All through my childhood, my mother kept telling me about God … and confusing me.
He was one god but He had three completely different identities. He was the violent bigot that thought women and non-Jews were second- and third-class people. He told us “Do not kill,” but killed and killed; almost on a whim. And he made ridiculously unfair laws like “Thou shalt not covet” — at least that’s what I took that Commandment to mean, since taking it literally was even more ridiculous. As a citizen of the United States, it seemed almost unpatriotic to not covet, and constant advertising has made it damned difficult. Also, the binding agreements, those “covenants” He made seemed to completely disregard both rules and create havoc for the “favored” Jews and the Arabs that British agents in Palestine caused to be displaced. It seems that these contracts won’t be satisfied until Israel takes over the entire Fertile Crescent, now occupied by the remains of a once prosperous and modern Iraq laid waste by American religious patriotism.
Throughout our relationship, Mom and I were always in loving contention over this subject. She was an official “Friend of Israel” while I had a number of Arab friends and proudly spoke bits of Arabic and Farsi. In my early twenties, my father, stepmother, and two younger stepbrothers moved to Lebanon for five years. Mom helped build up two Baptist churches and the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, though she was occasionally shamed over her divorce and never allowed to make decisions about these churches because of her gender. I occasionally went to both churches, worked in the ECCU, and even went to a couple of Summer Bible Study Camps for a week at a time.
Later, when addictions got the best of me, I started going to 12-step meetings regularly and taking active roles in several recovery programs. It was there I was introduced to “the God of my understanding” and “Higher Power,” amorphous concepts that I was allowed to fill in as I saw fit.
Over the years, I had almost daily dialogues with various dissociated parts of myself as well as an entity I called “Higher Power.” This source usually answered a question with a penetrating question that immediately got to the heart of my problem — or at least the next step in ameliorating it. But when I asked who or what H.P. was, I was met with absolute and steadfast silence. I was left to imagine an intermediary or a hierarchical succession of intermediaries between the Creator and myself.
Having no direct knowledge, I supposed a Creator: some unimaginable being of inconceivable age, patience, wisdom, and knowledge that created all matter and energy uncountable eons in the past. Being short-lived and prone to grandiosity as well as existing for a fleeting instant on an unremarkable planet in a humdrum galaxy in a tiny backwater of His enormous Universe, I decided that the Creator might delegate such mundane and thankless tasks such as answering dialogues and prayers to a lesser functionary that might not find them tedious and tastelessly self-absorbed.
Of course, I’m neither the first nor the last to imagine Gods and Creators. Most of us imagine God in our own image.
Jehovah, for instance, was created by Jews that thought that God was so enamored of them that He made them look like Himself — and act like Himself — and think like Himself — and favor Jews above all others. Their God put Jews on a pedestal and gave them title to the best land then known, even though it was owned and occupied by others.
Christ was created by another group of Jews that wanted to be rulers rather than ruled. They made Him the magical Jewish Caesar of the entire world — some time in the future, of course.
And when Saul of Tarsus and his Pagan disciples got hold of Jesus and Christ, they just had to put the two together and add a Pagan Last Supper, a short second life and a to-be-continued third life as the Messiah. In his ministry, the evangelist Saul was adamant about all his pronouncements concerning God and his presumed only-begotten son, Jesus. Unlike the rest of us, Saul/Paul was apparently privy to unimpeachable sources concerning even the minutiae of “correct” faith.
And yet Saul’s God — and he — thought disease was caused by sin. His God — and he — decided on a new “covenant” which broke old ties to Judaism — which had, for the most part, rejected him and his dogma. The “new” covenant allowed his Pagan followers to now be the “chosen” ones and God — and Saul of Tarsus — changed their minds and put blind credulity ahead of having a Jewish mother as the attribute best rewarded by this reimagined God.
I would add a section here about Islam except I don’t know much about Islam except that Jesus of Nazareth is, like Muhammad, one of Allah’s prophets and that credulity and genuflection seem to have again been favored over rationality, tolerance or humility.
Almost all our conceptions of God are impossibly near-sighted. Living our short lives and being in flesh, our brains revert almost reflexively to anthropomorphism. We cannot feel close to anything that doesn’t feel close to us — in attitudes; in appearance; in behavior. So we create Gods that look like us and act like us.
And we pretend that we get some special benefit from these Gods such as “covenants,” “everlasting life” or “forgiveness of sins.”
All this is OK, I suppose, although why these delusions are so popular sometimes escapes me.
It’s when we make decisions about people with different beliefs and different Gods that we seem to get off the rails and into serious trouble.
It’s when we put ourselves on the pedestal beside our God and condemn others for different beliefs and different gods — as Saul of Tarsus and Donald Trump did — that we start to do serious damage to this tiny ecosystem we’ve inherited.
It’s time we re-discovered Thomas Jefferson’s words (not what he actually did): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, ….” These rights do not end at our borders. They extend out into other countries and over other religious traditions. They extend to include both genders and all sexual orientations. This “American” sentiment demands tolerance and forbearance — for everyone, everywhere — even if they have abusive dictators or a repressive religion or beliefs or cultural norms we don’t like.
If we Americans have the right to put nuclear missiles on submarines and send them all over the world, then every other country also has that right — including North Korea and Iran! I, for one, don’t think anyone should have this right, this power, this destructive Sword of Damocles to hold over the heads of people residing in “lesser” countries and bully them into supporting our lavish lifestyles and unlimited greed.
Obliterating an entire city in a single nuclear explosion is as close to godlike behavior as we’ve ever come so far. But we must not mistake this power to destroy for “greatness.” We don’t think of a mass murderer as “great” so we must not mistake mass murder of civilians as “greatness” even if it is done in a quasi-legal manner.
If our conception of God is OK, then so is theirs, even if we don’t completely understand it. Because, I assure you, not everyone understands our God — or our logic — or our concept of our own “greatness.”
I believe in a tolerant humanity. And I pray we find more tolerant gods — and a more tolerant electorate — before the irrationality of racial, religious and nationalistic intolerance makes our planet uninhabitable.
©David N. Dodson, June 2017