Asking God to take a back seat
Posted on 20 November 2017, 10:04
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, more Americans say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral. It goes on to explain that 56 percent of U.S. adults have this belief, up from about 49 percent who expressed this view in 2011.
People calling themselves humanists – mostly atheists who claim to subscribe to a moral code – would certainly say that it is not necessary to believe in a god to be moral. They contend that we can lead lives of love, empathy, service, morality and humility without any belief in a god or an afterlife. No doubt some of them can do so, but idealism always yields to pragmatism when it comes to the masses, when the lures of materialism become too tempting and give way to hedonism and criminal behavior. The “seven deadly sins” of religion – greed, envy, lust, pride, anger, sloth, and gluttony – kick in for the majority at some point in the pursuit of the materialistic “good life.” The same materialistic lures are also there for the theists, but many of them consider the fear of punishment in the orthodox afterlife and think twice before giving into the immoral temptations.
An argument can easily be made that the humanist who lives a life of morality is more heroic than the religionist, since his or her morality stems from a benevolent character, not from fear, but there is no reason to believe that an equal number of religionists are not acting out of benevolence rather than fear, perhaps an amalgamation of the two for some. While impossible to measure, it seems like the fear factor contributes significantly to controlling the more criminal aspects of immorality in the pragmatic world, thereby lending itself heavily to religion in its comparison with humanism as a way of regulating morality, at least from a societal viewpoint.
I am not aware of any measure or gauge to be applied to morality, as it is too subjective a word, but I think most people who have been around this realm of existence for any length of time will agree with me that our moral standards are in serious decline. I like the way Chris Hedges, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, analyzes it in his book, Empire of Illusion. “The cult of self dominates our cultural landscape,” he offers. “The cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception, and manipulation, the inability to feel remorse or guilts.” Hedges sees this decline as a result of the “celebrity culture” that has risen up around us – a culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion.
To fully grasp Hedges’s words we need only observe how movie stars are much more admired and better compensated than the real-life people they portray, while athletes, who are play or pretend warriors, are more respected than soldier fighting real wars. A football player who falls on a fumbled ball for a winning touchdown is more acclaimed than a combatant who falls on a grenade to save the lives of his buddies in arms.
Hedges believes that “the moral nihilism of celebrity culture is played out on reality television shows, most of which encourage a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness, and betrayal.” The mantra for this mindset was perhaps best displayed on a television show from a few years back when the audiences chanted “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!”
In his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, John Shelby Spong, an Episcopalian bishop, contends that we are living in a morally neutral universe. “The death of the God of theism,” he claims, “has removed from our world the traditional basis of ethics.” He adds that “Some respond with a panicked pursuit of pleasure. Some seek to escape their fears of moral meaninglessness in the world of alcohol and drugs. Some sink to the ultimate level of despair and fall into depression or even suicide. Some try to shield themselves form the unsettling sense of emptiness by becoming hysterically religious, as if shouting certain religious phrases with emotion and a feigned certainty might convince them that everything is still the way it has always been.” These are signs, Spong continues, “the signs that a loss of meaning has engulfed our world. We no longer know how to tell right from wrong, and above all else, our confusion reflects the death of the theistic God in whom all these things were once grounded.”
Earlier in the book, Spong dismisses the idea of a personal, humanlike God. “Theism, as a way of conceiving of God, has become demonstrably inadequate, and the God of theism not only is dying but is also probably not revivable,” he writes, going on to define his new God as the “Ground of all Being,” while wondering if such a God is anything more than “a philosophical abstraction serving merely to cushion our awakening into the radical aloneness of living in a godless world.”
Spong defines himself as “a believer who lives in exile,” in effect believing that there is some higher power and some purpose in life, that it is not all a march toward an abyss of nothingness, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He comes across as an optimistic humanist, one who is ignorant of the multitude of evidence supporting the survival of consciousness at death, a concern that does not necessarily follow a belief in God.
As churches continue to empty and the moral compass goes further south, it would appear that many have adopted the same view as Spong, unable to believe in the God of the Bible, a God who would permit bad things to happen to good people and who would be so heartless as to condemn them to everlasting punishment in a horrific hell for even small transgressions from “His” rules of conduct, a God who requires adoration, praise and worship like some egotistical king.
