Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 034
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 34 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host, Daniel Torridon.
One of the great things I find about no longer being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that I’m free to explore deep, spiritual, philosophical questions and find my own answers as opposed to being told what the answer is and being expected to just accept it because it’s supposedly “the truth”. For example, the question of how the Universe and everything in it, including ourselves, came into being.
As a Jehovah’s Witness you’re pointed to Genesis chapters 1 and 2—to be taken very literally—and if, for any reason, it doesn’t sit well with you, or resonate with you, tough! You just have to accept it, and believe it, because that’s what the Bible says and that’s what the governing body says it means. There’s no room whatsoever for variance in thought and you can’t look elsewhere for your answers other than the Bible and the governing body’s current interpretation. Once you’ve joined the cult, questioning is over. It’s complete information control from thereon in.
But when you leave Jehovah’s Witnesses all that changes. You can actually think about a subject and look wherever you want for ideas. You can, if you wish, adopt those ideas wholesale or you can pick and mix ideas and create your own unique philosophical understanding. No longer is there anyone telling you what you can and can’t think. You genuinely have an open mind and the opportunity to search for, and find, answers that you never had before.
The other thing you can do is change your mind or revise your philosophies as and when you receive new data, or a chosen belief is no longer working for you. As a Jehovah’s Witness, you would have to “wait on Jehovah”—in other words, wait for the governing body to change their mind about what is true—before you could have a different viewpoint, and even then, there would be no guarantee that their “new light” would be something that you would instinctively believe.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, I previously accepted and believed, the Watch Tower’s interpretation for creation, namely that God created the Universe by means of his “dynamic energy”, and that he literally created the various elements on earth—the sea, the land, the plants, the animals, and, ultimately, humans, but in 2006, at the pinnacle of my questioning everything, I read a short book by the writer Scott Adams. Adams, if you’re not familiar with him, is the creator of the Dilbert comic strips, but he wrote this book called God’s Debris in which he tells the story of a young delivery guy who delivers a parcel to an old man, and before leaving, the old man says something profound which initiates a deep conversation between the two. The book is basically a transcript of their discussion. In it, they discuss God, and the old man postulates that there was one thing that an eternal, all-knowing God did not know—that is, what would it be like to not exist—and in trying to find the answer to this elusive question, God literally blew himself up thinking. The result of the explosion, or Big Bang, was our Universe—hence the title of the book—we are “God’s debris”.
This idea of a God that fully invested himself into the creation of the Universe really resonated with me, and it was an idea that stuck with me over the years, but, of course, I was a Jehovah’s Witness and I was expected to think within the bounds of Watch Tower theology, and so this idea of a God destroying himself in order to create the Universe was something I couldn’t, at the time, fully embrace, and why would I? To do so would be to effectively annihilate my long-held belief of a transcendent, ever-present God from my life, a God who, it seemed to me, was guiding and protecting me like some kind of father figure. Nevertheless, I tried to reconcile the two ideas, thinking that maybe Jehovah did blow himself up to some degree in the process of turning at least some of his energy into matter, but being that he had infinite energy it essentially made no difference to him in the long run. However, there were always questions in the back of my mind about God and creation, and the answers given by Jehovah’s Witnesses just never sat right with me.
For example, the idea that God created two perfect humans and placed them in a paradisaic garden only to then test them with a 50/50 chance of them failing the test. Why would he do that? Being all-knowing, surely he would know they would fail the test and introduce death to the entire human race. Why subject billions of people to that? Jehovah’s Witnesses would, of course, answer that it was a test of free will—that it elevated them above animals that only live by instinct—dignifying Adam and Eve with the choice as to whether to obey God or not, but was it really a choice? They really only had one viable option—do what God said. If they didn’t choose God’s prescribed option for them then the outcome would be death, but not to give them the choice—to live or die—Jehovah’s Witnesses would argue, would make them like robots and that’s not what God wanted. God wanted them to be like him with free will, but that didn’t sit right with me either because the Genesis account makes it very clear that they were punished for becoming “like God”. They simply weren’t allowed to make their own minds when it came to what was “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “evil”. Everything was preset and they had to jump through the hoops or die.
Then, also, why allow them to be tempted by the serpent? Jehovah’s Witnesses blame the whole temptation fiasco on the Devil, but surely God was ultimately responsible for that because he allowed it to happen as an intrinsic part of his purpose to test creation. No Devil, no temptation, it would be unlikely Adam and Eve would have sinned—easy test, game over. It seemed to me that the Devil was effectively working for God!
The Genesis account, as far as I was concerned, had numerous holes in it and the answers Jehovah’s Witnesses gave just raised more questions.
In the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? the illustration is used of a student questioning a teacher on a maths problem. The teacher hands the floor to the student and allows the student to prove him wrong. Of course, the student is unable to do this and the class then knows for sure that the teacher was right all along. This is used to illustrate how Satan challenged God, but when you think about it, it really is an appalling illustration. Watch Tower is likening the Devil challenging God—with the result being death and destruction to billions of humans—to a simple maths question. There really is no comparison, and it always struck me that a God who would allow humanity to be exposed en masse to sin and death, purely to prove that he was right, would not be the kind of person I would especially want to worship. Yet, there I was, believing in a God that was supposedly looking favourably upon me, guiding and protecting me, answering my prayers—even mundane ones such as finding a suitable parking spot—while apparently turning a blind eye to the slaughter of six million Jews at the hands of Hitler, or more closer to home, the epidemic of child abuse within the Watch Tower organisation itself, just to prove whether God was right or not. Being told that God doesn’t cause bad things, but only allows them, did very little to improve my opinion of him. Why would a loving God stand on the sidelines with his arms folded, non-intervening, when he presumably has the power to end it with a click of his fingers? I mean, if I had that power, that’s definitely what I would do, so does that make me more moral than God?
