Ch 40: An Alternate Belief

When I was a child, I was bombarded with scary messages about Hell and damnation; about God’s oddly exclusive rules; and about belief in the unknown being the thing that would make me a better person and the only thing that would make me acceptable to God.

I got awfully close to accepting all this. Until I realized that I controlled the God of my imagination, I was hooked. Then, somehow, almost miraculously, I was saved from a life of credulity – or was it damned to a life of disbelief?

This interest in the Almighty and the rules of eternity waned until I was brought to my knees with addictions. Then I joined a number of Twelve Step groups and applied myself diligently to recovery. And I was back in the quagmire of religious belief. In self-defense, I developed my own beliefs. These have evolved over time, but, at the present, at age seventy, this is where I stand.

I challenge the reader to refute these claims without using a religious text.

Assumption: God exists.

Atheists will dispute my claims with the simple assertion “God isn’t.” I have no argument except the apparent physical impossibility of creating anything out of nothing or even more out of less. While our evolution can be explained, the initial Creation cannot1. Nevertheless, I will not argue with atheists. It serves no purpose and makes little difference as long as we agree to equal status. I see no harm in atheism or agnosticism. I used to be an agnostic myself.

Therefore, I start (as all religious discussions do) with an assumption that God IS. This assumption cannot be verified or even validated. The reason I assume this, the reason I choose to believe this is that it makes me feel good and, in itself, does no harm that I am aware of. I cannot substantiate this in any other verifiable way other than talking to someone or something greater than myself has brought me serenity, peace and hopefully some wisdom.

From this admittedly arguable starting point, I hope to grow a consensus among those with similar experiences by making the following assertions.

Assertion 1: God is loving.

I believe that God is loving and that {His|Her|Its} love is universal and without exception or restriction. God loves all of us. Most importantly, there can be no excluding “if.” Conditional love is not really love. It is bullying; withholding something intensely craved to force compliance and obedience. Parents may posture with conditional love, but if a child is in danger or hurt, conditions disappear.

People find happiness with remorse, amends, forgiveness and inclusion. In successful conflict resolutions, enmity and strife disappear and people are back together in peace, harmony and mutual respect.

My mother was a fundamental Baptist who ardently studied the Bible. I was an agnostic. We loved each other, but her beliefs brought her a persistent fear that her son would not be welcome where she believed she was going after she died. Her belief in God’s restrictive rules drew a demarcation line through our family and cast a shadow over both of us.

Furthermore, her beliefs also made it difficult for her to befriend Muslims and Buddhists, whereas I had no such problems. This divisiveness, I assert, is impractical and not holy or divine. A loving God would never create such a thing as this separation between those who were born to a particular culture and were able to be credulous and those who were not.

Assertion 2: God is inclusive.

The Creator created the rules which govern the physical world and its interactions. Mankind has, in the last three centuries or so, discovered these rules and used them to dramatically alter our environment. At no time has God seen fit to alter these rules to benefit one side of a conflict or one particular group. The rules of physical interaction apply to all of us equally.

Furthermore, modern medicine has shown rather dramatically that disease affects “good” and “bad” people equally and for the same reasons and has nothing to do with “sin” or God’s preference for one religious practice over others.

Also, religious exclusion, the assumption of God’s preference for one group, has repeatedly led to conflict and suffering. Many wars promoted a religion – or a particular division of a religious group. Many of these conflicts were between sects of Christianity. Throughout its history, Christianity has had various nuances in what constitutes a good and faithful “believer.” If God’s goal is “Peace on Earth, good will to all men,” religious differences have been a constant impediment.

In the spiritual realm, exclusion is horribly disruptive. Inclusion generally brings peace, harmony and happiness. In my experience, this observation was obvious and without exception! Exclusive dogma, on the other hand, brings discord, even among believers in similar faiths and, eventually, even among initially homogeneous groups.

Assertion 3: God is rational.

Many of us that believe in both God and science have generally come to realize that God invented the atom. He conceived of the laws by which the Universe works: science. And he created effects from causes, not causes from effects. We don’t see irrationality in our daily lives so much once we start to understand how it all works. The more we understand, the more miracles and magic became illusions, tricks by which we are deceived.

Assertion 4: “Good” and “Evil” are unworkable concepts.

I was taught that when one finger is pointing at someone, three are pointing at oneself. Many of the groups “fighting evil” were coveting something belonging to the disrespected group. When the dust settled, the people who did the labeling were often lording it over those they labeled, pretending a delusional superiority.

Probably the most notorious of these were the Inquisitors of the Catholic Church, the Conquistadors, and later the land barons who were given title to Native American farmland and Native Americans themselves by their monarch who received them from the Pope, God’s spokesman on Earth. In our own land, “savages” were exterminated by people who disrespected the spiritual and religious views of the people they displaced.

This assertion is validated by looking at the damage these labels cause when using other factors such as custom, belief, race, nationality, gender or sexual preference as distinguishing factors. Caught up in fear and loathing, we forget to look closely and compassionately. We don’t see individuals. We miss details and ameliorating circumstances. Even when the act is destructive, the motive can be important. Without compassion or acceptance, we stay angry and reactive. We miss new choices and behaviors and fall, again and again, into the same ruts. If we wish to follow the Parable of the Good Samaritan, “good” and “evil” will almost always mislead us.

