Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Why believe in God if you are good? What does this belief add?

In the Sleepwalking to Emptiness post a comment by Tobias says "I try to talk about the spiritual realities to friends, but meet resistance all the way. They say that the point of life is to live it and not think about life after death because there might not be any, and if there is, then it will happen anyway. There is no knowledge of what is required to assure life after death, and when I try to explain, they say that they are good people, and if there is a God, and he cannot see that, then he is not worth bothering with. More than that, he is being unfair, and expecting too much of humanity in expecting them to acknowledge Christ."

Tobias' remark ties in with something else I was thinking about recently which was this.
If you don't believe in God but do believe in love and goodness, is there any real difference? Isn't that just believing in what is most essential about God anyway, and the supernatural element is not really so important?

The answer is that there is an enormous difference. But first of all, let me say this. If you don't believe in God then you don't really believe in love and goodness because without God these can have no real meaning. It is only a personal Creator that can give these things any kind of intrinsic living truth because they have to be grounded in something. Without such a being they are just nice ideas which it would seem to everyone's benefit to try to realise in life. But they are not objective realities that are fundamental to the universe. They cannot be without being centred in a Creator, a person, the Person. For these things are attributes of a person and cannot exist without a person. 

So, let's get this straight. If you don't believe in God then you don't believe in love and goodness except as abstractions. They are not really real.

But there is more. Even if what I have just written were not the case, it cannot be said that believing in love and goodness is enough without the belief in God. For two reasons. Firstly, because the love and goodness you believe in is then restricted to the material plane and to humanity as it is in this world. It will be directed to mortal men and women, and interpreted in the context of their mortal needs and desires. But love and goodness extend far beyond the mortal world and, in fact, to limit their operation to this world is to reduce them to mere shadows of what they actually are. They must be focused on a being's spiritual welfare; that is directed to the whole person not just to a truncated aspect of the whole which, if supported by love and the will to good to the detriment of the whole, will be given a false emphasis which will actually have an evil effect in that it will cut the person off from the higher aspects of his being which aspect represents his true and real self. Every parent knows that it is not love or goodness that allows a child to stuff itself with ice cream and cake until it is sick. This is the same principle.

The second reason that a belief in God is important is that this metaphysical action or thought (it's a mental action) opens up something within you which otherwise remains closed. As we have seen, if you believe in love but not God then you aren't really believing in love because love, to be real, must take its rise in the personal. The ultimate source of the personal can only be God. It is the reality of his person that makes love real. That and nothing else. If there is no person behind love then love is not real. So only those who believe in God really believe in love.

But a belief in God does more than this. It releases the mind from material bondage, allowing it to be sensitive to what is beyond itself. By believing in God, you open your heart and mind up to what is out there, beyond the purely material world. You actively begin to transform your very being to a higher state of consciousness. It's as though there is a curtain drawn across your mind, blocking out the light. When you draw that curtain, you allow the light to come in. Those who don't draw the curtain remain stuck in their little room, interpreting any ideas of love and goodness they might have merely from within the context of that room. Moreover, the fact is that their ideas about love are mostly inherited from those who have drawn the curtains anyway.

Being good, or what the world thinks of as good, is not of primary importance. What matters, spiritually speaking, is polarizing your being towards the real good, the real beautiful and the real true. It is detaching yourself from identification with your worldly self and realigning yourself with your spiritual being which is your true divine self. (The earthly self is not rejected but integrated with that divine self). When you die, you lose your body straightaway. But soon after that, if you would ascend to higher planes of being, you must detach yourself from your earthly personality too. The more you can do that now, the better off you will be then. In fact, it may well be that if you don't do it now, it will be very hard to do then. Your unbelief has surrounded you with a hard carapace of ignorance that encloses you in spiritual darkness.

Belief in God, proper belief of the heart and the mind, is saying yes to the universe. Disbelief, on the other hand, is the spirit of denial and refusal. It is the closing of the mind and the affirmation of self. Believing in God is like the blossoming of a flower. Unbelief is a bud that never opens.

