Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Little God Talk

A couple of blog posts I’ve read (one by Irb and the other by John) has got me thinking about religion and God. I’ll really try to keep this brief and not very deep, as, after all, only strong swimmers should attempt to cross the English Channel and my modest dog paddle isn’t quite up to scratch. But over the course of my life I have given the subject some thought and find myself presently in the mood to share my views.

Let me make very clear that I respect serious, religious followers, those who truly believe in and feel enriched by their chosen faith. I envy them, in fact, because they are benefiting from a source of peace — a “balm” if you will — that I feel is forever closed to me due to a personal system of ideas that won’t permit it. To those for whom the explanations and forms of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and all the other -isms give satisfaction and security, I think it’s wonderful. I remember I once stopped at a McDonald's in Connecticut on my way back from New Jersey and saw a man organize his Big Mac, fries and Coke on the table in front of him and then clasp his hands and bow his head in prayer. That’s religion for me. That’s what it’s all about. Not the riches of the Vatican, no liturgical mumbo-jumbo, no Mormon Tabernacle Choir, just a simple man giving God thanks for his simple meal. Some might be struck by the tackiness of it — a McDonald's after all — but I felt the poignancy. I couldn’t help thinking Jesus would eat at a McDonald's while the Pharisees dined at the Ritz.

Having come from good Scandinavian stock, I was naturally raised a Lutheran. I went to Sunday School and sang the Bible songs and knew that Jesus was a handsome white man with long hair and a beard and who had a special liking for children. He walked with me and He talked with me. Every year my Sunday School pin grew longer and longer and I loved to hear the Bible stories. My family had a Bible storybook and one day I pretended I was sick so I could stay home from school and read it. I particularly liked the Old Testament stories, because God back then was more into signs and wonders. And there was a lot of smiting going on. I wondered at the personality shift God underwent from the Old Testament to the New. The Old Testament God was a proactive God, while the New Testament God seemed a bit too laissez faire for my tastes. The Old Testament God nearly wiped everybody out with a flood because of the wickedness. I wondered, Were they any more wicked back then than we are now? For even as I child I knew we could still be pretty wicked. Would there be another flood? Or maybe that was what the hydrogen bomb was for.

I seriously considered becoming a minister when I was in my teens. My nickname in high school was “Rev,” which was short for “Reverend.” I attended Pentecostal services and heard people speak in tongues (which I believe, to this day, to be no sham — whatever it was those people were doing, they were sincere and it sounded just like language). But somewhere along the way my intellect kicked in. My big, stupid brain couldn’t just let me enjoy and be satisfied with the system of beliefs I was being fed. And I fell away. It turned out my seed was sown on rocky soil.

So here’s my present take on God and religion, and it goes a little something like this:

Man is, by nature, curious. That’s what makes man great, the “paragon of animals” as Shakespeare put it. Curiosity has spurred man on to discover and build and conquer, to cure diseases, control mighty rivers, connect up the farthest reaches of the planet and swing a golf iron on the moon. Man always wants to find out. Man has questions and he craves answers. And when he doesn’t get answers, it frustrates him because he can’t stop trying no matter how blocked he gets. So finally, to quell the inner turmoil, to give him some peace of mind, I think man eventually invents the answers.

Why are we here? How did we get here? What is the meaning of life? How can the infinite, like space and time, exist? Men of genius have driven themselves mad by these questions, while lesser lights like myself go running to the pharmacy for a bottle of Excedrin. And, for a lot of people — often very intelligent people who could whip me in an I.Q. contest with half their brain tied behind their back — that’s where the Bible comes in, because there in that one-and-a-half-inch thick book are all the answers in black and white and the gray areas in between. The creation of the world. An all-powerful, benevolent being who watches over us. The parables. Wisdom and poetry, signs and wonders. It’s all there.

Here’s my big problem with the Bible: it’s written by men. Wait a minute, that’s not quite right: it was told and retold and retold and re-retold and then it was written by men, sort of like that game of telephone we played as kids. Men who lived thousands of years ago, whose belief systems, education and frames of references were vastly different from ours, telling stories we would surely brand as tall tales if they didn't have the stamp of authenticity the Bible gives them. Greek mythology? Ha, ha, ha! People used to think that stuff was true! The world created in seven days? You better believe it. The Shinto deities? Puh-leeze! The Father, Son and Holy Ghost? What’s so strange about that? Krishna Consciousness? That wacky cult, with their saffron robes, weird hairdos and all that chanting? Catholic monastic orders? God bless those robed, tonsured holy men and their Gregorian chant.

