1. primal god (pre-history: 70,000 bc – 12,000 bc)
The selfless self is a welcome guest in a mysterious, friendly, transdimensional universe (an organism, conceived as feminine, called ‘god’) comprised of immediate, living qualities (understood or ‘mythologised’ as mythic ‘gods’). The primal god is ineffable (unknowable to mind and emotion) yet immanent (it is reality itself). It can be expressed as myth and experienced through practice.
2. supernatural god (proto history: 12,000 bc – 6,000 bc)
The integrated self is an ally, or a hanger-on, in a universe of capricious ‘good and evil’ forces (also called ‘gods’) and divine personalities (male and female) which must be honoured or superstitiously appeased. The supernatural god is contingent (under certain circumstances it can be said to appear). It is experienced through emotional response in supernatural ritual.
3. religious god (ancient history: 6,000 bc – 1800 ad)
The individual self is a tenant / employee in a universe–corporation run by an absolute manager (with a beard), who wrote down a series of rules which must be submitted to (knocking points of a score-card for transgression which can be annulled through priestly intercession). The religious god can be rationally grasped but never experienced (ultimately it is beyond the world — thus imminence, along with its cognates innocence, femininity and nature — becomes heretical).
4. modern god (history: 500 bc – 1960 ad)
The isolated self is the proprietor of a mechanical universe comprised of separate interrelated parts, or people, which must be apprehended and controlled. The modern god is solely that which is objectively grasped or subjectively perceived: ideas and emotions, which are now divested of ‘supernatural’ qualities. Anything which isn’t self-knowable is heretical (rejected as ‘superstition’).
5. post-modern god (post-history: 1920 ad – ?)
The sole self is the universe. Nothing else exists apart from my thoughts and emotions. In the absence of any originating reality (anything beyond the self) the sole self is committed to grandiosity (‘I am God’ — or, in moderated form, ‘I am special’) or paranoia (‘I am nothing’ — or, in moderated form, ‘I am a loser’).
When people use the word ‘God’ they are normally referring to the God of stage 3 — the abstract, distant-from-the-earth, male deity created by the late Egyptians, handed on to the Jews, then the Christians and then the Muslims. Like most value-laden words however, the word ‘God’ has a massive range of meanings; from the (1a) bizarre, breathing, world-behind-the-world (aka spirit world or dreamtime) of primal people, to the (1b) living characters that burst into sensory life before their conscious attention, to the (2) crew of capricious rogues the later Greeks gossiped about, to (3) Mr God, the Abrahamic santa claus who massacred the Amalekites and denounced cotton and wool (4) the dry godshell of ‘OMG’ to (5) the I AM GOD of attention-seeking nutcases, false prophets, mystishist new-agers and Peter Tosh.
All five stages can blend into and overlap each other; with two, three, four or all five potentially coexisting in one person’s beliefs or in one religious tradition. The history of Christianity, to take one example, contains (1) primal, mystic elements (in many of the bizarre, creative pronouncements of Jesus and in the heretical tradition of medieval mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Jacob Boehme), (2) supernatural elements (the pantheon of Catholic saints), (3) religious elements (faith-based belief in a grand old godly idea), (4) modern elements (in the Christian deism of Descartes and Newton) and (5) post-modern elements (the Christianity of nutcases and gamers). Christianity includes countless ludicrous precepts, the horrors of the genocidal Old Testament, the psychological abomination of sin, the shameful panhandling of St.Paul, the morally revolting practice of forced proselytism, the almost comic corruption of the Catholic church and the unending nightmare of the protestant work ethic; yet to sweep away two thousand years of culture spanning half the globe as ‘stoopid’ is as intelligent as dismissing ‘science’ as ‘boring’.
Indeed, even atheism is not a monolithic singularity. The Pirahā, Nietzsche, Joseph Fouché, Richard Dawkins and his Serene Brianness of Enoland could all be described as atheists, but to assume that the word meant the same thing for all five, and to dismiss all five for it, is a classic case of palabrosis.
Consider also the relationship of ‘science’ to ‘god’. When people use the word ‘science’ they normally mean the process of tying concepts together into theories and testing them against ‘experience’. This process (which developed during stage 3) was founded on a prior stage in human development when man began (some time during stage 1) to experience reality primarily through the concentrated, focusing, excluding and dividing mode of awareness used to perceive and isolate things from amongst the bewildering blended totality of what is going on. Man then represented these isolated things as abstract ideas, facts, measurements and symbols which he believed captured reality. As self took charge of awareness these beliefs took on new life, manifesting, on the one hand, as the gods (and God) of ancient history and, on the other, as the rational worldview of ancient history — which, ever since, have been antagonistic to each other. When Dawkins or Hitchens write books denouncing ‘God’ they attack the gods and God of supernatural religions; abstract notions based on the same faith-based science (faith in the intrinsic trustworthiness of mind-shaped objects and ideas) as their own rational universe. The preceding consciousness behind the entire history of belief-based science (x ideas capture reality) and belief-based religion (y ideas capture reality) never gets a look in, in the futile, clamorous, millennial red-herring of abstract-emotional theist-atheist debate.
This ‘preceding consciousness’, consciousness of the self, the full experience of body and context, reality as it is before mind and emotions manifest or filter it — this is the ‘stage 1’ god of pre-conquest consciousness, of the Mbuti Pygmies and the ancient Etruscans, of the Upanishads and the Gita, of Lao Tzu and Kamo no Chōmei, of Thoreau and Lawrence, of Krishnamurti and Gurdjieff. (And, if you’re interested, of me).
Experience of, or love of god, in this sense is not a question of belief. It does not reject superstition, paganism, religion, rationality or even self-absorption. It just demonstrably precedes them, that’s all.