An old friend of Whitley Strieber's sent a round-robin letter to their group asking for responses to 20 questions about God. These are Whitley's responses.
From Whitley Strieber to an old friend:
First, an apology. I'm prolix and loquacious, so this will be long and convoluted. An admission: I don't care. I like my prolixity and loquaciousness just fine. But I apologize anyway, especially for the indirect way in which I have approached these quite straightforward questions, and for utterly ignoring the suggestion to be brief. Additionally, my plan here is to assert my findings from my life experience, not as debating points, but rather points of interest. I've been on a long road in this life, and over its course my beliefs have changed and evolved enormously. I remain, for all my wild heretical ways, still drawn to Catholicism, although the parish I live in now will not have me because the pastor, parish council or whomever, thinks that my book Communion is an attack on the church. (They read the cover and drew their conclusions from that. The words inside--well, who needs those?)
Here are my responses to your 20 questions.
> 1. What evidence do you find compelling to justify your belief or disbelief in God? Do you believe or disbelieve in God because you were taught to do so? If you are still devout, do you think you would be a devout member of another faith if you were raised in that faith?
This is not a direct response, as I have long ago given up trying to understand, from within the time stream, meanings and being that are observing it from the outside. From my life experience, I would suggest that the physical world is embedded in a far more alive, far more conscious numinous world. It is energetic in nature and therefore eternal. It is richly populated with individual consciousness, but those beings are not isolated like we are by the mechanisms in our brains, which filter memory and essentially create an impression of ourselves that we prefer to see. They are unable to filter out self-knowledge. When we come to physical life, we also enter what we call 'time.' This is actually perception from within entropy, it's not a real thing. We are here so that our essences will act from their truth, unhindered by the knowledge that we experience in timelessness. It's an attempt to find our weaknesses so that we can continue the journey into ecstasy that is the aim of all that is. It's also limited. Because it is inside a decaying assembly of atoms, it is essentially entropic, and, of course, entropy has a final end. Absolute zero. By contrast, ecstasy is like heat, without a final end. Every dip we take into the pool of life offers us the opportunity to rise farther and faster, like a comet being slung away as it travels in just the right orbit around a star. (Of course, we often crash and burn. We do that when we live in such a way that we take regrets, desires and sorrows with us. Dying well is a craft, in the sense that it involves conscious release of the cares of life, while retaining its joys and its lessons.)
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home...
My own experience of god is very direct and immediate. As to what God is, I think I know--as we all do--but the fact that we are limited to linear, time-centered languages makes it impossible to say what we know. Probably the tetragrammaton is indeed the most credible attempt at making such an utterance. I will say this, and perhaps it's fortunate, but God as I have come to know that old dog, has a wonderful sense of humor. Meister Eckhart somewhere said that 'God laughed, and his laughter begat the son, and they laughed together and their laughter begat the holy spirit. They all laughed, and out of their laughter poured the universe.' Or words to that effect. To me, that's the energy we're looking for, the objective of mindful and attentive living.
> 2. In the Bible, God defines Himself as “I am.” I think that is the most brilliant statement in the Bible. But what does it mean? Is God existence itself, which, if subtracted from anything, leaves nothing, and that’s why God “is” everywhere?
I agree, the Tetragrammaton is the cat's pajamas. What matters though, is not so much that God is or is not everywhere, but that one recognizes the appalling and delicious presence. We live in a world that is, for the most part, going soul blind. Feeling the 'I am' as part of the prayer of one's blood is the turning to take, to my mind.
> 3. Is there really such a thing as nothing?
I sincerely hope so, because if there isn't then my personal fisc has descending into nonmeaning.
> 4. Is God part of the universe, outside the universe, or simply the Universe itself?
'I am' is.
> 5. Is God detectible by our instruments?
God is certainly detectable, but how to know what we are detecting, given that belief takes something essential from us by closing questions. It seems to me that we are here to search, not to decide, in what must inevitably be a very small way, that we have found the truth. And yet, paradoxically, one does sometimes find something that has a distinct flavor of truth and eternity about it. At such moments, the fabled silence of God is not so silent, it would seem. But as to instrumental detection, given that the whole numinous world that surrounds us and suffuses us is conscious, I think that God might play some devilish games with somebody who was getting close to instrumental detection. The silence of God is the path, after all. Surely he wouldn't ruin the 'awful rowing' of Anne Sexton by giving our little boat a motor. What fun would that be? Give me the current of doubt, the oar of faith and a boat that leaks only when the prow is low.