To sum up: I just don’t buy the Bible. I regard it more as mythology than anything else. And as the Bible is the foundation of the Christian Church, I don’t consider myself a Christian either.

I had a discussion with a friend of mine about God once, and I mentioned that Spinoza considered God and Nature to be the same thing. She liked that notion, and said she often thought of God as a force, like electricity. As we pursued this course, we agreed that all of this, the universe, our planet, and the life our planet sustains can’t be an accident, and that those philosophical arguments of First Cause and the Prime Mover must be true, so there really was a God, as it was impossible for us to conceive there wasn’t. When you entertain notions like these, you automatically start asking yourself, what is God like? And then: what possible inkling of the nature of the Infinite can be imparted to our mean, finite minds? Just who is it we pray to anyway? Can we ever know?

The excellent novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, takes place in a small Georgia town during the Depression and tells how several of the tortured souls who live there gravitate toward a deaf mute by the name of John Singer. Singer was an intelligent man who could read lips and was, after a fashion, considered a good “listener” — certainly one who couldn’t talk back anyway. A young girl, an old, black doctor, a disenchanted social activist and a lonely widower visited him often and unburdened themselves, each feeling certain that Singer understood them perfectly, was simpatico with them in fact. The truth was, John Singer was a sad man who accepted their company out of loneliness and felt bewildered by their talk. The John Singer they knew wasn’t the John Singer who was. Two completely separate people.

I think during those infrequent times when I pray, I kind of make my own John Singer. I assume the Being I’m speaking to knows my history, my virtues and my foibles, my desires and my intentions. He knows I try to be good and He gives me a little pat on the head when I’m done. But can it really be that way? Is this God the God of the universe, the God of all sentient life? The God of the billions here on Earth and infinite numbers that people the other planets? How much attention can He seriously devote to me, for in His eyes I can only be the size of a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-atomic particle. I am really only one billionth the size of a neutrino. How can He possibly be the God I was raised to believe in?

God, for all we know, might be a colossal, impassive clock that exactly ticks out the tune the universe inexorably turns to. Benjamin Franklin, mindful of the vastness of the universe and the certainty of intelligent life other than our own, imagined that God delegated responsibility for our welfare among legions of lesser gods who reported back to him. Boss God. God Central. Why not? Makes as much sense as anything else.

I believe there is a God, but I don’t know what He’s like. I occasionally pray, but I don’t know who I’m talking to. I enjoy the feeling of being in churches and synagogues, but I am careful not to analyze why that’s so. I wonder what will happen to me after I die, but I have only vague ideas. I have this notion that my soul or consciousness or essence is like matter, in that it can neither be created nor destroyed, and will continue after the corporeal part of my being has passed on. Reincarnation doesn’t seem entirely out of line to me, as it’s really hard for me to believe that at some point I will simply stop. It’s all a great mystery. Unexplainable, inconceivable, but not unacceptable.


Blogger trinamick said...

Interesting to find out how others believe. I myself am a Christian, but I don't agree with the concept of organized religion. Demanding payments to the church to keep dead loved ones "out of hell", saying prayers by rote, ministers getting involved in politics, etc. just seems like hideous hypocrisy and futility. Hence, I don't belong to one of those types of religions.

That said, I believe in the Bible because I have faith that it was inspired by God. I don't think 40 men could, on their own over that many years, compile such a book that was so cohesive in thought and purpose without help. Most men I know can barely dress themselves. But I think we all need to question what we're told in our churches to make sure that what we're being taught isn't just the traditions of men, but that it is actually in line with God's thinking.


9:55 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

I am always fascinated by every individual's search for what God means to him/her. I can't help but believe that it is a very personal and intricate definition, subject to change a little or a lot throughout a lifetime. I'm always working on my definition, finding different life examples that prove or disprove my belief. I am with you 100% on the appreciation and envy of those who have absolute faith. I thought of that as I watched a priest at a wedding this weekend. Something else I've realized: the more I try to pin down my final definition, the more elusive it becomes. I agree, I don't think it's easily comprehended with our thoughts, perceptions, and language. Thanks for the wonderfully engaging post.

