On the commandment to "Love God".

In a discussion in the e2religion usergroup, I mentioned "love God" and "love thy neighbor" as truly universal moral laws, to be contrasted with "do not commit adultery", which I think is culturally-based and, in the final analysis, just a corollary of "love". A couple of noders (ac_hyper and Oolong, I think it was) disagreed with "love God" as a universal. The logic of "love thy neighbor", the categorical imperative, is easy to grasp. Loving God, on the other hand, struck ac_hyper (a self-professed atheist) like a command to have affection for a fictional character, like Santa Claus, or an imperative to direct warm feelings in the general direction of cold interstellar space.

While I am not an atheist I frequently have skeptical moods in which the same thoughts occur to me. While I profess to believe in God, sometimes that belief does seem rather empty and foolish, like wanting to love Santa Claus even though I know he is just a marketing gimmick. Ultimately, since a concept of God must encompass the infinite, all descriptions of God are bound to be flawed, yet some are more flawed than others.

My least favorite is "God as the one True Explanation". Throughout history, a "God" or gods have been posited to explain phenomena and answer questions of natural science, like: "What causes lightning?" "Why are there different species of animals, and why just these species?" as well as questions of morality or eschatology, like "How shall we behave?" and "What happens when we die?" True skeptics quickly realize that these explanations in fact explain absolutely nothing and do not tell us anything about God. Consider:

Q: What causes lightning?
A: God.
Q: How does God make lightning?
A: God can do anything. (Translation: "I don't know")
Q: Why does God make lightning?
A: Somewhere, someone is angering God by asking stupid questions.

Despite the inherent flaws in this approach to God, it seems to be by far the most popular, and people become heavily invested in the notion that God created the World as a non-explanation for the World. You can tell when people have pinned too much on God-as-explanation when they react poorly to an alternative explanation, as for example, Fundamentalist Christians have reacted poorly to the theory of evolution. There are diverse species because God made them that way. Period. Why is this such a big deal? Because their only knowledge of God is "that guy who made all the animals". Take that away and they have no God. I also have a hard time generating "love" for God solely on the basis of the created world. In fact, I am somewhat displeased with this God for having created mosquitos and some of my colleagues in the legal profession.

A slightly different, but similar flawed concept of God is the Deus Otiosis: God who has Withdrawn. This is the deist God, the creator God as clock-maker who made the world, wound it up, and then withdrew, and has no current involvement with the world. This God is the god of philosophers and logicians: a God who is logically necessary and most certainly exists, since at the end of any series of questions lies an "I don't know". God the clock-maker appears in Aristotelian thinking as the "Prime Mover", and in Kantian thought as the "unconditioned" which stands as the terminus of any series of conditions. The problems with this concept of God are two fold. First, all we know about the God is negative: it is the God that lies beyond everything knowable, explainable, perceivable: the Unknown, Unexplained, Unseen. Second, this God is always remote: far away, deep in the past, smaller than the smallest thing and bigger than the biggest thing. This concept of God very unsatisfying to any relgious or spiritual yearnings, which seek the immediate and personal presence of God. It's hard to love a God who has withdrawn like a deadbeat Dad.

On other days I have some inking or sense of God and the will to love God. Unfortunately, my explanations for these feelings tend to be unsatisfactory, like explanations of truths apprehended while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, or like Star Wars characters talking about the Force.

When an atheist such as Miss Hyper asks what "loving God" means, I tend to equate God with Life, as the impetus of all living things and a sort of counter-entropic principle. Thus, "loving God" means embracing and appreciating life and living things qua living. It is what (I think) Ranier Marie Rilke was getting at in this excerpt from the Book of Hours:


All life is LIVED: now this comes home to me.
But who, then, lives it? Things that patiently
Stand there, like some unfingered melody
Sleeping within a harp as day is going?
Is it the winds across the water blowing,
Is it the branches beckoning each to each,
Is it the flowers weaving fragrances,
The ageing alleys stretching endlessly?
Is it the warm beasts moving to and fro,
The birds in alien flight that sail from view?
This life - who lives it really? God, do you?


I am dissatisfied with the notion that God is "the Force" because I am fairly convinced that God is a person not a thing; "who" not an "it"; a subject, not an object; and end, not a means. Rilke's poem suggests God as the "subject" of Life: the one who lives. At this point, however, I am way past the point where I know what I am talking about.