Today I am dealing with a belief commonly found in New Thought: "There is nothing but God." Those who say that God is all are trying to express some vital truths, including most or all of the following: God is everywhere. There is no devil, no cosmic evil force in opposition to God. God is supremely good. God is supremely important. God is indispensable. God and we are inseparable. God is supremely powerful. God is completely, non-arbitrarily reliable. God is love. God can be, and is, experienced directly by us. God is worthy of our adoration and dedication; and by turning to God we can facilitate the most wondrously positive developments in our lives. God is not some magnified human being with supernatural foibles and shortcomings.
These statements are profoundly true. However, the contention that God is all undercuts most or all of the them. They cannot be held consistently with the belief that God is all.
The claim that God is all is a poetic exaggeration, somewhat like an encomium that a human lover might bestow on his or her human beloved, who is considered "everything." The contention that God is all can be taken as a psychologically powerful myth, a moving story that provides a meaningful orientation for living.
To show that the statement that God (or any other allegedly ultimate entity) is all cannot be literally true, I shall point out defects in the belief and present a better metaphysical outlook: Reality is a collection of interacting experiences, with God in every one of them without being any one of them. In other words, there is nothing actual but innumerable interrelated, interpenetrating minds, led by the divine mind in a direct creative process needing only choice between God-given possibilities and patterns of the past. As Phineas Parkhurst Quimby put it, "The minds of individuals mingle like atmospheres." This allows for what we call today call a "nonlocal" universe.
(1) The first of my objections to the position that God is all is that it commits what Alfred North Whitehead called the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness," which means mistaking an abstraction for something concrete, something actual. For example, a principle of life is an abstraction, not a living God. Surely there is a totality of everything, but this totality is an abstraction, not a concrete, acting actuality. It does not deserve to be called God. It could just as well be called peanut butter, and neither assertion would be better than the other.
(2) Why is it that many intelligent people believe that God is all? One answer is to be found in a related doctrine: that reality is a substance, a selfsame entity that endures from moment to moment, even from eon to eon. One can imagine it as somewhat like modeling clay or Play Doh, keeping its own identity as it assumes many forms. If there were such a substance, it would seem reasonable to suppose that it would be whatever does anything, for there would be nothing else to do it. Unfortunately for believers in substance, the best scientific and philosophical thought of the 20th century is against it. While that alone does not disprove the doctrine, the process alternative to it is vastly more coherent than the idea of substance.
(3) It is impossible to think or talk for long as if there were only one entity. Immediately after references to there being only one come numerous references to the many. In a world in which our observations and speech constantly refer to many things, the presumption that there are many entities (rather than just appearances of them) deserves to be considered seriously. It is vital to recognize that this is not to say that there are many types of basic reality. I believe that at least most of the participants in this session agree that there is only mind (although some may prefer to call it spirit or experience). However, belief that all is mind need not lead to the conclusion that there is only one mind.
The name of the game throughout all of reality is interaction. In simple terminology, Florence Scovel Shinn in her popular little book, The Game of Life and How to Play It, wisely noted that life is a game of giving and receiving. This is interaction of minds (experiences). Interaction requires multiplicity, and multiplicity would be impossible if there were only one entity. To insist that, despite this, God is both the One and the many is to engage in tortured use of language and abandonment of reason. If that were necessary, we would abandon any metaphysical claims and live in wordless silence about what is ultimate, or else indulge in self-contradictory, hence nonsensical, statements.
On the other hand, interaction requires nothing irrational, for influence by one mind on/within another mind is a basic fact of reality. In the terminology of Whitehead, the feeling that is the nature of inclusion is called prehension. This is what makes all causal relations possible. To influence (i.e., to help to cause) is to be felt by another mind (i.e., to be included in another mind). This influence may be insignificant or overwhelming, but always there is at least a tiny bit of freedom to resist it. Even God is not literally omnipotent, since each experience (mind) has some freedom to choose from among the influences provided by God and by non-divine past experiences. It would be doubletalk to say that it is God doing the choosing; that would be just another way of saying that we do not exist, except perhaps as God-experienced dreams.
