Photography: Damon Ross-Walker
To flow between the banks of life;
with murmuring earth and whispering sky;
God shapes us gently.
The God word is always bound to get a reaction.
It scares a lot of people. Mainly because most people have a definition of God in their heads and immediately assume that your definition is the same.
That can be positive or it can be negative. Even atheists have God in their heads, it just happens to be the worst kind of God. Atheists are inclined to create a 'religion' out of non-believing and can be just as fanatical as the theists.
Richard Dawkins is a classic example of how non-belief can be turned into a fanatical religious crusade. Agnostics are the ones in the middle and they sensibly take the position that it is impossible to 'know' if there is a God. Many atheists are actually agnostics. You can tell the difference between an atheist and an agnostic because the former tend to be passionate and absolute in their beliefs and the latter take a calmer and more pragmatic position. Which is very sensible because if there is an ordering and meaningful force at work in the world then there's nothing to get upset about and if there isn't, there's nothing to get upset about either because it's all ultimately meaningless.
It's hard to argue with agnosticism because in a sense there is no absolute way of knowing if there is a God. But then there is no way of empirically proving the existence of Love either and most of us believe in that. We believe in Love because we see the evidence of Love; we see signs which demonstrate its existence. We feel something that we call Love - although it may often be debateable if what we are feeling really is what we call Love- and so we believe in Love. Those who believe in a 'greater force at work in the world' which many call God, do so because they 'feel' this presence; because they see the 'signs'; because while it cannot be emprically proven there is demonstrable evidence of its existence. However, that 'evidence' of God, as with the 'evidence' of Love, is always in the eye of the beholder. God, like Love, cannot be empirically proven, but a belief in God, like a belief in Love, can make for a more joyful and meaningful experience of life.
I use the word God because I believe in God. But in what do I believe? My God may not be your God and it definitely is not God in the most common religious sense. You cannot live a Spiritual Life without a belief in some sort of God. Why would you? God and Spiritual are synonomous and that is because 'spiritual' requires a belief of something beyond the material. I do believe there is something beyond the material. I have spent more than forty years reading about religion, psychology, biology, physics, quantum physics, mind-body, anthropology, archeology, history, cooking, art, poetry, mythology, tarot, numerology, astrology, symbolism, literature, spirituality and everything and anything which might throw some light on how this world works. I have read thousands of books and taken from most of them, bits and pieces which make sense and which 'fit' into a philosophy of life.
I have reached a point in my life where I am absolutely certain that there is purpose and meaning in this world and this life and that means there is a God. Or rather, some greater power which can be called God. And by that I mean, a God which represents a consciousness, an ordering force, a purposeful force, a meaningful force. I don't quite know what God is although cosmic consciousness comes closest for me, but I do believe from all the evidence to hand, that this is a meaningful universe. As Sir James Jeans, the noted British astro physicist said in the 1930's:'The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.'
The more I read the more I saw the connections and one of the most interesting and exciting developments in recent years has been in what is called New Physics where the discoveries echo and validate so many of the ancient spiritual writings about this world and how it began and how it works. And, at a very basic level it is really quite simple. We always have a choice as to what we believe. The glass is half full or it is half empty. Ergo, there is meaning in this life or there is not ... although science, medicine and physics, whether they like it or not, constantly demonstrate the brilliantly ordered meaning and purpose of life. Just as you can't be half pregnant so you cannot half-believe. If something has meaning then everything has meaning. There is either a life beyond this one or there is not. If there is purpose in something then there is purpose in everything.
So the first step is to decide if seeing life as meaningful and purposeful makes sense for you. If I choose to believe there is a life beyond this one and it gives me meaning and purpose and fulfillment then that is a positive thing. If there is no life beyond this one then I will know nothing about it but I will have lived a life of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. Strictly speaking, if one were to sensibly 'hedge bets' then believing in a purposeful life which endures beyond this material world means you are going to be prepared, perhaps well prepared, if you are right. If you are wrong it won't matter in the least because you will not know anything about it and in a random, meaningless, purposeless world anything you believe would be irrelevant anyway.
However, if there is a life beyond this one and I choose to believe there is not, there is only one question to ask:'Does this philosophy suit me?' It doesn't actually, which is why I choose not to take that position but I respect the fact that it suits others. If there is a life beyond this one and people choose not to believe in any form of a God concept then I doubt it holds them back at all on the long spiritual journey through many lives. I suspect they are surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, to find themselves still a conscious being beyond death but I don't believe, if they have lived a meaningful and fulfilled life that being an atheist, agnostic or non-believer matters a toss.
Only one thing matters - how fulfilling do you find your life? Fulfillment is I think a better criteria than happiness, or even peace, because there will always be trying, painful, traumatic times in our lives and we can remain fulfilled even in the midst of the worst of it. Even more so when one finds meaning in the pain. We can endure anything more easily if we can find meaning and purpose in the experience. This goes back to living your own truth.
Some people are perfectly content and live completely fulfilled and comfortable lives believing that there is no greater force at work in the universe and that when you are dead you are dead and that is the end of it. Good for them. That is clearly right for them. But many, if not most, are not comfortable living without some set of beliefs which provide their lives with meaning and purpose. And it doesn't have to be about God. It can be about service to humanity, to the planet, to animals, to birds, to nature, to your children or your parents... that's all God anyway in my book ... but what matters is that there is meaning and purpose. You can actually live a deeply spiritual life without any belief whatsoever in God in any shape or form or any life beyond this one. Some of the most spiritual people I know do exactly this. I happen to be married to one of them.
It might sound a funny thing to say but spirituality is actually far, far more than any belief in a God. So the important thing is to formulate, find, create or discover a set of beliefs about the meaning of life which suit you. For me that is the spiritual and a belief that we are Souls, energy beings, on this earth for one lifetime amongst many to learn and to co-create with God. I don't completely understand this world, or any worlds which may be beyond death and neither do I completely understand my purpose in this life ... perhaps I never will ... but I do strive to gain greater understanding and therein find both purpose and meaning.
It is enough for me that I believe without a doubt that we are all utterly unique for a reason and that uniqueness, or the demonstration and expression of that uniqueness is why we exist. We have only one task in this Life, whether it be our only life or one amongst many and that is to live as our own unique Selves to the very best of our ability and circumstance. But you cannot do that until you know yourself very well. As the ancient Greeks carved upon the lintel of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, to guide followers of the Eleusinian Mysteries: KNOW THYSELF.
Getting to know yourself is the Second, and probably the hardest Lesson on the Spiritual Path.