If God Does Not Exist, Then Only He Knows It
How right he was. For this is not an outlet for my creativity, but an inlet for someone--or something--else’s. Which is true of life in general. We imagine that we are in charge and that we “give birth to ourselves” and to our children--both our material children and our immaterial children (i.e., our creative productions).
But do we really? Does anyone actually know where thoughts--much less creative thoughts--come from? Yes, leave it to the godlike little ego to think that it could produce even so much as single thought ex nihilo. Soon it will “understand” the human genome, as if this will solve the mystery of how the most complex text ever written can both compose and read itself.
But we do not give birth to ourselves, only to the God that gives birth to us.
Let me try to explain.
One of my influences, the psychoanalyst James Grotstein, has attempted to rescue the concept of the unconscious from its unfortunate reduction to a mere cauldron of uncivilized desires and impulses, and restore it to its true place as a sort of alter-ego, or “stranger within” that shadows our existence in a most intimate, creative, and mysterious way. Far from being “primitive and impersonal” (although it surely includes primitive “lower vertical” elements as well), it is “subjective and ultra-personal,” a “mystical, preternatural, numinous second self” characterized by “a loftiness, sophistication, versatility, profundity, virtuosity, and brilliance that utterly dwarf the conscious aspects of the ego.”*
Grotstein's ideas are unusual in the field of psychoanalysis. Although there is nothing in his writing that conveys a conventional approach to religiosity, he has developed an extraordinary appreciation of the spiritual implications of the unconscious as it manifests in our day-to-day experience. Understanding this “higher” aspect of the unconscious can greatly enrich one’s spiritual life, if for no other reason than it represents such a comparatively larger aspect of consciousness itself. Otherwise, it’s a little like living your life in a tiny boat and never looking around to appreciate the immense ocean upon which your insignificant vessel is floating.
Grotstein sees the unconscious as a sort of “handicapped” god who needs a partner in order to accomplish its mission. The goal of psychotherapy is not merely knowledge of, or insight into, the unconscious, but something far greater. Rather, it is to establish a sort of dynamic collaboration between the phenomenal ego--our conscious self--and the “ineffable subject of being” upon which the ego floats, and into which it infinitely extends (for the boat is paradoxically made of the same water upon which it floats).
Through a creative resonance between these two aspects of ourselves, we are much more spontaneously alive, creative, and “present.” It is like adding another dimension (or two or three) of depth to our being, through which we become something that has never actually been, but is somehow more real than what we presently are. A new entity emerges, a “transcendent subject” that lives harmoniously in the dialectical space between our “foreground self” and this mysterious “background subject” that surrounds and vivifies it.
This novel way of looking at the unconscious has much in common with the 14th century Christian theologian Meister Eckhart. Eckhart liberally relied upon various rhetorical devices such as paradox, pun, and oxymoron in the effort to use language to transcend language. Language cannot ultimately capture God, and yet, it is all we have. As a result, Eckhart said many things that are easy to misunderstand and which landed him in some trouble during his lifetime.
For example, Eckhart wrote that “In my birth all things were born, and I was the cause of myself and of all things... And if I did not exist, God would also not exist.” Just what did he mean by this? (the Catholic authorities asked). In fact, it was something very similar to Grotstein’s description of the godlike aspects of the unconscious. That is, the God that we can know cannot exist without our first “conceiving” and giving birth to him--God needs our assistance, or cooperation, to manifest here below. He needs an inlet.
First of all we have to back up a bit, and make it clear that God in his essence so surpasses our conceptual categories that he is beyond being or knowing, beyond the very horizon of knowability. What he actually is in himself, we cannot say, and he certainly doesn't need us to not say it. Apophatic theology holds that the only true things we can say about God are what he is not. Therefore, only by achieving the “negative capability” of unknowing, can we paradoxically know him in his essence.
Perhaps this is why, as Grotstein writes, God is the only true atheist, “because only He knows for sure that He doesn’t exist.” Furthermore, we are His children.
