God: A Work In Progress

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(God 1, 2014 George Condo)

I have spent the better part of more than three decades exploring the world of the divine, the realm of the sacred and notions about faith, belief and God. Like many people my view of God has changed a lot over the years, although I am not sure I was ever entirely convinced, it just came with the territory of religion so I embraced concepts that were handed to me without much reflection. But it didn’t take long for that decision to become problematic in my life as I tried to reconcile things that I was feeling, thinking and experiencing with ideas that seemed a bit hard to hold onto and made very little sense to me, even when I was embedded in a much more conservative and bounded religious environment.

I don’t believe in an Interventionist God,” when I heard those words, the opening line from Into My Arms by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, in 1997, I was searching for language to help me give voice to the shifting ideas inside me that I wanted to express. I didn’t believe in an interventionist God, that was a place to begin. I took those words and began to create a new language to talk about the divine. I’d been reading some Death of God theology (Altizer, Vahanian), and some more progressive theological voices and I had also begun an exploration into deconstructionist philosophy, but I felt the need to voice things in a more approachable way as I was doing a lot of speaking in community settings. I’d also started to teach theology and cultural stuff whilst doing a PhD but wanted to translate a lot of things into a more accessible vocabulary as I was interacting with people coming from fairly evangelical and non-denominational backgrounds who tended to react negatively when things were couched in certain language structures.

My views about God have continued to shift. I realized that the notion of a supernatural, metaphysical God was never of much interest to me, my journey into religion borne out of an interest in the humanistic, materialist aspects of the life of Christ, but it took me a while to give that shape and expression.

This past week, more words about all of this came via Nick Cave. I subscribe to a things called Red Hand Files which is a digital space where Cave responds to questions from some of his fans. This reply was in response to a few questions, all of which in someway asked about Cave’s views about God. I thought I would post the whole thing here and let you read it for yourself rather than quoting or paraphrasing it.

Dear Ali, Maggie, João and Peter and the many people who have asked similar God related questions. 

I’ve been circling around the idea of God for decades. It’s been a slow creep around the periphery of His Majesty, pen in hand, trying to write God alive. Sometimes, I think, I have almost succeeded. The more I become willing to open my mind to the unknown, my imagination to the impossible and my heart to the notion of the divine, the more God becomes apparent. I think we get what we are willing to believe, and that our experience of the world extends exactly to the limits of our interest and credence. I am interested in the idea of possibility and uncertainty. Possibility, by its very nature, extends beyond provable facts, and uncertainty propels us forward. I try to meet the world with an open and curious mind, insisting on nothing other than the freedom to look beyond what we think we know. Does God exist? I don’t have any evidence either way, but I am not sure that is the right question. For me, the question is what it means to believe. The thing is, against all my better judgement, I find it impossible not to believe, or at the very least not to be engaged in the inquiry of such a thingwhich in a way is the same thing. My life is dominated by the notion of God, whether it is His presence or His absence.  I am a believer – in both God’s presence and His absence. I am a believer in the inquiry itself, more so than the result of that inquiry. As an extension of this belief, my songs are questions, rarely answers. 

In the end, with all respect, I haven’t the stomach for atheism and its insistence on what we know. It feels like a dead end to me, unhelpful and bad for the business of writing. I share many of the problems that atheists have toward religion – the dogma, the extremism, the hypocrisy, the concept of revelation with its many attendant horrors – I am just at variance with the often self-satisfied certainty that accompanies the idea that God does not exist. It is simply not in my nature. I have, for better or for worse, a predisposition toward perverse and contradictory thinking. Perhaps this is something of a curse, but the idea of uncertainty, of not knowing, is the creative engine that drives everything I do. I may well be living a delusion, I don’t know, but it is a serviceable one that greatly improves my life, both creatively and otherwise. 

So, do I believe in God? Well, I act like I do, for my own greater good. Does God exist? Maybe, I don’t know. Right now, God is a work in progress. 

Love, Nick

There are many things in this short response that I connect with. Like Cave I often find myself between the twin poles of possibility and uncertainty and I agree with him that uncertainty is a great key to unlock one’s imagination and creativity. I also tire very quickly of the atheist argument,. Recently, the comedian Marc Maron said that given the choice he would prefer lunch with a reasonable Christian over a vegan atheist, and I understand (no offense to vegans, hahaha). I’m also fairly committed to the inquiry, to the questions, and the process of questioning, rather than the answers.

At this stage in my life I don’t believe in God, at least not the supernaturalist being most often described as such. I’m open, but I live with the idea that Christ, and Christianity, is about the end of ideas about that kind of God, not a testament to His existence. But I am, at the same time, haunted by the idea of that God, religious stuff runs deep and doesn’t depart quickly when turned away from. So my life is still marked by inquiry, by question, by possibility, but I swim in the waters of uncertainty, not looking for answers, but trying to keep the questions alive.

Next year I have a book coming out that explores some of these ideas more formally. i wrote it with a friend, it’s called, The Aesthetics of A/Theism, I’ll let you know the release date when I have it.