What is God?

I am an atheist materialist Quaker. I find meeting for worship, the Quaker business method, and the Quaker community work, and if I am right that the God as an independent entity George Fox, or convinced Quakers now, might have believed in does not exist, they would work in an accidental universe. Before, I have said “I am emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”; and now that does not work so well for me, as so many spiritual practices, such as attuning to the Now, seem utterly bound up in being a physical animal.

I don’t object to others’ conceptions of God. The idea of Panentheism, God in everything, is attractive as there is a life force. Life never gives up the struggle to survive, it takes in energy and produces action. The life force started on Earth when life started here and before then there was energy, movement and possibility. This life force produces healing, so that as a wounded body heals so does a wounded psyche. My proper attitude to things outside my skin is wonder and love, because this is the Kingdom of God or the Republic of Heaven, and that is what receiving it like a little child means to me. Spiritual writings which speak to people speak truth in metaphor if they are not literally true.

Working with my psychotherapist I identify a Real Me, where my motivation, desire, delight and creativity reside, and a guard which slams the door on it, as in childhood I learned that spontaneous self-expression was dangerous. That might fit the “ego” in this Richard Rohr meditation. I am unsure about the word “ego” as I associate it with Freud, and the id, that contains sexual and aggressive drives and hidden memories, and the super-ego, a moral conscience, with Freud’s “ego” mediating between the two. My “Real me” appears strongly pro-social, and that fits my idea of humanity as a social animal. I need my society to survive, let alone thrive. The guard wants to be sensible and safe, to fit in to external requirements, not to be individual.

Then there was the “Reptile brain” where the four Fs reside, feeding, fleeing, fighting and the sexual drive, but I think I read somewhere that reptiles, too, have hindbrain midbrain and forebrain. Neuroanatomy and neuropsychology are moving, and I don’t want to cling to half-remembered, imperfectly understood scientific ideas mediated by journalists, even if I am right to be materialist and all experience depends on neurons and dendrites. Reading that linked article shows Freud’s id and ego to be more complex than my conception of them.

I want to be sensible and safe, but more as well. I want to integrate myself better. It felt as if the guard or ego were a mask, that I moved through the world with the mask welded on, but that speaking without the mask could be scary, so I wanted to have it to hand if required. I can wear a face like the one Eleanor Rigby keeps in a jar by the door, if I know I can take it off, that I can use its attributes, or be playful as I desire, spontaneously.

Is that “Real me” my inner light? It seems to me Good, as Walt Whitman says “every part hearty and clean”, made by God to be “Very good”. I don’t want an inadequate understanding of what is good to hobble me, to deny parts of that self and hide them in Shadow or project them on others. Quakers might do that. New England Yearly Meeting query 6 makes a distinction that is not as rigid as Freud’s superego/id, but appears rigorous: “Do you recognize divinely inspired insight? Can you distinguish between divine leadings and your own needs or desires?”

The distinction, to me, seems to be between a desire which has life and fire in it, which might mean for me flirting with this particular woman now, or organising a Meeting for Worship where people who have not found Friends might be particularly open to trying it, and an idea which appears righteous, but is more going through the motions, and when it does not work we are discouraged. It’s between what is worth trying and what isn’t, not between what is divine and what is selfish.

That could be a fault in Quakerism, so that I should leave. So much of our language- “Inner light”, “That of God”, “Spirit”- could be used to mean what is righteous and pro-social rather than selfish. Or I could define “selfish” out of existence, caging the concept in: pair-bonding is good, so I absolutely should flirt with that woman Now.

That “Real me” contains the four Fs as well as my most pro-social instincts. Then again, if Richard Rohr’s Catholicism is big enough to contain “the unified field of life itself”, or “nondual consciousness”, surely Quakerism is. Perhaps Quakers are peculiarly communal. I know  psychopaths exist, but Quakers’ “own needs or desires” may seek the good of the community. Perhaps that query means the desires of my Guard or the non-Freudian Ego, to be Normal and to fit in, to Seem rather than to Be.

There is another Good that is split from Bad: my friend with a wonderful gift of expression wrote of her friend, who “moves through the world like light bouncing off water” yet can be “still, grounded, centred, warming others like a Summer day.” Beside that, anyone might feel “stuck to the ground, heavy, hopeless, forgotten”. To we who are depressive, our lack of energy can appear morally bad, and that harmful idea gets enough affirmation from society to keep it simmering.

What is God? I am is God.
I make mistakes, and I am is God.
I get hurt and have painful feelings, and I am is God.
I need the world, and society, to support me, and I am is God.
I will die and be a memory, and We are is God.
The words are merely words, and I am, We are.

