It was with some surprise that I responded to Pat Hanley's confession that he had formulated a new concept of God. "You have?" I exclaimed, my memory not recalling any old or previous concept of the Divine which Hanley may have formulated. All I could remember was that at one time, when we were at school together, he had confessed to atheism.
"Yes, Daniel, and a very simple and rational concept it is, too," he boastfully admitted, wiping some tea from the corner of his mouth with a paper napkin. "You see, God, as I conceive of Him, is both body and spirit, like you or me."
"Really?" I impulsively responded, even though I wasn't particularly enthusiastic at the prospect of learning about Hanley's new theological concept in a tea shop! In fact, I wasn't particularly enthusiastic at the prospect of hearing about it at all, ex-priest or not.
"For too long man has been willing to conceive of God in terms of either body or spirit," Hanley averred, his large blue eyes suddenly lighting-up with the enthusiasm he was evidently feeling at the opportunity of revealing his latest spiritual or, rather, religious profundities to someone like me, who might be supposed to appreciate them, even though I no longer dressed like a priest or even felt like one, having exchanged the proverbial 'dog collar' for a tee-shirt quote some time ago. "There have been pantheists who were only too willing to equate God with nature, and spiritualists who were only too willing to equate Him with the Holy Spirit, or some such mystical abstraction like the Clear Light of the Void. But such equations are apt, it seems to me, to be lopsided, giving undue emphasis to one or another of God's manifestations whilst ignoring His entirety, as it were."
"I see," I mumbled while chewing, with bashful self-consciousness, a piece of the most delicious fruit cake it had ever been given me to experience. "And so your concept of God has the unique merit of not being lopsided?" I managed to add, in the teeth of Hanley's impatience to continue.
"Indeed it has," he affirmed with a look of such self-satisfaction on his ruddy face ... that one might be forgiven for having supposed he had just won first prize in a lottery. "For I could no more accept the notion that God was either a body or a spirit than that we were either the one or the other. It just doesn't make sense."
"Perhaps not," I graciously conceded, before washing down the cake in my mouth with a drop of mild tea. But I was still waiting to hear his revelation, or so I imagined.
"What does make sense, however, is that the spirit of God should be identified with the sun, and His body with nature," Hanley averred, beaming across the table at me with eyes that were positively burning with enthusiasm. Was this the revelation, I wondered?
"But surely," I objected, putting down my teacup with an unexpected suddenness, which caused Hanley to jump in his chair, "surely this identification of God with the sun and nature is really one and the same, and amounts to no more than the usual crass paganistic pantheism?"
His visual enthusiasm was by no means weakened by my critical response. Quite the contrary, it appeared to grow stronger, as though its possessor had anticipated such criticism and was only too glad for an opportunity of belittling it, the crafty devil! "Of course, people have included the sun in nature and pantheistically conceived of that totality in terms of God," he impatiently admitted, "but they haven't bothered to distinguish between God's body and spirit, like me. Thus while they may have included the sun in their concept of Him, they haven't specifically equated it with His spirit."
"Are you quite sure of that?" I asked doubtfully.
"Sure?" he echoed incredulously.
I could clearly see, to my bottomless disgust, that he was perfectly sure of it! Nevertheless, still desiring to weaken his enthusiasm, I ventured to suggest that some other people or peoples just might have come to a similar conclusion without his knowing about it. After all, was it likely that Patrick Hanley, one-time correspondent for 'Scientific Briton' and current editor of 'Industrial Technology', another tediously factual periodical, had the privilege of being the first man in the entire history of the human race to know exactly what the true nature of God was? Hadn't Pascal pointed out the impossibility of one's having absolute knowledge of Him? And even if Pascal had been mistaken, which was by no means inconceivable, wasn't this relative concept of God likely to have entered into other people's minds, from time to time, during the long and painful history of established religion? Yes, it appeared that I had found a tiny chink in Hanley's theological armour. For the glare of his enthusiasm quickly faded from his eyes, and they became momentarily less bright.
"Naturally, Daniel, it could well be that a few people or peoples have come to a similar conclusion about the nature of God without my knowing about it," he ruefully conceded, his voice betraying a slight impatience with the gist of my argument. "But, although I can't lay claim to a complete knowledge of the world's religious beliefs, I haven't succeeded in reading of such a conclusion to-date."
