Immanence, transcendence, and cannibalistic pedophiles



A question that I should think would interest both theists and atheists—although I doubt that it interests either very much—is whether God is immanent or transcendent. You’re probably wondering how such a question could possibly be relevant to an atheist, so please indulge me as I describe three very different ways of thinking about God.

1) Jews, Christians, and Moslems see God as transcendent, by which they mean that he is a discrete spiritual being that exists independently of the physical universe. God is not us, and we are not God. God is the greater; we are the lesser; and that’s the way it will always be, on earth as it is in heaven.

2) Some immanent religions regard our lives and the universe itself as like so many dreams in the mind of God, dreams from which we (God) will someday awaken and recollect our true identity. This would be a beautiful way to look at things, if it were true, although I would wonder why God needed sleep, much less REM sleep, and why God would allow itself to have the kind of nightmarish dreams that many earthly lives represent—those of a cannibalistic pedophile and his victims, for example.

3) Other immanent religions believe that God and the universe are one and the same, suggesting that there was no purposeful creation, and that our relationship to God is like that of a drop of water to the ocean. 



The third option is consistent with atheism because it doesn’t require a belief in the supernatural and because atheists would agree that our identity as separate persons is but a brief pause in the eternal movement of all-pervasive energy, an infinitesimal part of which constitutes our beings for an infinitesimal amount of time. Twenty years ago, I joined two lodges (the IOOF and the Freemasons) simply by changing my religion label from atheist to pantheist. I tried to find some intrinsic reward in doing this, but my conclusion was that for millions of people to take a word—God in this instance—and define it in hundreds, if not thousands, of ways, makes the word meaningless. 

So it is that I consider the pantheistic use of the word God to be meaningless, and, in actuality, any expression of belief in God is meaningless in the absence of further explanation. Believing in the existence of God isn’t like believing in the existence of dogs, the latter being a belief that has agreed upon meanings which are more or less expansive but don’t contradict one another. As for the former, Obama, Gandhi, bin Laden, Schweitzer, Spinoza, Pat Robertson, and the Spanish Grand Inquisitor, all believed in God, but the God of each made the Gods of the rest impossible.

Next to the words for God, the word spiritual is probably the most used word among religious people. Ironically, if spirituality is defined as a state of intense and ongoing reflection on what it means to be alive, I’m a very spiritual person. The problem with me calling myself spiritual is the same as with me calling myself theistic. It’s simply too confusing to throw myself into the same soup as a Jain, a liberal Christian, a militant Islamist, a Jehovah’s Witness, and millions of others who are convinced that they and they alone can define words like God and spirituality correctly. Of all the religion-oriented labels I’ve experimented with over time, atheist fits me best. It takes the supposedly higher wisdom that, “God [and, by implication, spirituality] is that about which nothing can be said,” and it says nothing. It just looks at life with wonder because that’s really all there is for us in the brief flash in the darkness that constitutes our existence.

It is very hard for me to imagine that the flash will soon be over for me, and I would like it very much if, instead of no longer existing, I awakened after death to find that I had been God all along, and that my earthly life had been but a dream in which I denied my own existence. But courage lies in going where the evidence takes us, no matter how much we would like it to take us somewhere else, and I have done that. It is only believers, many believers anyway, whose mouths say they believe but whose lives say they don’t, and it is only believers who pray, “I believe; help thou my unbelief.” 


For what freedom is worth, I am free of all that. Yet, just as I see religious people as being prisoners to religion, I see all people as being prisoners to one thing or another, and I also see all people as being prisoners to life itself. The older I get, and the more I suffer from chronic pain, the more I realize just how cold, dark, and dank some of the cells within life’s prison can be. When I was younger and had my health, I could at least can find reason to hope that there might be better days ahead, but the time has come when I realize that those days, such as they were, have passed. As dire as this sounds, it has had the advantage of pushing my focus ever more inward. We all play the role of Don Quixote to our own lives, and this means that we are each our single greatest hero and our most pathetic fool. 

33 comments:

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Snowbrush said...

"you are invited to follow my blog"

Whoopee! You are likewise invited to follow mine. You wouldn't be my only Christian follower, I'm delighted to say.

PhilipH said...

What a superb, logical and enjoyable post Snowy. Scholarly is the word that, for me, sums it up.

covnitkepr1 said...

Sad to hear about Bonnie. Sounds like you have recieved years of pleasure from a very good friend.

I write and maintain a blog which I have entitled “Accordingtothebook” and I’d like to invite you to follow it.. I’m your newest follower.

covnitkepr1 said...

Your words..."many believers anyway, whose mouths say they believe but whose lives say they don’t"...says a lot for the state of religion today.
These are probably the ones who will someday hear the words..."depart from me...I never knew you."

Snowbrush said...

"What a superb, logical and enjoyable post Snowy."

Philip, you made my day. I was wondering if anyone would be interested enough in all this to get past the first paragraph, much less make sense out of my post and even enjoy it.

"I’d like to invite you to follow it."

You're the second Christian today to invite me to follow your blog (Steve being the first). I did visit it, and I will visit it again, but I saw no way to comment.

Stephen Hayes said...

Much food for thought here. I need to come back and reread this--too much to take in at one time. Thanks.

rhymeswithplague said...

I presume you are no longer an Oddfellow or a Freemason....

Snowbrush said...

"Much food for thought here. I need to come back and reread this"

Thank you very much, Stephen, I hope you do make it back.

"I presume you are no longer an Oddfellow or a Freemason...."

You are correct. When you stop paying your dues, they stop letting you come around.

The Elephant's Child said...

I was, as usual, nodding my head in my corner until I read your last sentence. Sorry Snow - I am not my greatest hero, though I accept the abject/pathetic fool label.

I am chuckling at the 'when you stop paying your dues, they stop letting you come around' response. This is true of so many things.

Lovely post - thank you.

Snowbrush said...

" I am not my greatest hero, though I accept the abject/pathetic fool label."

This by a woman from whom others draw strength in times of crisis. I began to get in touch with the hero part of myself as I aged and began spending most of my time alone, and, consequently, more of my time in getting to know myself. I need the companionship of others, but they are also an obstacle to inner peace, and so it is that I have mixed feelings about the time that I spend with them. I don't know, of course, what the challenge is for you, although I do know that your life contains a great deal of suffering, and if suffering can be compared to the din of battle, then it is obvious that it's not an great time to reflect on much of anything. I very much wish, right now, that I could see you in person, just to feel close.

Charles Gramlich said...

On days when I lean toward a belief in god I tend to think of god and the universe as one.

Snowbrush said...

"On days when I lean toward a belief in god I tend to think of god and the universe as one."

You're a nonbeliever, and I'm just finding out about it!? Interesting.

I have no problem with anyone thinking that god and the universe are one because such people would never oppress anyone in the name of a supernatural deity because they have no supernatural deity. They are simply trying to live in sacredness, and they see their ability to do this as being enhanced by thinking of the universe as holy. My problem with it is that the word God is too much a source of conflict in my mind--and sorrow in the world--for me to benefit by calling anything God. If it works for you, wonderful.

The Elephant's Child said...

Thank you Snow - that was a truly lovely thing to say. Many of my heroes are those people in crisis that I reach out to. People living lives which would have me velcroed to the carpet under the bed refusing to come out.

julie said...

yes, the Universe is holy...and we are all part of it...I used to think of a God who would hold me on his lap when I needed a patriarchal figure to hold me...and mostly that was the only time I thought of God, in terms of my needs...or to bargain with. Then I joined AA and they told me it didn't matter if I saw God as a jar of peanut butter or a tree, as long as I placed something above my self-centered butt..that indeed the world didn't revolve around me....and that was my awakening... :-)

Snowbrush said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Snowbrush said...

Julie, I spent a lot of time tying to word my last response, the part to you, I mean, and it still sounded insulting, so I'm just going to paste the whole thing here and make some changes to the part about the universe being holy.

"yes, the Universe is holy..."

I've been giving such designations (holy, God, sacred, spiritual) more thought today and what I'm wondering is whether the difference in one person calling the universe holy and another person simply calling the universe "the universe" really signifies a difference in how they view the universe. Some "spiritual" people have assured me that it does, and my best guess is that they think that my avoidance of such words means that I'm sadly lacking in the ability to experience life as profoundly as they experience it. My feeling toward them is no less flattering because I see them as dogmatists who are, by definition, less concerned with a person's insights than with whether he or she employs the same formulas and uses the same nomenclature as themselves. I simply meant to ask you how you interpret our difference, and I really don't care whether you agree with me.

"it didn't matter if I saw God as a jar of peanut butter or a tree, as long as I placed something above my self-centered butt.."

