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Making God Small

November 18, 2007

An interesting article at NYT and a conversation with my sister got me thinking about the immense variety of experiences of God.

Scientific inquiry seems to hum along best in a generative adversarial mode:  i.e., I pose something; you try to show it is false.  You set them up, I will knock them down. (…and then we still have to work out what "show" means.)

It might be useful for people to recognize a domain of experience where scientific inquiry is the playing field and other places where it is not.   Uniquely personal experience plays a role in all kinds of things, yet we (a) disallow "unique" in science (reproducibility!) and then (b) invoke science as authority when we want to argue about some sorts of things–stridently when dealing with important abstract ideas for which killing may become necessary.

We don’t hear much about scientifically proving Madonna is better than all other first-name-only singing artists. We leave to your personal experience to find that you prefer Sting to Cher.

But the god-exists question mixes the two all the time. "I know there is a God because I have personal experience" vs. "I know there is no God because I cannot validate the (your personal) experience."

Mystics strive for an unmediated, personal experience of God, a direct knowing. And regardless of the (self-reported) level of their experience, you rarely hear them arguing about the existence of the thing they work to experience.  But then, very few mystics make the sort of "practical" claims that need backing up by a deity such as God wants gays dead, God wants people of this and that particular religion to change or suffer, God made everything in the universe in 7 literal 24 hr days-or else, God found my car keys when I lost them…

Maybe it is that a too-practical, too-personal God isn’t also big enough to satisfy the spiritual longing innate in humans.  Have we debilitated God by making Him chronically trivial, self-contradicting, and crassly malleable by requiring Her to pay "personal" attention the next short-sighted human request?

Always useful to ask "What would Jesus bomb?" as you lead your country to war in the name of God…

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