As I say, as a Jehovah’s Witness, I had no choice but to accept Jehovah existed and to do the mental gymnastics necessary to make him a loving God with good reasons for allowing wickedness, but once I left the cult, I was free to re-evaluate things—even the existence of God himself. Would I maintain a belief in God or would I, like many who leave Jehovah’s Witnesses, become an atheist? I could never see that happening, and to be honest, there was a part of me that didn’t want to give up on God because I liked the idea of someone watching out for me, but honesty and integrity and the search for truth was the order of the day for me, and so I did begin to question whether God actually existed or not.
The question of why God does not intervene in human affairs ultimately led me to believe that he was simply not there, but I struggled with the idea of a Universe existing without an initial, conscious cause, and so for a while, I adopted the Pandeistic view presented in God’s Debris, namely that God did exist at some point, but chose to invest his whole self into the creation of the Universe, and in doing so, ceased to exist as a singularity—but, I found I missed God. I missed the idea of someone watching on, guiding and protecting me, answering my prayers, and so I set about thinking of a solution. How could I effectively have it both ways? How could I have a Universe that was the product of God becoming it, therefore not being responsible for human atrocities, while still maintaining a level of transcendency and presence in my life? Was that possible?
The answer I initially came up with was to think of things from a dualistic point of view—a God who, on a temporal level, ceased to exist as a result of becoming the physical Universe, but on a non-temporal plane continued to exist in eternity, but that didn’t really solve the problem of evil in the world. Again, why would this eternal God, from his eternal vantage point, not intervene and prevent crimes such as genocide, abuse, and so forth? At first, I toyed with the idea of a Source Consciousness that was not God in the traditional sense—more of an awareness principle, but indifferent to humanity’s plight, a force rather than a personality, not someone I could blame—an “it” not a “he”—but nevertheless something I could still connect to through prayer and meditation, but this idea felt convoluted. It lacked the simplicity that I believe is intrinsic to truth, and so I returned to the purely Pandeistic view, that there was a Source that became the Universe and, in doing so, ceased to exist as a singular entity.
However, in choosing the Pandeistic model, I also adopted Roger Penrose’s Conformal Cyclic Cosmology theory, where the fateful end of one Universe is identical to the Big Bang of the next. In fact, in essence, this allows even the same Universe in terms of its matter to experience a never-ending cycle of deaths and rebirths—like the Hindu notion of the serpent eating its tail. Then, I got to thinking that at that moment where the Universe collapses and then re-expands, that is the moment where everything returns to Source. Now that idea felt right and answered most, if not all, of my questions. So, during the lifetime of any current Universe, God—or Source—as a singular entity, simply does not exist, having transformed himself into the actual Universe, but at the point of collapse and re-expansion, Source Consciousness exists again—if only for a moment.
So, now, I subscribe to a Universe without a transcendent God. This is it. We are “God’s debris”—fragmented instances of Source Consciousness if you will, and ultimately our Universe will come to an end. Time and space will come to an end, as everything returns to the singularity, and at that moment all conscious experiences, good and evil, become known by Source. Then there is another Big Bang—if Source chooses to create again—and the process starts over, each time Source becoming more and more knowledgeable from the experiences that we have lived.
This general idea is not new. I just made reference to Hindu philosophy. This idea of the Universe undergoing cyclic deaths and rebirths is present in Hindu sacred literature and although not widely accepted in Western scientific circles, there is some evidence presented by Roger Penrose to the effect that the Universe is indeed cyclic and goes through these periods of death and rebirth. It is, as I say, a very Hindu concept. While I don’t intend to subscribe to the entire Hindu religion with its 33 million deities—all manifestations of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality—I do feel that the Hindu sacred literature has much to offer in understanding the principle of a Source Creator and the cyclic nature of the Universe, and this is definitely something that I will be continuing to investigate.
As it stands now, I would not class myself entirely as an atheist insofar as I do believe a God—or a Source—did exist at some point, even though he no longer does as a singular entity. However, my current view of Source is definitely not the same as my previous view of Jehovah, a god, the God, in the traditional Biblical sense. I now view the initial Source as much more of an indescribable, eternal, energy source than an actual person, although I do feel it may have possessed consciousness, which it then passed on to us.
I feel it’s acceptable to refer to the Universe, including ourselves, as a Whole, as “God”. That works for me. We are the “I Am”. That realisation, of course, places the responsibility squarely on us as humans to do the right thing, the moral thing, with no excuses or rationale that a God will ultimately step in and sort out our mess. We have to look within ourselves and see what is beneficial, not just for us but for everyone and everything that exists—and what is beneficial, I believe, can be classed as “good”.
I do believe that there is fundamentally only one conscious awareness that runs through all sentient beings in the Universe and that if I was you, or you were me, we would essentially feel no different. Strip away the unique experiences that make us who we are, and pure awareness would feel exactly the same regardless of the physical body we were in. The billions of humans that have ever lived are the way Source experiences everything that can be experienced, temporally, in space and time—even if it is waiting for the collapse of the current Universe to benefit from that knowledge.
With no actual “God”, at least not in the traditional sense, religion, of course, becomes unnecessary. There is, however, I believe, a connective force that flows through the entire Universe—a residue of Source energy—which we, as humans, can connect to via prayer or, more specifically, meditation, and even manifest our own reality. Therefore, I will also be looking deeper into meditation, again no doubt drawing on Hindu philosophy. To all intents and purposes, I guess I am an atheist in terms of no longer believing in an interventional God, a god that demands worship, but I remain spiritual, seeking truth and connection with the greater Whole.
Now I’m no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I can look for my answers anywhere I want without fear of criticism or retribution. That’s all from me this time. Thanks for listening in. Join me again.