Nontheist words for God within

I am a Quaker, at least a liberal, unprogrammed Quaker. I know that sitting in silence has value. I know that a business meeting seeking “God’s loving purposes,” and together agreeing a minute, has value.

I believe I am an evolved animal in a material universe. My cosmology has no room for a creator spirit outside time, in some way inspiring Ministry. Consciousness and inspiration are manifestations of brain tissue.

I believe in common humanity. Just as cats have an instinct to hunt, so we have instincts which mould the way we form communities, which are innate though affected by culture. If a lion could speak we could not understand it, but we can learn to understand any human being.

I know the experience of being moved to speak, of words coming from my unconscious, and see why they seem divine. I see others having similar experiences, and value what they say. I accept Carl Rogers’ concepts of the organismic self, a life form fulfilling its needs as a social being, and a self-concept, an understanding of self which is less than the whole.

What speaks when I minister? I muddle along with Quaker words from when people believed in the Creator- the inner light, God within. I am influenced by the idea of critical realism. We have senses and brains attuned to meet our needs, not to know objective truth about the real world. So there is a real world, but it is unknowable. We only guess about it. I cannot know the truth about the world or myself, but with application I can approach it more closely.

I am a human being with conscious, conventional ideas about who I am, what I ought to like, what I ought to be, and underneath an unconscious which needs society to survive and is strongly communitarian. Sitting in the silence, the unconscious becomes conscious.

Spiritual Quaker concepts of “inner light” mould my understanding. I believe the conventional, conscious self-concept is an untrustworthy guide, and that beneath, in my unconscious, is a loving, beautiful- something. If I let the Something guide me, I will live better. I desire eudaimonia.

I am trans, and so have a particular experience of “god within”. Like many trans women, I fought hard to make a man of myself, always feeling myself inadequate. When I first perceived God within, she was feminine, and so terrifying, tearing down my fake manliness. She did not fit my self-concept at all. So I have more contempt for the conventional, conscious self-understanding than someone whose self-concept fits their real self better. But self-concepts rarely entirely fit the whole human. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said: “When you undress without being ashamed and take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample on them, then you will see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.” The self-concept is filthy rags which do not cover our nakedness, a cracked cistern which holds no water, an idol.

Behind the rightness or wrongness of things, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

My sexuality also seems relevant. I have a need to surrender, to open up like a flower to the right, complementary person. It seems to me that a God within a human who is fulfilled by surrender would be different to a God within a human blessed with complementary qualities.

Rhiannon Grant says the term “inner light” is problematic in a society dominated by white privilege, and calls on nontheist “poets and prophets” to create new language to express our perspectives. Here are the words I have used to myself, in attempting to understand that which is within.

The Something

There is “Something inside so strong”, but my conscious mind, with its conventional ideas, cannot know it. And I do not fully trust it. 1 John 4:1 tells us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God”, and Quakers test our concerns in meeting. I need the help of my Friends to know my leading is right, though sometimes I will go with my leading though no Friend supports me. It is- Something. I do not always want to bind it by referring to its attributes, which I do not fully understand. A more precise word might mislead me. This fits apophatic theology, approaching a God too great for me to know.

The Vulnerable bit

That was what I called it when I first perceived it. “I”- here, the word means my conscious self. That conscious self thought it was the whole of me, the whole of this physical being or process, and then it perceived something more, something apparently vulnerable, hurting, crushed, which nevertheless had the strength to come to light, like seedlings, apparently so small, soft and weak, “take hold on the loam, acquire the air”. The “seed” is Isaac Penington’s metaphor.

Vulnerable, feminine, despised by my self-concept of manhood. It is a trans experience; but the idea of the “self-concept” differing from the organismic self shows that none of us completely match our Seed, and have crushed it below consciousness. Yet it makes itself heard.

The Real me.

Behind convention and introjected ideas of who I ought to be, there is a Real me. Again, trans ideas influence this: I am really female despite my male appearance. Psychologists find humans malleable, able to fit their circumstances and able to rationalise fitting, so as to be comfortable with it.

I know I can speak from my integrity, which is hard-won. I have written of my recent experience of revealing God within.

Given that we are organic evolved beings, the world is unknowable, unpredictable and weird. So why not personify it? I am toying with the idea of using the word God for the consequences of human actions. We warm the planet. Lytton in British Columbia reaches the hottest temperature recorded in Canada, and the next day is incinerated by God’s wrath. The oceans absorb CO2 from the air, by God’s mercy. We are God’s hands.

Words which speak truth to people will be adopted.

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