Everybody has a God, whether we know it or not.
I think the word “God” has gotten a bad reputation. What first comes to mind is an old man in the sky, listening to our lofty prayers and passing judgement upon us. We’ll think of the rigid structures of religion, all of suffering caused by dogmatic belief systems.
Maybe we’ll think about the Inquisition, or the Crusades—all of the battles fought and the lives lost in the name of an invisible dude who hypothetically has the power to stop this violence on a whim. We might even think about anti-abortion laws, pedophilic priests, burqas, the patriarchy, or possibly just the general intolerance of most religious organizations.
All in all, I would say we don’t have a very high opinion of “God” in Western culture, and most young people have completely discarded religion as a sensible way of life in the 21st century. And, probably for good reason, eh? We are too technologically developed and intellectually sophisticated (sort of) in our beloved modern world to pay much attention to something people believed in the f*cking dark ages.
Why would we need God, when we have an iPhone, right? Wrong.
Now, most people might say that I’m naive, but I truly believe it’s a serious mistake to get rid of religion entirely. When Nietzsche declared the death of God, it wasn’t supposed to be a joyful declaration. The church has become so corrupt that there was no longer even a semblance of the true spirit of Christ in organized religion, and as a consequence, we are forced to create our own values. There is a problem with this, because creating our own values isn’t so easy, especially when many of us can hardly muster up the motivation to get out of bed on time or exercise every day.
In response to the “death of God,” I would like to present a newer, updated definition of God—one that will be useful even to the most cynical millennial. Here goes:
God is the guiding principle of our lives—the force that gives life meaning. It would be the highest good that we could possibly aim for, across time and space. In other words, to live with God would be to enact the highest possible good we could imagine right now, that would also reap fruits next week, next month, next year, and forever.
I believe the will of God—this desire to manifest the highest good—is built into all of us. There is a space in our soul that craves meaning, and if we don’t fill it with a guiding principle, then we will find all sorts of other bullsh*t to stick it with.
This is what I mean when I say that we all have a God: we naturally have something that we value above all the other parts of life, and this value is what guides our lives. Like I said before, we are not very good at creating our own values, and what often comes to take the place of God could be drugs, self-image, social media, money, immediate pleasure, so on and so forth.
Here’s a quote from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s recent book, 12 Rules For Life, to help clarify this point:
“For Jung, whatever was at the top of an individual’s moral hierarchy was, for all intents and purposes, that person’s ultimate value, that person’s God. It was what the person acted out. It was what the person believed most deeply.”
We have this need within our hearts to aspire toward something greater, a space for a guiding principle to help us overcome the tragedy of life and move upon the good in spite of our limitations. More often in today’s world, we fill that space with trivial things, like Instagram follows, Facebook likes, and Ray-Ban selfies.
Here’s another way to think about this: “God” is the ideal. We all have some kind of ideal—how we would like to be, what we would like to become—an idea about ourselves or the world that reigns supreme above everything else. If we are a Marxist, then Marxism is our God. If we are highly patriotic, our country is God. You see what I mean?
So, I’ve laid out the situation; “God” is our guiding principle, no matter what ideal happens to be guiding us. This leaves us with a very important question: can we have a healthy relationship with God without religion? Can we have an ideal that moves us toward the highest good, without the dogmatic structures of religious organizations?
Before I attempt to answer this, I’d like to hit you with another powerful quote:
“Meaning is the mature replacement. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organized, and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay of the possibilities of the world and the value structure operating within that world. If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering. It will make everything matter. It will make everything better.”
We can have a “God” without religious dogma, but the replacement must be pretty damn good. We need a pretty savage guiding principle, something that inherently gives us the discipline to act it out in the world.
This is my “God”—if I can transform suffering into love, in whichever way that I am capable, my life feels meaningful. When I place this ideal at the top of my moral hierarchy—the willingness to endure the most profound suffering and use that energy to inspire love without becoming bitter—I seem to live well. Maybe something will happen to me that will shatter this ideal and force me to find a new “God,” but it hasn’t happened yet.
Find a mode of being that is so powerfully meaningful that it justifies the horrible suffering of our existence. Find something worth living and dying for. It beats selfies and skinny jeans, man, I’m tellin’ ya.
A final word of advice from the good doctor:
“Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability, I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering. You have now placed at the pinnacle of your moral hierarchy a set of presuppositions and actions aimed at the betterment of being.”
Sounds good to me.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron