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?

Need and desire

Why “Need,” and not “Desire”?

My wise friend H did not like my formulation, I am Love, Will, Playfulness, Curiosity, Need, Courage. She pointed out “Need” sounds, well, needy. Needy is not good. Adults get their needs through exchange, economically or socially, and needy is needing without having something to exchange- though lots of people like to think of themselves as Charitable therefore Good, so the giving is the reward in itself; and some may be altruistic.

I picked “Need” because some needs are very basic, and I have them. I need food and shelter. Without these I die. They are not mere desires- there are moral rules around how one may satisfy desires, which do not so clearly apply to needs. Particularly, I have moral scruples around desires, which may be over-scrupulous, and working out what are my Needs as a way of surviving.

I am still unlearning my toddler’s lessons, and learning more worthwhile toddler lessons. I  learned I am worthless. I wanted to hide away. I wanted not to impinge. So I did not know what my desires were. They could not and should not be granted.

I need society. I need human interaction. Too much alone, I shrivel up. It is not just a desire.

I need safety. This one is really strange. A troll posted on a Quaker facebook group a 22 minute video arguing that “Evolution is not just highly unlikely, but impossible”. The point of the video was that as we do not yet understand how abiogenesis, the start of life from non-living matter, could happen, God must have done it. It enraged me, then I was weeping at the horror of it, and I am not sure why. I expect Quakers to seek the truth as they best can. I know Biblical literalists have this deep need to believe in Biblical creation, and that makes them impugn the integrity of evolutionists; at any rate they believe something I find false, and no argument across the aisle will produce agreement. As we do not know the truth about abiogenesis, a person of integrity may posit their best guess. People can be wrong in an interesting way.

Perhaps I can tolerate a certain level of precariousness, but at that level small threats become too much. I expect to trust people here. I find I cannot- and the bottom falls out of my world-

This Need not Desire is a toddler’s eye view. Toddlers have little agency. Adults should have the ability to choose what they want, and gain it. I don’t have strong belief in my agency. Too many experiences have contradicted such belief. This might have some link to the inexplicable Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

The moral imperative works the other way. I have need- and I have value, so it is a moral imperative to preserve me, and fulfil my needs. And, I may graduate to desire, when I reach teenage. Baby steps…