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God does not exist: God insists

By Stephen Crabbe - posted Friday, 24 September 2010

What is the best way to walk naked down the main street of my town while having meaningful and productive dialogue with the people I meet and simultaneously avoiding imprisonment or ostracisation?  That is the sort of dilemma I feel myself to be in as I set out to write this article.  Can I do it?  More to the point, why would anyone try?

I am about to tell you why I believe in God.  As a writer I have tackled many topics with varying degrees on the scale of enthusiasm, but the gauge at present is barely above zero.  Still, I will begin because God insists.

Humans have evolved to the point where it is simply untenable to claim that a supernatural entity called God exists.   I am not a theist.  Yet I do not accept that existence is the only way of being.  There is also insistence: non-objective being.  I believe God does not exist, but insists.  I hope the rest of this article will explain this.


Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach

I was fifteen years old when I first read Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach.  I read it silently from the book and recited it aloud in solitude; its beautiful metre and vowel-sequences riffed endlessly in my mind and I found it seeping out of the poems I myself wrote.  Arnold's short work of art seemed to encapsulate all the entangled feelings of loss, yearning and hope that enthralled me at the time.  Now, of course, I was fifteen: I used the poem as a receptacle for the usual emotional and cognitive writhing of adolescence.  But it was more than that.

Like most of my peers I had recently cut all ties with the church and religion, leading the flight from the full pews of the 1950s.  "The death of God" was a phrase bandied around everywhere in the following years as we took the blowtorch of logic, empirical observation and humanistic values to the world-view of our childhood and parents.  Nevertheless, in hindsight I can see that, through many of the interests I pursued in later decades, I continued to explore "the sea of faith" which Matthew Arnold had declared to be disappearing in the mid-nineteenth century.  As I sailed on that sea flying the flag of atheism, snatches of his poem were playing like an ostinato in the back of my mind.  Dover Beach is one of the most memorable literary portrayals of the human condition produced in recent centuries.

What is Truth?

Many others have also acknowledged this.  David Fisher, another OLO writer, asserted that there is a profound uncertainty at the heart of life once we accept that the structure of society and knowledge is based completely on our own inventions

"There is no certainty of truth outside of mathematics, and it can be problematical there", he writes, referring the reader to Matthew Arnold's poem for an expression of this human situation.  I wish to offer a different interpretation of Dover Beach with a corresponding viewpoint on the human condition.

Matthew Arnold apparently wrote Dover Beach, some time before 1867.  His English world was by then changing swiftly under the influence of post-Enlightenment thought and scientific advances.  With the publishing of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species the very nature and development of living organisms, including humankind, was being presented as something other than the work of God.  Rational empirical enquiry and logical positivism were forming a lens for a new world-view.
In Arnold's view people formerly believed that the culture and religions of the world were potentially a source of joy, love, light, certitude, peace and help for pain in the world.  Now, with the increasingly objective way of perceiving the world, that possibility was receding like the sea in his poem and so the poet would seek these things through the subjectivity of relationships:  "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!"

Truth in this context is a way of relating to another, comprising authenticity, commitment, and trust.   This truth is realised only in relationship.   Rather than an object or logical concept it is adherence to a subjective reality.  Perhaps this is the crux of my disagreement with the view expressed by David Fisher.

Symbols from the Unconscious

Through investigation of dreams in my early adulthood I became aware of a force beyond my ego which was constantly drawing me into an orbit.  Whenever my youthful determination to devote myself to outer interests – career, money, social status and the like – reached a point of high intensity for long I would be nagged, wrenched or seduced into a balancing involvement with my inner life.  Through dreams, writing poetry or making music, images would arise from my unconscious to pull me back to inner reality.


For instance, I dreamed of walking through the middle of a dense forest and discovering a wide clearing.  It contained a great circular patch of bright golden sunlight which imparted an indescribable, nourishing calmness.  Around the circumference of the circle people journeyed for untold ages, and I yearned to follow them.  This symbol has stayed with me for the decades since.

Another enduring image was a homeless, thinly clad boy who wandered forever on foot across a rugged landscape from one village to another, often playing a wooden flute and always followed by a sheep.  "The sheep", said the dream, "is ewe".  I followed the boy for many years.  In my outer life this was manifest in one situation after another that cast me in the role of an outsider trying to promote different educational practices, new social and political directions, or more just and loving relationships.  Success was occasional, conflict frequent.  But the boy led me on; the sunlit circle gave me a centre.

Religious Practice Enables Worldly Life

Through three decades or more I continued thus, while calling myself an atheist.   I considered churches to be built from nothing but puritanical repression and the will to power – although aspects of some of the world's religions did attract me.  Then a Christian friend commented that social and political projects in which I had chosen to be involved displayed all the hallmarks of Jesus' teachings.

This set me thinking about the nature and origin of the powerful images shaping my life, and so I began looking into the Gospels.  The ewe-boy who had been shaping so much of my life seemed to have much in common with the Jesus of the narratives in his simplicity, his essential goodness and natural drawing-power.

Two or three years later I tentatively ventured to a Eucharist in a local church.  I found that the liturgy had been somewhat changed since my boyhood, but the music, symbols and language took hold of me.  On subsequent Sundays I began to feel I was worshipping in the midst of a great cloud of people from the past and from the future and from many lands: boundaries of time and space dissolved to give a sense of oneness with all humanity.  We were like those who, in my dream, perpetually moved around the perimeter of the forest clearing with the circular patch of sunlight at their centre.

And so my journey has continued ever since.  After a week of tiring, often thankless and depressing or angering life in the outer world, the Eucharist gives new strength and awareness of the abiding centre from which I draw life.  I come away refreshed, with inspiration to face the world without pretences and defences during the coming week, like the ewe-boy.

God as the Insistent Reality

As the seat of will, memory and other functions, the ego is indispensable for every human personality to live effectively in the world.  The great lie that the ego tells, however, is that it can be in and of itself.  It was born as a constellation of energy derived from – and sustained by – an infinite and eternal tide in the collective unconscious of humanity.

If the ego accepts this indebtedness for its very being it can begin to dismantle its defences, to admit that it cannot be without relationship.  When it strips down closer to the authenticity of the ewe-boy it encounters, at least in some small ways, the genuine Other from which it came and others who also came from there.  And while the authentic life makes one more vulnerable it also opens one to a more abundant stream of love and peace.

And so Matthew Arnold's exhortation to "be true to one another" is an invitation to insist who you really are. "Truth", regarded from this viewpoint, is a way of being rather than an object or logical conception.  Put a little differently, truth is the eternal demand that we accept that the ground of our being is beyond individual ego-life and common to all humanity.  I call that ground of my being "God".  God is not a supernatural entity, does not exist.  But God insists in the collective unconscious, and from God I (ego) came.  To be true to this insistent reality I offer these thoughts for your consideration.

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About the Author

Stephen Crabbe is a teacher, writer, musician and practising member of the Anglican Church. He has had many years of active involvement in community and political issues.

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