Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Plant the Tree of Peace

in thinking about the sort of god we've created, one of the most repulsive ideas, for me at least, is that of a bloodthirsty god who would require animal sacrifice for appeasement.  i had occasion to be in the choir room of a nearby church recently, and in the choir's folder was a piece called "at calvary love flowed red."  how can a god be worthy of worship when that god demands that jesus die a horrible death on a roman cross?  this belief in the "atoning death of jesus," that jesus died so that all of our sins could be forgiven, is ludicrous.  if god is all-powerful, the only requirement for forgiveness is repentance.

the concept of the atonement is incompatible with a loving God who wishes only that the creatures who worship God be happy and at peace with one another.  i believe that jesus died because he ran afoul of the religious authorities and because the roman rulers of palestine feared that his growing popularity would lead to a rebellion.  jesus knew that his death was inevitable, that what he taught was incompatible with the status quo that both the romans and the jewish authorities wished to maintain.  in the end, he goaded them to either take action against him or leave him to continue his teaching, realizing full well that they would likely take the former course.

nature is a brutal realm.  everywhere the strong prey on the weak.  we humans have the capacity to refuse to follow nature's example.  we can help the weak rather than taking advantage of their weakness.  if we must have a god to worship, why not worship a God who embodies the best in us, the impulse to have compassion for one another.  those who seek to explain God to us do us a disservice.  is God our collective consciousness, the ground of being, a distant observer who leaves us to sort things out for ourselves, or something else entirely?  we create a god of our own making because such a god is more understandable.  we identify with a god who is in many ways like the gods of ancient mythology: capricious, petty, eager to find fault with humankind, a sort of mad scientist/creator with us as the subjects of the experiment.

how does one worship a mystery?  as john greenleaf whittier, the great quaker poet says in his poem (o brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother), "to worship rightly is to love each other,/each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer."  whether or not God exists, treating one another with lovingkindness and respect and having compassion for each other is the best we can do, and a God of love will accept such worship.

may we not honor a god of vengeance and pettiness.  may we seek to understand the mystery of who and why we are rather than accepting easy answers that have been handed to us by those who would rather control us than encourage us to think.  may we not create a god who is more like us than like the divine mystery of creation.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sing A New Song

the passage of new anti-abortion laws in alabama and missouri caused me to think some more about the idea of a god whose nature would foreordain a child or woman to be raped in order for her to give birth to a baby for whom that god had some predetermined purpose.  i've listened to some commentators who have defended such laws, one suggesting that it is necessary for victims of rape or incest to be prevented by law from having abortions so that the resulting child would provide evidence against the perpetrators, another saying that allowing abortion to be a medical rather than a legal question is imposing the jewish religion on our "christian" nation, while a third defended these newest laws on the basis of carrying out "god's will" since a child resulting from rape or incest would not be possible unless god wished the child to be born.  all of these defenses are nonsense.  what sort of god would be so cruel as to impose such a burden on a woman?  is such a god worthy of worship?

if everything that happens is foreordained by god, a part of "god's plan," that would mean that this god wills that terrible diseases, birth defects, wars, natural disasters, hunger, poverty, and oppression of all sorts happen as necessary parts of that plan.  we often hear christians make statements like "we can't understand why this tragedy happened, but we have to trust god since it's all part of god's plan," or "god needed this dear one who died more than we did and that's why this one has been taken from us."  how can we believe in a loving god who would visit so many horrible things on those we say god loves and cares for?  how can we claim that "a mighty fortress is our god, a bulwark never failing" if god is the cause of every bad thing that happens?

we are the cause of most of the evil in the world, not "god's plan."  terrible events that are beyond our control are not caused by God but rather the result of the unfolding of life.  suffering comes to us all, not because God wills it, but because suffering simply is.  so where is God in the midst of this suffering?  i believe that God is here suffering with us, that God suffers just as we do.  God doesn't intervene to stop our suffering because it is our responsibility to figure out how to stop or prevent the suffering.  we have the resources to end most of the human-created suffering and the intelligence to find solutions for the prevention or alleviation of suffering that results from natural causes.

may we reject the god of plans that include great pain for so many.  may we let go of ideas that tell us we must worship such a god in order to avoid eternal damnation.  may we search for the mystery that is the God of creation and the source of love.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fill My Poor Heart

the christian religion teaches some strange ideas about God.  i often think that we invent a god that conforms to our own design rather than honoring a God who is beyond human understanding.  i suppose that is natural.  after all, if we can't fully understand God, we give God characteristics that make the mystery more comprehensible to our limited imaginations.

one of the things that bothers me about what we christians are taught about God is that God "has a plan" for our lives, that we are born with a purpose that is predestined so that our obligation is to discover "God's purpose for our lives" and then seek to fulfill that purpose.  if we subscribe to that belief, then abortion for any reason becomes immoral, since no one is conceived without God having developed a plan for that prospective being.  there is always a purpose for the fetus that has been conceived.  according to this line of thinking, even rape is purposeful, otherwise a child that is the result of a rape would not have been conceived.  i can't accept worshiping a god that foists such a situation on a humanity that God loves.  our only purpose, i believe, is to live the best lives we can, doing the most good and the least harm that we can, filling our hearts with as much compassion as we are capable of.  i can worship a God who smiles on me when i do the best i can and understands my struggle to avoid doing harm.

another belief that most christians subscribe to is the idea that God chose the jewish people as the "chosen people."  why would God do such a thing?  the standard answer is that God spoke to abraham in ancient times, and abraham listened as God promised that abraham's descendants would be singled out so long as he and his descendants obeyed God's commandments.  most of the old testament is the history of the jewish people's on-and-off-again relationship with God.  a great deal of evil has flowed from this idea.  being God's chosen made it the duty of the ancient israelites to conquer what is now israel/palestine and massacre its non-jewish inhabitants, according to the bible.  it made the religions that arose from this chosen-ness the exclusive means of saving humankind resulting in wars that continue to this day, so that christians had the responsibility of persecuting those jews who refused to convert to christianity, muslims, jews, and christians had the responsibility to fight each other for supremacy, and the followers of the abrahamic religions were responsible for converting every person on earth to each religion's particular interpretation of God's revelation to that religion.  surely, one shouldn't worship a god who would do such a thing, unleashing so much suffering on those God created in the name of religions that are supposed to reveal God to us.

in the next few posts, i hope to write about some of the other beliefs about God that are accepted by many (perhaps most) christians without much thought about their consequences.  my intention is not to offend anyone who is sincere about their faith, but i continue to be disturbed about what seem to me to be absurd ideas about God that i can't endorse in good conscience, no matter how widespread those ideas are.

may we stop accepting concepts that make little sense, simply because they are commonplace.  may we use the reasonable minds that we are given to examine our beliefs and the practices that flow from them.  may we be guided by what makes sense, not by blind faith.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Save Each One's Pride

recently my wife and i attended a play put on my a local theater group.  the play was a well known broadway musical, and it was somewhat risqué.  because of the era from which the play dates, women were depicted in an offensive way.  i found myself somewhat uncomfortable with the play, and the production did little to minimize my discomfort.  the costumes of the female characters were suggestive, and all of the female characters were prostitutes, save one who was married to a philanderer.  there were some amusing lines in the play but on the whole the overall impression was one of males belittling females.  we were the guests of another couple and had come with them in their car, so it would have been rude of us to leave.  my wife found the play far more disturbing than i did, and i thought she was over-reacting until we spoke about it in private later in the day.

as we began talking about the play, i discovered that my wife had been reminded of her father's treatment of her mother and his attitude toward women in general.  the offensive words, actions, and costuming had brought back a flood of painful memories for her, so she had been deeply wounded by what seemed to me to be a mildly offensive piece of dated theater.  as i reflect back now on how hurt she was in contrast to my philosophical objections to the play--objections that didn't affect me deeply--i am reminded about how we fail to see the pain that is caused all too often by our insensitivity to the past experiences of others.

we now live in a locale where there are few people of color, an area that has a reputation for long-standing racism.  one frequently sees depictions of the confederate battle flag, and we often drive past homes that are flying that flag.  if the issue of its offensiveness is raised, the standard reply is that honoring the confederacy is not about race but rather about "southern pride" or showing respect for one's heritage.  few of those who have lived here all their lives know one person of color or stop to think what the so-called stars and bars flag means to the descendants of american slaves.  some of those who fly the flag are racist in the meanest sense of the word; others are people who are insensitive to the real meaning of the emblem they honor and would perhaps have a different mindset if they had an honest conversation about the hurtful symbolism of the flag with a black person.

it is hard to walk in the shoes of another, but we are obligated to try.  something that is innocuous to us may be deeply hurtful to another, and we have a responsibility to try and see things from others' points-of-view.  may we make the effort to back away from that which causes hurt to another.  may we not downplay their feelings of injury as over-reaction or political correctness.  may we learn to respect the past experiences of others even when we have not shared those experiences.  may our love for others outweigh our own privilege.  shalom.