The Inadequacy of The God Triad: Where Do I Stand?

This is a long over-due post, since people have been asking me for years what my view of God is, and i have been avoiding a direct answer. The problem is that when people ask me this question, they want to squeeze me into some label. And three most typical labels used are Theist, Atheist and Agnostic, which i shall henceforth refer to as The God Triad. I don't feel comfortable with the God Triad, because it is inadequate. I have never felt belonging neatly to any of the three categories. Why? There are four reasons:

1) The Triad depends on a pre-supposed definition of God, and if that definition of God is changed, the label may change too. For instance, if God is defined as "omniscient, omnipotent, creator of the universe" then a person who believes in any non-Abrahamic conception of God would be labeled an Atheist because God, by that definition, does not exist for him. Like mystics were labelled atheists; like Spinoza was labelled atheist. And interestingly, like the Jews were labelled atheist by the Romans.

2) The classification doesn't take into account the potential dichotomy of reason and emotions. For example, for a Theist who believes that God exists, there is no dichotomy of reason and emotions inside him. He would believe in some logical argument for God's existence, or he might simply believe that reason is too limited to reach God. But consider a person who is logically an atheist or agnostic, and yet continues to emotionally feel as if 'something' is out there. That person may even continue act in real life as if some higher force exists in the universe, without ascribing to any particular God. He may not even use the term God. For such a person, and they do exist (i am in a more or less similar category), i believe it would be hypocritical to pretend that those emotions don't exist. What is the point of a particular label if it leaves out a huge chunk of how you actually do live? And emotions do play a strong part in how we live.

3) Pragmatism has radically changed the notion of 'reality' and 'existence' and other ontological notions of that sort. If facts exists independent of human cognition, they are unknown to us. Facts may not even exist independent of human experience. In this setting, the question "Does God exist?" takes on a very different dimension. The God Triad, usually, is seen in a non-pragmatic sense, talking about a reality which is objective and independent. In that sense, perhaps the pragmatist position in the God Triad would be some form of Agnosticism. However, if the God Triad is seen from a pragmatist sense, then the question 'Does God exist?' would be a question of which of these positions 'works' for us. It would not be an issue of whether existence of God corresponds with some ‘independent, objective reality’ but rather it would be a matter of which attitude worked best in life. Here, point 3 becomes related to point 2. For a man who lives in the constant emotional consciousness of some higher force, it would be absurd for him to label himself an atheist, since the label is obviously inadequate, and yet he is not theist, because he logically doesn't believe in any 'God'.

Here i would like to share two extract, one from a lecture Ultimate Religion by George Santayana, and other from the novel Ocean Sea by Alessandro Barrico, to illustrate two atypical conceptions of God, both of which have influenced me greatly:

* "Of this power i confess to know nothing further. To me, as yet, it is merely the counterpart of my impotence. I should not venture, for instance, to call this power almighty, since i have no means of knowing how much it can do... I am not asserting the physical validity of this sense of agency or cause: I am merely feeling the force, the friendliness, the hostility, the unfathomableness of the world. I am expressing an impression."

George Santayana, Ultimate Religion

Its a dialogue between Father Pluche and Bartleboom from Ocean Sea.

"Numbers speak clearly, Father Pluche. The rest is poetry."
"Quite. If only we were a little more..."
"Don't make things difficult, Father Pluche. The question is a simple one. Do you really believe that God exists?"
"Well, now exists strikes me as slightly excessive term, but i believe he is there, that's it, in a world of his own, he is there."
"And what difference does it make?"
"It makes a difference, all right, Bartleboom, and how. Take for example this story of the seventh room... yes, the story of that man at the inn who never leaves his room, and all that."
"No one has ever seen him. He eats, it would seem. But it could easily be a trick. He might not exist. Made up by Dira. But for us, in any case, he would be there. In the evenings the lights are lit in that room, every so often sounds are heard, you yourself, i have seen you slow down when you pass that room, you try to see, to hear something... For us that man is there."

4) I don't feel that the question of God's existence per se is of any importance to me. The question which is important is: "Is there any meaning in human life?" The two issue are related, but distinct. God may exist, and yet there may be no meaning in human life. For example, consider Aristotle's God or the Deistic conception. God is just a creator who left the universe to its own laws and does not meddle in it. Such a God creates no meaning for human life, for there is also no heaven or hell, or any revelation by God to follow.

