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?