"Not even concerning the traditional
beliefs of certain Indian tribes in
"No, and not concerning the
traditional beliefs of the Aztecs either," he rejoined with renewed
zest. "The fact that primitive
peoples have equated God with the sun is, of course, well known. And even in
"And, presumably, you disapprove of both concepts?" I surmised.
"I most certainly do," he affirmed, the beam of his visual enthusiasm having reasserted itself on its previously intense level.
Feeling a shade discouraged, I hastened to compensate myself by sampling another piece of fruit cake. Despite my discouragement, however, the cake tasted as delicious as ever, enabling me to beam back at Hanley my appreciation of its quality. Alas, my beam was still the weaker!
"As I explained to you just now," he rejoined, ignoring my baser enthusiasm, "I cannot abide the concept of a lopsided God. For the idea that His spirit should be considered His entirety seems to me as preposterous as the idea of considering His body such."
"But what makes you so confident that the sun can be equated with His spirit?" I gently objected. "Surely there is just as good a reason for equating it with His body or, for that matter, with both His body and His spirit?" Curiously I felt quite proud of myself for launching such a theological bombardment so shortly after my last humiliation. How would he defend himself against that, I wondered?
"No, absolutely not!" he replied, much to my disappointment. "For the driving-force behind anything can only be equated with its spirit, or will, not with its body. The sun, you see, is a producer of energy. It produces energy through the conversion of hydrogen into helium, and this energy suffices to drive the planets on their paths around it and to engender the life of nature."
"Isn't that rather Newtonian?" I
objected, recalling to mind Einstein's concept of curved space to the detriment
"Yes, as far as the driving of the
planets is concerned," he conceded with a wry smile. "But I have great faith in
It was a question that no-one had put to me before, and one I hardly felt competent to answer, even without an awareness of its probably rhetorical nature. Nevertheless it did seem unlikely that the planets of the Solar System would continue to behave in exactly the same fashion if deprived of the sun, and, slightly shamefacedly, I confessed as much to Hanley, seeing that the Solar System presupposed a solar component.
"Where the planets would go without the restraining influence of the sun is anybody's guess," he ironically remarked, much to my annoyance. "Though it seems probable that, if they didn't disintegrate, some other star or stars would claim them in due course! However, speculation aside, the fact of the sun's influence cannot reasonably be denied. Neither, it seems to me, can the fact of other stars' influences in the Galaxy which, because of their cosmic proximity to our own, would seem to exert what one might term a competitive attraction on the planets, and thereby prevent them from being sucked-in to the sun."
"You mean the nearest foreign stars also play a part in determining the nature of planetary orbit around the sun?" I suggested, fairly bewildered by the implications of this notion, which transcended anything I had ever studied on the matter.
"I find it difficult not to assume so," Hanley soberly declared, "seeing that the Galaxy is a unit in which there's evidently a subtle balance of mutually attractive and repellent forces at work, a delicate symbiosis, as it were, where each component has a specific role to play in maintaining the overall equilibrium or integrity of it, and where the absence of various stars and/or planets would surely result in a predictably different arrangement of its components."
"All this takes us a long way from your latest concept of God," I reminded him, helping myself to another piece of fruit cake and staring across the table at Hanley with what I supposed would look like an ironic expression on my face.
"Not that far," he corrected me, beaming brightly. "For science and religion are but two sides of the same coin, a coin centred on man's need to comprehend the nature of total reality, the only difference being that on the heads side, as it were, one looks at such reality literally, whereas on the tails side one looks at it figuratively or symbolically. It's easy to turn a coin from one side to the other, you know, and this one is no exception."
As usual I had to concede that Hanley had a point. The possibility of oscillating between the literal and the figurative interpretations of reality couldn't very well be denied. For the one presupposed the other, the one to a certain extent even depended on the other, and it could be argued that both were equally necessary to the overall integrity of the human spirit. However, it was on the nature of God, or the figurative side of this metaphorical coin of man's need to comprehend total reality, that Hanley had set out to lecture me, and it was accordingly this that I now expected to hear about. Thus I admitted, while chewing yet another piece of delicious fruit cake, that the spirit was a driving force, an energizer upon which the body depended for its motivations.
