Last week, I discussed how the word “atheist” can mean different things to different people. It could refer to degrees of unbelief like strong or weak atheists. It could refer to one’s activity — like an anti-theist who actively promotes atheism and puts down theism, and so on. The point here being that someone calling himself an atheist may mean one thing while other people who hear the pronouncement may have another idea in their heads of what an atheist is.
The same can be said for the word “God” which can also mean different things for different people.
Many of the ancients believed in a pantheon of Gods. There was a God or Goddess for different kinds of phenomena or domain. Hence we read of a God of Thunder, a Goddess of Beauty, a Goddess of War, or a God of Death.
For Christians, Muslims, Jews or almost any monotheistic religion, God is the Creator, the Supreme Being. He is perfect, eternal, omnipresent and omniscient. They also believe that God intervenes in worldly affairs. Prayers can move him to act in certain ways, and he acts as the final judge and arbiter of one’s fate when one dies.
For some such as pantheists, God is not separate at all from creation but lives in and through every being. Everyone and everything is a different surface in the infinitely-faceted gem called God.
For others, God is simply a state of being, an attainment of perfection or what buddhists call Nirvana. It is as if a drop returns to the ocean or a part once again becoming whole.
Now I consider myself an atheist if God were defined according to the first two descriptions I outlined above. While I do not say that I am sure there is no God (of that sort), I live my life as if there were none. I do not depend on prayers. I recognize that bad things happen even to good people, and that’s just how life is. You work hard and strive hard, and sometimes you get lucky and win the jackpot of life.
I don’t believe there’s a guy up there keeping a scorecard or a record of your deeds, then giving you a pass or fail mark at the end of your life. Yes, with respect to that, you can call me an atheist.
However, of the latter definitions of God, I cannot really say anything against them. Perhaps because they render the point of belief moot. If I am a facet of God, what would it matter if I believed in God? And if God were a mystery, what is the point of striving to understand? The more important thing would be to live a life worth living, because, well, what else can you do?
I believe that if there were a God, then he, she or it would be a mystery too deep to be fathomed by our minds. Any attempts to describe or define him fall short. It is like using a thermometer to measure what shade of red a wall is. It is like trying to describe to someone what a rose smells like, or trying to describe what a green mango tastes like. Yes, it’s sour, but is it sour like vinegar? Nope. Is it sour like a lemon? Not that too. We simply do not have the proper instrument nor words to adequately express the experience.
So saying that I am an atheist who believes in God is a way of nudging the reader into looking past the obvious paradox and thinking about what the words really mean, to fight the initial impulse to consider it nonsense (although many still will do that), and to do your own reflection.
Some eastern mystics describe the dynamic between God and creation as dancer and dance. When you look at the dance, you are also looking at the dancer. They are forever intertwined. When the dancer stops, there is no dance to speak of.
I don’t know why but this is an image of God that I find endearing.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.