The past few readings have explored the Unitarian Universalist perspective of the human place in the natural world, particularly in the context of evolutionary science. But what of our understanding of the concept of God, in the light of scientific progress? Indeed, many among our number have dismissed the idea of a deity as irrelevant.
However, evolutionary evangelist Rev. Michael Dowd has a way of bringing the language of faith into a marriage with scientific language in his new book, Thank God for Evolution! He argues that we need not abandon the language of religion as we discover more about the Universe around us, but that the use of metaphor is a valuable insight into the human experience of the Universe. His view of God is much larger than the traditional personal deity described in many faiths relying on what he terms “flat earth” theology, or theology developed when humanity knew the earth was flat and orbited by the sun. Science and religion can exist in a greater harmony, in this view, and enhance each other as we search for meaning in our lives.
The entire book is available as a free download at thankgodforevolution.com, and is very thought-provoking reading.
Experiencing God versus Thinking about God
from Thank God For Evolution!, by Rev. Michael Dowd
“Thinking about God is no substitute for tasting God, and talking about God is no substitute for giving people ways of experiencing God.” — MATTHEW FOX
Our hominid ancestors experienced Reality as divine. For them, Nature was majestic, mysterious, awesome, benevolent, occasionally severe, all-powerful, nourishing, and more. Virtually every human attribute (the bad, as well as the good) was not only mirrored but also magnified in the mysterious forces of the natural world. Our ancestors experienced Reality this way long before words would label the experience—indeed, before there were verbalized beliefs of any kind. Most beliefs, rational and irrational, spring from the womb of symbolic language.
As our human ancestors began using words to tell stories about why reality is as it is and how it came to be, they naturally used the flora, fauna, climate, topography, and social relationships familiar to them as their source of analogies. The metaphors in use when writing entered the worlds of our cultural antecedents are still with us, for example, in the Judeo-Christian tradition: “The Lord is my shepherd,” “the lamb of God,” “smaller than a mustard seed,” “thy Kingdom come,” “gates of heaven,” “fires of Hell,” “the throne of God,” “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” “he is my shield and the horn of my salvation,” and many more.
Every metaphor or belief about Ultimacy or divinity has its origin in a people’s relationship with the world around them. Each symbolically points to something that was once widely accepted as accurately reflecting what is real and what matters to a particular people in a particular bioregion. Said another way, all religious stories, metaphors, and spiritual beliefs are true in this sense: they are true to a people’s experience of the world.
If we imagine God as beautiful, gracious, loving, awesome, powerful, majestic, or faithful, it is because we have known or experienced beauty, grace, love, awe, power, majesty, or trustworthiness in the world. As Thomas Berry has said, “If we lived on the moon and that’s all we and our ancestors had ever known, all our concepts and experience of the divine would reflect the barrenness of the lunar landscape.” Thankfully, we are not confined to a barren moon, but can rejoice as part of a flourishing, intensely creative Earth and a vast and awesomely beautiful Universe that call forth our richest images of God.
For example, we can now understand that a “God’s eye view of the world” is not merely the objective, transcendent perspective—the view from above or beyond nature. If God truly is omnipresent and immanent (as traditional theologies have claimed and the evolutionary story suggests), then a God’s eye view of the world must also include the subjective experience of every creature. What dolphins and fishes see, what bats and birds see, what spiders and dragonflies see: all must be included. For me, God is thus not only Love but also Infinite Compassion. God feels the pain and suffering of all creatures—from the inside. Those who think they can love God and trash the environment, or oppress others, must be blind, utterly, to the immanence and omnipresence of the divine. When we truly get the nested emergent nature of divine creativity, we know that our love of nature and our love of one another are essential aspects of our love of God.
“What does God look like on the inside?”
One of the things we love most about our itinerant lifestyle, and about being invited into so many homes, is the occasional factoid, idea, or quotable quote that we acquire from our hosts. Here is a gem I picked up in northern Indiana early in our travels and have been using ever since. Doug Germann, a Lutheran Great Story enthusiast, offered: “What does God look like on the outside? God only knows! What does God look like on the inside? Look around you. Look into another’s eyes. Look deeply into your own heart.”
- God is the Mystery at the Center of our amazement that the Universe is here at all, that it is what it is, and that it is always becoming, yet always somehow whole.
- God is the Mystery at the Heart of consciousness, conscience, compassion, and all the other forms of co-creative, co-incarnational responsiveness of life to life.
- God is the Mysterious Omni-Creative Power through which the Universe is and ever becomes more intricately and wondrously fulfilled through the interactions of all its parts (each of which contains a spark of the Whole).
Because of the symbolic nature of human language, no one way of thinking or speaking about the Whole of Reality can encompass more than a fraction of all there is to know and express about the Whole. All religious beliefs and stories are metaphorical. They are symbolic statements intended to help us understand the world, our place in it, and how, when, where, and why to cooperate as groups. Such beliefs and stories are all still useful to a degree—and all are limited. Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams offer wise counsel: “Metaphors are powerful and can be perilous, but the danger can’t be avoided by locking them in a drawer. Our best defense against their possible misuse is to encompass them in a higher understanding.”
“It takes an entire Universe to make an apple pie.” — CARL SAGAN
Source: “Experiencing God versus Thinking about God,” from Thank God For Evolution!, by Rev. Michael Dowd, Chapter 6, pages 95-97. A free download of the entire book is available at thankgodforevolution.com.Tags: connection, deepening, evolution, God, language, metaphor, Michael Dowd, science