Generally speaking, we have the idea that our concepts reflect realities in the real world. So on the one hand we have 'the objective realm' of objects and forces and then there is 'the mind', which forms images and concepts about those things, which are our 'ideas', related (hopefully) by logic and mathematics and memory, and so on, to the realities of this world. This anyway is the naive realist interpretation of our situation, shorn of all metaphysical presuppositions or philosophical analysis: a 'thinking subject' in a 'world of objects'. This is so obvious that it goes without saying - it is simply 'reality' to most of us.
Obviously it is possible because of imagination, that there may be 'ideas' or 'beliefs' in our minds do not actually correspond with real things in the objective world. And here is where we get into much of what goes on here on the Philosophy forum and indeed in discussions about philosophy and especially theism. Namely, does this concept I have of 'deity' correspond to something real, in the same way that my idea of the proverbial 'apple' or 'table' is real? Can I have an 'idea' that corresponds to a reality called 'God'?
Now one answer to this, which is nevertheless still within the realm of religious belief, is actually 'no'. There is in fact nothing like 'God' that has ever or will ever 'exist' in all of the world of experiencable objects, measurable forces, and whatever else we understand to be real. There really is no such thing
. And there never has been. Furthermore, this is clearly understood by many people who actually nevertheless 'believe in God'. Almost all Western theology up until about the time of Anselm, and much Eastern Orthodox theology to this day, understands that 'God' is not 'something that exists' and is certainly not something that can be pictured or imagined. God is the source of all existence, the ground of all being, but is beyond any of our attempts to picture, capture, or conceptualise. This is why the approach to the understanding of this reality is through inner silence, through not-knowing, through stilling discursive thought and silent contemplation. This is not something unique to Christianity, or even to religion, in the sense we now understand it. I think it was something well understood in Ancient Greek philosophy where it went by the name 'epoche' or 'suspension of judgement'.
The idea that Deity is somethng of which we can form a mental picture or argue the existence of is actually quite a recent development - in fact, it is a modern idea. And I contend that it is one of the ways in which moderns consistently misrepresent and misunderstand the approach to Deity. Most of what goes on in discussions of this type is actually just the crackling of neurons. We are literally listening to ourselves think. And thinking operates on the level of conditioned response. It is the tip of the iceberg of consciousness which is built on the basis of a vast network of subconsious and unconscious processes that have been created and conditioned over millenia. So we never really even get into the ballpark with this kind of thinking. Ask any Zen teacher (but you will probably get a whack with a stick).
So now we get to the nature of meditation. Meditation is an awareness of the whole play of thought and its ideas and projections and concepts from a point of view of silent awareness. It is metacognitive
in that it produces insight about the nature of cognition of a type that is not available by merely thinking. Now it is not at all the case that meditation will lead to 'belief in deity' - the Buddhist tradition, for one, is (with some caveats) generally non-theistic. So I am not putting forward an argument for the existence of deity. What I am really trying to communicate is what is involved in really asking the question. And there is a lot more to it than meets the casual observer. It is a very deep question indeed and one to which the level of debate does not often do justice.
---------- Post added 08-11-2009 at 11:27 AM ----------
The Case for God
Mysticism Christian and Buddhist