All the good that Salon has done by publishing the eloquent antitheist essays by Jeffrey Tayler has been wiped away for good by a new essay on the site, “You’re praying to the wrong God: What organized religion gets wrong about prayer.” It’s by Nancy Abrams, and is an excerpt from her new book A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.
Judging from this excerpt and the Amazon description, Abrams does for religion what compatibilists do for free will: she tells us that there is no anthropomorphic God who cares for each of us, but that’s okay, for she redefines God to give us The Only Kind of God Worth Wanting!
That God is the Universe, or so you might discern from painfully clawing your way through her tortured prose. But it’s more than just Einstein’s recasting of God as the wonders and regularities of the Universe. Read a few excerpts and then tell me what you think she’s trying to say. (I’m not sure myself.)
This is her first paragraph, and I’ll be damned if I know what she’s talking about:
The power of praying comes from daring to enter that mysterious place between the emerging God and us. But it’s not an empty space—it’s our own selves on progressively larger size scales, where we are participating in multiple emerging phenomena and creating emergent identities. As the ancient Egyptian world blended outward into the spiritual world, so does ours. And the higher our consciousness goes along the Uroboros of Human Identity, the more it blends into the emerging phenomenon of God. In tuning our ordinary consciousness in to those higher levels that we may have scarcely ever visited before, we approach God.
Thus we simply change our idea of God from a supernatural being to whatever fulfills our “God Capacity”:
It’s time to crack open the whole idea of talking to God. If we are in a universe now known to span more than sixty orders of magnitude, and God is emerging from the infinite interactions of human aspirations, we have to look at everything anew. We’ve already begun to do this intellectually, but can we do it emotionally? How can we step outside images of God that are many centuries deep and realize that those are only images and not reality?
It turns out all humans have a tool that will let us do this. The perfect name for it was suggested by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. In an interview filmed in the early 1950s Jung was asked bluntly, “Do you believe God exists?” Earlier Jung had written that all people need ideas and convictions that can give meaning to their lives and help them find their “place in the universe” (his phrase). He had written that we have the capacity to satisfy this need symbolically with a god image. He answered the interviewer by saying, “What I know is that all humans have a ‘god-capacity.’” That’s the tool. Our god-capacity.
And, apparently, we can force ourselves to believe that the Universe itself fills that “god-capacity”, which of course isn’t traditional religion at all, but to Abrams might be a good replacement (my emphasis):
There is a God that’s closer to every one of us than the air we breathe and more powerful than the zeitgeist in which our lives are planted. If we could learn from the evangelicals how to feel as though we’re really in touch with the emerging God in the ways we actually are, we could experience the joy and awe of participation in the universe and see the possibility of prayer as a cosmic blessing.
We have learned from the evangelicals in [Tanya] Luhrmann’s study that if we are motivated enough, it’s possible to train our minds to experience whatever we believe is real. What if we directed toward the real universe and the emerging God even a fraction of the effort that millions of religious people make every day to experience the presence of their image of God?
After redefining the Universe as God, she then redefines “prayer” as “contemplating the Universe” (this woman would have made a wonderful free-will compatibilist!):
It’s often said that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening for the answer. That can be true, of course, but it’s not the only way. If we meditate on how the universe works as if we actually believed it, that would be a prayer to reality, and reality is the parent of God and everything else. This kind of prayer is a way of harmonizing oneself with the reality that can host an emerging God. We no longer live in an intuitive universe, but most of our words still refer to earthly experiences and, unless we unchain them as metaphors, these metaphors mislead us to think that they accurately reflect reality.
If we want to know how to talk to God, or how God might talk to us, we need to train our minds to live in the same universe as God. Doing so can be prayer.
. . . We’re truly participating in our universe when we come to feel in our bones that we are part of the story, thoroughly integrated into the big picture. God is emerging from us and bound into us, we know where we stand in the cosmos, and we know what we are.
. . . The galaxy is merely our local geography. There is a whole universe to re-envision, large and small, outside and inside ourselves. Expanding our consciousness to the spiritual realms of the universe is praying.
Seriously, can any thinking person take this stuff seriously? Her solution to the delusions of religion is to substitute the idea that God is really just science and naturalism, but is also more-than-just-naturalism in a way that isn’t quite clear. Will believers buy it? I doubt it? Will atheists buy it? Only if they’ve lost too many neurons.
Sure, you can harmonize religion with science if you redefine religion as science, and prayer as simply awe before the Universe. But then why use the word “God” at all, which, as Abrams knows, is loaded with emotional and historical resonance? You can also decide that “cat” is just another word for “d*g,” and then argue that Hili is a d*g, but who, given the historical use of those terms, would accept that usage? Only someone who desperatelyy wants a d*g but has only a cat.