By Jin-yeong Yi
“It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God – but to create him.”
—Arthur C. Clarke
“If there is no God…if there is no thing called ‘God’…if He is nothing, can’t something come from Him?”
—Stephen Colbert, interview with Lawrence Krauss
I am an atheist, but I believe in God. Depending on your cultural background, this sentence may have made absolutely no sense to you. Not long ago, it wouldn’t have made any sense to me either, because the only definition of “God” that I was really aware of was the omnipotent/omniscient/omnipresent monotheistic, patriarchal deity of orthodox Christianity. My inquiries outside of the Christian mainstream; specifically in deism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Spinozism, as well as progressive Christianity; eventually cured me of this myopia. I came to realize that the word “God” could mean anything at all. Then finally, I realized that the word could mean something for me as well.
Seen in this light, the “One nation under God” controversy seems pointless, a complete waste of time, even. There have been myriad religions throughout the millennia that affirmed different and conflicting definitions of the word “God.” Depending on the definition, “God” can be something affirmable for everyone, even atheists. All that one needs to do is to refashion the word for one’s own purposes.
One of the people who helped open up the possibilities of this Word of words to me was the Dutch Christian pastor Klaas Hendrikse, a religious maverick who caused his share of controversy in the late 2000’s with his book, whose title is translated as Believing in a God Who Does Not Exist: Manifesto of an Atheist Pastor. He explained, “God is for me not a being but a word for what can happen between people.” His words never faded from my consciousness, and they continue to inspire me in my ongoing quest to find out what God means to me.
In the same way theists use the word to denote what they worship as the Most High, I use the word as a linguistic vessel that gives expression to my subjective emotional reaction to something I find to be particularly beautiful or sublime. In this sense, I may experience the presence of Godhead, in varying degrees, when looking at a work of art, listening to a piece of music, reading a book, watching a motion picture, gazing at natural scenery, or ruminating on the wonders of science and mathematics. If religious service is the contemplation and worship of everything that one holds to be holy and sacred, then daily life for me is, on some level, one continuous, unending religious service.
The word is also a source of daily inspiration in my life. For me, God is the impossible standard of absolute perfection. God cannot be reached; God can only be pursued, for God is infinite. We can move toward God, but we can never reach God. This is only natural, for God is infinitely above us. But as long as we move in the direction of God, we cannot help but grow and evolve through our efforts. To understand God is to recognize that growth and evolution have no end point any more than progress with a musical instrument has an end point–that there’s always, always room for betterment. Amen.