So, here i would propose, like Wittgenstein, to see 'God' in a new light. Wittgenstein writes in his notebook: "The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God." Such a meaning need not exist in the form of a 'being' or have any ontological status. Hence, such a God would not fit into the traditional God Triad. The modified God Triad would be:

Theism: Life has meaning
Atheism: Life has no meaning
Agnostic: I don't know if life has meaning or not.

[But since the God Triad is almost always used in traditional sense, i would not prefer the use of these terms in the modified sense.] Now, where do i stand? Logically speaking, i don't think life has no any meaning apart from what we create for ourselves. However, emotionally, i cannot help but feel that there is some higher meaning to my life which i am unaware of; that there is some teleological progression; that the events happening are not just random coincidences but rather have some unknown purpose. I know, logically, such a belief is totally unfounded. And yet i have been unable to shake this feeling off, despite years of trying, and i would be a hypocrite if i denied that i do not live in the constant consciousness of some higher, hidden meaning. And here i would say like Santayana "I am not asserting the physical validity of this sense of agency or cause: I am merely feeling the force, the friendliness, the hostility, the unfathomableness of the world. I am expressing an impression."

Give whatever label you wish to give to it.

Cross-posted at The Trash Bin.


freethinker said…
Yay, you're 'out' to your readers! Oh but sweetie this blog is infested with Harun Yahya-loving religious zealots. And you've revealed too much about particulars... so I'm not altogether happy about you 'coming out' on this blog.

Some people would get stuck on your 'logically doesn't believe in any 'God''. That sentence is enough for the religious-minded to confirm their suspicions that you're in the devil's sway, and if you are, then the only choice for the believer is to either pity you or punish you for your disbelief.

And then there'll be those who'll get stuck on your 'constant emotional consciousness of some higher force'. They'll take that as a sign that you're still a believer at heart, even though you do not say that you identify with the consciousness of a higher force - that it's just that you cannot shake the feeling a sense of purpose to it all (am I right?). They can go on happily reading your blog while they hold on to their belief that real non-believers deserve punishment for their 'Inkar' and 'Kufr', at least in the Hereafter if not now.

That's my reason for being an apostate of Islam. Because apostasy is deconstruction: if I can be an apostate who Muslims are forced to see as someone not wicked and under the devil's sway, I will have shaken free their rigid (and unfair) constructs of good and bad.
karachi khatmal said…
for some reason, i always felt wittgenstien was a true rock star. i tried reading him though, and didn't get shit.

but he had these quotes and one-liners that make you go "fuck yeah."

i think i just found another one.

ideally i should shut up now, but i love the fact that by this definition, unless one actively searches for the meaning of life, one actively questions and evaluates and refuses to give in to blind faith, God would never be found. and hence the heretic would be the one who smiles along with whatever has been ordained and never concerns himself with deciphering its meaning. (see commenters from the flogging unislamic post for further reference)
another superb post btw...
Think Tank said…
y do i find u voicing my thoughts everyday?
desiskeptic said…
Interesting to know your standpoint on this issue Awais.

We as humans can't help but see meaning and purpose in almost everything we see. This for example explains the abundance of conspiracy theories linking world events even if there might not be strong links between events.

I myself also feel that there should be some meaning and purpose to life. Thinking that their is no purpose and order makes me feel broken and shattered inside. I of course am not making a statement about whether there actually *is* some higher order but just that the thought is comforting and helpful to me in orienting my life.

I also feel that spiritual experiences and inner peace are important to living a healthy life. Once again, why certain things give me peace might be explainable by the neurology of my brain or there might actually be some higher order. I just don't know.

At times this dichotomy between reductionist explanations and spiritual experiences and emotions which don't feel reducible is troubling. Even though I would prefer believing in the latter, time and again our intuitions have been explained through simpler means. We might end up with some theory which might explain the totality of our experiences in a satisfactory way, and that theory might not necessarily be a reductionist one, but until then, I acknowledge the experiences I have but stay away from making any strong claims about our shared reality.
Shaheryar Ali said…
Honey i am bit concerned after reading freethinker's comments. But dont worry you will be alright. You are such a gem
Salman Latif said…
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, in one of his philosophical essays, redefined the category of the people you're pertaining to. He, too, refused to define people who refuse, not the existence of God, but the existence of any proof of God's existence, as athiests and rather termed them as believers.
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Awais,

I visited your site because we have a common 'follower'. I agree with almost everything you say on this post.

The world is not divided between theists and atheists as many people seem to think, or would like to think, where theism is synonymous with fundamentalism or only a short slip of the mind away from it.

You may be interested in reading this, though my blog is very plain compared to yours, to say the least.

Best regards, Paul.
Anonymous said…
i wish i didnt burn my brain cells