The primary difficult with God isn't belief--more than 80% of US responders tell pollsters that they believe God exists. The problem is that God is irrelevant, providing few if any practical benefits in daily life. In an age of faith the circumstances were in God's favor. When people got sick or died, had a run of bad luck, committed immoral acts, received unexpected rewards, or couldn't have children--the list of situations was endless--God was invoked to explain why. In one way or another, the deity was interwoven into the fabric of daily life.
In a new book, The Future of God, my pivotal argument is that God only has a future if he (or she) becomes useful once more. We can think of this as God 2.0. Such as shift would have to happen on a level different from faith. Modern secular society isn't going to reverse history and return to prescientific ways. A new avenue has to open, and it has. We are facing unprecedented circumstances in which God suddenly becomes relevant. These new circumstances extend into many areas of our existence. For example,
-- Millions of people have experienced a lack of meaning in a lifestyle devoted to money, career, and success.
-- Isolated individuals are unable to resolve the enormous problem of climate change, despite their best intentions.
-- Organized religion is losing the hearts and minds of its followers, while skepticism keeps hammering away at time-honored doctrines and dogmas inherited from the age of faith.
-- Science finds itself unable to explain the nature of consciousness but finds that it must, in order to adequately explore the brain-mind connection.
--Cosmology has reached the frontier of spacetime, with no explanation for how the seeming void that underlies the physical universe somehow created time, space, matter, and energy.
-- Physical explanations for the contents of the universe (i.e., molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles) have been totally undercut by the mysterious existence of "dark" matter and energy.
In short, modern society has been based on a mindset that is starting to show serious weaknesses and flaws. The promise of a better life through materialism alone has proved to be hollow. Ignoring the existence of subjective experience is no longer viable, even within "hard science" itself. And looming catastrophic climate change, not to mention over-population, pandemic disease, terrorism, and income inequality, is forcing everyone to re-examine how the human family can exist in comity and cooperation. The arrival of a new paradigm, fervently predicted and hoped for, seems no longer to be a fringe idea. If the human race can't learn to redefine itself, all the way down to our core values and self-conception, the future looks bleak.
Which is not the same as saying that we should fall to our knees and beg for divine mercy. God, as traditionally conceived, is woven into our problems. The deity has always been a reflection of human identity. In fact, most believers who were born into the Judeo-Christian tradition envision God as a human being writ large, with emotions, whims, and judgments familiar in everyday life, only on a cosmic scale. Seeing a benevolent God when times are good and a vengeful or indifferent God when times are bad has been the norm. We will continue to use God as a mirror, no doubt, but the reflection must change if God is to prove useful.
A new conception of God might look something like the following:
-- God would represent the essence of being human, which is conscious awareness.
-- We would seek God by going deep into our own awareness.
-- On this inner journey, there would be a resolution of conflict, turmoil, hostility, and fear within each person.
-- We would begin to center ourselves in a more evolved state of awareness.
-- This evolved state would be more expanded than the ego state, with its narrow, selfish concept of self-interest.
-- A sense of shared humanity would emerge, based on the experience of higher consciousness.
-- As walls of separation begin to crumble, so would the divisiveness of warring faiths and nationalism, tribalism and racial identification.
-- Once enough people recognize that God, absolute consciousness, and Being transcend the visible world, science would find itself with answers to mysteries that can only be resolved by introducing these new terms.
-- The existence of consciousness as the pre-created state of the universe would become consonant with the existence of God.
These themes are already quite strong in certain minds, including scientific minds, and the trend is upward. No one can predict that God will actually be redefined and become a useful part of how we live and think. But the possibility is open and the potential is limitless. Once we envision an enlightened future for ourselves, God acquires at future at the same moment. Believe it or not, God 2.0 could be indispensable ten years from now, for all the reasons just outlined.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God