> 6. What does God look like or consist of? Surely He has no need for “parts,” at least not in the same way we are.
God looks like what he wants to look like. Once I was meditating and, in my mind's eye, a big, shaggy dog came walking up to me. I recognized the dog. His name was Quagmire. He had been the dog of some rather rummy kids. He was often hungry, always dirty, frequently beaten and always bursting with joy. When I told Anne that Quag had shown up in my meditation she said, 'Dog is God. You were meditating with God.' I said, 'well, I'd need a sign if I was going to believe a thing like that.' Half an hour later, we went out for a walk. The first thing we saw was a car parked on the street that had the vanity plate, QGMIRE. So, when I pray, I always make sure to include Quagmire and with him all the suffering of this world.
> 7. Is God the dark matter?
Of course God is dark matter! The awful rowing wouldn't be nearly as much fun if we didn't have dark waters to float our boat. This is one reason, I suspect, why sinking is considered so unfortunate. CS Lewis described hell as being very tiny, as I'm sure all of you know, having chewed over his books like I did in the library at Central. He said that it was that way because the souls in it were so concentrated on what they perceived as their sins that they had literally ceased to be part of the universe. One gets the sense that God misses those who have turned on themselves. When I lived in upstate New York, I mediated for a few years with a man who was between lives. He must have been some sort of master, because he could coalesce into a physical form, sort of like a solid ghost. He couldn't do that and also move, though, but nevertheless we did a lot of meditating together. By the time we were leaving the cabin forever, I had come to realize that he didn't actually look the way he had presented himself to me. I asked him, on the last night, to please show himself as he was. A few moments later, there appeared hanging over the front lawn, a gorgeous little star, shining with beams that actually pricked the skin and conveyed such a deeply human sense of presence that I almost burst into tears. It was like being hugged by light. Had it not been dark, I could never have seen the light, so I would think that dark matter must be part of the essence of God.
> 8. On a cosmological note, is God the context in which the known Universe is expanding? Is the known universe “embedded” in other stuff—God or not—so that as the Universe expands, the distance between it and the other stuff decreases. If the other stuff has gravity—such as dark matter—maybe that is what is causing the expansion to accelerate.
The expansion of the physical universe mirrors the increase of ecstasy, in my opinion.
> 9. Is God a spirit, and if so, what does that mean? What are spirits made of?
The world is spirit. We are simply concentrations so dense that they are moving really slowly, so slowly that they are actually entropic and thus appear to be inside a stream of time that flows ever downward. The physical world is like a kind of eddy in the stream of reality, a corner where things don't flow so fast. (Gosh, I must say that I miss the aorist right now. What a terrific verb tense, that looks backward from the present instead of forward into the future. No wonder the Greeks were so good at talking about matter such as these!)
> 10. Are there other spirits, such as angels and devils? Are there Guardian Angels?
Demons are not part of my life, except in fiction. They are so entertaining, though, that I do hope that they exist. Given God's sense of fun, they must! What a lovely gift the Church gave us by instilling all that guilt in us! I can remember as a boy playing hooky on Friday sometimes for the specific purpose of riding my bike down to the little snack bar at the end of Eldon Road and getting a hot dog. Eating a hot dog on Friday would get me condemned to hell for all eternity? What a thrill! If there is a heaven, I tasted it in those hot dogs, so maybe the guy who ran the snack bar was a demon. As far as angels are concerned, this happened to me: We were driving to our country house back in 1992 in my lovely Volvo, a most reliable machine, when it suddenly stopped. I managed to manhandle it off the highway where it remained for about five minutes. Then it started again and we went on. It didn't stop again for years, and the second time, there was an explanation.
We had been spending our summers at the Chautauqua Institution near Lake Eerie, and one day we went over to the nearby Lily Dale Assembly, the summer headquarters of the Spiritualist Church of America, where we had psychic readings from one of the many practitioners there, Gregory Kehn. During my reading he suddenly said, 'Do you remember the time your car stopped on the highway?' Containing my flabbergastation as best I could I said, yes. He then said, 'that was your guardian angel. There were people coming up the road you were about to enter who were looking for you and would have followed you home and killed you.' I had been just about to enter the NY State Thruway when the car stopped. I would have driven along it for 10 miles, then off through New Paltz and into the country roads, increasingly isolated, that led to our cabin. In those days, I received what we used to cal CFDTs almost daily, so it was certainly possible that somebody might have been coming after me. (CFDT: Christian Fundamentalist Death Threat. I never got threatened by anybody who wasn't leading with Christ in their threatening letter.)