But we can certainly know God in his energies and activities on this side of manifestation. That is, in Eckhart’s understanding of the incarnation, God is eternally taking on human nature, not just once, but for all time, in the ground of our being. Furthermore, Eckhart adheres to the ancient Christian idea that God became man so that man may become God--not literally, but in Grotstein’s sense of transforming the ineffable, nonlocal God-beyond-being into a local manifestation of his presence. The reason we may know God is because he is perpetually being born in the depths of our soul, but only if we cooperate and act as “midwife” to the process. God gives birth by speaking the word, but we are only born (from above) by hearing it and conforming ourselves to it.
Our secular friends have it backwards. It is not God that requires explanation, but us. God alone properly has real being. God does not understand us because he exists--rather, he ex-ists by our understanding of him, which is ultimately his self-understanding. That is why Eckhart said that the eye with which we see God is the same eye by which he sees us. We are each of us an opportunity for God to exist. Or perhaps more accurately, without us, God is orphaned in the cosmos, with no earthly parents to (p)raise him.
Grotstein even has a fascinating take on the Garden of Eden story. One of the intriguing things about Genesis is that it can be interpreted from so many different angles, each of which is true. Grotstein notes that infants (and secular leftists, I might add) necessarily have what is called an autochthounous notion of creation. Webster’s describes the autochthon as “one who has sprung from the ground he inhabits.” Unlike purely solipsistic leftists, babies eventually move on to other theories, for example parthenogenesis, the idea that mother is the sole creator. Many primitive, pre-monotheistic and post-literate peoples remain in this matriarchical mode, such our academic vaginocracy and other assorted clitterati.
Grotstein identifies the initial God of Genesis with the omnipotent infant. “Like all God-Infants, He believed that He had created everything that He opened His eyes to, including Himself first of all, then everything around Him, including his mother and father, Adam and Eve.” As creator of His parents, He naturally believed that they should be at his disposal. Those of you with infants recognize the pattern.
Despite the clear injunction against knowledge of his real situation, “as time wore on... the God-Infant became more aware of His separateness, and along with this realization He also realized His littleness, helplessness, and vulnerability--and His need for His parents to help Him.” Moreover, at the same time, He “became aware that mother, rather than being His solely devoted object, was involved additionally in another relationship... with father.”
This disturbing knowledge is the “primal treachery” that placed “a dark shadow on the whole phenomenon of knowing.” It “terminated forever the illusion of bliss and innocence.” For the God-Infant did not really create his parents. Rather, they created him. With this knowledge, reality expels us from Eden, which, of course, is guarded on each side by an infant with a flaming sword.
Thus, infantile omnipotence is forfeited, but not completely. From this point onward, it is tempered by awareness that it requires others in order to give it birth. Our a priori “symmetrical” union with all of reality must be channeled into the asymmetrical and reality-based ego. But it is a fully dialectical relationship, one feeding the other.
In other words, we must actually negotiate a “cyclopean” or “double worldview” between fantasy and reality, something that the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott emphasized as well, with his idea of the “transitional space” of consciousness. We can never actually be just one or the other. We are perpetually giving birth to God, while God is perpetually giving birth to us. Both statements are equally true. Otherwise, we live in the dry desert hell of egoic separation from our source, or the alternate "fluid" hell of engulfment in symmetrical being with no way to express or communicate it--no way for anything to "evolve" out of the formless and infinite void.
Creation means "giving existence to," or bringing something out of nothing. God’s creativity gives existence to us, but we give existence to God in our creative response to his actively present absence. That is, in both Judaism and in Eckhart’s thought, God actually must withdraw from the world in order to create it--otherwise, the world is simply identical to God, and there is no freedom.
We are a creation of the absent God-beyond-being, but in making present our potential and becoming who we are, we take part in God’s creation of us, which paradoxically gives birth to both God and to ourselves. In surrendering to, and cooperating with, our own mysterious ground of being, our self-knowing and God’s self-knowing become a single act of essential knowledge. We give birth to the living God.
*The title of this post is from the book The Symmetry of God. The Grotstein quotes are taken from his book Who is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream? (Both are in the sidebar, but Grotstein may be a bit of a challenge for the layperson.)
And on the seventh day he rested, because he was pooped after creating reality. Pay no attention to that serpent in the background.