“The Machine Spoke of God” (a short story I posted elsewhere in this blog) is written from a very honest place. It is written from the point of view of someone who has seen a lot of things, but the unambiguous hand of God was not one of them.
In a sense I could be considered an atheist; I often use the term “agnostic” as a qualifier because I am not in any way part of the “New Atheist Movement” nor do I particularly want to be. I don’t have a strong or passionate disbelief in God.
Rather, I take a pragmatic approach to it.
I believe that:
a. If there is a God or gods, and
b. If that God or those gods want themselves to be known,
Then they will make themselves known to the people who need to know about them, and the only reasonable position to be in otherwise would be a state of simply not knowing (agnosis). Gnosis, I believe, comes only with the personal revelation of the divine and only when the divine has revealed through us things that are hidden, or has caused some miracle that cannot be explained away. In this way, faith and unfaith are equally in earnest which I believe would be the way of a righteous deity. I cannot comprehend a god that rewards dishonest faith which asks of one to worship God because someone told them God will hurt them if they don’t, but not earnest unfaith, which says only “I see no gods, only many people speaking of them.”
From what I’ve read so far, some signs of an encounter with the divine include knowledge of things hidden (e.g. finding out about a family member’s illness before they do or learning secrets that are later proved to be true), precognition (knowing about something before it happens), a clear message from the divine that is not due to any known pathology, and xenoglossy (speaking in a foreign language that one has no prior knowledge of).
Rather interestingly (and pointedly) I would point out that some of the traditional criteria for divine revelation (particularly xenoglossy and the knowledge of hidden things) are also seen by many as signs of demonic possession, which conjures up in my mind thoughts of a conspiracy to silence dissent among the faithful. I would also like to point out that true cases of xenoglossy are rare and in most cases “speaking in tongues” is really nonsensical gibberish known as “glossolalia.” General consensus is that glossolalia is in no way miraculous, and visions, trances, and ecstatic states- while potentially revitalizing- are not in themselves signs of the divine and are painfully easy to fake.
I am very wary of the sorts of religious experiences that put too much emphasis on the ecstatic state, especially in a collective environment with many people experiencing the same state. A sage, traditionally, would enter such states alone so as not to be carried along by a spirit of mass hysteria or be distracted or swayed by the compelling drama all around them.
Moreover, I have a problem with the “speaking through prophets” model because ultimately, a prophet is a fallible instrument and to require blind faith in a prophet’s vision of God is by extension to require blind faith in the prophet themselves. Miracles and prophecies can be faked or twisted, and ultimately only the prophet themselves will ever know what they really saw.
Another problem with God speaking through prophets would be the fact that a prophet’s vision is almost always abstractified and ineffable. While certain themes seem consistent (beams of light from heaven, the divine feminine, visions of the universe’s true structure and nature) and certain images appear, the interpretation of these images ultimately relies on the cultural framework of those who interpret them.
Now here, I am in a bit of an interesting position. I have found anecdotes that during a previous life I believe I may have lived, I saw the divine for myself. However, I have not actually experienced this myself, nor do I personally remember having those visions in prior lifetimes (I know about them second-hand). For this reason I do not even take the word of a possible past life of mine about the existence of God, let alone that of a stranger.
In this life I have seen and experienced many weird and wonderful things that defy easy explanation, but I have never actually received a message from the divine that was unambiguously the call of a deity that is actively involved in my destiny or anyone else’s.
Still, I keep my eyes, ears, and heart open. I don’t give them away and I’ve had many would-be prophets try to trick me, but in the end I saw through them and held fast. I will believe in the divine when the divine calls upon me to believe in it, because I cannot see how I could embrace any other belief in the divine nor would I ask anyone to believe without being called themselves.