Later that week, our son came to join us in Chautauqua, and we were driving along with him in the car and I told the story. I said, 'I guess if I really had a guardian angel, he'd have to stop the car right now to prove it.' Of course, the car stopped, just as it had before. Then, after a few minutes, it started up again.
Now I'm worried. I've given this guardian angel one hell of a workout over the course of my life. What happens when I die? Will he turn out to be frazzled and furious? Or worse, will it be his turn to live a life and mine to be his guardian angel, in which case I'll have my work cut out for me.
> 11. Does Hell exist? If so, what crimes are so egregious that they deserve eternal punishment?
I've always been fascinated by hell and I think that it must exist, at least in the sense contemplated by CS Lewis. In his autobiography, as I recall, Albert Speer tells the story of having to clean up under the gallows after the execution of the condemned Nazis in Spandau Prison. The executions took place in the gymnasium. (Spandau had been a school.) When they were over, there was a black mark in the wood floor under the gallows that could not be removed. I thought that, perhaps, these souls left some of their darkness behind on their way down.
> 12. Is Hell just Earth, a place to which we return until we get it right?
12. We certainly return, but hopefully not all the time. Personally, I'd like to try another planet, at least. I'm keen to be spindly, or perhaps very long, or even both. Something other than this thick, two legged, two armed thing. I'd like to wear something new next time around, or better, join the expansion of the universe! If this is hell, then how could John have ever come up with the last line of his poem? No, it's not hell, but we can make it so if we choose. The opposite is also true. One must consider the mandala, darkness and light, spinning so that active and passive are always changing. Active light, passive darkness, and then the opposite. Forever. And the wonder of it is that it's bounded by a circle, a line of infinite measure. That circle represents the infinity of possibilities and are on offer, and to me are suggestive of a God who is full of compassion, mercy and second chances. (This was why I was so disappointed when confession got de-emphasized in the Catholic Church. How I used to enjoy a good confession! 'Bless me father, for I have sinned. I tried to poison my sister, masturbated 47 times and set the cat on fire.' 'Three Hail Marys, go in peace.' And be free to sin again right away. Lovely sacrament!)
> 13. Is everything we do simply our genes interacting with our environment? If so, how much free will do we really have? Enough for us to deserve Heaven or Hell?
I think that bodies are ideas. We plan this thing out before we come here. We know what we're getting, and we know just where the wiggle room is, and my guess is that there's exactly enough and no more. There are, deeply hidden in life, subtle moments of choice. There is also, coming at us from every direction, the randomness that is inherent in the physical. Again, getting back to mindfulness, prayerfulness also enters the equation here. What are my real choices in the flow of existence, and what to they mean to my life and, especially, the lives of others? This is always a good question, I think, to take to God.
> 14. If there is a God, what evidence do you find compelling that He does or does not care about the welfare of humans?
The Kepler Gang has recently announced that there are apparently around 10 billion habitable planets in this galaxy alone, and there are, of course, a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. What's more incredible, the evidence is building that our universe is NOT ALONE, but rather just one of many.
In order to think about God with a degree of celerity, it seems to me that we really have to also think about scale. How does a personal God work, I wonder, and just how personal is God? Does he feel every blade of grass as it is crushed, everywhere in all the universes? Wouldn't that alone be enough to keep God pretty damn busy? And what of atoms, electrons? If God is concerned about us at the classic level, is he undecided at the quantum level, and if so then why is it that the universe appears to work like a computer, an endless succession of 'yes' and 'no' questions, being endlessly answered? But when we look deep, we find this spooky question, as if God remains undecided in some deep way, as time and chance capture us away into the thrall of being, flowing on.
> 15. Does God have emotions? Can He change His mind?
My experience of God is that there is a wonderful, rich sense of humor there, thank God.
> 16. Does God really designate some as His “Chosen People”? What does that imply about those who are not chosen? What are the criteria for being chosen? Is it fair that some are chosen and some are not?
