What is more likely? That God made us in his image or that we made God in ours? My eldest son has finally given up his belief in Father Christmas. Last year we had to put the apostate in isolation in order to avoid the idea spreading to his younger brothers. What was doubt now hung like betrayal on every breath, he blamed me, it was after all I that maintained the fiction, that’s secondary school for you, unpicker of weaves. Not that I feel entirely culpable, I did give him a choice, as I have with all my sons, Father Christmas is real for as long as you believe in him, I said. To be honest I am surprised the big guy lasted this long. God didn’t, but then I prefer to educate my boys in the ways of the Jedi. Regardless of this my children are all Christened, not because I have any Christian faith but precisely because I don’t. My slightly Anglican wife wanted to do it, make them all part of the tribe, give them some English identity, she looked to me for objections but I didn’t have any. I like Anglicans, I don’t share their beliefs but I have always found them generous, kindly and accepting. We were married in an Anglican church and I didn’t feel in the slightest bit hypocritical, more importantly the vicar knew about my lack of observance and didn’t feel hypocritical either. I know this is not everyone’s experience but it is mine and is all I have to go on and this is kind of my point. God is subjective.
God finds himself in a very fortunate position, and I will refer to him as a him for simplicity’s sake, his existence, regardless of the intellectual forces ranged against him, is impossible to disprove. It is also of course impossible to prove, it’s why science is so constantly miffed, it has to prove everything and always takes a kicking when things go wrong, not so God. If your house burns down and your cat survives you are more likely to thank God for saving your cat than blame him for burning your house down. God’s mercy is taken on faith and faith resides in the grateful head of the believer. That faith is undeniably real, but what is it actually faithful to? What is God? Yup, I really am about to go there.
To the best of my understanding the human mind is effectively a closed system, everything we actually are is sealed in tight, the only external contact the individual mind has is through his or her senses, senses that give the illusion of contact but in fact merely relay the outside world to us through the biological equivalent of optical fibre. Nothing gets in, not sights nor sounds, not love nor hate, not misery or joy, these are all responses to piped stimuli, manufactured by our brains, as are demons, spirits and ghosts, holy or otherwise. Nothing. Gets. In.
No matter how many times it is said the brain is a truly extraordinary machine. If advanced technology is indeed indistinguishable from magic then the brain is undoubtedly magic. Not only does it effortlessly run our bodies, a feat which requires unimaginable processing power, it also gives rise to and supports the individual personality. Brains however are not inviolate and can be affected externally by various means, chemically, electronically, through infection, injury or lack of oxygen thus compromising or altering their ability to maintain the mind. Memories can be wiped, emotions manipulated, connections cut. Brains can be washed. And yet despite all of this, so long as there is no permanent physical damage, the core personality almost always prevails. The part that knows it is you. It can be confused, misdirected, lost, suffer terrible torments but it still retains its sense of self, the self that lives forever, the immortal mind.
From the moment it recognises itself the immortal mind keeps busy and as a result every one of us creates and carries our very own universe, each containing the sum of all knowledge. Thus the bliss of ignorance can only be witnessed by someone else as what is unknown or unlearnt by the individual does not exist, until it does. Regardless of content these mental universes are vast and so intractable is the distance between them that it may as well be light years but with size comes awe and a great many of us feel the need for an explanation for the huge empty space we feel. When my youngest son wants comfort he puts his forehead against mine as if physical proximity can overcome these insurmountable barriers he is yet too young to understand the answer already lies within him.
I have little doubt that humans are born with an instinct for God already inside them, how it is manifest though is at the mercy of circumstance and the quality of local distraction. It might well be God, or it could just as easily be science or football, in my youngest son’s case it is most probably Luke Skywalker, except in December when Father Christmas is God, which is ironic given that his nickname is an anagram of Satan. This God instinct is not a sign of weakness, or of a feeble mind, it is an innate desire to acknowledge something bigger than ourselves, something that can make sense of our existence and gives us purpose, it is our inner voice and yet it is very easy to confuse it with an external one. It is this confusion that helps support the idea of a single omnipotent God, a God who is credited with, amongst other things, creating our free thinking minds, minds without which God could not exist in the first place as there must first be independent consciousness in order for God to be identified as such. No minds, no God. I have no problem with the idea that humans have the God urge to make them look up, to consider the physical universe and by doing so bring it into being. How’s that for life, the universe and everything? Our very existence is predicated upon our existence. It certainly feels better than this all being an accident or the design of a benign metaphysical entity. As I said earlier, what is more likely, that God made us in his image or that we made him in ours?
