I’ve been struggling with the idea of a personal God. There is a part of me that wants and needs someone to pray to who can answer me. But there’s also a part of me that feels that the idea of a personal God somehow reduces God to a level and size we can understand. Don Cupitt’s ideas on non-realism and God take an axe to the concept of an objective personal God “out there somewhere”.
Cupitt begins with Immanuel Kant’s premise that we can never know the outside world in itself. Everything comes to us through our senses and is shaped by our perceptions. There’s no getting away from that. In religion the idea that we cannot know things “in themselves” means that we have to give up the old ways of understanding religious belief and reject most of the dogma associated with religion.
We can never objectively know anything really about God or the historical claims of religion. Our spirituality is instead a kind of “guiding myth”. We don’t understand the crucifixion as an event in history – rather we understand it as a symbol which guides our lives. We can’t know God objectively, our understanding of God is inextricably bound up in our relationship with God. We are part of the tangle. All of this life is an unfolding conversation with ourselves and with others as how we understand our lives. God is part of that unfolding.
This is an idea touched on by Paul Tillich – that our concern should not be on this “personal God’ that we understand as God. The personal God is merely the symbol of the Ultimate Concern or God above God.
We abandon the promises and threats of an afterlife and we instead devote oursevles to the ultimate concern of this life. The ultimate concern may be love, it may be compassion, it may be life itself. Our religious symbols guide us and help us – but they aren’t objective doctrince.