Considering the decline in morality and the greater acceptance of a nihilistic outlook we are now witnessing, I see reason to believe that there is a significant positive correlation between belief and morality. However, I would substitute “belief in God” with “belief in life after death,” as it is not necessary to believe in the anthropomorphic God of religion to accept the strong evidence coming to us from psychical research that consciousness does survive death in a greater reality.
The widespread belief that we have to believe in God and come up with proof of His, Her, or Its existence before accepting the strong evidence for survival, i.e., life after death, is, as I see it, the biggest impediment to understanding the most important concern facing humankind – whether this life is all there is or is part of a much larger life. It is root cause of most of the chaos and turmoil in the world today.
The problem dates back to the fourth century AD when the Council of Nicaea decided to elevate Jesus to the Godhead, in part because Christians needed a humanlike figure to visualize as God and pray to. It was too difficult to visualize a panentheistic God, an abstraction. Many of those who have left religion and adopted a nihilistic worldview have done so because they cannot accept a humanlike figure as God and also cannot visualize a panentheistic God. If they can’t visualize it, they reason, it must not exist. Add in the cruel, capricious nature of the God of religion, and it is not something they want to believe in or give any serious thought to.
Even those who divorce themselves from religion and call themselves agnostics or atheists hold onto the idea that God and an afterlife are concomitants, that consciousness cannot survive death unless there is that “old man in the sky” pulling the strings. The typical militant atheistic diatribe found on the Internet almost always begins by attacking a belief in God while implying that if there is no “big daddy” up there, there can be no afterlife. The atheists ignorantly cling to the premise that there must be scientific proof of God before the evidence for an afterlife can be considered. Meanwhile, those who stick with orthodox religion remain steadfast in their antiquated beliefs and invite the disdain of the non-believers with their evangelizing of ways and means that cannot be reconciled with a just and loving Creator.
If one first considers all the evidence for survival – that coming to us through research in mediumship, near-death experiences, deathbed visions, past-life studies, and Instrumental Transcommunication – and accepts it with some degree of certainty, even if not absolute certainty (call it conviction), he or she doesn’t really need to have a picture of God in mind. It is enough to picture a spirit world where we are reunited with loved ones and live on in a larger life. The picture of that spirit world may be very hazy or out of focus, three-dimensional and mostly inaccurate, but it offers a more tangible and sensible construct than does either the anthropomorphic God or the more abstract, non-personal God. Moreover, it is more meaningful than the limited afterlife provided by orthodox religions, one of angels floating around on clouds while strumming harps and singing praise 24/7 to a narcissistic god. Nor is it necessary to demote Jesus or whomever one sees as representing the Godhead. Many people who believe the same way as Bishop Spong, viewing God in a panentheistic way, see Jesus as something akin to Chairman of the Board in that larger life. Once we accept that so much of it is beyond human comprehension, the difference is one of semantics.
In a way, it is the old chicken and egg paradox, but it really doesn’t require the person to say which came first. It is simply a matter of recognizing that the evidence for life after death is easier to humanly grasp than the evidence for God and that we can visualize an afterlife somewhat better than we can visualize God. The bottom line is that we have to get over the idea that God must be identified and proved before accepting the evidence for the reality of life after death. Until we do that, the moral compass will not reverse itself.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog post: December 4
Thanks Mike, for writing on this important topic. I agree with you that if belief in God is an obstacle for some people, then we should not conflate it with survival after death. On the other hand, life here on this plane of existence does seem to fall into a hierarchy from simple one celled organisms to extremely complex organisms. It stands to reason that the spirit world is similarly hierarchical in nature. While that in itself does not necessitate the existence of God, it does point to an open ended multiverse of ever more evolved forms of consciousness.
Bart Walton, Mon 27 Nov, 06:55
Mike Tymn is unarguably a brilliant reviewer but I enjoy vintage ‘you’ most Mike, as in this blog, where you bring your wonderful erudite scholarship and literary reasoning talents to bear on a subject of your own choosing. I cannot help but agree with you, that most of us find it difficult to picture (even how hard we might try), to be loved by an amorphous “force” i.e. God. Importantly, also, that the easier path to spiritual belief (if one is interested in today’s world), is to first review arguments for an afterlife. To expand your point, any simple investigation would soon encounter that once a person has “passed over”, strong scientific evidence indicates we would present as sparks of light or orbs, unlimited in time, space or velocity. Rather God like – surely! Expanding further from what you have said Mike, with little effort one soon encounters countless cases of mediumistic ability down the ages, to gain afterlife information and this has been tested for accuracy fairly recently with a plethora of replicated double and triple blinded scientific experiments (Schwartz, Beicher). Other evidential methodologies available includes OOB accounts, NDE’s and even regressive hypnosis giving fascinating details of afterlife experiences. Incredibly, all of these give accounts - which not only support universal survival for us all following death, but agree in fundamental detail, regardless of methodology; but without an ounce of conventional religious dogma.
