I recently had a conversation with a friend who claimed he didn’t believe in God. He said he believed in the human spirit, (or would that be Human Spirit?). We didn’t pursue it any further at the time, but this morning I woke up with a “And then I should have said” realization.
In what contexts do we find the term “human spirit?” In times where people have come together for good. For example, a couple of weeks ago I visited the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan. The stories of how people helped each other through that horrific experience spoke to the triumph of the “human spirit” in times of crisis. I also saw the Broadway show, “Come From Away,” based on the stories of how people in Gander, Newfoundland, came together to care for the airline passengers stranded after the attacks on 9/11. Basic human goodness.
Do we ever use the term in relation to bad things? The men who planned and carried out the attacks were human. Do we speak of what they did as examples of the human spirit? Ah, yes. A fundamentalist Christian will tell you that the Adam/human spirit is fallen, sinful. And that’s why we need to be redeemed from our sinful selves. Without God, or specifically, Jesus, they say, we are doomed.
But I doubt if my friend would accept that argument. Nor do I, without some heavy translating.
So what I would say to my friend if I were to continue the conversation today, is that I believe that the essence of the Human Spirit is beyond our individuality. It is also beyond humankind and is in all living things. Humans are basically good because the universal spirit that undergirds us all is love. Bad things can happen when we ignore or reject that love. I can call that spirit “God,” or “Yahweh”, or “WHTVR.” I reject labels such as “theist,” “atheist,”or “non-theist.” My favorite one, if one is needed, is “panentheist,” or God in all things.
So, dear friend, wherever you are today, please know that I love you and would love to hear more about this God you don’t believe in. Perhaps we can both learn from that conversation.