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1. Introduction and Conventions

How I started all this

I first wrote down “What I believe” for myself, so as to clarify those conclusions about life I had arrived at over the years. For me, it was important to be able to justify my beliefs intellectually, for my own satisfaction. But in trying to turn this into a short book, I realized that some things that were evident to me required further explanation for others. I have tried to provide this, modifying and attempting to make chapters of an easily readable length. But first I have to clarify certain conventions I shall use.


What we mean by “God”

            One frequently ignored question whenever we talk of God is not whether “he” exists, but what we mean by God. When we think of “him” not only as the creator of this world but as the foundation of all being—the great “power” that      stands behind all of the universe as we know it (going back to before the Big Bang, even, and perhaps to other universes too), we are at a loss find words to express what we’re talking about. With all the different understandings of the word “God” it might be helpful to find another word to substitute for it. One possibility could be to use “existence” instead, since few of us would deny that “existence” exists. (Some people, of course, do deny the reality of our earthly lives, seeing them as a dream, compared with the reality of what we might experience in an afterlife.) And to see God simply as another “being” is to deny     his acknowledged omnipotence (although even with this there are problems, which I shall touch on later). This is a limitation of language itself and we have no choice but to accept that fact.

            —Another word for “God

            If only we could find another word for “God,” which isn’t easy. I like Paul Tillich’s “The Divine” and John Dominic Crossan’s “The Holy.” The latter is reminiscent of “whole”: everything around us. Just think: not only animal life, but vegetable matter, metals, plastics, radio and all kinds of other waves, etc. are all  part of this “whole” that we mean by “God”! (I still find it miraculous that I can   hear radio and telephone waves at the speed of light: although I more or less understand the scientific theories behind them, I have no idea what is done physically to make them work.)

            My own preference, however, is “the Almighty,” which is appropriate for the idea of the enormous power behind all universes or, when we need a personal, more human image of “God” to “pray” and speak to, “Almighty Lord.” I shall use this term from here on, except when quoting from others. Our human minds are unable to grasp this huge abstract power, and yet, whatever our personal    definitions may be, in any discussion we can’t keep repeating “whatever we mean by God.” The Almighty, of course has many names, in different societies with their different languages. Ultimately we must choose for ourselves our preferred word, remembering, however, that it is only a convenient shorthand and doesn’t imply that the Almighty is no more than the traditional “creator” of the world (more on this later).

            —“He,” “She” or “It”?

            None of our personal pronouns is appropriate for referring to the Almighty, of course. I certainly do not see the Almighty as being male or female, but I find it clumsy to write “he or she” the whole time (or to alternate between the two),  while “it” is impossible. Again, we simply don’t have the right word. I am old enough to have been brought up with the image of the Almighty as a beneficent old man in the sky and, although I firmly believe that the Almighty represents not this but a deep spiritual awareness within myself, I still am unable to get rid of that original image. Thus I shall refer to the Almighty as “he” if I can’t get around the problem by recasting the whole sentence. And why not admit that I still think of the Almighty as a person a lot of the time?—even if that’s not what I really believe about “him”!

            You will notice that I still capitalize the Almighty—largely because I do not wish to offend some people unnecessarily, although I don’t apply this to “him” or “her.” At times, you will also have noticed, I find it convenient to use quotation marks.

            —For convenience, I use the word “religion” not in the sense of “church religion” but in its broadest sense of questions involving the meaning and purpose of life. I would indeed call myself a deeply “religious” person in this broad sense (rejecting the word “spiritual” that many adopt because for me it is just too vague, not necessarily involving the concept of the Almighty at all).