Why and How I Believe in God
Do I believe in God? Many people do not ask the question (at least not publicly although they may think it to themselves privately), either because they accept God's existence and all that their particular religion says about Him without reservation or because they reject God's existence, also without any reservation. It seems to me that there is no universal definition of God. Therefore, if one wishes to believe in God, one can define God in such a way that He falls within the confines of what one actually believes. Conversely, if one wishes to be an atheist, one can define God in such a way that He falls outside the confines of what one believes. So whether or not you believe in God depends on which team you belong, by birth, by choice, or by any other circumstance.
At this point I would like to tell you that I believe in God, but before I go further, let me reveal my background because that will shed some light on my point of view. I am a Jew. I grew up in a family that was associated with the Conservative Movement in Judaism and have continued this association into adult life. Conservative Judaism is unlike Orthodox Judaism and similar to Reform Judaism in being non-fundamentalist, i.e. not everything written in the Bible and Talmud is necessarily the word of God and therefore not necessarily absolute fact. Nonetheless, it retains most of the ceremonial traditions of Orthodoxy. Interestingly, during my religious education in Hebrew School, I was never made aware of this non-fundamentalism. I first learned about it in a course on comparative religion in college. This was probably because in Judaism, what you do (ceremonially as well as daily life) matters more than what you think. In my parents home, we celebrated the major Jewish holidays and, if asked, professed belief in God. There were Jewish books on the book shelves. I was sent to Hebrew School, but making good grades in Public School was more important than in Hebrew School. Public School was the key to making a living (the material). Hebrew School represented the beauty or condiment of life (the abstract). Jewish education was important and not to be neglected, but first one had to make a living. Later I became a physician, specializing in Dermatology. This required an emphasis on the study of science in college, medical school, post-graduate training, and continuing education to this day. The scientific method means to ask a question, make observations with one's own senses, and then apply logic to these observations to arrive at the best possible answer to the question, realizing that one is not arriving at the absolute truth but simply at the best possible approach to the truth. In reality, we do not observe everything personally but rely on observations made by people who came before us, hoping that those observations are for the most part correct, but realizing that some day someone may find them to be not correct. All of this has affected my point of view.
So, what is my point of view? I said that there can be various definitions of God and that one can define God to fall inside or outside of ones own definition. I choose to believe in God, and so I must define Him in a way that is consistent with what I actually believe. To define or approach God, I would propose two observations as starting points. One is that people for thousands of years going back to pre-historic times have worshipped deities. Some civilizations were separated from others for so long that one might guess that they came up with the idea independently rather than inheriting it from one original thinker at the dawn of human existence. The other observation is that I (and I assume everyone else unless all of you are just a figment of my imagination) have a consciousness. This consciousness is something that I sense. If it did not exist, I would not sense anything, and this discussion would not be occurring.
The first observation relates to why one should believe in God. If there is no reason, then the question is irrelevant. So why have people in various civilizations worshipped deities? They have done so because with the ability to reason, humans began to think about the transitiveness of life. How can it be that I live for a short time, and then there is nothing? What is the purpose of it all? So people came up with the idea that the universe or all of existence is ruled by one or more gods who are immortal and that people, although mortal on this earth go on after death to another existence. Often there is a good place like Heaven for people who live a righteous life here and a bad place like Hell for bad people. Years ago this evolved in many cultures into a belief in one God who relates to all of existence. So, there is a universal concern about our mortality which religion has addressed whether or not one is satisfied with the answers that the various religions have proposed. Therefore I believe that the question of God's existence is not irrelevant.
The second observation is that I have a consciousness. Although some people value their body parts over everything else, for me (and I think for most of us) my consciousness (or in other words my mind) constitutes me. If I lost a leg or an arm, I would miss it, but I would still exist. If I became blind or deaf, it would certainly be a disaster, but I would still exist. In the field of health care, we talk about preserving or saving life, but is it not consciousness that we are really aiming to save? We now talk about brain death. A brain dead person is a person whose heart and lungs are functioning, but whose mind is gone. This person is unconscious, and the electroencephalogram tells us that there is no hope of that consciousness ever coming back again. Sometimes the organs of such a person are harvested for transplantation into a person whose consciousness we can save. We consider the brain dead person dead and the organ recipient alive and salvageable. So ultimately the driving force is not the chemical life of cells that we are saving, but the function of consciousness. It happens that with the present state of medical science, we can only save that consciousness by saving certain living brain cells in the cerebral cortex upon which that consciousness depends.