10:03 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

trinamick: the only way the Bible can work would be if it's indeed inspired by God and these men were His instruments. I think it would be nice if that turns out to be true. When I go to services and the pastor is delivering his sermon using the "God-voice" he never speaks in at any other time, I usually thumb through the old Revised Standard Version they set out in the backs of the pews. If nothing else, it's a helluva read. Great comments.

mona: "…the more I try to pin down my final definition, the more elusive it becomes."

Amen to that. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

10:17 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

"If nothing else, it's a helluva read."

LOL! A friend of mine just started reading the Bible (for fun!). Occasionally, she'll call and say, "Have you ever read ______? I can't believe they did that! Way to go with the eye for an eye bit!" It's refreshing to see someone so enthused, especially since I usually read it if I'm having a hard time getting to sleep. :P

11:10 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

You should have seen me the night after I watched "The Passion of the Christ." I got up at around 12:30am with all these images swirling through my head and dug the Bible out of the basement to read some passages from the Gospels (naturally written by men who never knew Jesus). I kept thinking, "What if it's all true?" Did you ever see that movie, BTW? After a while, I started thinking, "What stamina!" Also, I wanted to yell at the Romans, "Do you want Him to carry the cross or do you want to beat Him? Because you can't have both!"

11:22 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I didn't want to see it, because I've always hated Hollywood's bastardization of religious events. I don't like my religious world and my entertainment world to mix, if that makes any sense. Plus, everyone else was seeing it, so I decided to be contrary & opted for Mr. Ed instead.

1:20 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Of course, of course.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Spirit Of Owl said...

Now that's what I call Musings of Great Import. :)

I have no idea what to think, truth be told. The whole spiritual realm is a dangerous ground for me, so I try mostly to avoid it. I work mostly on emotions and think, but they're faulty so whatever I offered on reasons for being would be no more than noise.

This in mind, I watched Passion of the Christ, and came away with the very strong feeling that Mel Gibson is certifiably stark staring mad! There is a man who needs to spend more time with pastel shades.

Thanks for an intriguing read, I'm glad someone's dealing with this stuff. :)

7:47 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I have no idea what to think, truth be told."

I find that hard to believe, Spirit. I think a post of your own on this subject would be very, very interesting. And you're right: Mel Gibson should probably play Candyland for a full day or so to get whatever it is out of his system.

8:06 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

I was reading Eat, Shoots, and Leaves which says a lot about how much I need to have more fun... but the interesting thing was there is a chapter dealing with commas and in it the author explains how once upon a time there were no punctuations. Then it gave a couple examples of how meanings of sentences change completely with commas inserted as they eventually were. Pretty interesting what a comma can do.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Irb said...

Sometimes I get a little carried away in my posts, and I've been guilty on more than one occasion of railing against the whole of Christianity instead of singling out those pieces of it that piss me off. Unfortunately, in doing so, I sometimes step on the toes of some very intelligent and decent people.

I've known some people who came by their faith honestly, who knew what they believed and why they believed it, and I've always had the utmost respect for them, even if I didn't share their beliefs.

By the same token, I've known many more people who use religion as a shortcut to thinking. Rather than accept the fact that they can't possibly know or understand everything, they use God as an excuse to avoid looking for their own answers. Basically, they accept what they were told when they were 6 years old and they don't dare question it. Personally, I find this annoying, but I'm quite content to live and let live with these guys.

And then, there's the small (but noisy) minority of zealots who want to pretend like their very way of life is constantly under attack by the forces of wickedness. You know, the people who were convinced that John Kerry wanted to ban the bible, or that Madelyn Murray O'Hare's zombie has risen from the grave to get "Touched by an Angel" canceled. They view every issue, from abortion to same-sex-marriage to school vouchers as a personal assault from Satan and his nefarious minions. These people infuriate me to no end.

A very insightful post, Sr. Schprock! I'm proud to have played any part in inspiring it ;-)

9:10 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

You're right. You need to get out more. :P

9:11 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I was reading Eat, Shoots, and Leaves which says a lot about how much I need to have more fun≥"

How about, "Comma: the Prince of Punctuation," by Oliver Grendall. Have you read that one?

