I have decided to start a spiritual quest of sorts.
I just finished reading The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck, and in that very well-known self-help book, he ends the book with a discussion about what he believes is evidence of God's immanence in human life. Far from supporting any institutional religion over another, Peck's philosophy is rooted (as might be imagined) in psychiatric phenomena such as serendipity, synchronicity, ESP, and the like. He argues that God's "grace" is enacted through the unconscious, which works beyond our conscious control to assist our spiritual growth. I found a lot of what he said to make sense on a certain level, and at the very least his arguments were interesting and unique.
I read this book, obviously, as a means to help me along the path of my own spiritual and emotional growth, and it has inspired me to continue along that "less traveled" path. In doing so, one of the issues that I want to reconcile within myself is my concept of God. In Peck's book, he talks about the idea that many people must first reject God (that is, the God of dogmatic institutional religion) before they can find the authentic God. This definitely resonates with me, as I have experienced a similar situation. However, I don't, yet, feel like I have found that authentic God. I have come across a lot of ideas that really makes sense to me, but none that I have been able to fully and completely grasp.
What is interesting is that I just finished a novel by James Michener called The Source, which fictionalized the history of Judaism, and had, as one of its primary themes, the evolving nature of the God concept. Without even realizing it, this was actually the start of my quest, because it definitely got me thinking a lot about my concept of God, where it comes from, why I believe it, and what it means for me. Bearing this in mind, while reading The Road Less Traveled (which I was reading at the same time as The Source), it was rather serendipitious (to use one of Peck's arguments for God's grace) that this book, too, began an in depth discussion of the very same topic: the concept of God. While I had known that The Source -- a novel fictionalizing the history of Judaism -- was going to deal a lot with the changing concepts of God, I had not known that The Road Less Traveled had any "God" discussion in it.
As such, I am going to run with this moment of serendipity and begin an intentional quest for God. This, of course, is nothing really new -- I've been searching for God my entire life. A few years back, when I first began to reject the concepts of God that my church had taught me, I read a very enlightening book by Marcus Borg called The God We Never Knew. So this "quest" isn't really anything new for me. However, it's more "intentional" now, I suppose.
What I intend to do on this quest involves a mixture of prayer, meditation, and reading. The prayer and meditation is self-explanatory, but I intend to buttress those things by reading three books.
The first is a book that I've had on my shelf for well over a year (maybe even two years), but have never read. Again, the serendipity involved in the fact that I have chosen not to read this book yet, so that it is now there available for me when the issue of God has come to the forefront of my consciousness, simply makes my dedication to this "quest" all the stronger. The book is by British scholar and academic, Karen Armstrong. It is called A History of God. In it, Armstrong discusses and illustrates the long history of the God concept, how it has evolved through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and how people's interactions with God have evolved through the centuries. I believe this will be a great starting point for my quest, one which will ground me in the history of God and in humanity's concepts of God. Where The Source was a fictionalization using the evolving God concept as a theme, A History of God is an in-depth, scholarly look at humanity's changing concepts of God.
After this book, I intend to start a book called There is a God. This is written by philosopher Anthony Flew, and I came across it quite by accident (again, that serendipity thing) the other day while browsing the bookstore. I've never heard of Flew before, but evidently he has been regarded by many as one of the "Fathers" of modern atheism. In the 1950's he wrote a scholarly paper on the depravity of religious belief, and it has been hailed as the pentultimate thesis on atheism ever since (I think I read that it has been distrubuted more widely than any other scholarly paper in the 20th century).
Despite this, Flew has now embraced a sort of philosophical theism. He's now an old man, of course, and his change of heart might be chalked up to the fear of approaching annihilation, but either way, he has written a book detailing why he has rejected atheism, after a lifetime as one of the foremost champions of atheism, in favor of philsophical theism. He hasn't, apparently, accepted any dogamatic institutional form of religion (which, of course, is one thing in his favor), but instead has accepted more of a Martin Gardner type of belief -- a creator God who is involved in human life and is interested in the spiritual growth and fulfillment of human beings. Since this is not at all unlike the God concept Peck paints in The Road Less Traveled, I'm very interested in hearing what Flew has to say, particularly since he comes from a background of militant atheism.
After I finish Flew's book, I will finish up by reading the extremely popular and controversial book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. As a sort of "counterpoint" to There is a God, I want to see what all the fuss is about regarding this book, and see what I really think of the modern atheist position.
By reading these three books -- a scholarly history of God, a story of a former atheist turned philosophical theist, and a militant treatise on the harmfulness of religious belief -- I hope to come away with a more informed and well-rounded view of God. This, coupled with a lot of prayer and meditation will, I hope, allow me to settle on a concept of God that resonates with me -- or perhaps, no concept at all. I am willing to risk the descent (or ascent, as some would say) into atheism in order to find God. If I never return from that journey into atheism, then so be it -- at least I will have found an answer that works for me. Of course, my intention is not to turn atheist, but to buttress my sense of spirituality and universal mystery by coming to a deeper understanding of God.
I want to end by extending an offer to all my readers to join me in this quest. I realize, right from the start, that this probably will not be taken up by anyone else. It's a lot of work, and as Peck says in The Road Less Traveled, most people are not equal to the work required for spiritual and personal growth. In that same vein, Mark Twain once said "Be good, and you will be lonesome." This became the basis of a wonderful Jimmy Buffett song in 1987. For certain, the road to spiritual enlightenment is a lonely one.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that if you choose not to take this particular quest with me it means you aren't dedicated to personal and spiritual growth. Maybe this just isn't the way you want to go about it. And that, of course, is a highly personal decision, not one I can make for anyone but myself.
But if anyone is up to the task, I would encourage you to read these books, in this order, along with me, and buttress it with prayer and meditation. I think it would strengthen my quest, as well as yours, to be able to discuss it with someone else.
Finally, I want to add that I will not be blogging between now and the end of my quest. Not because I'm going to be holed up in the woods muttering Buddhist mantras -- I still have to work, go to school, and be a father, after all -- but simply because I want to focus my spiritual and intellectual attention right now on this quest. Theology, the meaning of Jesus' life, Church history, and all the other things I love to write about are not germaine to this particular quest. This is a quest to find God, and that's what I want to focus on. So unless I change my mind later, I won't blog again until I have completed this journey. Naturally, if any of you do want to come along with me on this quest, please let me know.
Until then, shalom, and I'll see you on the flip side.