Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God Beyond the Book

How can anyone of average intelligence believe in a superstition like God? How can there be a God in such an unjust world? What about the inconsistencies in the Bible? Those are good questions, and I won’t pretend to answer them. I respect and admire atheists and agnostics, and their arguments make a lot of sense. Still, I believe in God. I’m not sure I can explain why, but here goes…

Experiencing the divine has nothing to do with any book. It’s a mere accident of birth if your book is the Torah, the Christian Bible, the Quran, or Bhagavad Gita. These scriptures may not help you experience God. You cannot find God by just reading a book; if you find God at all, it might be in spite of books rather than because of them. The god of the book is often vengeful and temperamental. If that’s all god is, then I’m with the atheists--- I don’t want anything to do with it. God, I think, can occasionally be found in the margins, in the ellipses, in the deletions of the book. When people say “Torah is absolute truth,” or, “I believe in the Bible as the literal word of God,” I’m wary. When debating a Baptist minister, Bishop Spong asserted anyone who believes the Bible is the absolute truth clearly hasn’t read it. And that goes for all the books, not just the ones we read in the West.

If I were starting from scratch, instead of my own dual traditions, I would join the Friends, Quakers. They have no dogma or doctrine; rather, they rely on the inner voice and an absolute commitment to peace. That is God, as far as I know. God is in the silence, when you have peaceful thoughts and hear that “still small voice.” I know what some will ask: what if you are Charles Manson, or George Bush, and your inner voice tells you to kill people? The rabbis tell us that taking one life is as bad as killing the whole race. Clearly some people are damaged and can’t rely on their inner voice, whether due to psychosocial factors or chemical unbalance. We have an obligation to care for damaged people, and make sure they can’t harm anyone, including themselves. In order to help others, we have to find our moral bearings.

The people who wrote the books were trying to find god. Their search was honorable and earnest. We have their wisdom and experience to rely on, and their successes and failures. We have the teachings of the three great Jewish prophets: Jesus, Marx, and Freud. If you can’t “do” Jesus, then try Hillel or Philo of Alexandria. Same message, different vocabulary. Jesus and Hillel were concerned with the heart; Marx wrote about politics, and Freud explored the mind. Use their expertise: in your experience of god, you don’t have to start from scratch.

At Passover this year, I had the privilege of sitting at the children’s table, no small feat for a middle-aged man. I visited with a young loving couple: he was Native American, she was Orthodox. His father, like mine, was clergy. Those two lucky people found each other, and respected each other’s tradition. The most cruel lie in all the books is the exhortation of tribalism, the idea that you must only be with others of your same tradition, endogamy. It’s a sad lie, and a terrible loss. This couple knew that God is god is G-d is Allah. They knew that if God is love, then love is God. Whenever two people love each other, God can be born--- it doesn’t matter if it’s a man and a woman, an Indian and a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian, or two men.

These days it seems that the only God we hear about is the God of the Book. If you don’t worship the books, you supposedly can’t experience god. God, it seems to me, has little to do with any book. Belief is a personal matter, and it alarms me to hear it discussed by all the politicians. If that is God, then count me among the atheists. It well may be that some are pre-disposed to believe in God because of genetic propensity or fluke of evolution.

In our post-Greg Mortenson era, I’m reminded what the rabbi taught: white-washed tombs hide inner rot. The people who talk most about God and pray the loudest probably know the least. In the end, it’s not what you believe, but what you do. John Lennon said “In the end, all the love you take is equal to all the love you make.” Buckminster Fuller said that “To me, it seems, God is a verb, not a noun.” God is peace, love, and everything good. Even talking about God seems to obscure the already obscure. God is above, beyond, and just out of grasp. Be careful of people who say God, God, God—-like I'm doing. Find out for yourself. Maybe you’ll find it, maybe you won’t. Some who think they haven’t found it already have, and people who say they have, haven’t. Listen to the inner voice, the stillness. When you hear it, the domain of the divine is here, and the revolution begins.

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