zombie before the sleeping ideologue, that I can progress. Only out of my acceptance of real, personal responsibility and a genuine growth into spiritual adulthood, can I become an inheritor of a wonder and truth beyond imagination. It begins now, and now, and forever now.