This is something else that I have run into a lot and am confounded by. My first thought is that nobody would place a jar of peanut butter or a tree above themselves, at least in any kind of all around fashion, and so the common use of such examples confuses me. Neither do I see the choice as being (a) referring to something outside ourselves as God (or our "Higher Power" to use AA parlance) or (b) being self-centered. Consider this, if there is any occasion when we are NOT self-centered, it is when we are in the presence, not of something that is above ourselves, but of something that needs our help, like an infant or a wounded animal.

"Many of my heroes are those people in crisis that I reach out to. People living lives which would have me velcroed to the carpet under the bed refusing to come out."

I've often thought the same, and will confess that much of my courage has come from knowing what I DIDN'T have to go through (at least yet). It's like when you're bummed because your electricity goes out, but then your neighbor's whole house burns down, and you think, "Whoa!"

lotta joy said...

I'm glad to see one of my regulars has followed me here. I tell many to "read Snow". You are worth the long trip.

While attending church with my husband, I told you I felt SO sad for these misinformed people and their sad plight of pleasing a hard assed god, while proclaiming their lack of worth in his eyes.

Any being as all-powerful as that, should be a source of lightness and freedom instead of unending, and unworthy, servitude.

I no longer feel sorry for them. They would never risk tossing aside a pointless tradition and plugging in their own intelligence.

Tonight a neighbor said the storms up north proved God's anger.

Something ALWAYS proves god's anger to those who "love" this merciful being.

I toyed with the possibility for ten years that I may be an athiest at heart. YOU gave me the mental and emotional strength to admit to myself I AM AN ATHIEST. whew.

Chartreuse said...

"When I was younger and had my health, I could at least can find reason to hope that there might be better days ahead, but the time has come when I realize that those days, such as they were, have passed."
You've put into words something which I've thought long and hard about in the past year or so. Another way of phrasing it, for me, is to say that I always saw my life as being on an upwardly sloped trajectory toward some undefined peak of betterness; but recently I realised I'm on the downhill slope, sliding inexorably toward....the end of the journey. I was saddened by that realisation for quite a while, but eventually came to see it as freedom - from wanting things, or acquisitiveness; from sexual desire; and from jealousies of all sorts. I am living exclusively in the present, it seems, as there's not much point in thinking about the future. It doesn't feel as if I have a future, but far from being depressing, that thought's actually liberating to me. Or so it feels. (Haven't commented about the god talk, but I can never summon much interest in that subject, no matter how erudite the analysis.)

PhilipH said...

Just started reading a book entitled "F**k It" and its philosophy.
Makes a lotta sense to me. A jolly good way of dealing with so many problems, fears, thoughts ...

Prufrock said...

It has been so long since you perused my blog: Views from North Cecil...now I am 55 and the years move on...It is great to see what you think about !

Deb said...

I have a couple of questions, (I will come back because I am exasperated from Miss Sandy's aftermath here).....

1. You said that you would like to awaken after death to find that you have been God all along. But what about awakening after death to find out that there really was a God all along -- the same one you used to worship when you were younger? What "if" there is such a thing?

2. You speak about being imprisoned in our own religion or chronic pain -- my second question is this: do you feel imprisoned by the lack of belief and the many questions about afterlife as an atheist? Or are you certain to just blow the whole 'religious' or 'spirituality' thing off?

I really enjoyed this post, I'm going to reread this tomorrow morning with a clear head, but it was very thought provoking and so brave and honest to write. Thanks for sharing this..

julie said...

lol...Maybe you have to be an alcoholic to understand the peanut butter thing...
Differences...I think you are a very spiritual man Snow.
...the Universe hole...
like this

"Eagle Poem"

"To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circles in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty."

~ Joy Harjo

When I am in touch with something like this...connected...I feel good.

Snowbrush said...

"YOU gave me the mental and emotional strength to admit to myself I AM AN ATHIEST."

Why, thank you! Wow! I've finally led someone to perdition. By the way, did you ever tell your husband that you're not a believer? I just wish you guys could go to some church where you wouldn't feel like a snail in a salt mine, but the only such church that would be likely to exist anywhere near you would be a Unitarian. Would your husband consider such a change?

"I'm on the downhill slope, sliding inexorably toward....the end of the journey. I was saddened by that realisation for quite a while, but eventually came to see it as freedom..."

Chartreuse, you put it all so beautifully, and it is all so very true.

