Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Experience of God.

The Thought For The Week in The Friend of 6th February is titled 'The Idea Of God'. Here is the Quaker philosopher, John Macmurray, on the subject of 'Belief In God', from “Creative Society, A Study of The Relation of Christianity to Communism”, 1935, pp 16-29:

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom.”

“[T]here is a sharp distinction between believing in God and believing in the idea of God. .. One cannot believe in God and at the same time believe that any idea men(sic) have framed … can be adequate to express the nature of that in which we believe. .. If I can insist that my idea of God must be maintained, how can I have the humility to recognize the existence of a Being in the light of whose infinite understanding all my knowledge must be the ignorant fantasy of a child?

“Belief in God is not an intellectual matter. .. [T]he bare statement that God exists has no meaning by itself. We cannot point to God, as we could to any finite object, and say 'that exists.' We can only assert the existence of something corresponding to our conception.

“Intellectual atheism … is equally meaningless until we know what is the conception of God which is denied. Atheism may have a relative truth. It may be a way of rejecting a conception of God which is false. .. An honest and courageous atheist is surely more pleasing to God than a dishonest and cowardly theist.

“Belief in God is properly an attitude to life which expresses itself in our ways of behaving. .. Perhaps the fundamental component of a belief in God is the expression in action of an attitude of faith or trust. .. It involves the recognition that the control and the determination of all that happens in the world lies in a power that is irresistible and yet friendly .. it is the capacity to live as it this were so. .. The opposite attitude, which is the core of real atheism, expresses itself in that individualism which makes a man feel alone and isolated in a world against which he must defend himself. .. This is to disbelieve in God. For belief in God, whatever else it might involve, at least includes the capacity to live as part of the whole of things in a world which is unified.

“Marx said [paraphrased] 'Let us turn from ideas to reality, let us look not at people's theories but at their actions. It is by seeing how societies and their institutions work in practice and not by accepting their own ideal accounts of what they are after that we shall understand their real faith.'

“Now that core of belief in God which is present in a large measure in Communism, and which is difficult to discover in organised Christianity as we know it now, is the only possible basis for a belief in God which is not a mere idea. .. There [is] nothing paradoxical [here] – It would be no more than a commentary upon the saying of Jesus to the religious leaders of his day, 'Verily I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.'”

Friends: let go of your ideas and your disputes about the idea of God, "these different and strongly held opinions" as the author of 'The Idea of God' puts it, and look instead to the light within:

“But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. .. Thus when God doth work, who shall let [hinder] it? and this I knew experimentally [through experience]”. George Fox, Journal, 1647, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice, 19.02.


Paul Newman said...
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Paul Newman said...

Always back to the experience that surpasses and precedes words. Thank you, Gordon - good advice.

Maurice Bartley said...

Hi Gordon, Once again it seems to me that John Macmurray gets to the nub of the issue. It is not an 'idea' we are seeking, nor is it a 'faith' that simply believes in propositions; but rather a 'faith' that trusts in a Life that is 'for us' rather than 'against us'. This experience is the experience of the reality we call 'God'.
In seeking to practice this 'trust', as a person among persons, at a Quaker Meeting for Worship; I trust the promptings of love and truth in my own heart and I trust the same in those gathered in Worship of 'God'.