The other day I was explaining to a friend why I don’t believe in a Creator – although I do believe in a “god” which is Ultimate Reality. I am no philosopher (as this article will surely demonstrate), but these are my reasons, as cogently as I can put them.
I am a panentheist – not to be confused with pantheist. Pantheism sees the world as God, and/or God as the world. Panentheism, on the other hand, sees the world as existing “in” God; that is, panentheism sees God as an all-embracing Sprit, which contains everything, and in which/by which everything is contained. God is “here” (immanent) and “more than here” (transcendent). God’s existence and enfolding presence, however, do not necessarily imply that God is a Creat0r. Quite the contrary.
There are plenty of cosmological models that do not require a beginning in time for the universe; that is, the universe could always have existed. For theology, such models negate the need for a First Cause – a cause which, in most Western religious expressions, is usually personified as both a deity and a creator. This of course is not a problem, since theology then simply suggests that, in regard to the eternal universe model, there exists a creator-god who has been creating the universe for as long as the universe has been emanating from that god; the universe being a continous, eternal outpouring from the continuous creative activity of an eternal creator. If the universe is eternal, then fine – so is its creator and “his” creative activity. But not all theological models demand that God be a creator. And this, in fact, is my position.
First, it seems to me that the notion of a creator is derived from the making of artifacts by human beings, an idea I first encountered as a youth when reading Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud. My personal take on this concept is that, relatively early, human beings came to realize that they had been born into world of pre-structured “stuff”. It probably wasn’t long before this realization got entangled with the realization that human beings are also prolific producers of “stuff”, via their countless artifacts. From this resulted the natural (but possibly incorrect) deduction that the pre-formed, “given stuff” of our environment must be some type of artifact, made and shaped by an invisible, non-human agency – which, however, shared several important properties with human beings. Hence the birth of a god or gods who functioned as a creator, or perhaps, a council of creators.
One obvious flaw to this, of course, is the gradual disappearance of “the God of the gaps” in the face of our ever-growing knowledge about how “stuff” works. Gods as supernatural explanatory causes and factors have been removed from our cosmologies, with the Creator being pushed further and further back, until one can say with Julian Huxley that “operationally, God is becoming more and more to look like the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat” (probably not an exact quote, but the idea is plain). My views take the idea to its final conclusion, namely, that God does not have any relation at all to the function or state of the universe – either as a creator or an intervener … and that this idea of a non-operational deity is true, conforms to the mystical core of many traditions, and goes some way toward explaining how, although God is real, we continue to suffer as we do. It addresses not only the existence, but – more importantly – the persistence of evil in a world which, after all, turns out never to have been God’s making or a result of God’s “plans”.
Before proceding, I’ll mention the terrific importance the Creator-Deity has in the thinking of Creationists and Intelligent Design theorists. Most, but not all, of these people are less convinced of the Creator’s existence from a study of how the universe works, than from a literalistic belief in the biblical account of creation. Their firm belief – that a 5,000year old, pre-scientific creation myth of one particular ancient Semitic people could actually give a factual account of cosmic/world origins – is the crushing burden with which they have saddled themselves (and which they wish to foist onto the US’s public education system). They must believe in a Creator because their sacred book – literally interpreted – says they must. Obviously, appeals to science, plausibility, and reason are mostly wasted when trying to engage with these people. Worse, let’s look at what the existence of a creator might mean.
Let’s dispense with the Creationist deity right away: Yahweh, the creator-deity of a Bronze Age tribe -and of modern fundamentalists – as described in their scriptures, has many good qualities (for example, the Prophets with their message of social responsibility) and many inexcusably bad qualities. Unfortunately, the bad qualities dominate, particularly if one chooses to believe that this often destructive, crazy, vengeful, insecure, warlike, megalomaniac, arrogant, dishonest, murdering deity really exists and is really the source of the world and of human beings. If that was really the case, then for humankind all is lost. Thankfully, there is no evidence for Yahweh’s objective existence; and even if there were, people of good will would rightfully reject this deity on moral grounds alone. So let’s dismiss Yahweh as a significant creator figure. (Naturally, I delete from this equation all of the good, decent, educated, progressive Jews and Christians – they usually understand Yahweh and his scriptures analogically and metaphorically – a far cry from the literalist, fundamentalist Creationists and ID position.)
One can only deduce any Creator’s nature from the nature of “his” creation. The Buddha called this world samsara, a “wheel of birth and death” in which suffering and loss predominate. Buddha gets no argument from me. Now: what kind of creator would create an indifferent universe, much less a universe that inflicts suffering on sentient beings? The answer is obvious. This of course does not mean that there is no creator/designer. But it does strongly imply that such a being is unconcerned with creatures to the extent that “It” must be seen as blind, unware, indifferent, hostile, or even cruel.
So my position is that, for lack of evidence, it is unlikely that a Creator exists. But, if I am wrong in this surmise, the alternative seems far worse than is the case of no Creator. A Creator who is cruel or uncaring is, from my perspective, positively worse than no Creator. And again, if I am wrong, and a Creator does exist, perhaps in one of the several forms we have become familiar with: as an ancient alien or team of aliens; a hacker or hackers working from other dimensions; a universe-creating technology (whether or not actively maintained by living beings) whose infinitely ancient purpose it is to create multitudes of worlds. It doesn’t matter. In no case are these “first” causes God, and in no case do they display the concern for the world that most religions claim for God. If they exist, they remain aloof, indifferent, hostile, or cruel. (Now, of course, a creator-god could exist, and be indifferent and cruel, but I reject this depiction because it does not conform to most God-definitions extant in theology, religions, and mystical literature.
So: I do not believe in a Creator; or – if a Creator exists – I want nothing to do with It.
And yet: I do believe in a God that is real, but Who (or Which) is not a creator or an intervener, a God by nature transcendent to the world, yet mysteriously “in” the world by reason of embracing the world in Its own divine Presence. As a devotee of the Buddhist sect of Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism, I give to this transcendent entity the name “Amida Buddha”.
In Part 2 of this essay, I would like to explore Amida as Ultimate Reality, Infinite Wisdom and Compassion, and Unimpeded Light … as well as the dynamics of a “theistic” spirituality in which there is really no God, no Creator, and no intervention: certainly an oddity from the general Western perspective that thinks of religion and spirituality in Abrahamic-creatorist categories.