The current debate about God’s existence that is so fiercely played out between the “new” atheists and their opponents really masks a deeper question, a question that coincides with a timeless desire: the desire for God.
Beneath the argumentation is a felt need, the need for knowing God, for living in God, for “having” God. Eternal life, says the Jesus of John’s Gospel, consists in knowing God, and knowing God is a consequence of encountering God personally by experience, not by intellection, debate, or second-hand reports. Few people are really satisfied only with a convincing definition of God, or with a convincing debunking of God. What people really want is a living experience of a living God, or the certainty that such an experience cannot be had.
One of my favorite writers, Gore Vidal, who happens to be an atheist, has written words to the effect, “God, or what have you, is not to be found at the far end of a syllogism, no matter how brilliantly phrased.”
Exactly. At the far end of a successful theistic argument, we have merely arrived at the God of intellection, of reason. At the conclusion of a successful atheistic argument, we have merely arrived at the non-existent God of intellection, of reason. But reason’s God and reason’s No-God both ring hollow. God, whether established by reason or abolished by reason, is not the God humankind is really concerned with, any more than a thirsty person is interested in a description of water, of water’s chemical composition – or of a philosophical confirmation or refutation of water’s existence and nature. The seeker of water wants not arguments about, and images of, water, but rather wants water itself.
So, too, the religious questioner – whether theistic or non-theistic – is not, at base, searching for mind-satisfying proofs of a hidden God’s existence. The spiritual seeker does not want mere knowledge-about God, but rather God Itself, God as God. Short of the validation or invalidation of this “gnosis”, the matter continues to consort with mere mental analysis, intellectual-and-verbal acrobatics, and in that format, is doomed forever to be tossed around within the purview and parameters of the rational intellect. But since intellection cannot convey what the questioner is really after – the immediate knowing of God or the immediate experience of the impossibility of such knowing – the only remaining route is that of attempting to provoke the experience of the knowing of God.
On the principle that the immediate experience of the living God is occluded or hidden from the profane eye of the rational intellect and the ego (defined as the anxious, grasping self), then the experience needs to be sought beyond the intellect and beyond the ego’s narrow confines. In order to “see” God – to perceive, to know, God – a new means of seeing must be employed, a new “eye” or lens must be utilized, one that is appropriate to the spiritual vision of God.
The “eye” of flesh – the eye of human anatomy, the rational intellect, of science. of sense perception, is not capable of spiritual seeing. For that, the “eye of spirit” or the “eye of contemplation” must come into play.
By analogy: Jupiter’s moons are normally hidden from the human eye. So if one wants to establish the existence and attributes of Jupiter’s moons, one must look through a lens specialized for that purpose, i.e., a telescope. So, too, with any program that aims to provoke the vision of God: the appropriate lens must be used. The eye of spirit has available to it many lenses, including centering and body prayer, contemplation, chanting, visualisation, and hundreds of meditative techniques and exercises. Only by awakening the spiritual eye and looking through these kinds of lenses that are specific to the spiritual quest can human beings come to an immediate knowledge of the God who is occluded to the profane eye. Only after such personal experimentation and exploration can one at last assay the core quest – the quest for the immediate knowing of Spirit, which lies beyond intellectual argumentation concerning God’s existence and attributes.
Of course, no one is guaranteed success in this exercise which the mystic Osho called “an experiment to provoke God” – that is, an endeavor to tease a response from the Ultimate Intimate and to realize one’s stance in regard to a God no longer occluded by limited perceptual limitations.
But successful or not, once one has performed the spiritual injunctions, done the experimentation, and shared conclusions with others who have likewise adequately performed the test process, one can say that s/he has existentially gone beyond mere word-battles about God and has critically tested the deeper question personally and subjectively.
That is, one can say that s/he has taken the really big God-issue beyond its restrictive, merely dialectical, mental and public arenas and tested it with the best – the only really appropriate – means available. Then one is competent to pronounce on the deep question, the great thirst, that lies behind the word-battles. Then one has addressed the real issue: one has or has not awakened the eye of spirit; has or has not successfully utilized the quest’s various lenses; and has or has not experienced the reality and attributes of Spirit. In such a case, one can say that for him or herself, the real issue – the possibility of human beings “having” God through immediate knowing – has been resolved at its existential core, at a level deeper than mere intellection and its attendant “God-battles” can penetrate.