Joel Smith
A Jew who thinks for himself

Concept of God

“Words and concepts referring to phenomena related to psychic or mental experience develop and grow or deteriorate with the person to whose experience they refer. They change as he changes; they have a life as he has a life.”

These challenging words were written by Erich Fromm in his book, “You Shall Be As Gods”. Fromm writes that love is one example of this phenomenon, and the concept of Gd is another. To illustrate this, he writes that when a boy of six tells his mother, “I love you,” while he may mean it, it’s not the same thing he means when he repeats these same words to his fiance twenty five years later. For this concept of love, including eros, is something the child couldn’t imagine – even though he meant what he said, (“I love you”) – but now the concept of love is “more meaningful” – (and a lot more complicated, too). That the concept of love has “increased or developed” in his mind (as this male matured over twenty years) is one example to illustrate that  sometimes a concept no longer represents what was experienced initially, what it meant to someone at one time. The word is the same, it sounds the same, it looks the same, but the underlying supposition, or experience it’s meant to indicate has changed.

“There is,” Fromm writes, “simultaneously permanence and change in any living being; hence, there is permanence and change in any concept reflecting the experience of a living man. However, that concepts have their own lives, and that they grow, can be understood only if the concepts are not separated from the experience to which it refers – otherwise it loses its reality and is transformed into an artifact of man’s mind.”

So, as regards a definition of God…we needn’t insist we believe that God is what our mother or father told us God is when we were nine – or that Gd is what we said He was when we were seventeen. We don’t have to insist on that definition, we don’t have to continue with that “model” just to be loyal.

I’m writing about one’s perspective now, one’s understanding of a concept. It’s true about the concept of love, it’s true about one’s sense of self, and the same thing is true regarding the concept of Gd.

You can reflect, contemplate, and meditate on what you think God is. You can consider the evidence (and whatever you think is evidence, is). You can consider, and reconsider, and maybe you will – and maybe you won’t – maybe you have no idea on how to proceed…but the Creator is more or less out of reach (although I could equally claim that the Creator is nearbye at all times….).

If we are to have what is called higher-consciousness…or simply a much more modest but authentic spirituality, we must begin by trying to “tune in” to whoever or whatever Gd is (so as not to take His name in vain, I call Him Gd) – and we must try reflecting…(both in the sense of thinking carefully, and as in the Zen sense of being a mirror, free of dust).  Each of us has the opportunity to “discover Gd”, that is to say, experience Gd – but it is personal (and therefore, a lot of people are reluctant to talk about it, even those who have thought about it).

What does it mean to the person who speaks of it, Gd, or even thinks of it? Does the word, Gd, mean the same thing to you as it does to me?

“Is the God of Abraham,” Fromm asks, “the same as the God of Moses, or Isaiah, of Master Eckhardt, or Spinoza?” He says that there is, presumably,  a substratum of experience all these men shared that enables them to use this word, God… but like a river which is one thing, and yet never quite the same (even though it is known by the same name) – this substratum of experience, this…intuited X factor is moving right along….

We know life is like that. We can say that maybe that is Gd timeless, always moving and offering opportunities, completing, ending, and initiating again (but to say so is to say that Gd is process, and not strictly a Being standing outside of nature as is the traditional view of Gd). So, what do you think ?

About the Author
Born and raised in Chicago, 1938. Both my parents Jewish. Bar mitzvahed, and supposedly Conservative. U. of Ill. B.A. then 2 years in the army, then to the U of Montana, M.A., M.F.A. Taught, drove a cab in Chicago, spent some years in CA. Was mentored by Noah ben Shea in a Religious Studies program at International College. Traveled internationally. Spent 1975 and 6 in Israel. Painted (I'm an artist). Held 15 jobs (including teaching English in several countries). Managed to buy 3 acres of country in north Florida where I live today doing things that please me.
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