Ultimate Reality and the Divine

Ultimate reality, the absolute and divinity are one. The existence of God is evident in perfection and transcendence though God is partly a human creation.

Is there a God or gods?

The idea of ultimate reality has many interpretations. The most likely is that it is the absolute, that is, the highest or most extreme value of everything in the Universe. As such it is the fixed reality underlying all other realities, which are transient. Divinity (God or gods) is also seen as an absolute, and so the idea of ultimate reality merges with the idea of divinity. But if we are to ask does such a thing as divinity exist, how do we define it? Throughout all religions the essence of divinity is transcendence, meaning various things - omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, and so on. A second baseline position is that divinity has some sort of capability, which may be an energy or a power or even a conscious will, like a will for creativity or goodness. Other ideas, such as immanence or existence independent of humankind, are more open to debate.

A partly human creation

The idea that humans are created by God is a familiar one, yet it is also apparent that we humans have at least partly created God. Propensity to believe is embedded in our brain, but divinity is also a product of our needs and perceptions, for example our need for a strong anchor in life and our perception that there is always something or someone “greater.” Typically we think of divinity in terms of human attributes - power, personality, actions and relationships. However, our concepts of divinity are extremely fluid, in history and across the globe, and forever evolving. Different religions agree to an extent on the nature of the divine, but are they talking about one divinity with many faces, or many divinities?

Sources of confusion

The debate over whether God exists is caught up with the question “What kind of God?” Which divinity are we talking about? Much of the debate is about supposed attributes of the divine, which are themselves debatable. To compound this problem there is dispute over what arguments might be considered conclusive. Too often this descends to technical detail which is irrelevant. Maybe the best we will ever be able to say is that there are several arguments leading in the same direction which together seem plausible. Even then, there are many positions people can adopt, including complete apathy or indifference and several types of agnosticism.

Why God might not exist

In this rationalist and materialist age, the onus of proof has shifted. Believers now have to argue for the existence of the divine as never before. There are indeed forceful arguments to overcome. The most basic is that there is no obvious evidence of divinity, physical or otherwise, and that the supernatural always has a rational (often scientific) explanation. A second argument is that divinity is a concept without logic; here the focus is primarily on the apparent contradiction between a benevolent deity and the existence of evil and suffering. A third argument is that divinity is merely a human invention. If this is true, it becomes easy to claim that divinity has outlived its usefulness and is now merely a thing of historical interest – in other words God is dead. All of these arguments are reasonable, though all have counters. There are other arguments still, which are less persuasive, for example that we have to explain the complexity of the divine before we allow it to exist.

Why we can say God does exist

If divinity is quite simply equated with the transcendent, we can say that it exists, at least as an idea. Thus God can be seen wherever there is any kind of perfection. This is the first so-called ontological argument and still the most compelling. There are other time-honoured arguments, none of which are conclusive but all of which are at least reasonable. Divinity is affirmed on the basis that everything has a source; the world’s complexity and order imply a creator with purpose; and morality implies a foundation in goodness. These and other arguments are supported by intuition or feeling, whereby people of faith affirm divinity on the basis of their own personal experience. Adding to the mix are various abstract notions such as “God is life” or “God is nature,” some of which make God seem like a mere afterthought. Overall, however, the weight of arguments “for” God seems greater than those “against.” In the final analysis it seems reasonable to conclude that such a thing as divinity does exist both through and independent of our human conception. In other words, it exists whether or not we think it does, but it is our way of viewing it that gives it true meaning. By saying that divinity exists, we automatically identify this divinity with the ultimate reality that underpins our lives.

And now, for a poet’s perspective, read Points in a Circle

The ultimate reality in life is often identified as the divine (God or gods). However this is defined, it is first and foremost the transcendent. Attempts to establish whether God or gods actually exist often run into trouble because they get tangled with attributes of the divine, which may not be true. But if we limit our understanding just to transcendence, we can mount a credible argument that yes – God does exist – though what this means is a matter for exploration elsewhere.

“God” or any other form of divinity is an idea and to that extent a creation of humankind; but “God” is also very solid and very real. The reality of “God” is evident in the ongoing goodness of creation.

Suggested further reading

Cupitt, Don. 1997. After God: The Future of Religion. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Geering, Lloyd. 2002. Christianity Without God. Santa Rosa, California: Polebridge Press.

Küng, Hans. 1980. Does God Exist? An Answer for Today, translated by Edward Quinn. London: Collins.

Williams, Roy. 2008. God, Actually: Why God Probably Exists, Why Jesus Was Probably Divine, and Why the ‘Rational’ Objections to Religion Are Unconvincing. Sydney: ABC Books.