(4) Not only believers that God is all, but many others hold that once there was only God, and then God created the world out of nothing or emanated it out of God. In either case, we are presented with the claim that once there was unilateral divine creative action, whereas now there is a process of co-creation with God, regardless of whether, in addition, there remains unilateral divine action. Hence there is lack of a single type of creative process. This absence of an everlastingly constant creative process may pose no problem to most people. However, the metaphysician seeks what forever must be basic to reality. Flip-flopping from unilateral creation to co-creation suggests an erroneous view. In process metaphysics, both God and the world (some sort of universe, God's body) always have been and always have acted in co-creation. The notion of emanation, an outflowing from--yet within--God (which presumably God-is-allers accept), merely complicates the problem of how something can be God and seem to be something else.
(5) Probably the most important interaction that would be impossible if God were all is the interaction known as love. Unrequited love, in life as in "Iolanthe," is a nightmarish thing. If there were only God, there would be no entities to love (or hate) God, nor to have such attitudes toward one another. The importance of interaction is shown in the name that Whitehead gave to his outlook–the philosophy of organism. So does another of its names–process relational thought.
(6) In addition to there being no loving power of persuasion, of divine lure that is the basic power of reality if there were only God, there would be nothing worthy of worship (not that there would be any entities to do the worshiping). Without such value, God scarcely would be worthy of being called God (not that there would be anybody to call God that or anything else).
(7) It is meaningless to refer to God's being in something that is also said to be God. It makes no sense to say that X is in X if X is identical to X. There is only X, and X cannot be either inside or outside of X.
(8) Our freedom to choose and our ability to receive in accordance with our beliefs would be impossible if there were only one mind making all the decisions and somehow misleading us to believe that we are unique beings who are responsible for controlling our thoughts in order to control our lives in some significant degree. Perhaps the upholder of the only-one-mind position would reply that there are many minds, but God becomes them, individualizes or individuates as them. However, this is just playing with words. It is nothing that can be understood rationally; it can only be taken on faith, like the dogma of the Trinity. But there is no reason to take it at all, since process philosophy gets along vastly better without it.
(9) The fact of a unique perspective enjoyed by each entity would be impossible if God were all. This fact, presumably highly important to God, as well as to us, would be as impossible as freedom if God were all.
(10) Without freedom, interaction, co-creation, and love, it would make little sense to claim that God is personal, is indeed the supreme person. Of course, God-is-allers make no such claim. Indeed, they deny God's personality, perhaps without realizing that in doing so they deny that God has even as high a level of self-consciousness, rationality, and purposiveness as we have. Only by recognizing that God has these qualities in supreme degree do we have any hope for a fully comprehensive, coherent metaphysics. Divine personality is the foundation for divine reliability or constancy of overall purpose of lovingly offering the best for everyone and everything. Such constancy is a product of ethical dedication, not mechanical operation. Talk of God's becoming personal in us but inherently impersonal (even if having some sort of "personalness" short of personality) is a tale of a river's rising above its source. It differs little, if any, from an atheistic, materialistic theory of new qualities emerging out of simpler origins.
(11) Sometimes we encounter the claim that God is simply the field of all possibilities or potentialities. Obviously, God cannot be exclusively this and also all actualities. This compounds the problem, rather than shedding any light. In reality, God has all possibilities and is the offerer of such of them as are perfectly appropriate in relation to the circumstances in which experiences arise.
(12) Much of the claim of divine allness seems to rest on a misunderstanding of mystical experience. What I am referring to is an uncritical acceptance of what some mystics proclaim without consciously pausing to engage in philosophical reflection on their experiences. I thoroughly admire mysticism, and I believe that we should take its evidence most seriously. However, I believe that--as with any other experience--it inescapably undergoes interpretation--often extremely brief--before we can say anything about it. Being psychologically certain of God as identical with the world is no better philosophically than being psychologically certain that a straight rod sticking out of water is bent. The proclamation that I am one with God is beautiful, is believed literally by its utterers and by many others, but it is poetry, overstatement, in some ways the glory of the human race; but it would be our complete destruction if it could be literally true.
