Jay Michaelson
You are God in Drag:
Notes from and after Retreat, p.4


I used to carry around a subtle anxiety that meaningful religion will soon disappear from the Earth. Fundamentalisms will survive, and possibly kill us all, and the stupid will likely continue to take refuge in an imagined God. But I worried that the communities in each religious tradition that actively engage with the spiritual and deep-ethical teachings of their tradition seem to grow smaller and smaller in proportion to the hordes at the shopping malls. Now, two changes have occurred in my thinking. First, I have grown to trust the unfolding of God. Even if It evolves in a way that would fill me with great sadness (continued ecocide, continued vulgarization of Western culture), It evolves.

More importantly, I have begun to think of "God" as a concept that evolves by disappearing. Primitive gods on most continents were very personal, very present, and represented in images. Beginning with monotheism in the West, God began to take on a new, less visible form One God, whose human-like image cannot be represented. Philosophy pushed the One even further from image, to an unchanging, formless perfection closer to the One Being of Vedanta and Buddhism in the East, which also supplanted a rich pantheon of personal deities. In both East and West, the older forms have survived to this day, albeit transplanted into an unconvincing new cosmology or theology. Within the last five hundred years, even the concept of the One, or the Formless Being, has begun to be eclipsed by something even more removed from concept: the lack of God altogether. And within the last two hundred, the joining of East and West in some Romantic and spiritual circles has spread the doctrine of monism.

If we assume that the One is ultimately unknowable, these later developments are welcome indeed. The gods are idols. Concepts of "God" are idols. Even the "belief in God" is a concept. So the most accurate picture we can have of God is no picture at all, which is precisely what most intelligent people today hold.

The less clear the picture, the further the distance feels. A philosophical Jew who believes in the One has a far less rich emotional-religious life than the pious Jew who prays to the God of Abraham, or the Catholic who addresses the Virgin. This is the critical difference between atheism and monism: that for us monists, God is right here, now, in the fingers typing these words, the plants on my desk, the thoughts being sensed by the mind. God is bathing me in love, if I admit it.

For the atheist or agnostic, such nonsense-words (nonsense because, having not been experienced, they are implausible, and associated with bad thinking) do not bring comfort. And so we are seeing a turn to religious and spiritual practices, or to more self-aware artistic or cultural ones, on the part of the minority of people in the West who do not have an explicit, and authentic, relationship with the Numinous.

Of course, most Westerners are still quite happy with Christianity, thank you. And not everyone who has no God-concept is close to God many are serving gods of ego: selfishness, materialism, the dull egoistic kind of hedonism. I am speaking of cultural creatives and people like them people who are deeply engaged with the Good, be it aesthetic or intellectual or ethical. These people are rediscovering God only without the concept of God and, they suppose, in explicit opposition to it. In fact, their minds are closer to God than most of the religious.

At the same time, I have nothing but respect and awe for the organizers of organized religion. They are trying to teach to everybody what nobody can understand.


I used to think I knew about everything except God. Now I think I know about nothing except God.

What that means: of course, I didn't know about everything. But I felt that I knew something about most things which interested me. Politics, religion, literature, art. I was learning continuously, and synthesizing information, and it gave me delight. Now I have a small shudder of revulsion that passes through me each time I think of being enticed into some subject or other. More importantly, I don't think I know anything anymore. I don't know how to teach, I don't know how people really work, I just don't know anything. Or at least, if I have ideas, I think they are all tentative and idiosyncratic. I want to say nothing.

        i have no interest in polite and clever conversation anymore
        i've been rendered a social cripple by god

[1]       [2]       [3]       4
Image: Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is Chief Editor of Zeek Magazine, and also writes about arts and spirituality for the Forward.

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