I just Googled "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" and it looks really good. I know I have some bad punctuation habits and could use a little help. Remember the UK way is a lot different from the American way in some respects. It makes me think of a hilarious short story by Somerset Maugham about an aristocratic lady who fancied herself a great, if misunderstood, writer, and was the author of a book that explored all the potentialities of the semi-colon. Very funny.

9:23 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Irb: Actually, I was going to retract much of what I just posted because I have since read one of those Jack T. Chick tracts your blog linked to. Phew! Just in time!

9:31 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

It just amused me because it pointed out how the whole idea of Purgatory could have originated with a badly placed comma. LOL! Makes you wonder...

10:54 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

What? Can you explain that?

11:18 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

When I get home I will copy it straight from the book. Which might be against the law.. but whatever. I'm a rebel.

1:58 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

You go, girl. Fight the power.

2:02 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

My last comment was meant for PinTA. Oops. :)

And there's nothing I hate more than when zombies come back and cancel TV shows. It's so annoying.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I came here from Spirit's blog and am glad I did! He has some of the best readers!

My thoughts on the bible are so much like yours, it's scary.

Spirituality doesn't come from a book. That's my motto. People know right from wrong. Period.

One last thing, the picture of you is one of the best I've seen on a blog. Love it!

3:31 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

" My last comment was meant for PinTA. Oops. :)"

I caught that. But that doesn't mean your comment doesn't apply to me as well!

knitter: Thank you, thank you! I've noticed your comments in Spirit's blog and it's high time I paid you a visit. But be warned — my posts aren't usually like this. I tend to get a bit silly…

4:45 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

OK, I just looked through your blog to read more and there is NO WAY you can have two children of that age. I thought you were about 20, at best. My goodness, you must take care of yourself!

Thanks for stopping by and what you said ... once again!

1:11 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

I agree that it is hard to fully accept the Bible as the ultimate authority, for many of the reasons you point out. I also think that God is all of the things that you have questioned, such as the God who loves you amidst billions and billions of others. I personally feel that if I can grasp and accept the concept that someone or thing created the universe and everything in it, then he (or It) is sooo powerful and all knowing then he could have a personal relationship, at some level anyway, with me every single person. I guess I am saying that I believe that some sort of creator created the universe (or at least got the ball rolling), and has so much power-how could I not believe he could know me? That make sense. Religion and God is so hard to explain, because so many people have so many different beliefs.
More good stuff Mr Schprock!

4:33 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

knitter: Thanks for the kind words. My secret is clean living and immaturity. I have a friend who insists I dye my hair! But believe me, I look all of my 49 years, I just don't act it…

henry: When I pray (which isn't often, as I tend to repeat the same things, and how often does God need to hear it?), I act as if God knows me, even though it doesn't make sense that He could. But, yeah, if He's powerful enough to do all those wonderful things, then it's possible He can know me in detail. Thanks for reading, Henry. Good point.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Chloe said...

Having been raised by a devout Greek Orthodox mom and atheist dad, I too had plenty of questions about God, especially in my angst-ridden adolescence.

I've found Buddhism to be a way of life that explains the world in ways I can understand and connect to. But I've never thought that any religion had all the answers; my god is all about peace, love, and understanding, regardless of whether I call him/it God, the universe, Allah, the divine, etc.

I occasionally substitute teach at a Lutheran high school, where the administration uses the Bible to justify hatred and it makes me so angry! Guess I'm not that good of a Buddhist yet :)

p.s. found you through Trina & Gardening Knitter, hope you don't mind my stopping by

11:51 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Thanks for your comments, Chloe. Interestingly, Buddhism is the organized religion that attracts me the most (without understanding it all that much, however). I visited a Buddhist temple in Hawaii once and felt . . . something. The presiding image of the Buddha, the trace of incense in the air, the hush at that hour of the day. Peaceful. It felt like a real house of worship. And I agree with the Buddhist idea that desire leads to the problems of the world.

Thanks for stopping by.

12:10 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

Well, how can you argue with a very fat jolly man! That smile just says: come with me! Don't I look happy? You could be too...
I'd take that over a crucified man any day!