If God actually wants certain people to be chosen, he'd better keep it to himself, because if anybody finds out, those people are gonna get stomped. Look at the poor Jews. Did he choose them because he liked them or because he didn't? I've always wondered about that.
> 17. Are people really created equal? How can we be equally accountable without equal opportunities and predilections to be “good” or “bad.”
We have been on a long journey, through our whole recorded history, to find the deep freedom necessary for souls to have as many choices as possible in this life. Souls love freedom because they need it for growth, so this vast historical tendency will continue to evolve. It has not progressed as far in the east as in the west, and this is why the west is so important to mankind, and also why those who seek power over regard it with such disquiet. The key ideas are those of the gospels and Hellenism, which gradually formed the vision of the individual that seeks to assert itself now. I regard the Declaration of Independence as an inspired document, along with such seminal assertions of liberty and fairness as the Magna Carta and the Cyrus Cylinder. Man's journey toward the light really begins with Darius the Great bringing the ideas of Ahura Mazda into the benighted middle east of his era, and forming the first empire of the willing in human history. In recent years, the United States has unfortunately been run by people who have no understanding of history and little awareness of the subtle and powerful ideas that inspired our founders. The tragic lack of a classical education among our leaders has greatly diminished our republic. But, in the end, the soul's hunger for freedom will always prevail. We have left behind us many an Ozymandias, and will leave more, in our long and wonderful search for a society that welcomes all travelers equally on the road of time.
> 18. What evidence do you find compelling to justify your belief or disbelief in life after death for human beings—Heaven? How about other species? Is the idea of eternal life simply a human being’s arrogant response to the possibility of existing only from conception to death?
All life is eternal because it's all conscious energy, and energy has no end. I have been completely outside of my body, so I am personally certain that a coherent soul exists. I used the instructions in Robert Monroe's book Journeys Out of the Body, and one night succeeded in making a clean break. I moved out into the bedroom, then through the wall into the front yard. I felt the wall as a sort of light pressure. I saw, coating all the trees, a kind of fluster of energy. I reached out and touched some pine needles, but could not remove them from the tree. However, I felt a lovely, dear presence there. Very much aware of me, but so quiet in itself! A quiet delight in being. (If it turns out that I have to reincarnate and I'm offered a chance to be a tree, I'm a taker!) Anyway, I then felt the presence of my old nanny, and she seemed to think that I was about to get into trouble. So I went back in the house. I saw my wife sleeping, coated with shimmering, living light so beautiful that my soul cried! (This was the soul visible, Joseph's Coat of Many Colors, each colorful strand being a memory, as I saw it.) I tried to get back in my body, which was lying there darkly. But when I kind of stretched out over it, the interior of it proved to be a kind of slick, silver surface, like mercury. I kept sliding out and kind of dripping down the side of the bed. Then I found myself in our old front yard in about 1957. Dad was there, mowing the lawn because I'd been lazy yet again. He looked up at me and said, 'When are you going to come help me.' I was back in my body in an instant! That, and meditating with the man I have described above, and my own numerous memories of past lives, has made me rather sure that there is an afterlife. I feel quite blessed in this, especially now that we are entering the years of discovery.
> 19. Considering the size and age of the Universe and our place in it, what evidence do you find compelling to justify your belief or disbelief in the proposition that human beings are somehow special to God. Considering the vast difference between God and man, why would God not view human beings as essentially no different from bacteria?
As the universe, as I suggested above, is far larger than we have thought, and apparently far more populous, God must be a good bit busier than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve! Or, put another way, perhaps what we need to do is not to come to a final understanding of God, but to find our own personal relationship to deity. After all, the human species has had quite a few gods, and does to this day. Among the trillions of living planets out there, I would assume that there are billions with conscious life on them, and perhaps some traversing space and time in ways that we cannot yet imagine, and all of these beings, or most of them, must at one time or another have conceived of deity. My thought is that we need, rather than running at each other with swords in defense of our beliefs, to embrace the diversity of approaches to this questing, joyous conscious energy with the same sense of fun that it addresses us.
> 20. Is the Uncaused Cause simply the uncaring, unaware, eternal Universe?
In all of this immensity, I suspect a fabulous paradox: nothing is lost, and care is there for any seeker, even one like me who has wondered if it might be possible to play a joke back on God.
Thanks for this lovely challenge. How I have enjoyed it!