God and Humans
Let's pretend it is a couple of years from now and science has proved that God does not exist. The neuropsychologists are onto this, you know. They are figuring out where and how in the brain spiritual experience happens and inadvertently pressing people like me who feel these experiences to reconsider what it is they are actually feeling. This is a healthy exercise, though, and gives rise to short but rather grandly titled essays like the present.
So, pretending it is a couple of years from now and this proof has been offered, I am left to my reconsiderations. Is what I feel when I meditate nothing but biology?
After a few days of pondering this question I realized that the real core of what we put into spiritual terms does not have to be put into spiritual terms. And that, actually, if we remove all the language of "god" and "religion" and "spirituality" still the root of what has come to be couched in these words can stand quite firmly without them. Religion is a very human endeavor. In the end, if taken strictly in human terms, "God" and "religion" are just words we apply to a need we feel and how we seek to answer that need. Disproving the language would not remove the need. It would just change the language. A new name we would give the need, and then carry on like before. To truly prove "God" non-existent would be to prove all humans free of this need, to prove all humans completely whole and content within themselves. I think it's too late to do that.
But this begs the question: A need for what? What is it that we need? If the neuropsychologists are going to tell us it is not god, then what is it? I watched my warehouse coworkers pretty closely for a couple of weeks after posing this question to myself, and the travelers on the commuters trains around Boston, too, and my girlfriend. In these varied groups I clearly saw that, regardless our origins--be they Eastern European, Latin American, African, rich, middle class, or poor--we all wrestle with this need rather obviously. Not only that, I saw, but we all also recognize the need in one another, and very carefully respect one another's efforts to deal with it. Really, you can talk to any human being a quarter hour, I think, and watch this need rise in them. So it's cross-cultural and ever-present: Wherever there is a human, there it is. Finally, after all this observing and thinking, I alighted on a simple phrase that seemed to sum up it for me. Rather unprofoundly one day I exclaimed, "Why, it's just peace of mind! Nothing but peace of mind!" All of us, every human living, in some way or another is seeking peace of mind. That's what we need.
Further considering, I realized a few humans have come and gone in our past who have actually attained this peace of mind completely; and that those few humans exampled it to such a degree that they have come to embody that peace of mind for us, to incarnate it, as it were. Those few humans also left us hints on how to achieve that peace of mind for ourselves. And those hints, taken from their teachings and lives, turn out to be fairly correspondent, offering roughly an equivalent path to a similarly defined end, which is always a sort of peace of mind.
So, removing here doctrines and spiritual ecstasies and ceremonies and injunctions and all the other trappings of religion, we find a pan-human need, completely satisfied by similar numerous human figures, who taught a recognizable path to that universally sought end of peace of mind. Call this simplification gross, if you will, but that does not make it false.
Do these observations resurrect the disproved god of a couple of years hence? In one way, as I described above, framing the debate in these terms dismisses the question. We are talking about a strictly human problem and how it has been dealt with by human beings, regardless what name or status you give those involved. The question of god then is not part of the question. In another way, however, putting the debate in these terms does indeed resurrect the disproved god if you so wish it. For all one has to do in that case is to give "god" a very specific, simple and gross definition. You define him as peace of mind.
I'm tempted to go on and detail the various symbols of peace of mind and paths to it that have come and gone in our past. I'm tempted to show their resonances and parallels: How this great teacher and that great teacher unwittingly taught the same lessons. I'm tempted to describe the differing conceptions of "god:" How he has been described as a she, or as a personality, or as an essence, or as formless, or as simply everything. It's very tempting to go on about these subjects and, citing the all-inclusiveness of several thousand years of human spiritual experience, prove that "god" is peace of mind. But, the more I think about elaborating it in this fashion, the more the gross obvious simplicity of the point is lost. Maybe elsewhere I will do so. For now, though, very simply, I ask: Who can say he does not seek peace of mind? Maybe you find peace of mind in basketball games or in gardening or in toy trains or in reading. But it does not matter. You seek peace of mind. And when you seek peace of mind, you seek "god," whether you call it god or not. And when you find peace of mind, you find "god," whether you call it god or not.
I'm sure eventually they will discover, define, and elaborate all the mechanisms of spirituality in biological terms. I do not doubt this. But once this preliminary investigation is complete, neuropsychologists will inevitably be led to draw up instructions on how to consciously make that bio-spirituality happen. When this day comes scientists will present to us yet one more variation on the path to peace of mind. They will give us a scientific path to God. I bet a dollar that path will look familiar.