In response to a comment left on Sunday's post concerning whether Science refutes God, I made the remark that I wished more people would consider the benefits of a metaphorical understanding of God. My esteemed reader Zoe picked up on that and asked if I had a post dealing with these benefits, or if I didn't would I consider writing one.
Actually, my ideas about these benefits are scattered throughout many posts here. In a real sense that is the reason Groping The Elephant exists: to explain why I left the fundamentalist Christianity of my childhood and how I am putting together a worldview to replace the one I dismissed.
What I'm doing here is a bit controversial. Do I speak out of both sides of my mouth, so as to speak? Am I a rationalist or a religious/spiritual thinker? Readers on either side of that divide have taken my ideas to task at one time or another, and I welcome that. Really. It sharpens my thinking, causes me to ruminate more on things. Some of you may stand about where I stand, if I understand your comments correctly.
All I can really do is explain how I see things and hope that may prove helpful or at least interesting to my readers.
My worldview is like a coin: it has two sides. Nevertheless, I see it is a whole, not either/or but both/and. And that, dear readers, is what I believe to be the main benefit of my approach: it is unifying rather dividing.
Let me try to explain that.
We humans have been superstitious/religious from early on in our history. Religion was the original tool we used to make sense of the universe around us before we developed the scientific method. Science wins hands-down as the proper method for discovering truth, and the benefits of scientific knowledge are too vast to begin to enumerate. Still, religion hasn't gone away. Nor do I think it must. Religious or spiritual ideas still are meaningful for many of us. These ideas just needs to be fine-tuned, I believe.
Let me stop right here to insert a quote I've used before on my blog, but one that really speaks to my outlook. It is from the old German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“He who possesses art and science has religion; he who does not possess them, needs religion.”
For me, understanding God as a metaphor for the creative and organizing forces behind the Cosmos - if you will, the Logos the ancients sometimes spoke of - as revealed in existence itself means that science is the true theology.
That itself is a unifying concept. For if we could travel the world and speak to the various traditional religionists in different locations in order to discover the many different things they imagine that gods have revealed to humans down through the centuries through prophets, holy men, and divine revelations, honesty would compel us to admit that either there are indeed many different deities, or perhaps one grand deity who is a bit of jokester - or, as I think is the case, all the followers of "divinely revealed" religion are mistaken about the matter.
Studying strictly the reality we know and ignoring any imagined transcendental reality that allegedly lies hidden beyond the scope of science, we are presented with a fairly consistent worldview. Speak to a scientist in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Americas, wherever and the laws of physics hold true for all of them. But as I suggested, it just wouldn't, couldn't be the same way with the transcendental thinking of representatives from the various religions of the world.
Therefore, I reiterate that science is the true theology.
Then there is the other matter Goethe mentioned: art or aesthetics. Dictionary.com has a really helpful definition of the word art, its primary definition being
the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
And there, I believe, lies the other major component of man's religious impulse. It is an imaginary world, a realm of beauty and truth - an idealistic truth, I might add, rather than the cold, hard, factual truth the sciences reveal to us.
Also, I am a religious humanist as much as I am a religious naturalist (pantheist). In fact, I recognize that we humans are just animals of a higher intellectual quality than our fellow creatures - but animals nonetheless. However, we have labored from time immemorial under the illusion that we are something a bit more than the common brute animals that share the planet with us.
If we can again think of God metaphorically and imagine that God and religion represents our highest ideals, our maximum state of refinement and development, our ultimate expression of our reason for doing what we ought to do rather than only what we want to do, then we can begin to truly appreciate the attraction of religion, its mythology, its iconography, its hymnology, its ritual, etc. Of such is the art of the spiritual mind.
Of course it goes without saying that there is good art and there is bad art. That is why I embrace both sides of my coin. It is the reason I use science as theology. It helps keep my imagination from running wild and going astray. Or to put it the way another of my inspirations, Albert Einstein, put it:
Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
And here, I think, is a good place to leave off for now. I haven't said everything there is to say on the subject. In fact, I'm still at work refining my thinking here. This post, and all my posts, should be considered nothing more than approaches, for I - like the universe I am a part of - am a work in progress.
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs.
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox