Leader Resource 3: Thoughts on the Word God
No matter how much of a humanist one may be, it would seem impossible (at least to me) for a thoughtful and sincere person who is trying to be a citizen of the world, who knows sympathetically something of man's religious history, to feel it necessary to discard completely all the ideas or concepts that have at one time or another been a part of the generalized thought symbolized by the word God. [One] may call the old God dead who favored Abraham and destroyed the idol-worshipping Babylonians. [One] may call that God dead who sent the plagues upon the Egyptians and saved the Hebrews. [One] may call God dead who died on a cross to save mankind. [One] may call that God dead who prospers the righteous and keeps the wicked poor, who changes the laws of Nature in order to show his power or to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. [One] may believe that the universe is neutral to human needs or even unjust. [One] may refuse to try to imagine God as belonging in a supernatural world. Nevertheless, after all such denials, there remain still other thoughts for which the word God has stood, and that deserve serious consideration and respect.
Or perhaps there are new meanings that now need to be embodied in the word God.
Anthropologist Loren Eisley writes of that "delicate, elusive mysterious principle known as organization which leaves all other mysteries concerned with life stale and insignificant by comparison... Like some dark and passing shadow within matter, it cups out the eyes' small windows or spaces the notes of a meadow lark's song in the interior of a mottled egg. That principle—I am beginning to suspect—was there before the living in the deeps of water."
A modern Psalmist, "having pressed his hands against the confining walls of scientific method," sings his own reverent poetic song to the ineffable, unutterable reality, both beyond and within all. To call this by the word God is in no deep sense an answer. The word merely suggests that there must be an answer even though we may never know fully what it is.
To be agnostic simply to save ourselves the mental trouble of further delving or because we have grown weary of trying to think hard, or because we are afraid to run the risk of finding that life is not after all what we want it to be, may well dull our alertness in general. The kind of agnosticism worthy of an intelligent and courageous person is the kind that is ceaselessly trying to decrease the range of its unknowing. It is not the freedom to live in a world of [one's] own dreaming that the person of integrity claims. It is rather a hardy freedom to insist on the liberty to dare to risk trying to live in truth.
Excerpted from Worshipping Together with Questioning Minds by Sophia Lyon Fahs. Copyright (C) 1965 by Sophia Lyon Fahs. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.