The Psychology of God (Part 1 of 2)

A reader comments: Unfortunately, most people who believe in God have never bothered, and are probably afraid, to define ‘God.’ A word like that, left undefined, is, I think, a very destructive thing over time. After many years of not thinking about it, a person could lose whatever concept he may have had about what God is.

The reader makes a good point.

‘God’ is an undefined, subjective concept. Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers ever, talked in terms of a ‘prime mover,’ meaning the entity that created all of existence in the first place. The problem with this argument, coming from an otherwise rational perspective, is that someone or something had to create the creator.

It’s an endless regress (according to the very principles of logic Aristotle himself articulated). You cannot use logic (i.e., the premise that there must be a cause of existence) to prove there’s a God, because there’s no way of reducing all of existence in that way.

Probably the most common factor animating a belief in a subjective Higher Power is fear. Those exposed to specific religions might internalize a fear of something. A Catholic or fundamentalist Christian, for example, might fear hell. Others might fear the wrath of God in this life, as well. Still others are afraid of facing life alone.

Put bluntly but also frankly, many cannot stand the idea of going through life without their invisible friend that they imagine to be on their side. Such a fear arises in a void. The void is where confidence in human reason —one’s own, but also others’ reasoning as advanced over the centuries through science and business (where they’re permitted).

The root psychological cause of rejecting supernatural faith is confidence in reason. Confidence in reason comes from exposure to, and agreement with, a rational philosophy that holds reason as the final judge of truth and the means of human survival.

In short, all things good come from man-made reason. If you agree with this, you will not be a fervent believer in God and at a minimum you’ll be an indifferent agnostic, and if fully consistent, an atheist who rejects any notion of arbitrary faith.

Most people who reject or question the notion of ‘God,’ merely transfer the fuzzy concept to a totally subjective one. Twelve Step programs, for example, do not wish to promote conventional or organized religion. But they do insist that there is a ‘Higher Power’ which consists of ‘the God of your understanding.’

A lot of people who call themselves ‘spiritual’ while not being religious are really advancing subjectivism as their religion. In other words, they believe, ‘What’s in my feelings and consciousness determines what’s beautiful and real.’

This view of subjectivism is, of course, completely wrong. While it’s possible there is love of beauty in your consciousness, you cannot ascribe this to some external mystical force residing within you. You can credit your values, your mind, and your emotions — created by your own chosen, deepest values — for all that beauty within your ‘soul’ or mind.

Some have said to me, ‘Have you ever seen a sunset? Have you ever seen the awesome natural beauty of places like Alaska and Hawaii? Can you watch nature in motion and still claim there isn’t a God?’

I cannot comprehend such a question logically. All I can take away from it is, ‘There is beauty in nature. Therefore there must be a God.’ Why so? Can’t nature just be the fundamental starting point, nature with both its beauty (and inherent dangers that man must conquer, by the way)? No answer is given other than to repeat, ‘Somebody had to create all this awesome existence.’ But then who created the Creator? We’re back to the endless regress.

Even sophisticated, educated people (usually the types who ask the question this way) are engaged in the same error as the fundamentalist Christian who says the same thing.

The environmentalists who revere nature for its own sake or the Bible-thumpers going to Sunday service and singing hymns to the Lord; take your pick: They are all fundamentally cut from the same philosophical cloth.

Concluded in tomorrow’s column.


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