I have a concept of god that makes sense to me. It’s probably not compatible your concept, but that’s fine, we don’t have to agree. Generally, at least in the Abrahamic religions, God is thought of as the creator of all things, the creator of space-time and the spiritual realm, the creator and father of his beloved mankind, his children. He is thought to be all powerful, omniscient, and perfectly good. That’s not my god.
My creative god is the spirit of confidence, curiosity, creativity, and compassion that abides in communities of sentient beings, as opposed to the spirit of fear and anger that leads to chaos. This human spirit is powerful, creative, and potentially good. We, the whole of mankind, do not control that spirit completely, but neither does it control us completely. It is a powerful force, abiding within the interactions of living communities, that has evolved into a guiding spirit; and the direction it pushes us toward may or may not be the optimal one. At this point in our history, we have begun to have the capacity to examine the nature of that spirit within our collective being, and make choices that modify the way it directs us. Please understand that by using the term “spirit” I do not imply anything immaterial or supernatural.
I am reminded of a fantasy story I read once, by Jack Sharkey, called It’s Magic, You Dope! The main character stumbles into a parallel world where magic is part of the natural order. The title refers to the answer he receives when, upon seeing some weird and fantastic thing, he asks how it happened: “It’s magic, you dope!” It makes perfect sense, really. If you could explain it in scientific terms, it wouldn’t be magic.
That’s how I think about religious faith. If something happens that seems contrary to natural law, the person of faith will answer that it’s a miracle. How did God flood the entire earth? It’s a miracle. Jesus died, then came back to life? How did that work? It’s beyond our understanding. How the universe come to exist? God did it.
If God made everything from nothing, how did he do it? What was the process? How do you get any closer to understanding creation by saying God did it? The universe either came into existence or always existed. If it was created, then its creator either came into existence or always existed. This tells us exactly nothing about the nature of that creator, or whether it exists.
Yes, I understand, if you could explain it in scientific terms, it wouldn’t require faith. It wouldn’t be supernatural. And that gets to the heart of the problem. There is an uncrossable divide between religious faith and empirical knowledge which defines the gap between religion and science. If your religion is based on supernatural beings and occurrences, then you don’t need to know the scientific explanations. In fact, scientific understanding might conflict with your faith.
What about a spiritual entity that is not supernatural? Any interacting group of people, extended family, church family, has an atmosphere that you can sense when you encounter a few of the members together, a spirit, you might say. This is particularly noticeable when the group is on its home turf, its church or temple, club house, convention center, or wherever the members tend to gather. You have noticed this if you have entered a meeting place of a group in which you are clearly an outsider. From the body language, the eye movements, the tone of conversations in the room, you immediately know if it is accepting of strangers or suspicious.
There is communication which takes place apart from words, through body language, tone of voice, perhaps even changes in pheromones that we are aware of only at a subconsciousness level. These subtle cues augment superficial communication, and help hold the group together. They influence the emotional states of all the members which in turn influence how each interacts with the group. This helps make the group a cohesive organism.
As I understand it, this half hidden exchange of emotional states is what the members of the group are talking about when they refer to “feeling the spirit.” They may mean a contagious atmosphere of enthusiasm or they may think of it as a supernatural being. The group may have a noble purpose or a destructive one. It may exist only to market something. In any case, there is an underlying spirit. This is true of religious congregations, families, businesses, and governmental bodies.
These subtle forms of communication that unify life also function between groups. Different groups interact, and those interactions may comprise a larger unified entity, perhaps including other forms of life besides human. This formulation doesn’t necessarily conflict with supernatural theologies. The concept of a unifying natural spirit doesn’t preclude the idea of a supernatural creator God. It at least gives us a basis for talking about spiritual issues, for having some common ground between our divergent positions.