"Philip, I'll have to look up that book you mentioned. Thank you.

"It has been so long since you perused my blog..."

I don't remember you, and I think this might qualify as SPAM, but you do have an interesting blog, so I will okay it.

Snowbrush said...

Questions, oh joy!

"But what about awakening after death to find out that there really was a God all along -- the same one you used to worship when you were younger?"

I couldn't worship the god of the Bible or any other god who is portrayed as being very much like a parent only with infinite power and wisdom. I mean, really, when you look at life on earth--take Hurricane Sandy, for example--does it look to you like the work of a being who is completely good, infinitely smart, and has the ability to do absolutely anything? Can the story of the two people in the garden with the fruit tree and the snake really be said to explain all the misery on this planet, regardless of whether that story is interpreted literally or metaphorically? The only way I could even have a modicum of respect for the god portrayed in the Bible would be to throw the OT god out completely, throw out most of what was written about Jesus, and respect him for what remained (things like the story of the Good Samaritan, for example). This kind of large-scale discard is commonly done among liberal Christians, with the result being that I might even fit-in quite nicely in some "progressive" church because the progressives really are moving away from rejecting anyone and because I likeso much of what they have to say. I suppose their best known advocate is John Spong, a retired Episcopal bishop who describes himself as a non-theist.

"do you feel imprisoned by the lack of belief and the many questions about afterlife as an atheist?

I am pretty much convinced that the only thing awaiting me, as a discrete being, after death is non-existence, so I don't have as many questions as you might think. As for feeling imprisoned by non-belief, I feel no more imprisoned by it than I do by anything else that I considered carefully and about which I came to the best decision I could. Let's say I'm wrong and I wake up before the throne of one deity or another. I would see it as being a situation in which that deity would be the one who had the explaining to do. I'm not being flippant about this because, from my perspective, any such anthropomorphic deity would have failed his creation abominably, and I can't even imagine how he/she/or it could justify it.

"Or are you certain to just blow the whole 'religious' or 'spirituality' thing off?"

No, I would never "blow...off" religion and spirituality because it interests me in too many different ways. As I see me, I am, as I think you are, a pilgrim in life, a pilgrim who asks questions and doesn't waste time with B.S. I don't call my pilgrimage "spiritual" for reasons I've tried to explain, but it is a pilgrimage, and I just wish that I didn't feel quite so alone on it.

"I really enjoyed this post"

Thank you so much, Deb. I enjoy your blog as well. You and I are two of the few--who I know, that is--who write about such things so personally, and I respect us both for that. It's a gift to ourselves in that it helps us to get clear within our own minds (among other things) about what we think, and it's a gift to those of our readers who actually like depth, something which I don't think most people do, especially regarding issues that arouse such strong emotions.

Deb said...

You know, I can definitely see your point with the concept of “God” being a parent-like deity - where we have to praise and worship him --- possibly making us feel like pions, but what about in the bigger picture: a “god” who creates you - molds you into “you” - the perfect “you” with chronic pain and even some bouts of laughter and joy all bundled up in this cesspool of life? In my beliefs (keep that in mind) I think we are here to experience the pain and suffering to which Jesus had - to various extents of “pain”, whether it be physical sickness, mental illness, emotional torture or loneliness ----those hardships are there to strengthen me so that I can handle the bigger trials to come along. For me, to think of let’s say, my dad’s recent passing - there ARE good things about that. For instance --- Dad’s not in pain anymore. He went through so much. But, in his time of pain and misery, he accepted Jesus. Amazing. (OK, for me at least.) There are so many reasons why I think tragic things happen. Look at New York for example. We just went through a “superstorm” --- not even a hurricane. Almost 5 days without power and people are killing one another over gas. On top of that, they are complaining left and right about no power, whereas Florida ---- they go weeks, months without power without complaining because of their strength, experience and endurance. I only speak about my area and not parts that were absolutely devastated of course. It’s like a muscle, it only gets stronger if you ~work it out~ ---- and sometimes that workout is a killer!

OK, enough of that. For me, God is my father -- I come to Him as a child because in my beliefs --- He made me so I’m going to praise Him every chance I get. I truly believe that He saved my house from being torn apart by this storm. I’m so grateful. And yes, I agree that we are pilgrims in life trying to find answers. I guess if we stop asking questions, we eventually stop learning. I still have questions about my own faith and sometimes, my faith dwindles a bit, but I try to get back on track so that I don’t stumble on my own accord. I find your journey in life amazing and the way you tell it speaks volumes about your intellect and overall wisdom which I admire. I wish more people asked questions instead of blowing everything off. It’s refreshing, so thank you. And thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Snowbrush said...