"Now what applies to the human body applies just as much to God's body," Hanley smilingly affirmed, "a body which manifests itself in the vast panorama of nature, and which depends upon His spirit, the sun - if I may reverse our coin again - to animate it. That human beings, animals, fish, birds, etc., are also a part of His body, or nature, should be sufficiently apparent, since without the light and energy being transmitted to them by His spirit, they would be unable to live. Like the lower components of God's body, viz. plants and vegetables, the higher ones, or autonomous life-forms, develop through successive stages of their being - through youth, maturity, and old age - to die when their spirits return to that greater spirit which is the spirit of God, and upon which their individual spirits depend. Yet autonomous life-forms aren't merely or simply manifestations of God's body, like their companions in the plant and vegetable worlds, but, possessing separate spirits, are also a part of His spirit, and therefore stand closer in essence to the entirety of God than either of His two chief manifestations taken or considered separately. It's first and foremost for man, and then the other creatures in life, that both the spirit of God, as manifested in the sun, and His body, as manifested in nature, primarily exist. Consequently it's God who serves man as a rule, not vice versa! Prayers, you may recall, are always fundamentally of two kinds: either the petitionary or the thanksgiving. In the first case, we ask God to help us, to forgive us, to protect us, to stand by us, etc., whereas, in the second case, we thank Him for what he has done for us, we acknowledge His goodness in answering our petitionary prayers, or we're just grateful that things are running relatively smoothly. In both cases it will be observed that we are addressing a servant, an immensely powerful servant in whose keeping we're fated to pass our days, but a servant nonetheless! Only a small minority of people also serve God, and they're the priests and religious philosophers, the missionaries and evangelists, the monks and nuns, who, besides being served by Him, specifically dedicate their lives to keeping the idea of God, the cause of a figurative interpretation of reality, alive in the world, so that a personal relationship may be presumed upon in the interests of one's spiritual and physical well-being."
"Wouldn't such a cause still remain alive if they weren't there?" I asked, feeling it was about time I said something again.
"Of course it would," he replied, "since the mind requires both the literal and the figurative approaches to reality. But, I ask you, Daniel, how could the professional servants of God not be there? They're a consequence of human reality, not something arbitrarily imposed upon it."
I realized the absurdity of my question and admitted as much to him. Clearly, Hanley's theological edifice, though crassly primitive, wasn't as shaky as I had first imagined. Nevertheless, the idea that God served man still seemed a little strange to me, what with my background of clerical service. But before I could comment on that, he had proceeded to the next part of his revelation.
"As a rule, the works of man serve and glorify man, not God," he maintained, his eyes burning with that intense fiery look again, "because the body and the spirit of God depend upon man's consciousness and are brought together, as it were, in man, made doubly manifest in man, who was, after all, the inventor of God. You cannot therefore expect God, in the forms I've ascribed to Him, to show direct appreciation of, say, Milton's Paradise Lost or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or John Martin's Belchazzar's Feast ... for the simple reason that, literally conceived in terms of the sun and nature, He isn't in a position to appreciate them. You can address a reading to the sun if you so desire, but it's highly unlikely that it will listen, having neither a pair of ears nor a command of the English language!"
"Now you're turning the coin over again, turning it backwards and forwards, as though unappreciative of the advantages of the figurative interpretation of cosmic reality," I reminded him.
"Yes, I fully appreciate that fact," he guiltily conceded. "Though, being a man of both religion and science, you can hardly blame me! However, there's an important lesson to be learnt from this coin, Daniel, a lesson, alas, which too many pantheists have failed to register over the centuries, and it is this: that, contrary to popular belief, God isn't nature, and not because He's also the sun but ..." Hanley hesitated a moment, as though desiring me to continue for him, a thing, however, I had no intention of doing "... because God and nature are two mutually exclusive contexts, the figurative and the literal, and one cannot look at both sides of a coin at once!"
I smiled my appreciation of his logic across the tea table at him, an appreciation tempered by the realization that, for men of our dualistic stamp, it was only too easy to confound the two contexts, even though I was an ex-priest and he a one-time scientist. "God is God," I hastened to assure him, "a being we've invented in order to have someone to whom we can pray, and whose real place is in the mind rather than in the cosmos, where, by contrast, there are only stars and planets and things."
