Sunday, February 1

The Face of God

In the Old World, there was a pantheon of Gods. They were capricious and prone to destruction if displeased. Divine figures worshipped  with human sacrifices in the hopes of saving us from chaos and help us make sense of the cruelties of life. The Middle World came when those Gods morphed into a paternal God as the fear of disaster abated and civilizations became organized. The New World arrived the Age of Enlightenment when Galileo looked at the sky through his telescope and his discoveries challenged the status quo. When Galileo was asked if he was challenging the bible he replied, no just man's interpretation of it. The battle was not whether he was right or wrong, it was over what we wanted to trust, faith or science.

Historically a new religion starts out as radical ideas viewed with suspicion and scorn by the dominant culture which tries to squash it. The cult grows in popularity as it appeals to a broader and usually oppressed segment of society at odds with the current ideology. Over time it becomes an established religion with its own rituals, hierarchy and code of laws. Eventually it gains in power to become as oppressive as the old order it replaced.

A religion demands allegiance to dogma and a strict code of obedience. It rejects the modern world in the belief that they don't need progress because "the word" is the truth and here is where it ends. Like Peter Pan they are arrested children who refuse to grow up. But change and adaption to it is enviable in order to survive. When a religion refuse to acknowledge this it creates schisms as fundamentalists  try to drag everyone back to the past. The current embrace of fanaticism is an attempt to stop the changing image of God at the point of a sword.

Like the Catholic Church threatening to excommunicate anyone who dared to look through Galileo's telescope, the self appointed guardians of righteousness label anyone looking through the metaphorical telescope as heretics for questioning their word. In reality many of these defenders of the faith could care less about the true message of their religion. What they really want is to exploit those who violently hate reality to gain temporal power.

Civilization has evolved and so has our relationship to God. We once depended on God to help us increase our crops, insure good hunting and ward off disaster.  Now we turn to the divine for answers to the meaning of our existence in a complex and subtle world. Answers the traditional religions are increasingly unable to give, which tells me we're on the verge of a new ideological shift.

Modern atheism, I believe, is not a rejection of God so much as a reaction to the failings of religion. However atheists are just as bad because --like their adversaries--they are stuck in the old metaphors. They are filled with disgust at the abysmal failure of religion to engage the modern world. But the disappointment is with humans, not God. The true humanist sees the divine sweetness and beauty of the natural world without the theological trappings. 

The "Laws of God" as the faithful stress, are not immutable. Eating pork or a cheeseburger is not a sin anymore with modern refrigeration. Walking around in modern comfortable clothes does not mean one is unfaithful. Holy scripture were meant as guidebooks to social ethics, not textbooks on fashion and nutrition. What matters more to the divine; how you say your prayers or how you live your life? We continue to confuse the divine with the spelling rather than the spirit of the word.

I once thought of my parents as all powerful, who would protect me and whose explanation of the world I accepted without question. At one point I dismissed their every utterance as nonsense. Now I look back and realize they did the best they could. We should do likewise with each other and tolerate the struggle each of us has to understand the nature of God.

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