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November 7, 2010

>In my first post I mentioned that it was my hope to provoke you into thinking and responding. Here’s the first attempt to do so. My Mom always said never talk about sex, religion or politics with people you don’t know. Sorry, Mom, this one’s about religion. So, whether you agree or disagree with what follows, please let me know. If your comments are short, use the comments box (I think I’ve got it fixed). If they’re longer, you can use the comment box or email me directly and I’ll include your thoughts in my next post: 

Following my comments on God are a couple of pix I took in Mexico at various times and a couple of word cartoons. I’d love to be able to draw but it’s an art that escapes me. Nonetheless, I’ve got a collection of some 90 cartoons I’ve visualized over the years which I’ve written down. You’ll have to supply the visuals. Here we go –

“So, do you believe in God?” This seems a simple enough question on the face of it, requiring only a “Yes, I do,” “No, I don’t” or “I don’t know” response. But there’s another question that never gets asked, one that has to precede the question of belief for any meaningful answer to be given. That question is, “What do you mean by God?” For unless we establish common ground, or at  least arrive at a mutual understanding of what each of us understands by “God”, the belief question is meaningless. This is probably less true for two people who are both steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition: they share much in common already as to the who or what of God. But even in this case, much is to be gained by asking “What do you mean by God?” And for two people who do not share a common tradition this question is essential. I can’t answer your question until I know what you understand by the term “God”, nor can you answer mine. And I’m sure our conceptions will be vastly different, particularly if you are a Christian or a Jew.
What do most Jews and Christians mean by “God”? God is an iconic figure for most people; God’s assigned characteristics represent the reality for Christians and Jews. What are these characteristics? And why do I call them “assigned” characteristics?
Second question first. “God” is too important a concept to leave in the realm of the abstract. Humans want and need something we can relate to, something concrete and identifiable. Accordingly, over the millennia men (for men, not women, have been  instrumental in defining and describing God) have developed a God who looks like us and, in large measure, behaves as we do, only with allegedly superior morals. Thus we have a God whose characteristics have been ascribed to him by mortals.
What are these assigned characteristics? First, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is an entity, a being separate and apart from all of humankind, both before and after death. And, because God is omnipotent and omniscient, he is superior to everyone else. This means that heaven must have a hierarchy, just as corporations do here on earth. To borrow some mundane terms, God is the President and CEO, Jesus the Chief Operating Officer and the Holy Ghost is the Chairman of the Board, which is made up of the twelve apostles with a multitude of televangelists hoping the board will expand to include them. (For Jews, of course, God alone fills all three functions and probably has a different board). With this assigned characteristic of separation, we might join God but we will never be of God; we will be with God but never in God.
The second iconic characteristic of God is that he is a male. This has been so for thousands of years, ever since the evolution of the belief that there is only one God. There are, of course, a few who will refer to God as “she”, but that’s usually done humorously, not seriously. In the Bible, religious treatises, philosophical works, even when mentioned in passing, God is male. And, to add to the proof,  when God is depicted, he’s a male. Always.
Next, God is white. With the exception of some black churches, Christ is always depicted as a white man and, being the son of God, God, too, must be white. And, again, depictions of God always show him to be a white male.
God is old. He’s been around since at least the time of Moses. That alone is enough to qualify him as old. Going back to depictions of God, he is always shown as an old man with wrinkled face, long white beard and long, flowing white hair. This is an interesting concept. Old implies aging. Is God getting older? Will he become infinitely old? If he looks old now, what’s he going to look like in a hundred thousand years? Or a million? And if God is aging, he must have been younger. He must have been a young adult. He must have been a toddler. And, taking it to its logical conclusion, he must have been born! That’s as far as I’m willing to take this one.
God is perfect. This is perhaps the most intriguing characteristic of all. To be perfect means never making mistakes, never being wrong, but we’re going to paint God into a corner with this one. To begin to question God’s perfection, we could start by looking at all the wars throughout history and ask why God would let those occur. But those wars, it can be argued, are the result of humankind’s free will, our ability to choose one path over another, regardless of the consequences. But many of life’s miseries are inflicted on us through no choice of our own. The Spanish Influenza epidemic of  1917-1918 that killed millions. The Black  Death of Europe. AIDS. People born with defective genes that produce Down’s Syndrome, dwarfism, gigantism, deformities and hundreds of other afflictions. Leprosy, malaria, cholera, polio. We don’t choose these miseries; they are given to us, and, apparently, given to us by God. So there are two ways to look at this. If God is perfect, never makes mistakes, then these misfortunes are purposeful and God is cruel. (Can there be any possible reason for doing this to babies? To children? To anyone?) Or, if we refuse to believe that God is cruel, then we have to admit that God makes mistakes. Cruel or mistake-prone? Either way, God cannot be perfect.
So, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are told that God is an old white man who sits apart from all the rest of us, purposely creating or helplessly watching untold miseries inflicted on humans. Is this what people want from their God? Is this what they’re willing to put up with?
For me, the truth lies elsewhere.



Cartoon #10: A prisoner is in his cell, gripping the bars with his hands, looking pleadingly at the guard. The guard is saying, “For the last time, no! You can’t have a cell phone!”
Cartoon #13: A woman is standing in her bathroom. On the counter is a bottle of aspirin. Next to the woman is a large, mean-looking seal. The seal is wearing a badge, a guard’s cap and a large caliber pistol strapped around its middle. The woman’s husband, from outside the bathroom, is saying, “Don’t worry about anyone tampering with the aspirin, dear. It has a security seal.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2010 6:33 am

    >Interesting take. I've observed over the years that most of the world's major religions include some philosophical rules of life that make sense from the standpoint of society; ie the golden rule, the ten commandments, etc. although some of them may need a bit of rework after several thousand years. The problem seems to be that having laid those guiding rules out, some folks have decided that they speak for god (sometimes with god) and that they can somehow stretch those simple ideas into something that puts them in control of everyone else and disallows both thinking and commenting without the proper leadership. If there is/was a god, wouldn't it have made us all smart enough to figure this stuff out for ourselves? And, of course, if one goes far enough back in time, to the very beginnings of modern religions, you find the origins of god are not so simple, and that the original concept had both mutiple entities and a female leader. Don't tell any of today's faithful that one!P deBois

  2. November 14, 2010 6:15 pm

    >Enjoyed your comments re:God Most of which is "logical" and widely believed. If I had to choose one aspect on which to comment, I would have to say that I don't think of God as a person/human (neither male nor female).I'm not giving this subject the time it deserves……but here it is, my comment – hope it comes through.Nancy

  3. November 14, 2010 11:17 pm

    >It's not my intent to criticize or belittle people's religious or spiritual beliefs. I do think, however, that not only is it helpful to raise questions, I think it's absolutely necessary. the hope is that the questions will cause people, not necessarily to rethink or question their beliefs, but to think about more deeply. It's only thru questioning that we make any progress. Unfortunately, many of "today's faithful," as you put it P. deBois, don't want to hear questions or think deeply about their beliefs.

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