I wrote this as a comment in a Facebook thread that was in response to a (typically bitingly witty and insightful) article by Catherine Deveny that appeared in the Age.
Heres a link to the article:
A Christian friend of my gorgeous Fiancee wrote that he was appalled that the writer didn't understand that "finding God" could happen anywhere. This seemed to me that he missed the point of what was being said. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the matter...
I have a close friend who is a nurse, and also, like myself, an ex-evangelical Christian who has seen that the beliefs required to be so are unsustainable. The church we used to go to is very much based on the planet shakers “get everyone emotionally involved in the event and experience the holy spirit through it all” model. Lots of awesome worship. (I’m reminded of a character in the animated film, Bolt – Rhino the Hamster – Bolt’s biggest fan, who despite repeated and clear evidence to the contrary, refuses to see the little dog as anything but.. AWESOOOOOME!!!).
But I digress.
A couple of years ago, the nurses’ union in Victoria and nurses from across the state campaigned for what they deserve – better working conditions and pay that reflects the vital and tireless role they play in our medical system. At the time, my friend attended a mass union rally at festival hall. She described the event as eerily like the feeling she’d always been told in church was “the presence of God”. And the realization (bleedingly obvious when you think about it) is that the emotions can be affected by community, music, a common cause and feeling part of something that you define as significant. This feeling can be then defined as whatever the people controlling the situation wish to define it as, and people are likely to follow. I’m sure the same feelings of camaraderie and importance were felt by those attending the rallies of both worthwhile (thinking Obama’s calls – “Yes, we can”) and deranged (thinking the roars of the crowds in footage of Hitler calling for German unity in the 30s) world leaders throughout history. What it shows is that just because many people share an emotion and even a strong belief, doesn’t preclude the possibility of abject delusion.
My point is this… I think that one does not “find” god, one is lead to whatever definition and idea of a god that is in line with current emotional needs, cultural inheritance, power, guilt and fear, or the (I grant, sincere) beliefs and leadings of those with the perceived mandate to influence others however they can. There is no objective reality to find – only subjective hopes and ideas about what one will find and what it might look or feel like - and that is open to the interpretation of the seeker. I note that when people have visions of god, they tend overwhelmingly to do so within their cultural tradition. People from Christian cultures and upbringing tend to have visions of Jesus or Mary, people from Muslim cultures tend to have visions that fit within Islamic tradition, people from Animist cultures tend to have vision of animist spirit guides and so on. What you expect to find is what you will assume you have found. That does not give it any objective reality.
Whether this happens in a stadium rock worship service, a traditional church, an esoteric experience, or any of the myriad of culturally diverse manifestations of this across the world, I would argue that what a person experiences is something within the situation, and within their own needs at the time, and that in order to believe that it is a supernatural experience, that person must find the mental trick to make themselves believe what goes against the evidence of their senses.