Let us now take this concept of consciousness forward one more step to the concept of the soul. Is the soul synonymous with the mind? For me, the soul is the mind plus all of its abstract extensions, creations, and ramifications. If one writes a thought on paper, that is now part of one's soul. The person can physically die, but the thought lives on the paper and can be transferred to anyone who reads that thought. The same can be said about any thought that is transmitted or preserved in writing, verbally, electronically, in art, in music, by teaching, by raising children, or in any other way. In computer terminology, we talk about hardware and software. Our brains are hardware. Our souls are software, not just including our minds because our minds are mortal and can only exist inside our brains, but our souls are immortal and can go anywhere, intertwining with other souls in a great network of abstract existence.
So then, who is God? I choose to define God as all of abstract existence, that is all souls and thoughts that exist, have existed in the past , might exist in the future, and all potential ones that never have existed or never will exist as we conceive existence. Why do I choose this definition? I do not pretend that this is some absolute truth that everyone must believe, but it is the best I can come up with to address my concerns about the transitiveness of life and those of my ancestors going back to pre-historic times, without contradicting reason as I perceive it. I am doing the same as the pre-historic man who, contemplating the same problem, worshipped the sun. As I have, he took the knowledge at his disposal and came up with what he considered to be the most reasonable answer. He could see that the sun was up there in the sky, unreachable. It gave him warmth. It had something to do with making the plants grow which in turn gave him food. It was too bright to look at directly. It had no rival. What else was he to believe?
Why do I use the soul as an approach to perceiving God? Because I can perceive my soul. My consciousness is at the center of it. Only then can I extrapolate God who includes all of our souls. I believe ancient people did this many years ago, considering that the Bible says that man was created in the image of God. Some people would say that man created God rather than God created man. My answer to that is that using man as a vehicle to perceive God does not mean creating God, just as when a biochemist discovers some previously undiscovered enzyme, he is not creating that enzyme.
When God is defined as all past, present, future, and potential souls, and the soul is defined as all the thoughts of an individual person, then God is defined as all thoughts or in other words all abstraction. One could then say that there are two existences, the material existence and the abstract existence. So, God is defined as all of abstract existence. One might then ask, between the material world which is defined as other than God and the abstract world which is defined as God, which created and/or dominates which. The Bible states that God created the world (which one could define as the material existence) and implies that He manages it as well. On the material (or atheistic) side one could point out that consciousness is dependent on the existence of material life and seems to cease when material life ceases. Even the definition of God as simply all abstract thought just delays the ultimate tragedy because eventually the sun will burn out, mankind will end, and even the written and electronic records of our thoughts will eventually crumble into non-existence. On the abstract (or believing in God) side, one could say that if all consciousness ceases with the end of material life and eventually there are no souls anywhere to perceive material existence (and therefore no abstraction, or in other words no God), then material existence would be irrelevant, and in a sense would no longer exist. Looking at it that way, God did create the universe because God is necessary to discover material existence. There is at least an interdependence between the two. So, how did the ancient authors of the Bible arrive at this conclusion that God created the universe? A fundamentalist would say that God told them. I am more comfortable with the idea that they took the information that was available to them at the time and came to a conclusion that seemed reasonable, just as scientists and philosophers do today.
Let us now go forward one more step. In science, nothing is ever the undisputable truth. Even the most certain scientific laws sometimes come into question and may eventually be disproved. At any point in time, some concepts are more secure in their acceptance as the truth, and others are considered more or less hypothetical. So far, I feel fairly secure in what I have said because I have only taken what I really believe to be true and extrapolated it. In so doing, we have a God who is a concept, a way of looking at things, but is He a personal God? Is He the creator and manager of all of existence, including material existence in more than just an abstract sense? Did He really make us in His image? In other words, does His big consciousness have an independent existence similar to but so much greater than our little ones? I can't say with certainty, but maybe it does. This is only a hypothesis, but I would like to think so. Well, why not? Hypotheses are acceptable in science and are an important step in the scientific method, so why should they not be acceptable in religion as long as one acknowledges that a hypothesis is not more than a hypothesis.
So that is my belief in God. This concept seems to satisfy me more than any other. I am not promoting it for anyone else. It is probably not unique, and I suspect other people at some time or other must have come up with similar conclusions.