None of this serves to deny or diminish God but rather to establish where he lives, if anywhere why not in the immortal mind, in the individual universe? Not one true God but billions of potential ones. Increasingly though, in the west at least, that potential goes untapped as the only idea of God we have is singular yet divided and so often turned against us, is it any wonder we are now so willing to believe in anything? For millions of others however, the God instinct is wish fulfillment and the mind that created it is guided by familiars to see it not as something inside looking out but as something outside looking in, something known. This is where religion comes in.
Religion understands how to work an audience, how to inspire community, fellowship, partisanship, how to bring many willing minds together and how to assign a significant other to their ineffable collective yearning. Religion doesn’t create God, or speak for God, it manages God, manages expectation. It records the God myths, it perpetuates the mystery, dictates the rules, builds the churches. I am a great admirer of churches and especially enjoy the feeling I get inside them when they are empty, it is one of abeyance, of anticipation, of possibilty, it is almost exactly the same feeling I get in an empty theatre only with much better architecture. Every theatregoer who attends a performance does so as an individual but collectively they become an audience, linked by hopes, desires and common interest. An audience can be made up of as few as two people but the bigger the better and being a member of a large audience is often the closest we come to a truly shared experience. When we observe something collectively it takes on a super reality, becomes more than it actually is, it is why stand up comedians are so much funnier on stage than on TV and why music that has moved me to tears in an auditorium is nice accompaniment for peeling carrots at home. I suspect this is why the most successful modern churches are huge, they present God as divine spectacle, as entertainment, churches have become venues for God, the musical.
The payoff for all this devotion is of course heaven, although I have to admit that a communal heaven is not my idea of, well, heaven. I’m not very good with people I don’t know, so it is probably just as well that heaven is not really compatible with my immortal mind theory. I am quite certain I know what happens at the end but as it only applies to me I had better not tell you. I have no idea what happens to anyone else, I could say I do but the human mind confounds me so regularly that quite frankly anything is possible. Not that it matters, you can believe whatever you like whilst you are alive, if you so choose your God is most certainly waiting, in the end you will either be right or wrong and if you are wrong you won’t know it. In the meantime however it is probably best to enjoy the ride, live the one life and take advantage of being a member of the most extraordinary race of creatures in the known physical universe.
Being pro Homo Sapien is something of a hard sell of late as it has become very fashionable to bash the humans. Big thinkers are constantly arguing that we are nothing special, that we probably don’t even have free will, completely missing the point of how evolved and self determining one has to be to make those observations. These opinions are often accompanied by the assertion that we are damaging our planet, which we are not, we are damaging the current ecosystem, one which took millions of years to get right, that we share with countless other creatures and which provides perfect conditions for humans to prosper. We shouldn’t change our behaviour to save the planet, it will be fine, we should change it to save ourselves. We are worth saving.
Humans are magnificent, people maybe not so great, but humans are completely peerless, who but a human could have invented the curly wurly? The idea that the Earth would be better off without us is risible, without us there is no Earth. This is not hubris or self delusion this is indisputable, existence would not thank us if we tore out its consciousness. On our planet, and it is our planet, we have risen from nothing to everything, no other animal compares, not dolphins, not chimps, not meerkats. There is no close second and despite our increasingly desperate searches of the infinite it seems highly unlikely that we will ever discover competition elsewhere. We are alone, and this is a good thing, alone to recognise that the private universe that lives for a fleeting time within each of us is all there is, all there can ever be. If we feel the need for a God to illuminate that universe then why not, so long as we understand that he is our responsibility, that we created him and that any misdeeds done in his name, whatever that name might be, are in fact done in ours.