"Yes, or bearing in mind my concept of Him, one might say that God is both the Holy Spirit and the Multiplicity of Organic Matter, or something of the kind," Hanley opined.
In spite of the inherent contradiction in his logic, I marvelled at the thought of it. How was it possible that I had never conceived of the Holy Spirit in terms of a mystical abstraction from the sun before? And even more extraordinarily, how was it possible that Daniel Forde had never bothered to ascribe God a separate body, but had been content merely to equate Him with nature? I poured myself, Hanley declining, another cup of tea and helped myself to a digestive biscuit. Eat digestive biscuits too quickly and you'll get indigestion, my mother used to tell me. I couldn't prevent myself from remembering it now. But no sooner had I given way to and dispatched the trivial ... than the profound returned to my mind in the form of a perplexity concerning Hanley's concept of the body of God, what he had bafflingly termed the 'Multiplicity of Organic Matter'. Taken to include the whole of nature, plants and vegetables alike, it undoubtedly made some sense. But surely, if one was consistent, one would have no option but to include the inorganic as well, to include the planet as a whole, its mineralogical formations: in short, everything that was distinct from the sun. And not only that, one would have to include the rest of the planets in the Solar System as well, the planets and their moons! The body of God, then, could hardly be defined by or described as the 'Multiplicity of Organic Matter', and I hastened to inform Hanley accordingly. But, contrary to my expectations, the old devil's eyes grew brighter, much as though I had merely confirmed him in his own opinion.
"Quite so," he admitted, leaning his elbows on the table and crossing his fingers with the air of a man who was about to reveal something terribly important. "There's no reason why we should limit our concept of God's body to nature, as we generally conceive of it in the world about us. The seas, rocks, bowels of the earth, together with the entire constituents of the other planets in the Solar System, have just as much right to be included in this context. Viewed impartially, there's no reason why each planet, with its unique atmosphere, constitution, size, etc., together with any attendant moon or moons, shouldn't constitute a part of God's overall body. That there are parts of this body which, as in the case of the Earth, are intrinsically superior to other parts of it ... is nothing extraordinary. For are there not parts of our body, like the brain, which are intrinsically superior to other parts of it and which we accordingly regard with more esteem? And yet, in recognizing this, we don't attempt to do away with the less noble or beautiful parts, the stomach, bowels, bladder, etc., because we realize they play an important role in maintaining the body's overall perfection; that by aiding digestion or disposing of waste-matter they enable us to continue gratifying ourselves in the modes of life we most esteem, be they intellectual, emotional, athletic, creative, or whatever. Unless we're somewhat perverse in this matter, as was Dean Swift with regard to the bowels and their function, we accept the lesser parts of the body in the interests of the nobler parts because it suits us to do so. We recognize the underlying logic behind the body's natural hierarchy. Likewise there is no reason, once we agree to the concept of God's body, why we shouldn't do the same with God, and thus see in the nearest and farthest planets to or from the sun - alas, I was unable to prevent myself from reverting to the literal again at the expense of a purely figurative, and hence anthropomorphic, reference-point - the lesser parts of the body upon which the nobler parts, manifesting in the Earth, duly depend."
"You mean, the inhabitable planets are blessed with the function of making life possible on Earth by being what and where they are?" I ventured to speculate, boldly turning my back on the figurative interpretation again.
"Indeed I do," Hanley responded with enthusiasm, a warm smile momentarily illuminating his sagacious countenance. "For I'm quite convinced that if, for example, Mercury didn't exist, this planet would be a lot hotter than it normally is in summer: too hot for even the most sun-hardened Arabs to tolerate for long. Without Mercury, I venture to guess that the Earth would follow Venus in closer to the Sun and enable Mars to take up a planetary position roughly corresponding to the one we're in now, so that, after a number of centuries had elapsed, it would be Mars rather than the Earth which was the life-sustaining planet. As to what might happen with the removal, shall we say, of Pluto, Neptune, or Uranus, I hesitate to guess. But I think we would be fairly justified in assuming that, once again, life on Earth would become an altogether different proposition from what it is currently."
