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Monday, October 3, 2016

Our God Problem, Part 1

Allow me to begin with a disclaimer. If you are perfectly happy with your understanding of God, this article is not for you. Neither is it for you if you are a biblical literalist or other form of radicalized Christian or fundamentalist. If you comment on this post from those perspectives, I will simply delete the comment. Thank you.

For the rest of us, the truth is that we have a God problem. We are so mired in an antiquated understanding of God that any number of undesirable things have happened. The most significant of these is that people have been left with a spirituality that is so badly fractured that it isn't helpful to them in their daily lives. Nearly as significant is that many people have dismissed God out of hand, largely because they cannot buy into the view pushed upon us by those who shout the loudest and who get the most media attention, that zany collection of terrified simpletons that make up fundamentalism. It doesn't take a contemporary person who is capable of critical thought too long to realize that a large segment of Christianity worships a book rather than a God. Nor does it take that person long to wonder why any entity worthy of the Name God would be so ego maniacal that it would want to be worshiped.

While I haven't exhausted the problems with the popular understanding of God, I believe I have listed enough to support my premise that we have a God problem. The reason for the problem is that, in the case of Christianity, all of our God information from which the powers that be tell us what to believe is between two and five thousand years old! I do not believe there is any other aspect of human existence that we view the same way we did two thousand years ago. The reason is that humanity has grown substantially over that time period. In fact, most of that growth has occurred since the Industrial Revolution. How we understand our world and our reality has been turned on its head since 1900 C.E., but our religion is still mired in (at best) a 100 C.E. world view. I would like to propose some fairly radical changes, which I will list in bold below, followed by an elaboration on the point.

1. There is an important difference between spirituality and religion. The reason is that religion is about adhering to the doctrine, dogma, and practices of a particular sub-tradition within a larger tradition. In Christianity, these sub-traditions are most often called "denominations." Spirituality is about discovering truth wherever it exists, even if that truth transcends traditions. Therefore, it allows a more thorough investigation of that truth which we may call God - but could with equal validity attach any any number of names to this Truth. Healthy religion may be spiritual as well, but unhealthy religion never is.

2. Science is not the enemy of spirituality, it informs spirituality. Science investigates our world and, to the best of its ability, draws conclusions about our world and how it works. Science isn't perfect, and what is true today may be found to be inaccurate tomorrow, but neither is it opposed to spirituality. Science may be opposed to religion, but only if religion is attempting to keep its adherents uninformed about reality.

3. God is not an interventionist in human affairs. The reasoning is quite simple - no person claiming that God did something to or for them that avoided tragedy describes an event that could not have also been the product of random chance. Stated another way, God "journeys with" humanity rather than dragging it around kicking and screaming. When someone claims that God saved them from a disastrous event, what they are really saying is God loves them more than the victims of tragedy. That's nothing but pure ego, and ego is not a spiritual quality. It's also a pretty awful thing to say when people are suffering.

4. There is no hell except that which we create ourselves here on Earth. Let's dispel this popular behavior control technique that comes from Milton and not spirituality. Adolf Hitler tortured six million Jewish people until they died, and we quite rightly believe he is among the greatest despots in human history. Religion holds that God tortures countless people for eternity, which would make God a bigger despot that Hitler. If someone needs a God who is an abusive torturer, they have psychological problems rather than faith. Neither Jesus, nor God, nor any other figure can rightly be understood as a "Get Out of Hell Free" card, as if spirituality was a game of cosmic Monopoly.

5. Therefore, whatever salvation is, it isn't salvation from eternal damnation. Sorry, Charlie.

To be continued....


  1. Over a century ago, existential philosopher and predecessor to the contemporary “spiritual not religious” shift, William James, called into question a “blind adherence to religious institution.” James’ sought not to condemn or devalue religious tradition, but invigorate it by inciting the deeper deliberative spiritual discernment of the individual with “religious feeling and religious impulse as subject.” Religious ritual void of an experiential element risks regressing into a simple repetitious act. However, spiritual experience void of opportunities for communal reflection is lacking. Religion is the communal expression of personal ineffable spiritual experience.

  2. Hi Ryan, and that you for your comment. Generally speaking, I would agree. Where we perhaps differ is that I believe that are other, much more effective and healthy, ways to form spiritual community other than institutional religion. Much of the time, membership in a religious community involves one degree or another of surrendering one's spiritual integrity due to litmus tests of orthodoxy. To cite but one example, the vast majority of Roman Catholics do not agree with the Church's teaching on birth control - but to admit that publicly would lead to one being excluded from the sacraments. What I see in the future, and what I am currently working on both locally in Milwaukee and across the country in our denomination, is a spiritual community that doesn't require assent to any particular doctrine or dogma and emphasizes instead spiritual practice. I believe the future is more based in orthopraxis than orthodoxy, a shift I do not believe institutional religion is ready to accept.