If we all have a mental place, a place in our minds, representing ‘others’, that is probably because it helps us to interact with other beings. When it comes to thinking of God, wanting to interact with God, it is all too easy to use that same mental place.
This is what James Alison, a Catholic theologian, means when he says that God is always the “other beyond the other”.
In other words, God is always beyond the mental place we have for God. Always beyond our own projections. God does not function like another human being, does not make decisions like we would, does not have needs and wants like we do, cannot be persuaded, cajoled, bargained with, or emotionally manipulated, as we once did with our parents.
What is not revealed to us of God cannot ever be known.
To have a mental place for the unknowable is dangerous. It is a void into which we fill our own psychological projections. A self-made image of God returns. And when faith and trust are given to that self-made image, a false religion has emerged.
In time, this false religion will fail anyone who believes in it. And this is because it is a belief (belief being the reserve of things we cannot know for certain) in a God that is more like a projected version of ourselves than it is an experience of divinity in a boundless, undefined, unlimited, empirical praxis.
Or in other words, we may be able to convince ourselves that we can strike a deal with God, have some kind of economy of favours going on, or demonstrate what we think is a spotless faith (which in reality is nothing more than manipulative behaviour), but it is all in vain. God does not function that way, and functioning that way ourselves does not lead to an experience of divinity. Quite the reverse, in fact. It obstructs the path.
The God that I once believed in only led to pain and suffering. I did not realise it at the time, but this is because the God I once believed in was – almost completely – a self-made image that I had a relationship with. I wanted God to be so real for me, that I ended up inventing one to have a relationship with. This God would never let anything bad happen to me; never let me come to any harm. And that was a return on my faithfulness.
Harm came in a big way. It was only a matter of time before it did. As a result, I thought I had lost my faith. I had indeed. Faith and belief went out of the window. The God I believed in disappeared too.
Eventually I came to realise that this faith, this belief, and this created God, were all blocks to a greater understanding. Once removed, that greater understanding was free to emerge on an experiential level.
Theism is a belief in an external god. All I can now know of God is that which is revealed to me; which feels like very very little and absolutely all of it, both at the same time. It is revealed to me because divinity is a part of me and of all beings. It is the source. It is the “one life force in the ever-present now” (Tolle). It is the source of all wisdom. Being all wisdom, when I experience it, it feels like having all wisdom myself. But of course that is to make a dualistic distinction between myself and divinity when there is only One. This is why it feels like very little and all of it both at the same time.
I tend to talk in very certain terms these days about my experiences. Like on this blog, for example. But all I can now be certain of is my experiences rather than articles of faith or belief. And that is where the certainty starts and stops. Beyond that, there is nothing I can ‘know for sure’ in terms of good science, intellectual positioning, or modernist or theological discourse.
Another way of putting this is that the source of all life has a life of its own. It is possible to talk in certain terms of an experience of the source of all life, and at the same time know that this is where certainty must end. Beyond the certainty of that basic experience, the only thing I can be sure of is that this energy, this One, this divinity, is a living thing. Unpredictable, untethered, beyond words, beyond time and space, beyond our dimensions.
But that basic experience of ‘something’ is all I need. When I am at one with the One, wisdom begins to penetrate my understanding of my own life position, my actions, my words. To call this ‘God’ is to begin to limit that experience.
And this is what marks out a nontheist from an atheist.