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Saturday, May 18, 2013

God

Buddhism does not subscribe to a creator God, and for that reason many people say that Buddhism is atheistic. I believe it is more accurate to say that Buddhism is non-theistic, and that there is an ever growing body of progressive Christians who are non-theistic as well.

In short, the God of theism is some kind of super-human writ large, the thing of several centuries of bad religious art, the old guy with long white hair and beard. Under this kind of view people image God creating the universe and everything in it out of some kind of physical workshop. These images aren't in the Bible, but they have evolved over millennia of imagining God as a parent figure in the sky. God came first, before all else, and then God created everything that is from Godself. Presumably God was wearing a T-shirt with a very large "God" emblazoned on the front so we knew what to call God. Fast forward to the last fifty years and not only is God presented as all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, and all everything else imaginable but God also has become our little buddy. We have a personal relationship we God, and we invite God, Jesus, or both over to our house for Cheerios in the morning. You might say we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous without abandoning any of it. If that works for you I think that's just great, but to me and many others it's nothing but a big hot mess.

What if it's really a question of the chicken and the egg? Which came first, our existence or our awareness of God? Mind you, I'm not asking if God existed before us, I am asking if we became conscious before we became aware of that which we call God. Since there aren't any pre-conscious beings hanging around the local coffee shop for me to ask (though I confess there are some who seem to be post-conscious), I have to assume that homo-sapiens became self-aware, then eventually took a look around and marveled at what s/he could not explain and said, "Holy cow, God must have done this!" They must also have realized that some of that which was beyond their ability to explain was a bit frightening, and so they started devising schemes to manipulate God into stopping the scary stuff from happening and replacing it with good stuff. If you have studied behavioral psychology you know how this works. All it takes is one naked guy wandering out into the desert before a rain storm and before long you will have quite a few guys with unfortunate sunburns and the fictional belief that you can make it rain.

On the other hand, what if we abandon the behavior control business and the God control business and spend some time observing our experience? What if we were to set aside judging (as much as humanly possible, anyway) and just watch? I believe we would marvel at the mystery that is the complexity and intricacy of creation and reasonably come to the conclusion that there was some force behind or underneath is all and call that force "God." We might look at the mystery that is the inter-relatedness and inter-connectedness of everything that exists and see something holy at work and so call that "God" as well. We might find something mysterious and beautiful about the dedication of people in a long term relationship that perseveres even through illness and death and know that we see holiness - God - there, too. We don't have this vision of God over for Cheerios in the morning because this God isn't a "person," but we will see God in those Cheerios and the many causes and conditions that had to come together to get them to our breakfast table. Was this God present at the Big Bang? No, this God was the Big Bang. This God is the collective unconscious. This is a non-theistic God, and this is the God of my experience. This isn't God as manipulator, this is God as lover, God as relationship, a God in and through whom we have our being but who has no interest in striking anyone dead or playing cosmic chess games of control and manipulation.

The non-theistic God doesn't care what you call It and certainly doesn't see any need to convert people to another way of understanding It. This God doesn't become angry when you hurt another person, but rather because this God exists in that other person and in the relationships we share this God is injured when you injure another - and you are injured as well because you are a part of that same web of life and interconnectedness. Best of all, that web of life and interconnectedness and every other attribute I have described of God continues to exists even for those who call God by another name or say there is no God at all. In this view worship become community building, improving living conditions throughout the world, working for peace and equality, ending poverty, racism, and hunger. This is a much more demanding God that the old God of punishment and anger because this God demands you give of your very self, abandon selfishness, develop compassion, and truly change your life in an ongoing way. It's a God completely compatible with every religious and spiritual system, but because It requires you to abandon privilege and prestige and see that when we get ahead at the expense of others we in fact damage ourselves deeply. It's a God who leads us toward enlightenment and the action that flows from enlightenment.

Do you have the courage?

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