Saturday, January 17, 2009

God is like love

When I was young, I was once taught that God is Love. Period.

I say "once" because even as a young child, it's easy to see that lots of different people have very different emphases in their religion. Some people will tell you that the central message in Christianity is the golden rule, others will tell you that it's forgiveness. Some tell you that Christianity emphasizes faith, others tell you that it emphasizes good works. Some tell you that God is Love, others will tell you that God is the Infinite. Were I still Christian, I would have picked one interpretation I liked best, and made it my own. Now, as an outsider, I have little business picking one interpretation over another.

And yet, I must admit that I rather like the expression "God is Love", though for very different reasons than a Christian would. I like it because it can be subverted into something I myself believe.

But before I subvert it, I must slightly change the expression to "God is like love". Love should not be capitalized because I have no need for the air of mysterious authority that is conveyed by capital letters. And I demoted the metaphor to a simile, because, let's face it, God and love are not actually interchangeable words. There is only one important property they share:

God is like love. Like love, God exists only in the mind.

Yes, that's right. I, an atheist, said God exists. I declare this to be logically consistent. Are we still all on the same page?

The human mind is perhaps the most powerful position God could be in. From the mind, God can influence entire cultures and civilizations. If God existed in the sky, he could maybe just control the weather. The downside of being only in the human mind is that if the human race dies out, God dies with us. To the theist, I might sound really cynical, but that is not my intention. The same is true of love, after all. All love comes to an end.

But here is an important difference. Even though we know that all love comes to an end, we still seek it. There is no cosmic energy field which we call "love", but that's okay. We don't need the metaphysical realm to validate our emotions. But God is different. From what I can tell, people only seek God because they believe God actually exists in the metaphysical realm, outside of our minds. There are few people who seek God without seeking belief in God. That is, few people want religious experience without also wanting to believe that it was caused by a higher power. So I ask, if we need a lie for religious experience to be worthwhile, is it really worthwhile at all? Certainly not for everyone.