Thriving Without a God

In your favorite models of reality, do you include a god or gods? Have you tested models and frames that are god-free to see how well they work for you?

I grew up learning models of reality that include a god, in that case a Christian version of one. Later I went atheist, and I enjoyed the godless style of living – perhaps a little too much. It was way more fun, but it took me a few years to find my footing with it.

After that I explored some New Age models that included angels, spirit guides, Source, and so on. There are many flexible ways to include divinity in our models of reality, but one key aspect is whether or not you include any “superior” beings that are more divine than you are.

Here’s what I learned after lots of exploration and experimenting.

Perhaps the most important aspect of these explorations was to learn how mysterious, fascinating, and inherently unknowable so much of reality is. It was a special turning point when I worked through the logic and truly grasped that no matter what kind of entity I am – physical, spiritual, or otherwise – I will never ever be able to discern the true nature of reality. No god would be able to discern that either. It was really interesting to see that even an all-knowing, all-seeing god would never have the power or ability to know what’s outside of its scope.

Even if this god’s scope of knowingness is infinite, you can always put a bigger infinity around it as a container. Even if the god knows everything, there could always be a bigger everything that contains it. And no god could be certain that there wasn’t some other kind of reality beyond its scope.

A smart enough god would eventually figure this out. And it would probably be damned curious to test and probe what kind of reality it exists within, even as it accepts the unknowability of this.

So this helped me see that if there is a god, it’s never actually going to be as omniscient as a religion makes it out to be. And honest god would have to wonder about the extent of its divinity, and hence it would also have to wonder about a lot more than that.

Why does this matter? I grew up being taught a model of reality that included an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving god. This model is inconsistent with any sort of reality that includes conscious beings though. So if I do include such a god in my reality, I have to bump it down a few notches in terms of how I relate to it.

If there’s some other conscious entity with superior knowledge and wisdom, that could be interesting, but then I must also recognize that its knowledge and wisdom will always be limited. Since it can’t understand anything beyond the realm of reality that contains it, it can’t even know if parts of me exist beyond its understanding. There are a lot of fundamentals that it can’t know for sure, such as the nature of its power or the true depth and accuracy of its understanding. If such a god cannot access and understand its container reality, it can never really understand itself or anything else within that reality.

Since I’m a part of this god’s reality, this god also can’t actually hope to ever understand my nature, even if it thinks it created me. So an honest god would have to consider me a bit of a mystery too.

Isn’t that interesting? Even the most omniscient god cannot actually hope to understand me completely. Some aspect of my nature will always be opaque and mysterious to it.

You can flip this around as well. In the domains of life where you have the greatest control and deepest understanding, you have to admit that you’ll never reach 100%. There’s always something mysterious and unknowable if you look deeply enough.

You can never know for certain if your base reality is some kind of simulation or not. You can never know if you’re a real biological being or a simulated character with a simulated body. You can never know if your memories are real events or just programmed into you.

Any god you can possibly imagine, as well as any gods that are beyond your imagining, are subject to similar constraints. That’s just the nature of being aware. Awareness has some inherent limits we can’t hope to bypass.

Consequently, I favor the framing that any god, angel, spirit guide, or other entity that may have superior knowledge and wisdom is ultimately just as perplexed about the nature of their reality as I am. I can imagine that they see things from a different perspective, but I can never assume that their perspective is truly superior to my own personal perspective.

Same goes for any human advisors, coaches, teachers, or mentors. No matter how far advanced they may be in some area of life compared to me, I always have to take their advice with a grain of salt. I can never accept their models and understanding as 100% accurate.

One thing I wanted so desperately when I was younger was for someone or something to play the role of my ideal spiritual advisor. I wanted my own personal version of Mr. Miyagi, someone who could give me the most intelligent answers and instructions for getting better results and living a better life. Sometimes I looked for that in the human realm. Sometimes I looked for it in the spiritual realm. But however I searched, I was always disappointed. No such version of god existed, and I eventually accepted that I needed to outgrow this folly.

When I was wallowing in the depths of stuckness, I often turned to spiritual models for answers. I loved reading books about spirituality because they were so comforting. The authors seemed certain of their models, and certainty is such a tempting drug when you’re stuck. Solutions were presented as: Try this and it will always work (if you’re spiritual enough).

Of course their models felt flat when I actually tried to practice them. The results were sometimes fascinating, sometimes dreadful, and generally inconsistent. A special turning point happened when I got into public speaking and realized that behind the scenes, these teachers are just as confused as everyone else, but they’re good at marketing certainty.

Pick anyone on earth that you might label as a spiritual guru. Then consider the framing that they’re really no wiser than you are. They may have good marketing skills though.

Eventually I found that a more effective way to connect with spirituality isn’t by looking for a wiser entity with the answers I need. It’s better to recognize that uncertainty is universal, and no advice should be swallowed whole.

These days I find it more effective to use models of reality that don’t include any superior beings. I don’t need a god or gods to look up to. We’re all essentially on equal footing. No spirit guide or coach has any guaranteed superior perspective to my own, but they may offer different perspectives for me to sample and test.

This year I received much advice that I could easily have put on a pedestal due to where it came from, but then I kept getting better results when instead of acting on the advice blindly, I chewed on it for a bit, let it bounce around in my thoughts and feelings, and then I made my own independent decisions, often doing the opposite of what the advice was. I really liked the results of that.

Consider that the more faith you put in a god (or in any other spiritual being), the more powerless and helpless you become. This may be good marketing for those who want to fill that power void and insert themselves above you, but it’s not good spirituality.

I’ve also witnessed this from the other side. Sometimes when I share coaching insights or advice, the person I’m coaching will apply the ideas very differently than I expected. Or they may reject the advice and do their own thing. The coaching challenges them to go deeper into their own thinking and figure out what’s likely to work for them.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people take effective actions after coaching, but it’s best when they see the coach as a relative equal, not as someone whose advice should be taken blindly. I’ve seen other people follow a coach’s advice blindly when it’s contrary to their own best thinking. Even when the external results look good, they still seem unhappy and unsatisfied. People who seem happiest keep putting their own spin on what they learn.

We seem to get better results when we behave like co-gods who have no superior. Even if you want to include a divine god in your model, I encourage you to see that god as an equal teammate, not as any sort of superior being. At least try that model on for size if you like having a god to play with. Personally I prefer goddesses, but just the human kind.

Be cautious about adopting a model with a divine being that you presume is somehow superior to you. This type of model keeps people stuck in an immature and child-like relationship with reality. I know it can be comforting, but you can still create those feelings of comfort by relating to reality as an equal, not as some kind of lesser or more limited being.

Do we actually need a superior god in our models of reality? No, we don’t. I fail to see any areas where such models provide benefits that other models don’t surpass, unless you just want to go slower and wallow in powerlessness for a while. Maybe that’s an interesting setup experience, so you can later appreciate the contrast with better models, but I don’t recommend you remain stuck there for too long. Feel free to let go of any superior god once you feel that model has run its course for you. Drop the “levels of consciousness” nonsense too; there are no levels.

When someone suggests or demands that you believe in a superior being, look to their own self-interest, and it won’t be too hard to see why they’re promoting such a model.

Imagine living in a reality where you’re inferior to no one. You have no superiors. There are no spiritual entities that are above you in any meaningful way. There are just a lot of different perspectives.

If you still feel clingy with god-based models, just remember that there are alternatives, and you’ll probably want to explore them sooner or later. I think you’ll like being god-free once you get used to it.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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