Life is my God (/ Spirit / Source)
I’ve long eschewed organized religion, though I deeply appreciate generationally resonant traditions and rituals.
There is something deeply moving (and inspiring of curiosity) when I learn about incantations and rites that certain communities have performed for centuries and, in some cases, millennia. With the fleeting nature of today’s dopamine-drenched swipe right culture, I am inspired by the staying power of religious gatherings and narratives.
There is only one problem: I don’t like the concept of God.
Why God (and god) is not my friend
It’s not that I’m an atheist - I deeply believe (and feel like I have touched) a supreme intelligence that is far beyond my own speck of existence.
And it’s not that I’m agnostic - I fully acknowledge the existence of a higher power / deeper wisdom and bow to it in my daily meditations.
I’m not a polytheist - I personally ascribe to a single root source from which everything flows.
Simply put, I don’t appreciate the framing of God in any of the Abrahamic traditions. I am no theologian, and I warmly welcome any who are to set me straight, but here are the reasons I swiped left and blocked the word "God":
- It is exclusive - there is a strong sense of “My God” that breeds an us vs. them mentality. Specifically, if you don’t believe in “My God” then you can’t be part of my in-crowd. And don't get me started on the whole heaven and hell thing ...
- It is drenched in blood - there has been way too much bloodshed in the name of “God”. Hard for me to stand with any framing that can be so thoroughly perverted and corrupted.
- It is centralized power - the whole “supreme creator” shtick doesn’t do it for me. I don’t buy the version of reality where there is one master puppeteer that is pulling all the strings. The big challenge for me here is that it seems reductive to centralize that power into a single entity - isn’t the delight (and power) of creation all around us all the time?
>> Bonus! This concept of centralized power has been corrupted for millenia as “I’m God, therefore you bow to me”. Or I'll kill you - see above.
- It is used to shirk responsibility - God willing, with God’s approval, I might pray to God so that God can allow me to do God’s will. Oy vey.
>> Bonus! God made me this way. So whatever I do wrong in my life is excused by, and all part of, God’s master plan.
- It is a belief that cannot be proved - I’m all for ineffable experiences, but I struggle any time a philosophical or practical conversation grinds to a halt because, well, God. If the entirety of a worldview is grounded in a belief system that, at its core, is “the truth can only be seen by those who see the truth” that feels a touch tautological and presumptuous for my flavor.
To be perfectly clear, #1-4 are not inherent to the concept of God proper, it's just how humans have played that card for thousands of years (to this very day). I know plenty of very religious people who are kind, inclusive, caring, take full responsibility, and are all-around amazing human beings.
But there are many more who wield God like a sword and shield to benefit their own twisted narratives of disconnect, domination, and destruction.
Beyond western monotheism, I don't know nearly enough about Hindu to have a qualified perspective. Still, Hindus certainly have their own long history of death and destruction (and not just at the feet of Shiva). I very much appreciate allegorical and archetypal narratives that offer a reflection into our complex humanity, though I personally don't resonate with framing any of that as "Gods".
And even if I could get over #1-4, the very concept of God is fundamentally dependent on a belief-based system (of [insert God du jour] itself). This construct of God is a shared story that lots of people tell each other frequently. The moment we stop telling *that particular story*, namely humans stop believing in *that God*, it ceases to exist. (Fun, nerdy aside: This concept was evocatively, albeit verbosely, played out in Neil Gaiman's American Gods). If God is so almighty, why does it need me, the lowly human, to believe in it for its own existence? Seems fundamentally broken somehow.
And god isn't much better than God
The concept of "god", with a lower g, doesn't do much for me either. It has less of the burdensome baggage of its proper noun twin, but it can't shake the pitfalls of the family trade.
Any time something or someone is framed as a "god", that thing or person is placed on a pedestal. It disconnects, and creates distance, between the observer and the observed. It is often intended to highlight that "she / he / that is god, and you are not".
Moreover, god has a sense of tremendous power (over me, because I'm not god and never aspire to be). Although I'm well aware that others have a tremendous amount of power over every aspect of my external reality, I am equally aware that no living thing has power over how I cultivate and nurture my internal reality.
On a more humble experiential level, whenever something is framed as "godly" or "a god" I simply want to walk away. I've never known a god (or God) I liked, so that framing doesn't inspire me.
Spirit & Source were closer for me, but still not quite right
I philosophically believe in, and experientially have basked in the beauty and awe of, a deep singular wisdom. Although ineffable experiences are, by their very nature, hard to talk about, I still want some sort of label that I can use as a shorthand in daily conversation to relay grandiose ideas with my fellow humans.
For a long time, I took on the framing that I heard in various spiritual communities: Spirit and Source (S&S).
Both of these offer some notable improvements to the negative points noted above:
- S&S are not exclusive. Everyone comes from a Source, and everyone has a Spirit (even if our relative definitions and contexts may be different). It feels somewhere either stupidly obvious or inherently wrong to say "My Source is not your Source" or "My Spirit is not your Spirit". In that way, S&S are much more inclusive framings than God, but still have notable limitations.
- S&S are not blood baths. I could be wrong, but I've never heard of a war fought in the name of Source.
- S&S are decentralized power. Both concepts capture a sense of a collective consciousness that is much more gripping (and feels much more true) for me. S&S can guide my hand, and they may inspire (same root as spirit), but they don't have a pre-baked "master puppeteer" narrative.
- S&S are deeply personal. It doesn't make any sense to say "It was Source's will for me". Instead, S&S are usually discussed in the context of "my connection with S&S". In that way, it's deeply personal and much harder to pervert into a hierarchical social construct.