"Somewhat colder I should imagine," I half-heartedly suggested, finishing off the digestive biscuit, most of which was already under the control of my stomach - that drudge-ridden slave of my eating habits - and being methodically digested. Whether the Earth would become a lot hotter or colder, with the hypothetical disappearance of one or more of the 'lesser planets', wasn't something that I need trouble my plebeian stomach about, even if the mental indigestion my noble brain was experiencing in consequence of such an hypothesis might have led me to make the attempt. But, joking aside, I was suddenly made aware of a fact which Hanley's latest concept of God didn't appear to take into account: the fact, namely, of the sun (to return to the spiritual interpretation of Him) being merely relative, not absolute. After all, weren't there a thousand million or so other stars in the Galaxy besides this one and, assuming each of them had a number of planets revolving around it, weren't they equally entitled to being equated with manifestations of God's spirit? Similarly, weren't the hypothetical planets of one kind or another just as entitled to being equated with manifestations of His body? Surely there was more to God than the solar system relative to us? I put this point to Hanley as soon as the remains of my digestive biscuit had been washed down with a mouthful of lukewarm tea.
"Perfectly right," he admitted, smiling approval of my growing commitment to his theme, "all the other stars and hypothetical planets in the Galaxy - as, for that matter, throughout the Universe in general - have a right to be figuratively interpreted in the same manner, though not in terms of monotheism but of polytheism."
"You mean each star in the Universe represents the spiritual part of a separate deity?" I exclaimed, my tone-of-voice betraying a degree of incredulity which took even Hanley by surprise.
"According to the concept of God that
I've already outlined, I most certainly do, Daniel," he averred, a
reassuring beam of enthusiasm issuing from his large eyes. "You see, the Western concept of God as
'Creator of the Universe' stems from days when next-to-nothing was known about
the Galaxy - indeed, when next-to-nothing was known about the Solar System -
and it was possible for man to consider himself at the centre of the Universe,
with the Sun revolving around him and other such patent nonsense. There was no reason for him to adopt a cosmic
polytheism under the circumstances of his ignorance, and so, with the
development of Christianity partly from Hebraic sources, he settled for a
largely monotheistic approach to God, as practised by the Jews. Well, as you're probably aware, the old
Ptolemaic concept of the Earth's position and importance in the Universe was
eventually dispatched by Copernicus, who established something approximating to
our current knowledge of the Solar System and made the subsequent discoveries
of Kepler and
"Perhaps that was inevitable," I calmly remarked. "After all, the Church is built upon a 'rock', as you say, that cannot be shifted about and radically altered to suit the latest scientific discoveries. It depends on the Bible, and the Bible remains the same no matter what happens. If it didn't, how could it lay claim to truth, and what basis would there be for faith?"
Hanley curtly nodded his large head. "That may well be," he conceded. "But, in light of recent scientific progress, one can hardly be surprised if such enforced inflexibility should prove such a grave stumbling-block in the path of its own salvation. All things have their day, and the Church would seem to be no exception! However, it's not for the upholders of that venerable institution to throw-in the towel, as it were, and capitulate to science, as though there was nothing more to religion than metaphorical fantasy and figurative hype. The mask must be worn for the sake of Christ until such time as it's no longer required, the interpretation you choose to apply to that being your own business."
"I can't help but think in apocalyptic terms myself," I confessed with a wistful smile.
"No, I suppose not," Hanley commented, vaguely smiling in turn.
"Anyway, getting back to what you were saying with regard to your concept of the Divine, it would appear that the Universe is polytheistic, that each hypothetical solar system signifies a different deity," I resumed.
"That's more or less my contention," he agreed, uncrossing his fingers and folding his arms in the manner of one who has just concluded an important address to an attentive gathering. "There's room in my theological concept for both a monotheistic and a polytheistic approach to the figurative interpretation of reality, the monotheistic being more important to us, however, because of greater relevance to this planet."
I knitted my brows in some perplexity.
"In other words," he continued, "it's obvious that the sun - to reverse the coin again - upon which we depend ... is of greater importance to us than are any of the stars upon which, in all probability, beings on other planets elsewhere in the Universe may depend, and consequently it's to the sun that we look for the energy which will sustain us and enable nature to thrive. The sun, then, is the principal creative-force behind all life on Earth, and, because the principal creative-force is always spiritual, it may be equated, through reversing the coin, with the spiritual part of the deity who presides over our solar system. Now whilst I acknowledge the deity appertaining to the world in which I find myself, I also choose to acknowledge the deities who, in all likelihood, appertain to worlds alien to this one, to solar systems which we, as yet, know absolutely nothing about. But in acknowledging them - and we can be pretty certain that the spiritual parts of these numerous gods exist by dint of our awareness of the stars, and can infer from that the likelihood of corresponding material parts - I realize the greater part of my worship must, of necessity, be directed towards our god, since the others are too far away to be of any real importance to me."
