Monday, July 23, 2007

Does God Exist? And, By the Way, Does Eryn Exist?

I have no reason to believe in the ontological existence of God, but I have every reason to believe in the experience of "God" -- or whatever one wants to call a certain kind of mystical experience.

That's not quite so profound a statement as one might sometimes think. As any sophomore who has taken a course in philosophy knows, it is quite problematic to prove the ontological existence of anything, let alone deity. I can no more prove the ontological existence of God than I can prove the ontological existence of my friend Eryn. Yet, my experiences of "Eryn" exist regardless of whether Eryn herself ontologically exists. In the same way, experiences of "God" do happen to folks regardless of whether God ontologically exists or not.

That might raise an interesting question: If we cannot know whether God ontologically exists, then of what value are any experiences of "God"?

One way to answer that question is to stick with the parallel: If I cannot know whether Eryn ontologically exists, of what value are my experiences of Eryn? A short answer to that is my experiences of "Eryn" are valued by me regardless of whether I have any philosophical doubts that such an utterly fascinating person as Eryn could exist or not. The same can be said about any experiences of "God" I might have: The ontological existence of God simply has no impact on whether or not I value the experience of "God".

Yet, I can look at that same question -- what is the value of experiencing "God" in a wholly different light. That is, the experience of "God" seems transformative in ways that normal experience is not. In future posts, I might get into the ways in which experiencing "God" can transform us psychologically and spiritually. But here it is only important to note that the experience of "God" can be valued as a transformative experience even if no God ontologically exists. In a sense, that's really saying no more than I can enjoy the experience of talking with "Eryn" even if no Eryn ontologically exists.

So far as I myself am concerned, God only matters insofar as the experience of "God" matters.


Musafir said...

Essentially, even among those who "communicate" with a deity in the same why you might communicate with Erin (without seeing her physically), experiencing her in the flesh would be an entirely greater experience as would meeting or experiencing a cosmic force or God?

Paul said...

Good question, Musafir. The fullest answer is a bit complex though...

In the West, people assume that experiencing "God" occurs through relationship. That is, I and God remain separate, but we get into some kind of relationship with each other in which I experience him.

But in what way am I any different than my experiences? The separation between myself and my experiences seems to me a psychological illusion. I am my experiencing. There is no real separation between myself and what I experience. Hence, when I experience what some call "God", I experience an overwhelming sense of the oneness of all things.

Having said all that, I can answer your question directly now: An experience of "God" and an experience of "Eryn" would be fundamentally the same thing -- that is, they would both be experiences -- neither would be more nor less of an experience than the other.

Of course, none of that rules out the possibility that I might prefer to experience Eryn rather than to experience "God" -- after all, she's altogether more charming than what most of us in the West mean by "God". :)

Eryn Leigh said...

*sigh* - I was almost insulted, having my existence doubted in such a manner, but I think you've made up for it by insinuating that I am more 'charming' than God (or some people's concept of God).
Blasphemous as that is, Paul, you've made me feel like one of the Beatles, and in turn made my day less dreary.
I think the same way that some people enjoy the experience of me, and other people they interact with, some people enjoy the experience of God.
To each his own. I'm not sure why there is so much turmoil involved in that idea. Nobody is hurt any more by believing in God than they are by believing in me. I wouldn't be terribly angry if someone decided not to believe in MY existence, and I doubt God would be either.

Paul said...

I just call 'em as I see 'em, Eryn. You do indeed strike me as quite a bit more charming than most of our notions of "God".

I couldn't agree with you more that if God ontologically exists, he's unlikely to be concerned with anything so petty as whether we believe he ontologically exists or not. It would be absurd for a god to care about such things, let alone make them his requirement for salvation.