And God Never Said Anything, Really
God is weird. A weird idea, I mean.
Or maybe I should say gods are weird, the idea of gods. A strange and fascinating manifestation of humanity’s large-scale capacity for imaginative constructions.
The first, oldest gods were representations of natural forces: earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, etc., gods of the sun and moon, powers of creation and destruction. Then we get, a little further down the line, gods as representations of human forces, human faculties and emotions: gods of love, wisdom, war, so forth and so on.
Finally, we arrive at one god, named God. An all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful transcendence.
In general, the existence of the idea of gods seems to serve as an explanation, first and foremost. An answer to the question of: what is the meaning of it all? How did all of this stuff we call life come into being? What are we doing, on this ball of rock turning in this endless sea of darkness? I can understand that, the reasoning behind it. When I think about infinity/eternity, it hurts my brain. It’s a concept my little collection of neurons can’t actually wrap itself around, so I can comprehend the logic behind the supposition of conscious supernatural forces; namely, beings who possess collections of neurons that can grasp the concept of the infinite. I get that; we say, well it must be this god-thing, and then shrug our shoulders and go about the business of living, in the meanwhile.
However, there’s some other things, other elements at work, that muck the god-situation up. In the first place, I think the infinity/eternity, what-is-the meaning-of-it-all, question also scares people; not just hurts their little very mortal brains, but also frightens them. So god is turned to as an explanation that soothes the fear. But only soothes, the fear is still extant, because god never shows up and says Hey, it’s me God, how is everybody doing? In other words, as long as God remains only an unseen theory, then there’s a nagging doubt in the back of the mind that maybe God isn’t an explanation after all; which means that the fear is still there, lying in wait. And because the fear is still there, people become absurdly, ridiculously fierce in their protection of the idea of God; refute logical constructions that disturb and displace their theologies, strike back with violence because they’re so afraid to face the truth of living on this ball of rock spinning in the sea of darkness.
Growing up, my first conception of God was the Judeo-Christian version. To little boy me, God seemed like a pan-masculine super-being that lived in the clouds, but also was just kind of the air?…like, all around, in the air all around. And conscious, I guess, but a different kind of conscious. Like, I had a sense of God as an intelligence, but also as an intelligence with concerns that were wholly removed from mine, and from humanity’s as a whole. And I can’t say for sure, I mean we’re talking at least thirty years ago, so I can’t like absolutely say this; but, I’m pretty sure I never had any truck with the notion of an intervening God; like, that you could pray to God and he would do something for you. That would be magic, and while I always — of course — wished that magic was real, I got that it wasn’t; I understood how that was sort of the whole point of magic, its basic unreality.
The other thing is that I only loosely connected God to actual religious practice. What I mean is that I connected God to religion, only because that was the only situation — in the world I grew up in — in which people talked about God. In the spring semester of my freshman year of college, I looked at the syllabus for the required Humanities 110 course, and was mildly shocked, and also immediately, nigh-spontaneously enlightened, to see books of the bible on the semester’s reading list, next to the Greek and Roman texts I’d expected. Like, “What?…oh yeah, duh.” These are also texts, also written by humans. The Iliad is full of one conception of supernatural beings, the bible is full of another, different conception. So it was a clean cut, a quick and easy transition for me to realize that you could disconnect thoughts and ideas of God from needing to having some kind of faith in that God, or gods.
An easy transition because I never bought, at all, into the proscriptions regarding human thought and behavior, as supposedly handed down from God, that are part and parcel of nearly all religious practice. It just doesn’t bear up to any scrutiny at all; the super-duper contradiction in the idea that God gave us this marvelous gift called a brain, but that God didn’t want us to make use of that gift? Pfft. Yeah, it was pretty easy to leave that conception of God in the rubbish bin, as soon as I found even the first plank of a different platform for god-thoughts.
Also, it wasn’t just the idea of a proscriptive God, what also bothered me — and still does — is the idea of exploiting that God, and those proscriptions which that God supposedly laid down, so that you can justify being an asshole. So that you can lay about you with punishing and persecuting sword, into the lives of your fellow human beings, telling them what they can and can’t do, telling them what they are and aren’t allowed to be. Founding your enormously dick-ish actions, your endeavors to subjugate and control, on the idea that you’re acting upon the say-so of a higher power. The idea of true divinity is a beautiful idea, and to exploit that as an instrument for your own selfish choices, is a human behavior that makes me both very angry and very sad.
Because, I think god, and thinking about god, is very important. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. There are varieties of religious practice, for example, that I consider to be truly God-focused and that I value and admire. For one thing, if you want to proscribe your own behavior, by all means please feel free. Human society does, obviously, need rules and laws, of one sort or another. That’s why we have governments and legislative bodies, and why one of the more important developments in our history is to separate those from religion and religious practice. God is for the individual; a way of deciding, in your own life, what you are and aren’t going to do, a way you are and aren’t going to be.
I mean, science has some lovely and very interesting theories about how life works on planet earth, but the basic fact of existence is still, mostly, a total mind-fuck. And then there’s the higher orders of human consciousness; not just the wondrous physical mechanics of say, eating, how all that stuff goes in one hole, our body transforms it, and then it goes back out a different hole. Which, is fundamentally incredible, but we don’t really need god for that. What we need god for is, for example, beauty. What in the fuck is beauty? Why do I look at flowers or a sunset or whatever, and feel this rising strong emotion called beauty?
When I say God is weird, like I said at the beginning of this piece, what I mean is the mangled figurations that people render out of the stuff of the god-concept. But god, employed as a mode of discourse on varieties of the spiritual, the intangible, is wholly necessary. God-associated concepts like faith, like blessings, are wonderfully sophisticated and valuable concepts in the course of life, as we encounter the various and sundry problems of living.
Lately, what I’ve come to value about god — or God, you might’ve noticed I’ve been trying to pinpoint the distinction, but honestly I’m generally indifferent to capitalized-or-not by now — is how it opens up, basically creates the possibility for, a sense of worship. The fact of life is indeed, fundamentally extraordinary. Boredom, anger, sadness, fear; these are among the emotional states we humans find ourselves in, frequently, that negate awareness of that fundamental extraordinariness. Worship, to me, is sort of the antidote to all of that. Taking on an “attitude of worship”, bowing down before it all; a way of staying humble, of remaining grounded. To me, that’s the most important facility of god; a concept that provides an opportunity to bow down, to give thanks, a space in which to just be silent for awhile. The point of god isn’t to tell you what to do; it’s to enable you, to empower you, to go ahead and figure that out on your own. And the continuing evolution of my own god-concept, in my own life, is an integral part of both how and why I wrote a book called This is Love.