>> Bonus! It sounds loony to say "I'm the voice of Source" and therefore makes it much harder to rationalize domineering behaviors. I can be more in touch with Spirit or Source, but that very personalized experience cannot be proselytized into a "thou shalt" edict.
On top of all that, I like that neither of them have the heavy weight of God. In many religions, I am a subject of God's kingdom, but that sounds nonsensical if you replace God with Spirit or Source.
Like shoes half a size too small, these words worked for a limited time but kept giving me (spiritual) blisters. The qualms I had are:
- They sound hippy dippy to the max. I could almost feel myself rolling my eyes at myself every time I uttered S&S. More importantly, using that framing outside limited circles does more to erect walls than build bridges. Given that my version of "God" is inclusive and integrative, I don't like that these words disconnect more than connect in the general populace.
- They are still belief-based constructs. If you don't believe in my framing of Spirit or Source, there is no way I can prove it to you.
- They are two when I sense the one. They are, somehow, every different frames of reference trying to capture one singular concept. I definitely didn't like that I could never quite seem to pick one or the other, but neither one felt complete in and of itself.
- Spirit is pulmonically bound. The etymological root of the word spirit is grounded in the concept of breath. Somehow, that felt too limiting for the all encompassing breadth and scope of what I conceive of for my version of a higher power. Can God ever stop breathing?
- Source is too abstract. The framing of Source feels like some trippy sci fi book or movie with an orb hanging in space that has no entrance or exit (Sphere anyone?!). It feels too sterile or dissociative for the verve that I sense for the concept I seek to relay.
So I would use these words sparingly, and only in narrowly circumscribed communities. That felt cramped and isolating in a way diametrically opposed to my version of "God".
Then I heard the teachings of Life
In passing conversation, a wisdom keeper of a woman mentioned to me that her version of God is Life, with a capital L. And like the seeds of Life itself, the framing felt trivial and inconsequential until it fully bloomed in my consciousness.
The framing of Life composts the shitty parts of God and turns it into something beautiful and nutritious.
- Life is us and we are Life. The concept of Life is explicitly inclusive and exceptionally expansive. It operates fractally. Everything from single-celled organisms to complex ecosystems (like the entirety of our planet) are all alive. No human (or any other being, for that matter) can be excluded from Life.
- No one kills in the name of Life. Enough said.
- It exemplifies decentralized, interwoven, epic power. All living things have an impact on all other living things within their sphere of influence. Each living thing may seem inconsequential at one order of magnitude (i.e. gut microbes) but, in fact, is a key thread in the fabric of Life and can be hugely consequential in their butterfly effect (i.e. microbiome -> mood & cognition -> creation & destruction). Every nook and cranny of Life is simultaneously jaw-droppingly powerful and effectively inconsequential in the larger whole.
- It is deeply empowering & inspiring. We are all agents of Life. So what kind of Life do we want to create for ourselves? For our loved ones? What Life do we want to leave behind for our children and grandchildren?
- It is bluntly empirical and stubbornly independent. No one has to believe in Life for it to exist. Life simply is, and proof of its existence is everywhere. And unlike the almighty God, when humanity ceases to exist, Life will hardly notice as it keeps on being, well, alive.
On top of that, Life captures so much more of what I connect with in my ineffable moments.
- The deep wisdom and intelligence of Life pervades every aspect of my being (=is in my very DNA).
- All living things are created from the wellspring of Life.
- The collective conscious of all living things is circumscribed by Life.
- Life feels eternal. A universe void of Life is nothing more than a blank slate for Life to be reborn again.
- Life seems simultaneously all knowing and playfully curious. What expression of Life will this being in this moment take?
- Life is largely agnostic to the active state (alive) and passive state (dead). Life is both.
- Life is grounded squarely in the natural world, both human and non-human.
- Life deeply cares for me as I am part of it.
- Life nods to my inconsequence for I am but one cell in the larger body of Life that will be shed sooner than later.
- Life has a simple and obvious master plan: to propagate Life. In that way, no matter what I do I cannot stop Life. I can be more or less supportive of thriving Life, and that is my choice, but it's not a divine plan for me so much as for all Life. I can either channel that divinity or not.
- No one can tell me they know Life better than I. Or that they are the voice of Life while I am not.
- Life is above morals or narratives of right and wrong. There is simply more or less Life, that is more or less vibrant and alive.
- I am Life, but Life is so much more than me.
The biggest downside to the framing of Life is, arguably, its most compelling benefit. Life is so obvious it is almost banal. It's so everything and everywhere that we usually take for granted that we are all part of Life.
Intellectually and experientially, Life feels so right for my version of God. And, I suspect, it's what many others are reaching for when they speak of Spirit, Source, or God.
Closing by connecting (with translators)
My brilliantly aware and richly spiritual mother-in-law taught me the concept of "putting on my translators".
The basic premise is: don't get caught up in the words, translate for what's beneath the surface. Instead of getting stuck on what you call Life or what I call God, we can both agree that there is a deep well of [insert resonant framing here] that we are both drawing from. As long as I can sense that from you, the words are miserably limited any which way we turn them.
So I won’t personally invite God over for a Friday night dinner. But as long as you're preaching love, kindness, respect, and compassion in any language or tradition, I'll happily put on my translators, light some candles, and welcome you and yours to break bread together.
And, even in silence, we'll understand each other perfectly.
For my dear Roamans, the JSON import of this essay.