"'Our Father Who art in Heaven'," I intoned, recalling to mind that part of the Lord's Prayer which seemed to lend itself to a Hanleyian interpretation, however little the Lord may have had to do with the Father, in the sense of Creator.
"Yes, that smacks of figurative truth," he admitted, beaming brightly. "Although, personally, I'd like to add a prayer beginning: 'Their Fathers Who art in more distant Heavens', or something of the kind, so one could be reminded that, whilst it's perfectly sensible to attach greater importance to 'Our Father', there are other 'Fathers' throughout the Universe who should at least be acknowledged. Thus one would recognize that one's monotheism was relative, not absolute, and that the Absolute, if it existed, was polytheistic, the sum total, in short, of all the gods of the Universe."
In spite of moral misgivings, I had to smile in admiration of Hanley's spiritual integrity, an integrity which appeared to transcend both the religious and scientific establishments. It was indeed refreshing to hear such a concept, to be sitting face-to-face with a man who had actually bothered to think about God, and in such a thought-provoking manner! After all, who or what else could God be when considered in basic terms? Was he a giant man-like Supreme Being Who sat on a throne somewhere in the centre of the Universe and lorded it over His creations, directing the movements of the stars and the revolutions of the planets? Really, a man of Hanley's thoughtful disposition could hardly be expected to stomach that childish nonsense! Or was He a spirit, a kind of magnetic force that swept through the Universe and animated its manifold components? If regarded as distinct from the stars, that seemed rather unlikely. And even in terms of the stars, what about His body? Could one leave the body out of account and imagine that spirit existed for no other purpose than itself! Or was Hanley simply a dupe of the mentality of attributing undue importance to unitary appearances at the expense of disjunctive essences, a crude materialist whose unitary concept of God conveniently exempted one from sin or the responsibility of owning up to it? And God purely as body, as matter? That didn't appear to make much sense either, though perhaps a little more than merely as thought or words!
Yes, the reduction of God to 'the Word' could hardly be expected to inspire the utmost confidence in Him in terms of Creator, since words were a product of thoughts, and thoughts were posterior to Creation and thus a sort of antithesis to dreams, in which Creation was effectively manifest. Thoughts were ideological and dreams religious, like the figurative fantasies usually associated with them. So, really, what was there, apart from an ideological distrust of religion, to prevent one from taking some of Hanley's notions seriously? After all, when you thought literally or scientifically about the Universe, what did you think about? Not God, for one thing, but stars, planets, moons, space, comets, meteors, meteorites, quasars, etc. There wasn't any room for a giant, man-like Supreme Being lording it over things.
Ah, but according to Hanley, there was another side to the coin of man's relationship with the Universe, namely a figurative or religious side, and there, suddenly, one was made aware of God or gods instead of stars or planets. And God, being made in man's image in the Judeo-Christian West, had human characteristics, so that one could talk to him through prayer and hope for a favourable response to one's prayers. He it was who dwelt as a wonderful Being in the Universe and could understand everything, all the languages of the world simultaneously impinging upon His consciousness through prayers, and simultaneously respond in kind as well! Anything could be attributed to God, for He was a grandiose figment of the imagination, and nothing was too fantastic or difficult for this grandiose figment, this figurative extrapolation from some primal star. Conventional religion was a convenient fiction, enabling a man to get down on his knees and offer-up thanks or petitions to that which, in factual reality, would have been incapable of hearing, let alone responding, to them. And whether one preferred to dwell on the literal or the figurative side of the metaphorical coin Hanley had conjured up, as though from a magician's hat, the facts remained the same in either case. The scientists could no more destroy God than the priests could destroy the Solar System. The one side of the coin presupposed the other and, without a figurative side, the probability was that the literal would have lost definition in terms of the 'heads' sanity it apparently signified.