Bruce Scott-Hill, Thu 23 Nov, 04:47
Belief in a God is not the only alternative to keeping the masses in check.Jainism has for centuries had the highest moral code of all religions yet it is completely atheistic and yet at the same time full of meaning and purpose.
Chad W Luter, Wed 22 Nov, 17:43
This quote springs to mind.
Since we are not ourselves ultimates, we cannot know ultimate Purpose. ~ Betty: “With Folded Wings”
Jon, Wed 22 Nov, 10:04
by Stewart Edward White
I agree with Michael D. in not being able to find any religion that fills the need of a thinking person, and I agree with Rick that an atheist can live under a moral code, but, in spite of the shortcomings of various religions, I still see most religions as being better than no religion at all. As mentioned, the fear of God or the fear of punishment in an afterlife does keep a fair percentage of people in line and make then think twice before transgressing the moral boundaries in some way. It might not do much to help them achieve a higher moral specific gravity in the afterlife, but it does help society in many ways. Moreover, morality is not a black and white thing. There are many shades of gray and I do believe the religious training we get as children does result in higher moral standards or a better understanding of right and wrong.
So many of us schooled in religion believe that religion is not necessary in our adulthood, but who can say what we would believe, or what our moral standards would be, if we had not been subjected to religious indoctrination during childhood?
I wonder if the basketball players who stole the sunglasses in China had any reason to believe that shoplifting is wrong. If parents don’t take the time to explain matters of morality to children, who is going to do it other than religions? Is it really enough to explain to children that theft is a violation of the law without explaining why it is against the law. How many parents would take the time to sit down with their kids and really discuss such a subject?
Michael D. mentions that he has found something that works for him. If it an organization, I hope he will share it with us.
AOD says he is content not to define God. Like him, I feel no need to define God. However, I can understand why Emperor Constantine and the various bishops who made up the Council of Nicaea decided they needed an anthropomorphic God. People needed something to visualize and they couldn’t visualize a panentheistic God, an abstraction. Personally, I tend to visualize an afterlife community of deceased relatives and friends with Jesus in the hierarchy at some higher level. My visualization may not be an accurate one, but it serves the purpose.
Michael Tymn, Wed 22 Nov, 02:07
Max Planck the originator of quantum theory said “All matter originates and exists by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind”. But it does not follow that this mind is either humanoid or comprehensible, nor does it follow that it should be worshipped, praised, prayed to or called Father, Lord, or ‘He’. Accepting the wisdom of Planck does not require any of these things. The word ‘God’, since it is inextricably tied up with so many traditional religious assumptions, could even be considered useless and redundant; which is my personal position. Can acknowledging the notion of an incomprehensible Mind without the word ‘God’ be enough in itself ? I think so - no glorifying, worship, etc. needed. Just to finish, Einstein had a similar notion to Planck when he said, “ Anyone who becomes seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that there is a spirit manifest in the laws of the Universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man”. Again, no anthropomorphising or praise needed.
Keith P in England, Tue 21 Nov, 18:41
In case you missed it, this is what ALL Christians should be saying:
Michael D, Tue 21 Nov, 14:45
but the author of this blog is consistently attacked by American “Christians”.
The arguments are too nuanced. The Pew survey is American, and look what American “Christians” are promoting these days: abuse of women and children, racism, nationalism. And the major churches who could be saying something are not. Look at the Catholic church’s record regarding child abuse, and how they’ve dealt with it. It doesn’t take a very smart person to realize that this is BS, and run the other way. As far as you can get from this nonsense is atheism. Seen in that context, it’s very easy for a normal individual to classify his atheism as being better than normal religion.
I was noticing and discussing this abrogation of responsibility by religion with my parents 50 years ago when I was a child; I started looking then for a legitimate religion because I wasn’t finding it in any of the ones in the phone book. I still have not found it in the phone book, but I have finally found something that works for me, not atheism.
