For the vast majority of man’s short existence, our understanding of God was given to us by mystics: men dressed in special clothing and tutored by other men dressed in special clothing and looked at with awe and respect by the rest of us. “Prophets” and “saints” from ancient times were purported to know things that it was hard for the rest of us to even imagine: how the universe was created; what God is; what God wants; and mankind’s special place in the universe He created just for us.
Some time before my ninth birthday, I thought things through. I started with the Creation. I started with what I knew as a perceptive and intelligent human being. For one thing, I saw first hand the bigotry that resulted in believing these 2000-year-old words (many of which I found later were considerably more recent). I saw the disdain that “believers” had for other cultures and the awful results of that disdain. Unique in my community, I knew lots of Arabs from the Middle East because my father worked there and brought quite a few home for dinner and conversation. I knew enough history to know that the prejudices produced by believing these authors, centuries dead and buried, caused and continued to cause. And I thought a great deal about Mark 16:16 where Jesus supposedly condemns all nonbelievers!
I rejected the obviously fictional stories of men living 900 years, of floods that didn’t happen, of a God who talks to himself and is an irrational being of both fully one and fully three entities, of racism, sexism, and hatred of gays in His choices, of foolish, destructive, ineffective “promises” to allow and support the stealing of land belonging to others leading to death, injustice, and ongoing strife, and of an irrational, incomplete and ineffective set of rules that favors the credulous over the caring, the closed-minded over the open-minded, and whose “rules” for “salvation” create dissension and conflict among families, among communities, among nations, and even within his own groups of “believers.” In the inscription to the Bible where my mom writes of my conversion to Christianity, I still have the “LIES” which I wrote in orange Crayon block letters across it.
What happened was that I heard “God” telling me to go forward in church. Of course, the Baptist pastor had been haranguing me to do so for years with fears of Hell and damnation and promises of Heaven when I die. After going forward, however, I tested this internal voice against one made of of my own will and found no difference. Since I knew they were wrong about the sanctity of Israel and the evil nature of Arabs, not to mention the schizophrenic and anthropomorphic nature of the Almighty, it wasn’t much of a step to conclude that they just might be wrong about a lot of other things.
When I was a young man, I spent a summer in Malta, which sits in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea halfway between Italy and Libya. To this day, they speak of the miracle that happened when Saint Paul survived a deadly sea snake bite. Their capital city, Valletta, still has walls built during the Crusades. The Maltese Cross was also passed down from these “holy wars.” The vast majority of the population is Catholic, though they seem far more enamored with fireworks on various saint’s days than with anything that comes out of Vatican City.
And I met quite a few Arabs, Buddhists, and Hindus throughout my life, ranging in wisdom and character with about the same randomness as Christians and non-Christians. The fourteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama, visiting CSU Fullerton when I was a grad student, impressed me with his wisdom and his ability to forgive the gruesome treatment his citizens received at the hands of the Communist Chinese. As far as I could tell, religion and faith have little correlation with either wisdom or kindness. The only significant difference I saw consistent across cultures was Christian faith in violence as almost a panacea to the ills of the world.
This observation, in turn, led me to the startling conclusion that Christianity, rather than being a boon to society or an irrelevant factor, is actually detrimental to the overall well-being of mankind!!
It also seemed to me that some clergy are con men who say things they are paid to say while trying to convince themselves that they believe things they have been coerced or conned into believing but often know aren’t true. And the wailing at Christian funerals left me wondering if those people were crying for their own plight in being temporarily left behind this glorious transubstantiation into something pure and holy or whether they actually believed their own dogma deep down in their hearts.
When, later in life, I spent three years in intensive (and expensive) study of family spiritual constellations under Bert Hellinger and several of his understudies. I communed emotionally with the living and the dead to defuse the dysfunction that seems to get passed down generation to generation.
In all this work, there is no devil or evil or pure malice, but action and reaction, victims and perpetrators both mutually responsible for ongoing anger and animosity. Misplaced family members and ongoing feuds also contributed to roadblocks to the orderly flow of life. From this viewpoint, there is no elsewhere for the soul to go. It stays right here, stuck in the same stuff it supposedly left behind. Happiness occurs with compassion and reconciliation; with acceptance of what was and is; and with compassion and understanding given without conditions or lingering resentment.
We know that the Bible taught racism while we now know that good and bad people come in all races and colors. We’ve seen first hand the result of following “God’s plan” and stealing Palestine from the Arabs and giving it to Jews; of the ongoing fear and destruction this stupid idea created for both sides.
