God as a Spirit - a question for theists

I’ve read a few reviews of books pushing back at the new atheism lately (like the latest by Karen Armstrong) and from the reviews they seem to be saying that it is invalid for Dawkins etc. to be attacking religion by addressing a god that they, as intellectuals, do not believe in (even if very large numbers of Americans do.) The God that these people believe in seems to be the impersonal god as creator, as the universe, as spirit. This type of theism is very far from fundamentalism or even run of the mill Christianity.

Lots of Dopers seem to believe in this kind of god. My question for those who do: did you come to this from first principles, or did you come to it by discarding parts of more traditional religion which you realize were counterfactual nonsensical? Please describe the god or spirit which you do believe in, since I’m not interested in constructing strawman deities. This is not a request for evidence or justification, just an attempt to learn the process by which someone begins to believe in something for which there are no precedents or cultural anchors, which is the purpose served by the several Bibles of customary religions.

I don’t believe that there are no precedents or cultural anchors for believing in God as spirit. My beliefs, which I would define as fitting under the “God as spirit” umbrella, come directly from my background in Reform Judaism. From my elementary school religious school classes I learned that while in Biblical times God may have interfered directly in human affairs as a personal God, that all ended millenia ago. More importantly, I learned that God was vast, unpicturable, and ultimately unknowable. For my graduation from religious school at age 16, I wrote a poem about how I’d gone from believing in the white-bearded God in the sky to seeing God “…in every bush, and tree, and person…” I recited the poem at the confirmation service, and it was widely praised, and certainly accepted by the congregation as in keeping with their view of God. Over time, I came to see the Bible stories as more myth than historical truth, and gradually began to evolve my view of God as being the fundamental essence of life, the spirit of creation. Often when I hear fundamentalists talk about God, I’m struck by how small and petty their God seems, when the one I know is so immense and beyond the world, even while being an innate part of it. I was also influenced by a sermon in which a rabbi described God existing not only everywhere in space, but also everywhere in time. Releasing God from the boundaries of past and present helped me to understand God’s existence as spirit.

I’ve never felt that there was any conflict between my God and the traditional God of Judaism. As long as you don’t take the Bible literally, instead viewing it as a way for people to try to somehow understand a God who is truly beyond understanding, then God as spirit makes perfect sense.

What does “spirit” mean?

I find that kind of obejection to be meaningless. Either a “spirit” is something or it is nothing. If it’s something, they need to define inscientific terms what it is, and why it’s not the same as magic. If it’s nothing, then they’re atheists.

Is magic something? Is the supernatural something? How about love, is that something? Cowardice, is that something? How about begging the question, is that something?


Yes; patterns in the brain.






And your point is…?

Actually, if one examines the history of magic, it is the name we give to things we experience but cannot yet comprehend. To say that “Any sufficently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic” is not a truism or a joke: it is a most lucid explanation.

With God, we come up against something we cannot ever fully comprehend. What we can say, is that he does not dwell in any specific localized place in this universe. We compare him to things we know in order to express that, which is logical enough.

To put it in scientific terms: His existence is the contingent rules of reality upon which all other existence depends. A universe can’t exist without Him just as you can’t exist without the laws of reality of this universe allowing matter and energy. Spirit underlies what we have and are. Just as Intelligence enables us to define ourselves as human, Spirit enables us to define ourselves as good or evil. It obeys laws, but not ones we have a direct experience with.

I would say that God is subject to laws, but He also is the Law He is subject to, similar to how our universe is subject to physical laws (or at least heavy probabilities), but it also is physical law.

Edit: The word Supernatural is meant literally. Yes, it is perfectly natural. In fact, spirit is much more natural than what we see as nature. It precedes nature and allows for it to exist.

That’s a lot of words with absolutely no substance.

Not as a rule; in the main, it’s the name we give to the belief that we can persuade the universe, or dominate it though sheer will, or to other attempts to anthropomorphize it. To the belief that by, say, drawing a symbol you can keep out bad luck the way a “DO NOT ENTER” sign can keep out people.

No; with God we come up with something we can’t comprehend because it doesn’t exist in order to be comprehended, and is not even defined consistently ( so God can’t even be analyzed as well as better-written fictional characters ).

I agree with Der Trihs that the God of the Bible does not exist, due to contradiction.

However, I do not see that belief in a spiritual god is a contradiction as long as you don’t impart it too many omni’s at once. It’s just that for many values of this nebulous being it’s difficult to tell the difference between the universe where a spirit god of the OP exists and one in which it doesn’t.