The blame for this situation falls directly, and justly, on the people who falsely call themselves and their churches “Christian”.
Michael D, Tue 21 Nov, 14:40
People should just be sticking to the evidence only which points to consciousness being able to survive death independent of any deity. Anybody out there who thinks otherwise should ask themselves that if there consciousness survives bodily death it will have proven to exist outside of time and space thus not needing a God as the whole point of invoking God is as a creator.God therefore becomes at best redundant at worst pointless.
Chad W Luter, Tue 21 Nov, 02:24
Good piece. I agree. Let’s start by looking at the evidence for life after death; the question of who/what God is, and whether such a being/entity exists is a much harder thing to prove. But if we can conclude there is an afterlife, we radically reduce nihilism, and live for today, independent of what the ultimate ground of being/reality is.
Michael Schmicker, Mon 20 Nov, 23:46
A very thought provoking article Michael although perhaps a little depressing as godlessness seems to be gaining strength in the world today and I don’t think anything is going to change that soon.
As a culture in the western world it may be that there is a common mass fantasy among unthinking people about God based upon statuary of gods and goddesses and icons passed down from ancient Greeks and Romans, from tribal stories in the Bible and from painters like Michael Michelangelo and other European painters of religions stories and symbols. It may be that those who dismiss a personal God are really rejecting the image of an old man in the sky with a beard. That’s what they have been told that God is. They have not seriously considered that there may be another construct of what God or gods could be.
Those of us who have studied spiritualism, psychic phenomena, NDEs etc. and tried to understand quantum physics often begin to comprehend a more all encompassing idea of what God might be.
Frederic W. H. Myers, in life an eminent psychologist and psychical researcher as transcribed by Geraldine Cummins in her book “The Road to Immortality” after his death spoke from the reality of spirit that, “The term God means the Supreme Mind, the idea behind all life, the Whole in terms of pure thought, a Whole within which is cradled the Alpha and Omega of existence as a mental concept. Every act, every thought, every fact in the history of the Universes, every part of them, is contained within that Whole. Therein is the original concept of all.”
Well I don’t know that Myers really helped the understanding of God much with that definition but I get the idea. I am inclined to let the definition of God rest with Patience Worth, another spirit who said that it is impossible to define God, because God is not the same today as he was yesterday nor will he be the same tomorrow.
I am content with that. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 20 Nov, 20:47
An atheist, agnostic, or someone who just doesn’t care about God can behave morally. Perhaps such a person actually has a deep inkling of transcendence and the relationship of conduct to spiritual growth, but that would be impossible to prove.
There is, as you suggest, a social issue related to the belief in God. Does a theocentric culture promote virtue? History doesn’t seem to say so. Western culture in the middle ages was “officially” God-centered, but most people were hardly kinder or more honest than they are today. Islam, too, puts Allah before all else, but it was propagated by invasion and slaughter, and the news offers daily evidence that violent fanaticism remains an element of it.
The key is having a better idea of God. If God is conceived as being narrow-minded, dedicated to punishing sinners or infidels, a culture based on belief will reflect those characteristics. No one on this Earth can fully understand God; still less can God be defined in our logical categories. But acknowledging a God who is loving and compassionate, beyond divisive theology, would probably encourage a better life for most people in this world and the next.
Rick Darby, Mon 20 Nov, 20:42
Thanks for the comment. I didn’t mean to totally dismiss God, only to say He/She/It isn’t necessary to consider the evidence for survival. I hope you are right that there is a personal God, even if not in the form we tend to think. I still see it as a semantical issue.
Michael Tymn, Mon 20 Nov, 18:17
Perhaps the term ‘Spirit is more encompassing than ‘God’ for it includes without difficulty Brahman, Allah and other forms of deity. Without this it seems to me that the whole concept of an afterlife, and service to fellow souls on Earth and subsequently is on shaky ground. And we can even ground our beliefs in rational (quantum) science.
Howard A Jones, Mon 20 Nov, 15:36
Well done, Mike, but perhaps a little too hasty dismissing God. It seems to me we do have strong hints of a strikingly evolved being, personal in nature, in the best NDE and mediumistic literature. It would not surprise me to learn that our planet is governed, if imperfectly, by one such being—a far cry from the master of the entire universe, but of god-like proportions compared to us.
Stafford Betty, Mon 20 Nov, 13:00
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