The debate about God seems to be raging and yet ever irrelevant in today’s society. I say irrelevant for good reason. Namely that many of those who choose to spend time aggressively arguing the point either way, seem to be set aside from doing anything productive. To that end, as I walk down a post religionist path, I choose to no longer use the term God. I believe Christopher Hitchens had a point when he prefers anti-theist to atheist. I’ll give you my take on it; and the best way is to tell a story involving you, me, a cat and a little wood worm.
We might feel very safe in saying that a table exists, but we only have to look at the process by which the table came to exist to see that the situation is somewhat more delicate. Break the table down into its key components of wood, nails, glue and varnish and you no longer have a table. You have the potential for a table and only if that potential is recognised. So we see that existence involves a collection of other materials and recognition by an external consciousness within specific ideal circumstances i.e. the need for a table. Back to the story.
One day you decide that something is missing in your life. All these lovely things you have collected in life are lying around the floor getting trodden on and all dusty. So you get the finest wood that you can afford and you beaver away in your workshop to make the most beautiful table ever made. Now you spend some time trying out the putting of things on this table and then you go to make a cup of tea happy in the knowledge that this table exists.
In your absence, I come along having never heard of a table. I have no experience of table use let alone building one; but I do have wide experience of chairs. So when I arrive and see your table, what is the first thought that comes into my head?
“Wow! What an interesting looking chair!”
I am so taken with this interesting looking chair that I spend a lot of time sitting on it and bouncing up and down. I am not sure about the design but it is growing on me. During this time you come back and see me on your table.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Oh is it yours? I was just trying out your very interesting chair.
“Oh, I see. But I’m afraid you are mistaken. This is a table. I made it, you see?”
Two things can happen at this point. We could find each other’s view point interesting, maybe swap ideas. Maybe if we are really clever, we could market the idea of chairs and tables to do something amazing. It would revolutionise tea times and restaurants all over the country. The other more likely event, however, is that you might stand by your view that this is, in fact, a table and I would refuse to budge on my view that it is a chair. World war three breaks out. We accuse each other of heresy and blasphemy. We maybe even try to kill each other over the possession and definition of this object.
During this argument a small cat walks by and hears the commotion. It is so traumatised by the noise that it darts under the table/chair to hide. Now, interestingly, the cat is neither experiencing the object as a table or a chair. It is experiencing a shelter. It has no interest in naming this object or observing the fine craftsmanship.
Now whilst the table/chair is making a good shelter, a little wood worm wriggles over and takes a little bite out of the table leg. Words can’t describe its emotions as it comes across the best tasting wood it has ever had the pleasure of eating. Once again this small animal is neither concerned with it being a table or a chair or a shelter, giving it a name or observing its fine craftsmanship. Indeed if it did it might develop a guilt complex about eating the wood.
So my question here is “Who is correct?” Who has the right definition or description? Who is experiencing this object in the correct way? Who has more of a right over this object? Are you more important than the wood worm. Is your recognition of it more important or more enlightened than the cats’ or mine for that matter?
So my point is this: by naming something and by attributing uses and characteristics to something, anything, are we not restricting its existence? If existence is partly about recognition, then surely applying rigid belief to something or someone hinders what they are. This can apply to literally anything; gods, objects, environments, people, our nearest and dearest. I would argue that one of the greatest causes of sorrow today exists in the collapse of expectation and belief.
So whilst you and I are fighting. Whilst one of us might lose the argument, the little cat will never be disappointed in this shelter. The wood worm will never be disenchanted by the realisation that it is eating a table. The latter two in the story are in a better position philosophically and practically because they are experiencing the table/chair/shelter/food. They are not applying belief; they are merely experiencing the object at that specific moment without projection of expectation into the future.
That is why I am content to experience the thing that you might call a table. That is why others may experience the table but not realise it. They may call it something else or give it another meaning. That is why others may be adamant that a table does not exist regardless of your very vivid idea of one, but they may still indeed experience the table. Finally, you know what the other big point is?
That table couldn’t give a hoot what you think about it. It’s not going to damn me for calling it a chair or send a flood to kill the cat or send the wood worm to hell. The object is not going to consciously punish those who do not address it correctly. Much like I do not get angry when my guinea pigs in my garden fail to say “Thank you Mr Hicks.” when I have fed and watered them.
So that is why I don’t do God. Not because I don’t think God exists. Not because I do think God exists. It is because the moment we start arguing the point all we’re trying to do is own the concept for ourselves and build restrictions that prevent access to something we should have a firm hold on. All we are doing is saying that our experience is more meaningful and truer than someone elses which, to me, actively seeks to undermine the existence of the thing we are trying to defend or promote. It suggests we care very little about the thing itself as opposed to the position we can gain by limiting it which, I would say, is a little childish. If, however, we manage to live with our viewpoints and accept that others experiences and communication of those experiences differ then amazing things might happen. People of different faiths and those without faith may stand together in celebration and peace and a common goal to better each other’s lives in the here and now.