The only real good is spiritual good because that is goodness in the whole. That means it is goodness as it relates to the entirety of what we are and not just a limited portion of it as material goodness does. And goodness (as love) in a material sense cannot be real because it has no true foundation. It is merely a conceptual thing, not a living reality that is fundamental to being itself for, in a purely material universe, consciousness and the self are constructs that break down to nothing. We can invest them with an imagined goodness but it is just projected out of thought. It is not real. Why believe in God if you are good? Because without God, no one is good. Jesus said that even of himself.


Francis Berger said...

If I were a lesser man, I would be seething with envy - that is how good this post is.

I have encountered the "I don't believe in God, but I'm still a good person" argument many times in the past, but I have rarely seen it addressed with the level of lucidity and clarity you have demonstrated here.

So many powerful lines and thoughts. Some of them could exist on their own as memorable aphorisms. I have a feeling I will be returning to this post again and again.

I certainly hope Tobias reads this.

William Wildblood said...

You're very kind, Francis. What kicked off these reflections was Tobias's comment but it's something i've thought of a lot too because instinctively you know that it's just not possible to be good without God so you have to work out why that is.

Adil said...

Pure gold. Thanks. Your writing dances into the mind without having to read it, and goes directly to the heart with a passion for what is true and good. I think you are doing important spiritual work in synthesising eastern thought with western religion, in the light of Christ.

William Wildblood said...

Goodness, thanks Eric! You've actually described what I am trying to do very well. I hadn't specifically thought of it in that way but that is what I'm trying to do, probably because of my own trajectory through life.

Chris said...

Hey William,

I understand what you are getting at in this post, but I think your position is too narrow. The core issue is not theism, it is reductive materialism.
For example, it is not true that the love and goodness of the bhodisattva has no real meaning.

Chris said...

oops, correction
Bodhisattva that is

William Wildblood said...

Where does the Bodhisattva get that from? This is an inconsistency in Mahayana Buddhism. Don't forget that the Bodhisattva in original Buddhism is just the next Buddha. The idea of a Bodhisattva as a compassionate saviour type only arose after Christ and I think it came from the spiritual influence of Christ which softened austere Buddhism.

Chris said...


Even if it is true that Christianity influenced Theravada Buddhism, I don't see the inconsistency in Mahayana. The charge that non-theistic metaphysics obliterates the reality of differences is not dissimilar to the charge made by non-Christian theists that Trinitarianism and Divine unity are logically incompatible.

William Wildblood said...

I'm not saying the Christianity influenced Buddhism, though it may have, but that the Incarnation did as something spreading through the psychic atmosphere to be picked up by those spiritually sensitive enough to do so.

The inconsistency is that Buddhism is based on the doctrine of no self or not self but love, compassion and goodness totally depend on the reality of the self. They can't just be plucked out of the abstract air. They are always focused in the reality of the person. Otherwise they have no meaning at all. We can pretend they do but they really don't. They can't.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"these things are attributes of a person and cannot exist without a person"

Right, but God's not the only person. People are people too, aren't we? Why is love among persons other than God possible, without any need for God's involvement? Sorry if this seems like an ignorant question. A lot of things that seem obvious to "natural-born theists" like yourself just aren't that obvious to others.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I meant "Why isn't...?" of course.

William Wildblood said...

That's not an ignorant question. It's a good one. Mind you, I wouldn't call any question ignorant especially since half the time it's questions like yours that make me look more closely at my own ideas. Anyway, my answer if that where there is love among persons God is involved whether we acknowledge him or not. He is in us, we are made in his image and so we have the capacity for love but at the moment that is a very limited capacity. For it to grow then we have to become more aware of God.

Basically, love is not possible without God but God is always there, recognised or not. It is he who is the source of love, it is the essence of his being and his reality, and we cannot but help responding to that in some way since it is woven into the fabric of our own being. In the same way, we are only persons because of the 'ur personhood ' of God which he has shared with us, but the original person, without which ours could not be, is him. So although people are people they wouldn't be without the person template (God) behind that giving it some real reality.