12:25 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:29 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

The two sentences are:

“Verily, I say unto thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”


“Verily I say unto thee this day, thou shalt be with me in Paradise>”

The first (which is how the Protestants interpret the passage Luke xxiii 43) lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to Heaven.
The second promises Paradise at a later date and leaves Purgatory in the picture for the Catholics.

From Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

BTW- I’m sure Purgatory is mentioned in other places though, right?

12:30 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I'd take that over a crucified man any day!"

Yeah, but then you'd miss out on all that guilt.

Man, those theologians read a lot into things, don't they? And all those lost souls somewhere pleading, "Place the comma somewhere else! Please!!!"

5:29 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Wow, I'm glad I read this post. It is amazing how incredibly close this comes to my own way of thinking. I too was devout and considered a life with the church, but cold logic got in the way. How many times have I thought on the same idea that the bible was written by men? Not only does the oral tradition necessarily change the original message, but men willingly and without conscience add their own spin and lie outright. I'm supposed to sacrifice my entire life on the word of men?

My theory is this: if God is all that the bible says he is, then he is nothing less than perfect. He MUST understand why a man would doubt the word of other men, and why faith would be a difficult pill to swallow. I try my best to live a good life, not take advantage of others, and love my family and friends as best I can. He'll forgive me if I don't buy into the whole of religion. I find it also hard to believe that the millions on this planet that don't believe in the God the Christians believe in are all doomed to hell. I have children of my own, and if I never once introduced myself or made my expectations known, I wouldn't condemn them for going astray; I would blame myself.

11:33 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"My theory is this: if God is all that the bible says he is, then he is nothing less than perfect. He MUST understand why a man would doubt the word of other men, and why faith would be a difficult pill to swallow."

Very, very well put. I have thought of this too, but you articulated it perfectly. About your point concerning "the millions on this planet that don't believe in the God the Christians believe in are all doomed to hell," my pastor told me once that unenlightened people (he used the tribes in darkest Africa as an example) wouldn't need to worry about hell because they didn't know any better. But once the missionaries clued them in on Christianity, then their souls were at risk. So I asked, "Why tell them at all?" and I believe he mumbled something about them having a right to know, or it's our duty to spread the word, etc. It almost felt like we were intentionally infecting them with the Bible Plague.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Your pastor isn't doing himself or religion a favor by making up answers to serious questions. Better if he thought about it and said, "You know what, I don't know."

1:09 PM  
Blogger Tony said...


I really was impressed with your essay. As a devout atheist, I must say I agree with your assessment of the bible that, to paraphrase you, "they made it up."

My opinion, briefly, is that after the Greek system of gods, which lent itself to the Roman system of gods, people - especially town elders - were tired of trying to remember what all the gods were responsible for, and if a certain responsibility wasn't already assigned to a god, and on and on, so they came up with the idea that, no, there was only ONE god, and he handles everything! The men who wrote the bible were the "new age" town elders, and they had to keep going the mystery that might keep people in line and prevent them from disemboweling each other over a goat, or something. A fearful throng is a docile throng. Unfortunately, it is also a manipulable throng, and there weren't a few innocents led astray for the wonts of powerful men.

I appreciate trinamick's opening comment about organized religion. I generally respect the faith of believers. I believe that you should draw your strength from where you find it. If believing in a higher being gives you that strength, then go for it. If you draw your strength from yourself or those around you, then go for it.

That said, your beliefs, except for that big one... you know... the one about a god...fall in line closely with mine, so you have two firsts. Yours is the first blog I've bookmarked, thanks to your iintelligent and lively writing, and you are the first blogger to whom I've had any wish to send a comment.

I'd appreciate a look at my newbie blog, if you've got the time. Not much there to speak of as yet, but as I said, I only just started.


5:52 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Your line, "The men who wrote the bible were the 'new age' town elders, and they had to keep going the mystery that might keep people in line and prevent them from disemboweling each other over a goat, or something," makes me think of that Marx statement about religion being the opiate of the masses. Also, I'm strongly reminded of the Voltaire quote stating if there was no God, it would become necessary to invent Him.

Thank you for your well-considered comments and I'm flattered you've chosen me for the first to be bookmarked by you. There are a lot of good blogs out there and soon you'll be faced with the problem of too many blogs to read! I look forward to visiting your blog soon.

4:51 AM  

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