July 27, 2005

The God Thing

I think I may be a closet pagan. Not Pagan with a capital 'P', worshiping the "Goddess" and going to Burning Man and celebrating the solstice instead of Christmas. Not my style. My spirituality is much more personal and eschews all forms of organized worship and ritual. I just don't think ritual really has anything to do with real spirituality. Claiming that you have to say certain things at certain times, face certain directions, and put your body in certain positions seems to me to be like saying that your relationship with your spouse is based on the time of day you brush your teeth; the order in which you turn on the car, put on the seat belt, and adjust the mirror; whether you say "hello" or something else when you answer the phone.

I also simply don't believe in a God, a single infinite intelligence that is responsible for creating and running everything. People tell me that because the universe is so well ordered, it couldn't possibly be random chance that atoms formed and things evolved to the point where the particular bunch of atoms that make up my body can be causing these thoughts to manifest and be transferred to your mind. People also ask that if there's no God, how can there be intelligence? How can we think and feel and love and hate?

The answer is simple, and it uses the same argument that people of faith use: God is infinite, and God works in mysterious ways. People of faith very readily admit that they don't understand God because God simply can't be fully understood by our limited minds. Well, if God is so infinite, then why isn't it possible that God actually doesn't exist and it's just a different infinity--the infinity of random chance--that causes us to be here?

Faith is a personal choice. I really don't have a problem with anyone who chooses to believe in God. I do, however, have a problem with organized religion. I know it has its benefits, particularly as a center of social activity, humanitarian work, and education. But organized religion has also been the cause of hatred, bigotry, war, terrorism, and genocide. My grandmother disowned one of her two sons because he married a woman outside their Faith--they were all Christians, but the wife's Christianity was apparently not the right kind. Grandma never spoke to her son again.

I have read portions of the Bible and taken classes on world religions. I would not call myself a scholar of religion by any means except through some reading and a lot of exposure to history, particularly European history. European history does not paint the Curch as a kind and gentle organization. More often than not, bishops were as powerful as kings politically, sometimes moreso. Christianity's spread was so successful because of three primary things: A strong missionary culture; a powerful use of the sword and torture when diplomacy did not work; and a successful tradition of embracing local pagan traditions into Christian ritual.

I digress. Some people are born with Faith, some achieve Faith, and some have Faith thrust upon them. I do not believe in God, yet I consider myself a person of Faith. I believe in many things outside the realm of human perception; I believe in the interconnectedness of all life and all things; I believe in the infinite possibilities and configurations of nature. My Faith is a bit bleak in that it includes no afterlife, no idea of a single soul living in my body. Instead, my Faith allows for a univeral soul of sorts, and some portion of that inhabits my body while I live and returns to the universe when I die. Perhaps this is the same idea as God; I've heard God described sometimes thus.

But it's not the God of the Bible, an old man with a beard who created Adam in His image. It's not a God who rules over a Heaven, with a host of angels at his command. It's not a God that controls things with the authority of a fascist dictator.

That's why I'm having a problem with the whole God thing right now. Number One Son is on his way to a God-oriented camp for a week with some friends. I know he'll have a great time and learn some things, and it will do wonders for his growth and independence. But he has to have his Very Own Bible. I guess the Gideons haven't been to this particular campsite yet. Additionally, he and Little Brother just finished a week of day camp that I later found out was called "Vacation Bible Camp." People of Faith will be offended, but the idea of Bible Camp creeps me out. Maybe it's because of the creepy guys who kept trying to recruit me to go to "bible study" while I was in college.

Number One Son says he doesn't believe in God. When he was six, he asked me, "If God made everything, who made God?" He asked the wrong person if he wanted an answer that supported the theory of God. I am not expecting him to come home from this camp asking to go to church every Sunday, but I do worry that there are forces beginning to shape him that are outside my control. Forces that I do not necessarily agree with. This is part of growing up, and it's the first test of my ability to let him grow into the man he will become. We will have conversations, eventually, about friends and drugs and sex and all that, and perhaps I should be grateful that the first conversations are about God and not sex or drugs or finding a bail bondsman open on a Sunday night.

1 comment:

Gene said...

To put God into the 'old man with a beard' category is to do what too many churches, politicians and who knows who else do -- limit God to our understanding.

I love Ethan's question about if God made everything, who made God? But it touches on one aspect of God I believe in, and you mention -- God's infinteness. So to think of God as an old man (or an old woman, or an old anything we can comprehend) is bordering on the ridiculous. We can no more understand God's nature (or gender, for that matter) than an ant can understand a human's nature. We can only see a tiny bit at a time, and only get a tiny understanding of the big picture.

And look at the bright side. There are a lot worse things that Ethan could grow up to be than a believing Christian :-)