But today, ah! today the scientist's side was uppermost. The metaphorical pendulum of man's spiritual endeavour had swung from acknowledgement of the figurative to acknowledgement of the literal, not exclusively of course (for even in their extremes men are never quite absolutes), but predominantly, and largely at the dictates of an artificial, or urban, environment, with its technological advances. A creature with an approximately equal capacity for both the figurative and the literal approaches to reality had been transformed from one who, under nature's influence, attached greater importance to the former ... to one who, under pressure of the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent extensive ubanization, now attached greater importance to the latter, as was apparent in the world around us. As far as the Zeitgeist was concerned, God was indeed 'dead', though not perhaps in the way some philosophers, including Nietzsche, had imagined, since His death was more figurative than literal, a consequence of the fact that, cut-off in their great cities from real contact with nature, with 'God's body' (as Hanley had metaphorically called it), the majority of people were unable to recognize His spirit, and thus saw only the sun, only the literal, scientific side of the Janus-faced coin of human reference. The figurative interpretation of reality, diverted from its original source, was obliged to seek other outlets less nourishing to the soul, with a consequence that a kind of religious anarchy prevailed which made for widespread spiritual unrest and instability. Clearly, this unfortunate state-of-affairs could not be corrected so long as man persisted in his current materialistic direction.
"Well, Daniel, what d'you think of my concept of God?" Hanley at length asked, the smoke of a cigarette briefly interposing itself between us and causing his gaze to appear less bright.
"Up to a point I quite like it," I confessed, instinctively leaning back in my chair to avoid the encroaching fumes. "But I'm not altogether convinced that God should be defined in terms of both a spirit and a body myself, since if God had a body, the concept of sin would be meaningless and we could indulge the appetites of the flesh with impunity - as, unfortunately, is all too often the case in those societies which uphold a unitary view of divinity. Yet a concept that allows for the possibility of monotheism and polytheism can't be bad, especially when it's mindful of the figurative nature of fundamentalist religion and in no way inclined to imagine that God, or gods, actually exist other than as figments of the imagination originally extrapolated-out from some primal cosmic source which science compels us to regard in literal terms, whether solar or stellar. It would appear that you've established yourself as quite a thoughtful heretic, wouldn't it?"
Hanley smiled his gratified acknowledgement of this observation. "I suppose you could say that," he noddingly replied, "though I've no intention of converting anybody to my viewpoint, believe me! The facts of contemporary life are there before us, and they won't be changed by the opinions of a man like me. If our recent ancestors knocked God from his figurative perch with the factual reality of bricks and steel and glass and concrete, we can't very well expect to put Him back - or back together - in His former position with nothing but words. A society which is sufficiently evolved to be built around man instead of God has no alternative but to look after itself and live out its humanistic destiny in its own fashion."
"To be sure," I agreed unhesitatingly, peering through the coiling smoke of Hanley's cigarette. "By putting himself beyond God, man unconsciously brings about his own salvation, since he is then obliged to put his own house in order, so to speak, and not rely upon any external power or deity to do it for him. Without a figurative crutch to rely on, man must stand on his own two feet and face-up to the trials of life in as factual a manner as possible. Otherwise he'll continue to delude himself with theological panaceas long after they're no longer helpful, because more a hindrance to his self-will than an encouragement of it."
"Right!" cried Hanley, beaming across at me from behind the slowly-evaporating smoke-screen of his smouldering cigarette. "Which goes to show that my concept of God, although well-intentioned, can hardly be regarded as a valid contribution to the edifice of applied theology, since priests depend upon the figurative no less than scientists upon the literal, and cannot assert that there is a dual-sided coin, much less that it is reversible. For God isn't nature or the sun, the reason being that you can't look at both sides of a coin simultaneously. On the contrary, God is simply ..."
"A figurative myth relevant to religion," I impatiently interposed, tired of going over the same old ground and getting bogged down in the same sterile contradictions. "If we've learnt anything worthwhile from our little discussion this afternoon, it should be that God cannot be explained in terms of science but only in terms of religion, and that your concept of Him is therefore a hybrid unworthy of both!"
As might be expected, Hanley sighed and said nothing, which was just as well, since I'd had enough of God and concepts for one day! More than enough, too, of simple materialists whose unitary deity was as gross a delusion as any that a person susceptible to figurative myths could conceive of, even though the figurative was largely responsible for its concept in the first place. As everyone well-knew, no head without a body, and no mind without a head!