If you really want to piss people off, tell them what you believe about God. Actually, if you want to have some real fun, take an obnoxious Catholic who thinks Vatican II was demonically inspired (Say… Mel Gibson?), an atheist whose life-long dream is to fellate Richard Dawkins, get them stinking drunk, and say, “Hey, what about this God business, anyway?” Then stand back and watch the brawl begin. It’ll make Wrestlemania look like a kindergarten slap fight.
And after the carnage ends and the paramedics have taped up the combatants, tell them their dirty little secret. Actually, tell them as they’re getting bailed out. The Catholic fanatic doesn’t really believe in God. The atheist doesn’t not believe in God. They’re fighting over something else.
For lack of a better term, I’ll call it Zeus.
Zeus, if you’ll recall, was the king of the Greek gods. He sat on Mt. Olympus judging man, hurling lightning bolts, and banging nymphs and mortal skanks behind his wife’s back. Many people’s view of him is the angry old man with a body builder’s physique gazing down on humanity, ready to pounce. Of course, he’s been (mercifully) stripped of the dirty old man proclivities the ancient Greeks seemed to love about their gods.
Hey, kids, Zeus is not God. A lot of descriptions of God come off that way because, hey, if there’s an intelligence to the universe, it’s going to be hard to wrap one’s head around. Even harder when you consider it’s a big ass universe. It’s easier to say, “Well, there’s a man in the sky running everything.”
So people stick Zeus, sanitized for your piety, in the picture to believe in. Or not believe in. They just call him “God.” Trouble is, Zeus and God are two incompatible ideas.
Over the centuries, that’s generated some spectacular holy wars, terror campaigns, and obnoxious wannabe barroom intellectuals sniffing their own farts. (“Okay, okay! You’re an atheist! Now shut up and drink your beer. I’m trying to watch the game.”) At least there are no Agnostic Witnesses, unsure why they’re waking you up early on a Saturday morning.
But if you want to understand what is (or isn’t) you believe in, you need to put things in perspective.
- That holy book or philosophical tome might have the wisdom you seek. It might very well have been divinely inspired. But it’s got human fingerprints all over it. (Yes, even the one you’re reading.) Read between the lines well. It’s probably saying something other than what you think. For starters, it’s probably telling you to quit being a judgmental ass hat.
- God is neither male nor female or even a person in the conventional sense. Generations past put up that idea simply because they couldn’t quite wrap their collective heads around something that’s not male or female or even a physical creature they’ve seen or imagined. Or they just dispensed with the idea altogether.
- To paraphrase Douglass Adams, the universe is big! Really big! So, if you’re going to believe in God, you need to understand you’re dealing with something that would have to permeate every nook and cranny of the Universe. And no, there are no mitichlorians involved. George Lucas may have to burn in Hell for that one. Or come back as a red shirt on the next incarnation of Star Trek.
- So how, you may ask, can someone believe in evolution and the Big Bang and still have some sort of belief in God? Well, kids, as a writer, I’m aware of this literary device called “a metaphor.” If you take Creationism literally, you either have to toss out some glaring evidence to the contrary or say, “Well, they’re lying.” Yonder lies madness. And a really impressive tourist attraction in Northern Kentucky I refuse to visit. On the other hand, if you look at it (and most other cosmologies) as a metaphor, suddenly it all makes sense. At the very least, you understand that Moses probably couldn’t conceive of the idea of billions of years, let alone concepts like quarks, gluons, quantum entanglement, and the heat death of the Universe. And forget about suggesting that great great grandpa’s many-greats uncle was a mastadon-chasing chimpazoid. (For starters, there weren’t any mastodons by the time of Rhamses’ Egypt.) Even if he could figure any of this out, remember, he was busy trying to corral a few hundred thousand shepherds into Ancient Palestine. Try telling everyone in that crowd you’re pulling over to stop and ask directions. (“But we’re making good time!” “Good time? It’s been forty years, you idiot! Unless one of you geniuses would like to invent the GPS!”) Now try explaining natural selection, the Big Bang, and the speed of light to them. Not happening. Not until they find a parking place so they can sit down and ponder things weightier than “Watch where you step. Zebulun’s sheep are having a bad day.”
- “What if I get all this and still don’t believe?” Look, you’re human. If you look at the universe and say, “There’s no way that’s the work of any divine presence, it’s too big,” knock yourself out. Because guess what. It’s a big ass universe anyway. If that’s how you have to do the math, go work on your piece of the puzzle. It’s what this is all about, anyway.
- So what if you do believe, and not only that, you believe literally? Many people do. And they’re the kindest, most generous people you’ll ever meet. But too many people claim to practice Christianity and swear the Bible is literal (as do many Muslims with the Koran), and yet they talk about a vengeful, hateful God. “I want Old Testament!” I frequently hear, usually with righteous indignation over something that does not affect them in the least. Funny, I never hear that from Jews, who get their spiritual guidance from that same Old Testament*. On the other hand, I seldom hear the fire-and-brimstone crowd talking about Christ’s compassion, his care for the poor and the sick, his generosity, or his greatest commandment, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Probably too liberal and socialist for them, but there it is. Deal with it.
- You’re human. You’re not smart enough to understand it all. Hell, man started settling into towns and farming the land around 10,000 years ago, which is about when we started to think about this stuff. We didn’t know the universe was a huge cloud of galaxies until the 1920’s, of which we are less than a speck. What makes you think we’ve got it all figured out now? We just opened up a whole new can of “WTF?” Go, thou, and figure out some answers for yourself. And if they differ from mine, well hopefully we reach one common conclusion: Whether or not you believe, the most spiritual lesson you can take away from this is, “Don’t be a dick.” A very wise man once said that. OK, so it was Wil Wheaton, but Wil’s a smart guy. He plays with Linux and hangs out with Patrick Stewart.
Hey, Beavis! Pull my finger!
*Yes, I know there are some differences, but both a rabbi and Pat Robertson read Leviticus. Your rabbi is keeping the traditions of over four millennia when he reads it. Pat’s just looking for new reasons to judge people and squeeze the faithful for a few more bucks. Somehow, he doesn’t realize the whole message of that book is also “Thou shalt not be a dick.” It’s the oldest spiritual message in human history.