"I think we are here to experience the pain and suffering to which Jesus had..."

Then you qualify as a progressive Christian who accepts either process or openness theology. Is this not true? You therefore belong to a small but hopefully growing movement that actually encourages people to think for themselves. This group also speaks of atheists as people who have lessons that Christians can benefit from--just imagine that. To them, we're not filth. How odd that other Christians don't see us as the modern day equivalent of the Biblical Samaritans, but they not only fail to do so, they are, as a consequence, unable to see the irony in not doing so. I hope the number of Progressives multiply, especially in proportion to the literalistic Christians who consider voting for Mitt Romney to be a Christian obligation and a vote for Obama to be a mortal sin.

"There are so many reasons why I think tragic things happen."

But if you believe in a God who knows and has the power to carry out the very best option in every conceivable situation, then that God could have given us all of the virtues without any of the pains because less misery would have certainly been preferable, would it not? Another problem with assuming that every tragic event has the potential for good is that it doesn't look that way. In fact, it looks as if large scale tragedies (like Sandy) happen randomly to many millions of people who just happened to be in the affected area. Sandy was 840 miles wide, had 11 foot waves, and hit NY Harbor from a southeasterly position. If what you say is true, then God would have needed to have made every last one of these and a trillion-trillion smaller occurrences happen exactly they did in order to bring the most potential good to the most people with the least amount of suffering. Then, he made sure that all those people and other lifeforms who he wanted to bring all this good to were gathered together in that 840 mile stretch of land and sea. This, to me, would be the logical consequence of such a view.

I might have more to say later, but I have to go do other things for now.

Julie, I've got to think about what you said more. In fact, I might write a post about it.

Snowbrush said...

Deb, I hope I was tactful in my answer to you. I sometimes get so focused on the issue under discussion that I don't adequately consider the other person's feelings. Instead of a friend, I become a debater, and that's not necessarily bad, but it's not usually the best way to communicate either.

lotta joy said...

Saying "I truly believe that He saved my house from being torn apart by this storm." would mean he knocked the crap out of other's homes who were praying as fervently as you. No offense. I'm glad your home was saved, but what if it hadn't been and someone else was taking the credit for God saving THEIR house? I know. It would then be another 'test of faith' to make you stronger in the long term.

Snow, Joe was aware of my thirst for knowledge as I searched for more proof that god exists. I then starting sharing the more momentous things I learned during my search that literally ruled against his very existence.

Up til then, he assumed it was a stage I was going through and that it would end eventually.

I told him about six years ago that I was definitely no longer a believer, and refused to give obedience to a God who could better represent love by BEING loving.

He asked that I no longer speak of my beliefs since they cause him pain and grief.

He used to think I'd "come around", "see the light" and "regain my sense"s, because he knows I am a loving, caring person.

"THEREFORE" as a loving and caring person, I must still have an inner spark of Christianity lying dormant behind my left clavicle or knee joint.

I believe he's still hoping for that 'aha' moment, but no longer expecting it.

I accompany him to church because he wants me to.

And during the asinine service I'm perfecting my pencil drawings in a spiral binder I always carry with me.

Snowbrush said...

"And during the asinine service I'm perfecting my pencil drawings in a spiral binder I always carry with me."

I'm glad you can find some good use for your time, but I still wish you could attend a church that would welcome you as you are, and the most likely one would be Unitarian.

"Saying "I truly believe that He saved my house from being torn apart by this storm." would mean he knocked the crap out of other's homes who were praying as fervently as you."

True, but I would assume that, in consistence with her belief that bad things happen for good reasons, Deb would likewise be grateful if "he knocked the crap" out of her own home. "It is proved that things cannot be other than they are, for since everything is made for a purpose, it follows that everything is made for the best purpose." Dr. Pangloss from Candide

Snowbrush said...

P.S. "And during the asinine service I'm perfecting my pencil drawings"

Presumably not the ones in which you're peeing on a crucifix.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

And likely it's because we are born alone(unless a twin or more) and must die alone. Yet we seek to be a part of a community. Often the faith is the factor to bring folks together.
I have no worries about leaving. I sense it will be as natural as it was to be born.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I've never been my own hero. My greatest fool, yes.