That may be true, but I’m trying to understand where those who believe this are coming from. SpoilerVirgin answered it nicely, and I see where he/she is coming from, since I was raised in the Reform wing of Conservative Judaism.
I’m not trying to argue with anyone, but to understand.

We have a set of people who have migrated from believing in a god who cares about our sex lives and diet to believing in a god who is just there, and who clearly makes them feel comfortable. I’m fairly convinced that there are a lot of people who have a need for this kind of belief, a need you and I do not have. You are not going to logically argue them out of it.
But, wouldn’t it be a better world if no god believer tried to impose their beliefs on anyone else, and no got believer had a 3,000 year old book to use as a guide for life?

That’s right, and that is why I deliberately did not ask for evidence. We’ve had lots of threads where theists provide unfalsifiable beliefs that God is the universe and such. I’m curious how they came to this idea.

Thanks for actually responding. Theists should take comfort that atheists who start a thread like this get no more respect than you do. :slight_smile:
I was raised as a Conservative Jew, but we were on the reform side of things - more Hebrew than Reform shuls, but men and women sat together. I remember one poem read in the service about God having no form, which only makes sense, and shows the growth in sophistication from the God of the Torah who showed his bum to Moses.

Yet I’d argue that a God who is not perfectly knowable, being infinite, is knowable in some sense since he supposedly gave laws. Do you believe that God never talked to Mose and Abraham, and has always been a presence only, or that he interacted in the past and now withdrew? To be clear, by spirit I meant only spirit, not spirit and infinite yet directly interacting with us or having kids like those silly goyim believe.

I’ve asked this question before (from an agnostic point of view) positing that the only way one can come to the realization of a new “belief” would be through revelation. Otherwise this new “belief” is just a bastardization of some previous belief.

One can say that the trees and rivers and sky are part of god, but they know this how? While sounding outlandish, I’d rather hear someone say that god told them rather than oh, it just makes sense.

I guess I didn’t really see an answer contained in SpoilerVirgin’s post.

“Fundamental essence of life” doesn’t mean anything. “Spirit of creation” doesn’t mean anything. It’s nice, abstract poetry (and believe me, I understand it), but ultimately, it doesn’t actually say anything about reality. It’s not even true. Life doesn’'t have an “essence.” There isn’t any “creation.”

How about this? I believe the universe to be sentient, and benign. I call this massive and essentially incomprehensible intelligence “God”. I have no proof for this.

(Incidentally, I come from basically the same background as SpoilerVirgin and Voyager. I believe that God intervened with humanity more in the past, but now that we’ve grown up a bit, He/She is leaving us alone to find our own way).

I’m another Reform Jew (posting on Shabbat! whoo! Bring out the bacon sarnies), and what SpoilerVirgin described is mostly the perception I have of god-idea as well.

If the question is “where did you get that?”, the answer is “by reading Jewish books and chatting with my parents, rabbis and cheder teachers.” Reb Zalman, Mordechai Kaplan and Rachel Adler have all been strong influences on my theology.

For me, Judaism is a filter through which to try to understand life. I read Torah and the other texts in the Jewish canon as records of other people’s attempts to try to understand life. (This is true of the writers/editors as well as the characters in the stories.) And the god-idea is embedded in life. Sometimes it is more present than others. Sometimes it’s hardly noticeable at all. I can’t define it (it’s indefinable), I can only describe it by going “that right there is what god-idea is like sometimes!”

In Reform liturgy, god is called “the Eternal”, but I think a closer definition for me would be “the Endemic”.

Edit: I am glad to see all us Progressive Jews out posting on Shabbos, and that the grand tradition of asking questions about theology/Judaism on a Friday night continues… :smiley:

The very concept of “God” implies that there is One True God who must be followed; monotheism always turns to coercion when it can. And religion is controlling by nature. And without that 3000 year old book, it inevitably starts to prey on the believer’s minds that they have nothing at all to support their beliefs.

God as a vague non-intervening spirit isn’t ever going to satisfy most believers, because it lacks most of the attractions of being a believer at all. It’s not really a stable position; it’s generally more of a last gasp of people who aren’t willing to accept agnosticism or atheism. Or the last gasp of rationality before they just give up on rationality and embrace something more fundamentalistic.

Hey - I don’t work on the Sabbath, as a matter of principle. Maybe some rabbis consider dicking around on a computer “work”, but I don’t, and my opinion is as valid as theirs.