All this comes from my experience. What comes from yours?

13 thoughts on “What is God?

  1. God is the generative energy of life that is reflected in all things living it is the energy in dark matter and in the five elements we are all connected through. Godvis the energy that made up DNA. The frewuency vibration that caused the big bang or cosmic orgasm that created everything that followed. We are all a resonant energy of that enershia.that is God. We are all of God , God is us and much much more.

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  2. God is about a connection between people and even other lifeforms. Think of it a bit like the internet – there is no single piece you can remove and have “the internet”, equally, there is no physical part that is God.
    It is a case where the total is greater than the sum of it’s parts.


    • I would think of that as panentheism, God in everything, or possibly pantheism, everything is God. Would you accept either of these terms?
      Does it matter that it is a connection between lifeforms rather than between things- is there “that of God” in the Sun, or not?


      • Not really – in my model, while everything can have the potential to link into God, that doesn’t mean it always does, or even ever does. Like your mobile phone has the potential to be linked into the internet, if you’re in an area with no signal then it can’t. You could even switch it into airplane mode and disable to ability for it to try to connect.


  3. You appear to have a deeply humanist perspective and philosophy. Personally, I do not know if man is a construct of God or god a construct of Man. I am not even sure if, deep down, this is particularly important. It appears to be to some but not to others. However, my only observation is that open mind should not close the door on either perspective or possibility.

    I have always viewed life from two different perspectives. That which separates and divides us and makes our life and experience truly unique. And that which unites and connects us and makes us feel whole. I increasingly feel that these are different fruits from the same tree. So, as I harvest the fruits, I try to work my way down the trunk to the roots to see if I can glean some sense of the seed.

    Whatever perspective we adopt (atheist, agnostic or theist), there can be little doubt that there is a great mystery at the heart of life and the universe. It seems to me that, how we perceive that mystery, shapes our lives and our world. As above, so below.

    What I have also experienced is that when we are silent, and centre ourselves, there is an inner ? that can teach us and guide us and bring some sense of revelation, connection and unity. That may come from the divine or simply a place within our inner world that is more whole and less fractured. I have found it a loving and healing place albeit easily lost in the clamour of an outer world that distracts and grabs our attention.


  4. I certainly have an Eleanor Rigby face, as few see the darkness beneath. I also have a relationship with a deity I don’t any longer believe in, but am tending more towards a more mother earth focus, really. I have long been a Pantheist; well before becoming a Quaker and feel that the healing lifeforce throughout all of nature and the creative force within which taps into it also. However I don’t think you should quit Quakers due to feeling imperfect as we all are and which Quakers do acknowledge and I also believe that selfcare is part of giving to the community, for what use are you to anyone if too knackered to get up off the floor!?


  5. “God is not a being. God is an experience. God is a verb, not a noun. God comes to us in the profound flashes of insight that cut through the darkness, in the hope that permits human beings to cope with inevitable pain, despair, and suffering. God comes in the healing solidarity of love and self-sacrifice. But God and the vagaries of human existence, including suffering, are beyond our capacity to explain or understand.” Journalist, author, and former seminarian Chris Hedges. I am most often agnostic, frequently atheist, but this explanation, if you will, of God strikes a chord with me.


    • Welcome, Rob. Thank you for sharing that.

      ADDED: On facebook, people wrote:

      1. I’m an atheist. And I align with Quakers. One doesn’t have to believe in God to ascribe to Quaker values and lifestyle. In terms of an organization or a community, to paraphrase Foucault, don’t concentrate on ideology or reputation. Look at the work they actually do.

      2. I would say don’t fixate on God.
        Quakers share a practise not beliefs, though we tend to share values.
        The Quaker Meeting as a meta definition is a space for a person to explore their beliefs and how they should live them. To take your bearings and adjust course if necessary. They may be informed by the life journeys, philosophies and belief in God (or not) of those they share the experience with, but they should not be lead by them>
        As an aside the version of God that resonated with me was written in ‘A Personal Christology’ by Eric Holtum, a botanist who wrote this (approximately from memory).
        ‘When we die we can watch the body rot away to nothing, so if any part of us survives, perhaps it is the soul which becomes a part of the spiritual environment which some call God’
        Works for me (so far).

      3. Thee may be more of a believer than thee thinks…. “By their fruits shall ye know them”. Mat7:20,,, “”. The Humble, Meek, Merciful, Just, Pious and Devout Souls, are everywhere of one Religion; and when Death has taken off the Mask, they will know one another, tho’ the divers Liveries they wear here make them Strangers.”” = William Penn, = Some Fruits of Solitude.=

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