Editor's Note: The Meaning of "God"

In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C.G. Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist (and, as a young man, the inamorata of poor sexually repressed Sigmund Freud, ironically the great proponent of sexual liberation) tells a story about God. Jung's theories of personality structure have provided a way to explain human beings' religious nature.

While he was visiting the Southwest United States, Jung had occasion to meet with a Native American wise man. Sitting out on a veranda, Jung set out to explain the European notion of the One, Invisible, True God. It was such an abstract, complicated idea one might imagine even he got tongue-tied. The Indian listened for a long time, Jung said. Then finally got up and walked over to the edge of the veranda, pointed up into the sky and said, matter-of-factly, "The Sun is God. Everyone can see that." Jung said he realized all his complex arguments amounted to nothing in relation to this obvious statement of fact.

Science, i.e., educated observation of phenomena, tells us that, indeed, the Indian was right. The Sun is the source of all life on Earth and the power that keeps it alive and evolving. (The modern science of history, with its wonderfully revisionist accounts of the gay side of things, tells us, by the way, that the Native American wise man Jung was talking to was probably a homosexual visionary.)

According to the scientific, realistic modern worldview, the Sun (along with its predecessors) is creator of the atomic elements that make up the world and of the energy that caused those elements to combine into molecules and then to develop even more complexity until they came to life -- we are literally made of star-stuff. Evolution of life on Earth is the growth of a mind for the Sun. We are the Sun's consciousness. The Sun as God ties into a whole new mythology of what life is. Jung and his successors in psychology, anthropology and comparative religions -- including especially my own wise old man, Joseph Campbell -- show how the human mind's tendency to tell stories and contrive metaphors and to project human traits into the phenomena of the world -- as Humankind explains itself to itself -- results in the image of the personal God. Today the anthropomorphic notion of a personal God who's King of the World and a demanding despot doling our punishment for offenses against His notions of cleanliness and requiring the human sacrifice of his own son to appease his wrath just doesn't make sense. God as the ground -- and evolutionary goal -- of consciousness and the very matter of planetary ecology makes more sense to the contemporary mind. It's consistent with the way we see things. It's the current myth.

The personality of such a God isn't entirely lost. Indeed, it clearly exists in each individual person who imagines God and projects his or her own personality into the cosmos. And it is precisely true that where the Sun is getting personality is in the evolution of intelligence on planet Earth.

The early 14th Century German mystic, Meister Eckhart, distinguished between God, which is an idea in people's minds, and the Godhead, which is the real thing in itself absolutely beyond human understanding. God is a personal being (because it's a human idea). Godhead is beyond any sort of personality (because it exists at a totally different order of being -- and order of magnitude). I've been expressing this distinction in the pages of White Crane as God and "God." The idea of God we cultivate in ourselves is powerful. It influences everything we think about life. We have a moral responsibility to choose a life-affirming, loving, generous God.

In the best and worse sense, the traditional image of the personal God is like Santa Claus. The metaphor of the wise, generous and jolly old man conveys a lesson about life. As a person grows, he or she learns there "really" is no personal Santa. As that person continues to grow, they have the opportunity to make the next realization: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus; he lives in the hearts of men." That is, the realization of what the metaphor means. This is the progression expressed in the Zen saying (and Donovan lyric): "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." The understanding of the metaphor is a higher truth.

In the ecological worldview, we're all part of a complex web of life, organs of the biosphere of Earth. Human beings are the organs of consciousness, just as in an individual human being, the brain is the organ of consciousness. Indeed, following that same metaphor, individual human beings are to the planetary mind as individual neurons are to the brain. Just as we are not particularly aware of the functioning of our individual neurons, so the planet's consciousness isn't particularly aware of us as individual persons. That's the problem with the traditional mythology: whatever "God" is, by all the attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, etc, "He" wouldn't be bothering "Himself" over minor events in the lives of individual human beings. "He" just wouldn't see us.

This issue of White Crane presents a variety of images for God. Walter Robinson bedazzles us with the multiple names that have come through Egyptian and Indo-European mythology. Daniel Helminiak argues for a reasoned science of spirituality, free of the burden of religion. Stephen Mo Hanan describes a beautiful experience of "God" reality.

Robert Bahr's "God of the Body" reminds us that "God" is a state of consciousness; "God" is the experience of being alive itself. Erotic arousal is a heightened experience of being alive. Being emotionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually alert to one's own fleshly existence, rejoicing in incarnation and wishing good luck and affection to all other incarnate beings is the experience of "God." Charles Bidwell then paints an appealing image of a gay-positive God. Richard Woods tells us about Meister Eckhart's God. And Javier Millan calls for a God of diversity.

The quote I've picked from Joseph Campbell this issue contains THE most important spiritual insight: in a couple of paragraphs the whole enterprise of religion is explained. The bodhisattva spirituality of Mahayana Buddhism I'm so fond of reminds us to relish the diversity of experience, this time showing up in a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem.

Then notice that a culture's afterlife mythology is a reflection of its image of God. In the East in which "God" is more elemental and the myths are taken to be more lyrical than historical, the afterlife model is reincarnation, i.e., an impersonal afterlife. Life goes on but not "you" the person. In the West in which "God" is personal and the myths are taken literally, the model is continuation of personal existence beyond death. The two mythic themes of "God" and afterlife give rise to one another. Fred Schloemer starts out the discussion with an account of the place of talk about spirituality and religion in gay-oriented psychotherapy -- and an evocative question: "What if God is a fat Black drag queen?"