My current credo is panentheistic: god is here (immanent) and more than here (transcendent). To my way of thinking and believing, this type of “here-and- more -than- here Ultimate Reality” is not – and is not required to be – a creator and/or an intervener.
Those who posit an all-good, all-powerful creator god are bound to produce a theodicy, a model which attempts to explain the existence and persistence of evil in a universe purportedly designed by a perfectly good deity. Among evil’s obvious, observable effects are included all the non-interventions by this putatively all-powerful and all-benevolent god – all the chances missed for interrupting and forestalling evils that at root flow from the very fabric of that god’s “good” creation.
But when one’s definition of god excludes creatorism and interventionism, an entirely new picture of deity emerges. Since according to this view god neither creates nor intervenes, theodicybecomes unnecessary. God can be neither blamed nor praised for worldly conditions whether good or bad. God cannot logically be addressed through petitionary prayer. Moreover, if god is not a creator, then obviously god is not responsible for the world’s evil, and is not obligated to intervene in its material processes. Possibly, even: god does not create or intervene for the simple reason that creation and intervention are not options for god: they are not inherent in God’s nature. This idea certainly conflicts with many religious god-definitions, especially those of the Abrahamic faiths, in which god’s primary role is that of an intervening creator. What good, of what use, adherents of these faiths may ask, is a god that neither creates nor intervenes? Before addressing that question, let’s look again at what creatorism and its companion, theodicy, require.
Most creatorist systems posit that an all-good, all-mighty deity created the universe. But observably the universe is at best indifferent, and at worst, hostile to the feeling beings trapped within it. Suffering, struggle, conflict, waste, and death are among its primary features. It is a slaughterhouse, even if a sometimes beautiful, slaughterhouse. Creatorist religion realizes this and steps in with its various explanatory theodicies. It’s not god’s fault, they (especially the Abrahamic faiths) say – even though god is total love and total power. Rather it is man’s fault: man who deliberately and maliciously killed the inner divine life by a sin of disobedience from which all subsequent ills devolved. Other creatorist traditions chime in with similar excuses. We are not seeing the universe, the world, or life as it was originally created: rather we are seeing a creation damaged by our own (theodicy-explained) sin. Unfortunately for theodicy, the universe as it is, with all its wasteful suffering, trumps all made-in-hindsight religious excuses. Theodicy – quite without meaning to – promotes a flawed creator of a flawed creation who must rely on ham-thumbed interventions to correct sundry messes.
The panentheistic non-creatorist god is by nature absolved of all these considerations. Or rather, not absolved, but fundamentally free of them, since they don’t accrue to god’s nature to begin with. Creatorists may ask of what use is a non-active god. This is similar to asking what is the use of the sun, gravity, field forces, the atmosphere, etc. These geoplanetary givens don’t intervene, yet they are sources of life and energy. So too is the non-creatorist god/ultimate reality, but on a deeper and higher scale.
The Buddha Nature is inherent in all things but neither creates nor intervenes. So too the Tao – the most hushed of the most silent, the smallest of the small. So too the Kingdom of Heaven, waiting to be discovered like a treasure buried in a field. So too the Gnostic alien god, they Abyss, the Silence, the Profundity. So too the divine Suchness in which everything unfolds, wherein the sparrow’s fall is not prevented by intervention, but is embraced and perceived in a vast world-transcending compassion.
The advantage of such a “Ground of Being” theology is twofold: First, it requires no hand-wringing about god’s action or refusal to act. Second, it hints at something better and broader than “God” – a transcendent, radiant “Something” in which we are immersed, which embraces us, and in which we participate on a fundamental level.
But suppose creatorist theology turns out to be right. Suppose that there is really only one deity, and that deity is both a creator and intervener. If that’s the case, listen for the sirens of theodicy’s emergency-response vehicles.
So: The universe is indeed the product of intelligent design – and this is supposed to be good news? So the creator exists but is (to paraphrase W.P. Blatty) a bent genius? So the creator exists but is indifferent, or worse, cruel? The creator exists but manages its own created world so poorly that the creator must constantly intervene to clean up messes that should have been preventable – and prevented – in the first place?
As long as I belong to any theistic category, I’ll take the non-creating, non-intervening deity over any creator-intervener class of god(s). This concept is far more streamlined and it happily lacks clumsy theodicies, as well as the tragic need to manufacture them.