(13) God-as-allers fail to define mind adequately--or indeed at all--apart from vague references to substance. In sharp contrast, Whiteheadian process thought understands mind (spirit) as experience itself. This includes any feeling, thinking, willing, striving, desiring, anything constituting sentience in any degree of complexity.
(14) Law understood as something that acts has no justification. Natural laws are simply descriptions of how the many entities constituting nature act. An active law is something of a mythical personification of observed regularities, believed in not only by many New Thoughters, but by many others.
(15) Law as a name for an aspect of God is an unfortunate terminological choice. Regardless of the name, there is nothing about God that corresponds to the alleged "Law" that is intelligent, active, and unconscious ("subjective" in the sense used by Thomson Jay Hudson and taken over by Troward and others). Moreover, this theory assumes that God responds to the same entity that submitted an order that God fills. According to process thought, each experience (actual entity) develops for only a fraction of a second, and God cannot know it until it has completed its moment of choosing, so God can only "respond" to later experiences, by means of the initial aims that God offers to them, appropriate to the situations produced in part by the choices of their predecessors. While this may be practically unimportant, it is a metaphysically and ethically significant problem not found in the direct co-creative process described by process philosophy.
(16) There is also here an unwarranted assumption that God can provide a completed product. This runs afoul of the process understanding that in co-creation God can offer only the plan, the needed possibilities.
(17) The supposed "Law" (part of God) lacks freedom in having to respond mechanically, precisely, "mathematically" to what is fed into it. That is inconsistent with freedom in all experiences, including divine experiences.
(18) Finite entities are not able to devise perfect plans. This is the case even more impressively with regard to subhuman experiences than with respect to people. I cannot imagine an electronic experience coming up with its own plan. Only God can perform this task.
(19) An aesthetic objection to God-as-all is that if there could be a God of that sort, it would lack the harmony and contrast that constitute beauty, which is inseparable from life. Such a divinity would be dull, if not ugly. This would be all the more so if such a God were merely a field of all possibilities, which is a mere abstraction, which could have no individuality. This is close to the lack of personality that is my tenth objection. Such a blah God could provide no beautiful inspiration behind aspiration. Such a God would not be much different from the lifeless ultimate of materialists.
(20) Finally, a grave defect in some New Thought theorizing is the idea of healing as a revelation of already existing, actualized perfection, rather than a process of rapid or slow acceptance of divinely offered possibilities of perfection, made actual by us. In healing, we build up (for ourselves and/or others) a past ever more characterized by accepting than by rejecting God's offers. As the contrast decreases, the healing progresses, sometimes seemingly instantaneously, since there may well be ten generations of experiences per second.
In conclusion, the claim that God is all is an attempt to explain the magnificence and practical availability of God. However, we have seen that it provides a tragically flawed picture, little if any better than the myths that its propounders sought to replace. In a spirit appreciative of their efforts but helped by awareness of process thinking, I have offered an alternative metaphysics--with little if any originality on my part--that, in the long run, no doubt will replace the opinion that God is all.
Belief in a God of unimaginably wise Love, initiating--but never compelling and never completing--all that goes on, may be challenging, but it is the best explanation that anyone has offered for how reality works.
Now as never before, we have a magnificent opportunity to update our understanding of God and to recast our New Thought theory so that it will equal the greatness of our practice. Quimby, without any need for a theory that God is all, started us on the road to comprehending the creative process as one of choices between divine Wisdom and human misconceptions. Now, combining this insight with the process awareness of a universe of mingling minds, new every moment, let us move on to a major New Thought renaissance putting in place a vastly firmer foundation of understanding for the healing and overall wholeness-producing superstructure of New Thought.
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Created Sept. 16, 1999, by Alan Anderson, Contact Info.
Updated Sept. 15, 2002, by removal of a quotation the author of which objected to its use here.