When people say “God is Love,” they most often mean that God is 100% composed of love, or “God equals Love.” And when people say that God is Love, they are usually talking about the human type of Love – warm, intimate, caring, emotional, conscious, intended, purposeful – done by a being who is also conscious, purposeful, and intimate.
But the God of the Old Testament or the Koran was clearly not a warm and loving guy. In the Torah He kills the first-born children of Egypt when the Egyptians refuse to release his favorite tribe – the Hebrews (Exodus 11:5). In the Koran He leaves written instructions to cut off the hands of thieves, male or female (5:38).
In the Book of Job, God is un-loving enough to make a bet with Satan that Job’s faith in God can withstand any torment Satan might throw at him. God allows Job to suffer outrageous torments, wins the bet, and then restores all Job’s blessings and more. When Job confronts God’s about all these capricious events, God tells him to pipe down, saying essentially “Who are you to question my ways.”
The God of the Christian New Testament is more loving, because He welcomes people of all tribes. We humans – at least Christian humans — think of Love as human love. The Christian God is portrayed as a super-human, and the faithful picture him as manifesting human love. Christians say “He is our Loving Father.”
However, God’s New Testament still says that only people who follow the new religion of Christianity, who accept Jesus as their Savior, have a chance of getting into heaven after death (even though heaven is fictitious). So even in the New Testament, God’s love is given only to the Christian “tribe” that follows Him.
Today we know that evolution endowed most mammals, including humans, with emotional love so that we would stay attached to our spouses, and so that together with our spouses we would care for and train our young. This is particularly true for humans, because our young remain vulnerable through much longer childhood than nearly all other mammals. Therefore, emotional Love is evolved to be the most powerful and precious feature of life for many, many human beings. It is understandable that we would want to project this kind of love onto our anthropomorphic conception of God.
Is God Pure Cooperation?
In biology, love is a form of cooperation. Other forms of cooperation include the hive behavior of bees and ants, the teamwork of workers on an assembly line, and the free communication of scientists sharing their research results worldwide. So, if God is not 100% emotional Love, could we instead say that God is 100% cooperation?
No, that still doesn’t work. If God is all powerful and all knowing, He encompasses everything that we see. Yet we know from daily life that human life includes competition as well as cooperation. In fact, all of biological life proceeds as much by competition as it does by cooperation. If their environmental niches change, all species will attempt to evolve – through cooperation and competition – into new species.
Competition, Strife, Violence, and War are Part of Reality
As a practical matter, people generally know that there is more to life than loving cooperation. In addition to sending our kids to Sunday School, we also send them to soccer practice!
In his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Professor Steven Pinker argues and documents that our “better angels” are winning, but our reality still includes all the non-loving, non-cooperating things listed below. Also note that a number of these things are not perpetrated by humans, so we cannot foist explanation of them off onto the crackpot idea of “original sin.”
- Many nations stockpile nuclear and biologic weapons, and the list is growing.
- We have fighting and war over race, religion, land and resources.
- Modern times have witnessed Holocausts in German gas chambers and in Cambodian “killing fields.”
- Many creatures kill and eat their mates; some even kill and eat their young when conditions press them into doing it.
- Silverback gorillas have been filmed in the wild alternately having sex with a young female for a few minutes, pausing to beating an old female spouse, returning to sex with the young mate, and so on… until the old female is dead.
- We are killing off other species at an accelerating rate. Notable are the accelerating extinction of elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns.
- We have fighting over social injustice and the status of women.
- We are destroying Earth’s climate and ecosystem.
- Soon we will be continually battling forest fires, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and floods.
- Our war against microorganisms and viruses never stops, and the tiny enemies are continually evolving so they can better attack us.
- And of course, countless species of microorganisms are warring against each other.
- Even without help from human negligence, impersonal forces wipe out whole species, including a giant asteroid that wiped out all the dinosaurs.
When we look at cosmological evolution outside our solar system, we so far see nothing resembling human love. We find no human warmth because so far there are no evident humans. Stars “cooperate” in galaxies, but stars also destructively collide and galaxies can collide as well. There are black holes at the centers of all galaxies which work away at eating up all the suns, planets, and moons spiraling around them (See Black Hole Apocalypse, on NOVA). These events may wipe out thousands of non-human intelligent life on other planets outside our solar system. Surely God is “in charge” there as well, no? Well, no, not if God wound up the whole universe, set it spinning, and takes no “interpersonal” role in events thereafter.
So, if God is no pure Love, and not even pure Cooperation, the most we can say is that God includes Love. God includes both loving peace and hateful war; both creation and destruction. But to avoid confusion with the appellations of the Old Desert Religions, our Spiritual Path of Continuing Creation, re-names the outdated anthropomorphic name of “God” to “G>O>D> – the Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Universe.”
When we look to the Eastern religions, we see that Hinduism clearly understands that Brahman (God) both creates and destroys. In fact, everything except Brahman is created and destroyed, created and destroyed, over and over again. Only Brahman, which has been translated as “God,” “pure consciousness,” “ultimate reality,” or the “creative principle which lies realized in the whole world,” remains eternal.
Modern Abstract Conceptions of God
In the last century, many educated Westerners have also come to conclude that “God” is not an anthropomorphic super-person who alternately punishes and loves humans. Modern theologians have taken to calling God things like “The Ultimate Reality,” the “Ground of All Being,” or the “Whole of All Wholes.” Our own description, Continuing Creation – the Growing> Organizing> Direction of the Cosmos, is one of these new visions. All of them are reminiscent of the Hindu conception of Brahman.
If God (G>O>D>) Cannot Be Described as Pure Love, Can It Be Described at All?
Many of these new theologies argue that this more abstract vision of God “cannot be described,” because it encompasses everything and involves workings that cannot be understood by mere humans.
Even Judaism and Islam, in a moment of insight, agreed that God cannot be portrayed, cannot be pictured, in art or sculpture. Hinduism, on the other hand, has no problem making pictures and statues of Brahman, nor any of its thousands of gods and goddesses, because Hindus understand that all these images are arbitrary, often capricious, human creations.
But in fact, G>O>D> can be described. G>O>D> is the sum of all the natural systems that propel Continuing Creation.These systems are described in modern physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, ecology, psychology, and sociology. Principal among these systems are Emergence and Evolution, which we discuss at length in The Book of Continuing Creation. The descriptions have been developing, becoming ever more broad, correct, and exact, as science has progressed down through the centuries. The description of G>O>D> also includes the wisdom recorded in the history and in the great literatures of human civilization.
G>O>D> includes all the natural processes of Continuing Creation – those that build up and those that take down. However, we see a clear trend toward building up, toward continued creating – as long as our sun shines energy onto the Earth, and as long as we preserve Earth’s ecosphere. It is this Continuing Creation, not Love, that is the centerpiece of our Spiritual Path.
Does this mean we set human Love aside? No, not at all. We hold that Love is a vital type of Creating – it creates relationships.
A Final Thought About the Far, Far, Future
Looking again at those ever-growing black holes at the center of every galaxy, can we say that the trend of Continuing Creation toward Complexity we see here on Earth will still be around billions of years from now? Might not the ever-growing black holes of the universe swallow each other? They might… but some astrophysicists suggest that the resulting “singularity” might give birth to a new universe, much as did the singularity that gave birth to our own universe. It might, but the Book of Continuing Creation holds that all this is too far in the future to worry about. Consequently, it has no effect on our Spiritual Path.