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The Internal God
In this hub I'm going to talk about one of the ways in which theism and "spirituality" stay so popular - the externalization of internal feelings. The idea is that your own conscience and own emotional state give you the feeling of a true external God. This manifests itself in a lot of ways but primarily comes in the form of intense emotional experiences. I used to experience this myself when I would pray as a Christian. During this time it sometimes felt as if I was being guided by something and I often imagined Jesus reach down from Heaven to lay his hands on me. Even as a Christian however I had doubts that I was actually communicating with God. After all nothing ever seemed to change in my life unless I actually went out and changed it. My prayers were never answered with miracles, they were answered mundanely if at all.
The feeling of God within, the inner voice of God guiding me, turned out to be my own voice. I realized this after I began to read the Bible and found that I disagreed with it more and more the more I read. The God I had been serving and worshiping was not the same petty evil tyrant I read about in the scriptures and I could not at the time divorce myself from the feelings of elation I got from praying. I decided that I would seek the true God of the Universe and that maybe that's who I'd been speaking to all those years when I thought I was seeking Christ and Yahweh.
Is Your Internal Morality Consistent With God's?
Have you ever noticed that most people believe their God has morals almost identical to their own? Most Christians, for instance would say that they believe that slavery is morally wrong and would argue that God is against slavery as well. The problem is that the Christian God condoned slavery and never came out against it even in the New Testament. Even Christ himself never said that slaves should rebel or that slavery was morally wrong. Yet I've been told by Christians that God doesn't like slavery. Where are they getting this information?
The same goes for the issue of abortion. I've raised the question with quite a few Christians who were against Abortion. The God of the Bible never takes a stance on the practice of Abortion anywhere in the Bible yet I am consistently told by Fundamentalists that God doesn't like abortion and is even going to punish America with horrible hardships if we don't stop murdering the unborn. I think my main issue with all this is that Yahweh kills children in the Bible. Certainly there were some pregnant women in the Flood or in Sodom and Gomorrah who would have been killed. Some may argue that God is allowed to kill children if he wants but God also commands the death of infants in the Bible (see 1st Samuel 15 about the Amalekites). So God apparently doesn't mind a bit of infanticide, yet some Christians pretend that scripture supports their pro-life position.
One could do this same test with nearly any issue in the Bible as the God of the Bible is of notoriously poor moral character. We could do the same thing with Jesus and talk about whether most Christians would approve of his teachings regarding lusting after married women. I doubt many Christian men believe that merely fantasizing about a married woman is wrong.
The Bible itself is highly confused about God's morality, so Christians drawing their morality straight from the Bible, even if taking it literally, don't have it much easier than those claiming knowledge of God's morality without a real source to back it up other than their gut feelings.
Give a Little Whistle
It seems clear to me now that most theists are getting their morality from the same place the rest of us do, themselves. Now obviously society and social norms play a part, as does how you were raised by your parents but in the end I'd say its obvious that most theists are not getting their morality from some transcendent source of all that is Holy. Your own personal conscience is merely being externalized and placed upon a template of God that you have in your mind. The idea of God that you hold, and the morality you've placed upon it, is going to differ from the morality of other theists. Even two Christians aren't likely to agree on all the issues. So can it really be said they're getting their morality from God in prayer or in the Bible?
Even those who claim God directly speaks to him disagree with others who claim the same thing. Are they all talking to different Gods? Is the same God giving them different contradictory answers? Are they being deceived by a false god? Or is it possible that they are mistaken about being in contact with a God in the first place? I'd put my money on the final option.
I think it is also worth nothing that it is a fairly arrogant thing to claim that your opinions are the opinions of God. There aren't many theists brave enough to make this claim but those that do are very arrogant indeed. There is also a sort of arrogance in the idea that God is in direct contact with humanity. I never realized it as a Christian but the idea that a cosmic being that created the Universe and possesses all power and all knowledge loves a violent greedy species like us is a distinctly egotistical idea. I've seen this at work in Creationists who seek to deny our ape origins. The idea that we have a direct line to God is nice as it means we are never alone and have the one person we can rely on right there... the only problem is the voice we're hearing may be our own internal gut instinct.
This arrogance can apply to the individual or the group as a whole. For instance an entire group of Christians can claim the moral high-ground and I've often heard Christians make arguments that make them sound as if Christianity has the monopoly on morality itself. The idea that non-Christians cannot be as moral as true Christians is patently absurd and obviously false. After all when is the last time you heard of a Buddhist or Janist becoming violent or being generally immoral? Why would belief in Christ be a prerequisite for behaving morally?
During my own search for truth (which is on-going) I spent time as a pantheist. I've talked about this in earlier hubs. I would still pray quite often despite the fact I didn't think any being was listening other than, in some sense, the Universe itself. I can recall quite vividly receiving an answer to my prayer. It was a spontaneous answer that sounded a bit like a piece of poetry when I said it out loud. The thing was I wasn't trying to make anything up, it just sort of happened. It fell from my lips like a stream of consciousness and contained everything I wanted to hear. I don't remember exactly what was "said" but I recall that the gist of it was "I am here. You are not alone. The time is coming when you will know that I am real. You will see me in the stars and feel me in the rain and hear me in the wind through the trees..."
My spiritual experience described above nearly fooled me into believing I'd really been in contact with the God I'd been looking for. I soon came to the conclusion, however, that the response to my prayer had been self-generated.
While we in the atheist "community" are very skeptical, and rightly so, of vague spiritual feelings it is worth noting that spiritual feelings can be deceptively specific. I've heard stories of folks who were visited by Jesus and had been spoken to and heard an audible voice. These experiences, we must realize, are not outside the purview of our own ability to deceive ourselves.
To reiterate a point from my last post, the more we want to believe the more skeptical we should become.
In conclusion I would argue that the conception of God held by many theists involves many internal feelings, morals, emotions and beliefs that are externalized onto this idea of God they have in their minds. This can lead to powerful experiences that seem supernatural in nature or that are emotionally compelling enough to reinforce belief in God(s).