The secular, post-modern world we inhabit has formed a consensus when it comes to a conception of god.
The consensus goes something like this:
Yes, I do believe in God. Or, at least, in a god. I do believe there is some kind of higher, transcendent power at work beyond the physical world. I am not merely a materialist, nor an atheist. I’m more of an agnostic. I do not believe we’re all here for just a few short years only to die and be gone forever in the most definitive sense. I believe there must be some kind of power that unites all humanity, and binds us with the created order. Whether we know it or not, whether our wars and violence veil it or not, we are all somehow connected.
I do not believe any one religion has the monopoly on truth. All religions have aspects of beauty and truth, and all have qualities of hate and distortion.
In light of these beliefs, I seek to live in a way that brings me joy, and I allow others the freedom to do the same. I am not judgmental. I do not condescend. The way someone else finds happiness is just as valid as any way I might find happiness, different though they may be. At my core, I seek to be kind to others. I try my best to be a good person and to contribute to the wellbeing of the world around me.
At the end of my life, after death, I assume that whatever deity is out there will treat me kindly. This makes sense, because I have sought to be kind. I envision the after-life as a place of healing, unity, and joy in a general sense. I don’t know the specifics, but I don’t need to, because I trust this benevolent divine power will work it all out.
There is much to appreciate about this view of spirituality.
For one, it’s full of humility. This view allows no opportunity for self-superiority, nor the enthroning of any class of people over another. We are all journeymen. We are comrades seeking the common goal of a life well lived.
There is also earnest respect for the views of others. There’s never a need to attack someone with hateful words, nor to defensively deconstruct someone else’s worldview, for we can all live at peace with one another, despite our differences.
There is also the fundamental desire to be kind and just toward others. This is a laudable end. We should be grateful to live in a time and place when kindness to others, perhaps especially those who are most vulnerable in society, is an engrained cultural value. It has not always been so.
But for all the positives of the present spiritual outlook, it has a fundamental weakness at its core—a weakness that undermines it completely.
That weakness is the subjective element involved in crafting this deity.
One illuminating question we can pose to this spiritual perspective is, “Upon what basis is it constructed?” In other words, “What is the source of authority utilized to craft this worldview?”
Every spiritual outlook needs a source of authority. Just as we have sources of authority for scientific information (equations, data sets, theories), or historical data (artifacts, ancient texts, archeological discoveries), so we also need an authority for the spiritual realm.
Christians look to the Bible. Muslims look to the Koran. But what do post-modern secularists look to?
To find out, we can examine the methodology used to construct a picture of god.
Generally, the process involves accepting or rejecting various aspects of religions based on one’s level of appreciation or dislike.
One thinks, “I like how Jesus was so loving and concerned for the poor, so I’ll take those ingredients of Christianity. I like that Buddhism emphasizes the connectedness of all things, plus meditation is necessary in our culture of constant noise, so I’ll embrace those aspects of Eastern religion. I appreciate the reverence of Muslims, so I’ll imitate that portion of Islam. But I don’t like the restrictive sexual ethic of Christianity, so I’ll set that aside. I don’t like the violence often associated with many religions, so I’ll reject any theological stance that could lead to violence. I don’t agree with the exclusive claims of conservative Jews, so I’ll remain more open-minded than that.”
The result is a view of “god” not based on any sacred tradition or holy book, but only pulled together on the basis of personal preference. What you end up with is a highly individualized, made-to-order deity.
We can now answer the previously posed question regarding authority:
Christians look to the Bible.
Muslims look to the Koran.
Post-modern secularists look to The Self.
Indeed. This conception of god is little more than a projection of personal desires onto the spiritual realm.
The present consensus is that The Sacred Self is the authority for crafting a vision of the divine.
This is fascinating, if not slightly disturbing, to consider in light of the traditional purpose for seeking ultimate truth. For most of history, human beings have sought the divine for the purpose of aligning our lives with that Ultimate Truth beyond the cosmos. But today, the opposite is true: we command the Ultimate Truth to align with us.
If our vision of god is totally determined by our personal preferences, then we will never be challenged to submit to god; instead, god will submit to us. Instead of being molded and shaped by god, god is molded and shaped by us. God is no longer the potter; instead, he’s become the clay.
This conception of the divine hardly meets the qualifications for what we would consider to be “a god”. Instead, it’s more of a comfort object. It soothes our anxiety. It assures us despite our insecurities. It cheers us onward—no matter what direction “onward” might be. It leaves us with satisfying answers to some of life’s biggest questions.
If we ask, “Why should this deity be kind to me after I die?” The answer is simple, “Because I think he/she/it should be.”
If we ask, “Why should my actions and decisions be supported by this deity?” The response is clear, “Because I’ve determined my actions are morally positive, and therefore, any halfway decent deity, or at least, any deity half as decent as me (!), surely must lend their support.”
This is a convenient arrangement. It certainly eases the conscience.
But if there is, in fact, an Ultimate Truth out there beyond the cosmos, then we must grant that this Truth isn’t perpetually performing acrobatic feats of flexibility to bend to the constantly changing whims of western spirituality.
More likely, this Ultimate Truth is static. Unchanging. Ancient.
More likely, this Ultimate Truth invites you to get in line with him.