recently i was asked, as part of a conversation on religion, atheism, and agnosticism, the following questions:
do you believe in god? are you a religious person? what is god, and religion to you?
here is my attempt to answer them, in the context of the conversation, slightly edited. disclaimer: my study of philosophy, theology, and metaphysics has been cursory and informal. i've never even taken a class in comparative religions. what follows may be utter nonsense to someone more studied, but it's where i am right now. i'm open to new points of view.
Well, it depends on what you mean by “God”. I don’t hold much truck with anthropotheism. I think it’s naive to assign human or human-like characteristics to “God”. I seriously doubt that something so outside of our reality would be essentially like an all-powerful, all-knowing human being. For instance, situations in which God is described as being “angered” make me raise my eyebrows. God? Angry? Really? Why?
Anyway, my rejection of anthropotheism leads me to rejection of
any and all of the “God(s)” that are set forth by the world’s major
religions and pantheons, and rejection of the idea of divine
intervention in the affairs of the universe - but I do not reject the wisdom and insight that can be gained through the study of them as a symbolic mythologies of the human condition.
However, before I start rejecting ideas of God, I have an awareness of that question I’ve been talking about. [An unanswerable question inherent in our reality.] Why isn’t everything not here? That’s the best way I’ve been able to put it. It’s a mystery. Science can't answer it, because science is one of those things that is here. That “place" where we are not able to go or even contemplate — outside of our reality — I’m not sure what I think about it, obviously. But when I think of God, that is what I think of. I’m not inventing something and calling it God.
Think of it this way: When you define something, you are also indicating the existence of things that are NOT that thing. So when we define something called “reality”, we draw a circle that encompasses everything that we can/could/might directly or indirectly observe. The boundaries of or infinite nature of space. Any potential dimensions that we don’t know about. The smallest subatomic particles. The field that could be described by a unified field theory. Even imaginary things like unicorns and the square root of -1 . All part of our reality. But at the same time, we define NOT reality - everything/anything outside that circle. What does THAT mean? I don’t know, I can’t know. Even if the answer is something like “nothing at all” and everything is totally meaningless (which I don’t believe), that “nothingness” still is there outside that circle, unknowable.
Every time my mind bumps up against that line, that’s when I feel like I am thinking about “God”.
It isn’t faith which has me acknowledging the question, it’s reason, which is still funny and brings me to one of those places where my mind bumps against the line because reason is part of our reality.
Faith, on the other hand, is what tells me that existence DOES “mean something” and that there is such a thing as fundamental good. I have no reason to believe it, but I do anyway. I don’t claim to know what it means, since that’s unknowable, but I have faith that it’s there, and it’s good. People who don't reject athropotheism as strongly as I do tend to have faiths that fit in more easily with established religions - like Christianity. They have faith that it's there, it's good, and that Jesus is part of it.
I am a religious person, although some people don’t think my religion should be called a religion because it doesn’t limit what you believe “enough”. I attend a Unitarian Universalist church, which is a theologically pluralist religion - we don’t have one consistent take on the nature (or existence of) God. We have instead our shared principles, purposes, and sources from which we draw our living tradition. Building on that foundation of shared experience and belief, each individual is free to believe whatever they believe about God, the divine, the nature of the world, etc. Honestly, what I believe or don’t believe about God has little to do with my “religion”, which deals more with my own experience of the world and my desire to do good, to BE good, to be joyful and to be thankful. I have that desire because of my faith that Good is something to strive for. I don't NEED a religion for this, but it is useful for me.