Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Superpersonal God

This post is part of the History of the Devil series from Chapter 1: Good and Evil as Religious Ideas.

The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. - Nikola Tesla
Tesla had some interesting religious views.  I haven't done an exhaustive study on his beliefs, by any measure, but it appears to me that he was a Monist.  Tesla's Monism seemed to be a hybrid between a monkey religion and a cat religion (see Sabio's great post on these religion types).  Tesla's upbringing was Christian, but he was a voracious reader who came to appreciate other religions as well, like Buddhism.  Possibly due to that Christian influence, while Tesla's monkey god just lumbered around doing what it pleased, it would also be just as happy to carry and guide us if we were willing to "concentrate our minds on that truth."

When we left off in the last post, Carus had made the conjecture that the God of the future would be superpersonal, and he would go on to say how we could tap into that knowledge of God...
But how shall we reach this knowledge of the superpersonal God? Our answer is, with the help of science. Let us pursue in religion the same path that science travels, and the narrowness of sectarianism will develop into a broad cosmical religion which shall be as wide and truly catholic as is science itself.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus
What Carus suggested here is developing an empirically based religion!  Instead of relying on unique revelations made to specific people in divine scriptures, he posited that the powers of objective observation would reveal the real God.  However, Carus was not ready to trash scriptures completely...
Symbols are not lies; symbols contain truth. Allegories and parables are not falsehoods; they convey information: moreover, they can be understood by those who are not as yet prepared to receive the plain truth. Thus, when in the progress of science religious symbols are recognized and known in their symbolical nature, this knowledge will not destroy religion but will purify it and will cleanse it from mythology.  HOD, P3, Paul Carus
In some ways, Carus' prophesy has come true.  For example, while there are some serious moral blunders God's Law (the Torah) in the Old Testament, such as complacency to slavery, conceptually there are some truths which can be skimmed from the myth:

A dietary restriction on eating pork would have been effective at preventing trichinosis parasite ingestion (Leviticus 11:7).  Isolating people with skin infections would help prevent the spread of contagious varieties (Leviticus 13:45-46).  Destroying a house which had an untreatable case of spreading mildew would prevent respiratory issues of the occupants (Leviticus 14:43-45).

In abstraction, the Torah was a system of repentance, thankfulness, obedience to a moral and legal code, and the love (and fear) of God.  The rewards for adherence were said to be happiness, prosperity, peace, health, and long life.  Recent scientific studies on gratefulness show an increase in the subjective feeling of happiness associated with the regular practice of being grateful.  A society where people obey the laws sets the stage for stability and security, which in turn can help lead to prosperity.  Peace, on an individual level, can be a product of obeying the law, as you have less to worry about if you are doing what you should be doing, and when everybody else does the same.  Finally, as far as health and long life, well, there is some evidence suggesting that a practicing belief in God will extend your life and promote health as well.

However, the God that Carus is suggesting is not wholly defined in any religious tome...
We define God as "that authoritative presence in the All, which enforces a definite moral conduct." God is that something which constitutes the harmony of the awe of nature; God is the intrinsic necessity of mathematics and logic; God above all is what experience teaches us to be the inalienable features of righteousness, justice, morality. This presence is both immanent and transcendent: it is immanent as the constituent characteristic of the law that pervades the universe; it is transcendent, for it is the condition of any possible cosmic order; and in this sense it is supercosmic and supernatural.  HOD, P3-4, Paul Carus
So this is not quite Tesla's Monist God here. Rather, this is similar to the God Albert Einstein was referring to when he said:
"I want to know how God created this world... I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details."
Although, instead of Carus, Einstein followed the earlier writings of Baruch Spinoza, as can be seen in Einstein's lesser-known quote:
"I believe in Spinoza's God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."
By contrast, Carus expanded beyond scientific laws, and into the foundations of our selves...
We do not say that God is impersonal...  ...God, although not an individual being, is the prototype of personality; although not a person, thinking thoughts as we do, deliberating, weighing arguments, and coming to a decision, he is yet that which conditions personality; he possesses all those qualities which, when reflected in animated creatures, adds unto their souls the nobility of God's image, called personality. Therefore we say, God is not impersonal, but superpersonal.  HOD, P4-5, Paul Carus
Thus, Carus' God is at the heart of our understanding and our motivation. Not to say that we all understand this God, or that we are all motivated to the same course of action. There will be many differences as surely as there are different personalities. However, through reflecting on the universe, our own daily lives, and the lives of others, we can comprehend who we really are and why we do the silly, horrible, and wonderful things we do. With that comprehension comes the fully realized ability to change for the better... at least I would like to think so.

That is enough about God for now. This book is about the History of the Devil and evil, for good reason...
While the idea of God has received much attention from philosophers and progressive theologians, its counterpart, the dark figure of the Evil One, has been much neglected. And yet the Devil is, after all, a very interesting personality, grotesque, romantic, humorous, pathetic, nay, even grand and tragic. And if we have to declare that the idea of God is a symbol signifying an actual presence in the world of facts, should we not expect that the idea of the Devil also represents a reality?  HOD, P5, Paul Carus
Just as many people today portray God in their own likeness, how the Devil is portrayed also provides revelations of the inner workings of a mind and/or culture. If you know a person's Devil, you know their fears and insecurities, and maybe even their repressed desires.

I hope you will enjoy the coming studies as I blog the rest of the book, and dig into the cold, black heart of evil.


  1. Will you find that the Devil represents as complicated and morally ambiguous a reality as God? Or moreso?

  2. I hadn't really thought about it that way, prairienymph, but now that you mention it, it seems to me that the Devil is even more complicated... at least when viewed across the different ages covered in this book. Without much scripture defining the Devil, artists, authors, and clergy certainly took their liberties defining the head demon. I'll have to keep your question in mind as I go back through the book. :-)

  3. I must say, the word "God" is so worn out to me, it does not matter how people define it. I fall asleep just thinking about the word. Heck, "Love", "Patriotism" and much more do the same for me. They strike me as words of manipulation and little more.

    I know it is not true, but maybe I shouldn't read blogs at night when I am tired. Just trying to catch up.

  4. There's a part of me that feels the same way, Sabio. Dealing with a bastardized language can make me weary at times, too. It seems safer to redefine (, read mangle,) the language rather than to strike out and make new words, especially when you want the new concepts to carry a level of importance and significance.

    But we can only play the cards we are dealt. :-)