We know that the Bible taught sexism, that it was the source and anchor of a belief in women being subordinate to men, in obedience and submissiveness being their proper role in society. While many of us have thrown off the abusive customs this belief engendered, it still infects every society it influenced. Furthermore, the authors of the Bible thought it was OK to rape an unwilling slave and sent angels to support Abraham in raping his slave, Hagar. The authors of this drek even created ten commandments but failed to notice the massive and ongoing damage from the molestation of children.
We know that the Bible taught an intransigent, abusive response to homosexuality even though it continues to recur each generation in a significant portion of our population. We’ve seen this wrong-headed attitude split families, communities, and nations and wound people who have the audacity to be their genuine selves rather than some arbitrary and capricious idea of what is “normal” or “natural.”
And we’ve seen how following the Bible’s examples of holy wars and justified executions continues to encourage unnecessary, destructive, dehumanizing wars for petty, stupid, unfounded reasons.
The Bible has taught us intolerance. The Bible has taught us self-aggrandizing, self-serving attitudes and behaviors which have encouraged us to look down at anyone who isn’t exactly like we think they should be. Yet, in church, we find ourselves at odds with the rest of the world; our beliefs set up barriers to understanding and peaceful coexistence. Many of us are fine within our insulated, homogenized society of fellow believers, but remain fearful and distrustful of the rest of humanity as well as family members who, for whatever reasons, haven’t followed the “flock,” and have come to differing opinions.
These “prophets” sold us on “miracles,” events that circumvent the laws of physics and nature yet the actual world, God’s real laws have been shown to work without exception. In today’s world (and I would venture to suppose in yesterday’s actual world) there are no exceptions to the laws of physics and chemistry, to effect following cause, to day and night in steady succession. The “heavens,” it turns out, aren’t magical or filled with mystical beings. The light in the sky we once thought was the god Mars turns out to be a world not too much different from our own and the moon, now reachable, is a desolate but ordinary place. The stars, it turns out, were there long before we arrived on the scene and show us to be not quite so special in the eyes of whatever created all that is and put it in motion. We’ve dug up the remains of our ancestors and found them evolved into what we are today, not created “in God’s image.”
And yet a vast number of people have been harrangued into believing this fictional book of tall tales. In turn, Judaism led to Christianity which led to Islam, where warfare itself was made “holy” by similar men in robes speaking for “God” but spouting racism and fomenting violence and discord – even among people with the same “holy” book.
We see today the same insanity in the Islamic world that we saw in the Christian world a couple centuries ago when our ancestors fled religious violence by taking a chance on the Americas and banned religious dogma from our laws and governance.
If you really want to understand the real God, I would suggest that The Holy Bible is not the place to look. As soon as the Council of Nicea selected which stories should be in it and which stories should not be in it and then started making laws against holding opinions contrary to their majority view, the world of Socrates and Aristotle morphed into the Dark and Middle Ages, a period of stagnancy and warfare. The racist state of Israel is a direct result of this horrible book and the Koran is an indirect result.
If belief is the most important aspect of a person’s being, wouldn’t it be more efficacious if that belief were consonant with reality? Maybe believing in elves and goblins or “the force” or some other mystical, magical agency has been relatively innocuous, but believing in mysogyny and racism and homosexuality being “an abomination” has led to a massive amount of suffering on both sides of these arbitrary and capricious divides supported or even created by this book.
I, myself, find it perfectly acceptable to NOT believe something that I haven’t seen or that doesn’t make sense to me.
When my grandmother died, I was sad, but I never needed to pretend she was still alive somewhere else magical.
When my mother and then my father died, I was somewhat grateful that their suffering was finally at an end and they could be at peace. I didn’t need to imagine my mother being in Heaven or my father in Hell. The Bible, rather than giving me peace, would have me in a state of disquiet and desperately trying to find answers when I’m somewhat content not pretending to know precisely what happens after death.
I don’t know how the Universe came to be. Furthermore, anyone, even a “scientist” who pretends to know is fooling themselves and others just as the ancient “prophets” were fooling others. It isn’t something that we should know. It isn’t something we’ve got the information to know. It is an unknown and I believe anyone pretending to know is a charlatan, no matter how many PhDs they have or how many robes they wear.
If you really want to understand the Creator, I suggest studying the Creation. This may not give you definitive answers like the Bible or the Koran, but it should keep you connected to reality and avoid the pitfalls of the past where dogma led, both directly and indirectly, to intolerance, injustice and warfare.
©David N. Dodson, November, 2019, Phoenix, AZ