Assertion 5: God doesn’t require respect, subservience, rituals or sacrifices.

I came to this conclusion during intense and intimate dialogues with my “Higher Power,” a force that I sometimes call “God,” who may or may not be the Creator.

This belief was vindicated by my discovery of spirituality, something in mankind which links us all together in love and fate, something entirely devoid of religious overtones.

I am NOT asserting that God doesn’t deserve respect. Quite the contrary! By claiming an exclusive definition of God which goes into great detail, traditional religions are disrespectful because they pretend God is small and bigoted and that His Creation is small, evanescent, and significant only in that it glorifies a particular segment of mankind2. God allows this, but I doubt that {He|She|It} shares these bigoted views. At most only one religion can have described God successfully, though I seriously doubt that it is even possible to describe God accurately given the limitations of current languages and mankind’s tendency towards self-aggrandizement.

In any case, it is clear to me that traditional religions are tolerated while few respect the Creation in its entirety. Many religions treat God as their own personal servant rather than working for the betterment of the Creation as a whole. This misrepresentation and misuse of God is, I conclude, disrespectful but tolerated.

When you watch good teachers and good parents, they are neither brutal nor thin-skinned. They recognize disrespect as the child’s attempt to work out psychological difficulties he or she is experiencing; they don’t react excessively and they don’t take it literally or personally.

Assertion 6: Religions do not make us better citizens or more worthy.

Religious beliefs seem to have made us careless; urged us to violence; led us into harming others whom the Creator also made. If we listen to our hearts rather than our religious minds, we may discover love and respect rather than disdain. Dogmatic religions have encouraged us to ignore the evidence in our hearts and rely solely on the religious texts placed in our minds by religious authorities before we developed the ability to think for ourselves.

We appear to have developed, through our religious training, gigantic voids in our compassion which have, in the course of history, led to an almost continuous series of atrocities such as the armed invasions of early – and recent – Judaism (justified by “Covenants” with the Almighty), the jihads of both early and recent Islam (also justified by holy writ), the Crusades of Christianity, and the recent invasions of Southeast Asia and the Middle East by the United States and its religious nemeses, Communist China and the Soviet Union.

Assertion 7: God doesn’t require obedience.

If one reads history carefully, one finds that obedience is not a particularly desirable trait in anything but children and sheep. Obedience gives us good soldiers. Disobedience and disbelief gave us the Reformation, all modern science, women’s rights, the Civil Rights Movement and an end to the killing in southeast Asia.

When I look at the story of Abraham and Isaac at the sacrificial altar, I see a man who has miserably failed a serious and meaningful test. He is willing to murder his innocent and treasured second son to fulfill a religious obligation. I see this as proof that religion is pernicious.3 I see this as a failure on the part of Jehovah, Abraham, the author who wrote this story, and the many generations who read and believed it. The correct response is “No!” to the authority, be it man, god, or imagination. We should be taught to trust our consciences and our hearts, not to override them when faced with an authority telling us to do something wrong! Need we debate whether killing an innocent baby is wrong?

This story teaches us to override our compassion and listen only to the divisive voices of religious dogma and ritual, to ignore our consciences. It is a terrible lie and an abuse of our childish innocence. It mixes fear and love, which act like oil and water.

Assertion 8: God does NOT require credulity.

Let’s check history. While Europeans were obedient, worshipful, and credulous during the Dark and Middle Ages, we had almost constant warfare. All families – even royals – had to sell themselves into virtual slavery to keep from being killed and few advances were made. No questioning happened, few discoveries were announced. Almost no science was published because the church controlled education. Even into the Seventeenth Century, science was squelched by religion. Things didn’t get better. Compared to Greek and Roman times, they got a lot worse.

Once incredulity was allowed, science blossomed. We developed medicine, engines, refrigeration, lights, airplanes, computers and long-distance communication. By breaking with past beliefs and traditions, we became educated, prosperous, and also relatively healthy, safe, secure and enlightened. We had far more tolerance for our differences. We gained freedoms we never had before. Prior to this breakthrough, scientists were sinners because they couldn’t believe without facts. Today, they are heroes.

At the moment religion lost its stranglehold on our minds, mankind flourished. I believe that God loves science because it it an honest study of the Creation which is as close as we can come to studying the Creator.

Before the Reformation, The Holy Bible was the primary source of truth and wisdom and led to pervasive sexual discrimination in every home; throughout every family. I can’t imagine God smiling down as men beat their wives and daughters into submission and the Church continued to admonish women to be more servile.

Assertion 9: God allows free will.

God not only allows free will, if I give it up, I wake up the next morning having it again and having to give it up again. To the addict, free will can sometimes feel like a curse. Free will plays havoc with a lot of things in The Holy Bible.

Covenants, prophecy, precognition, and predestination all constrain the wills of both men and God. They do not allow for free will to make much of a difference. According to The Bible, our progeny are doomed to a known and certain fate.

Without free will, God might be bored beyond endurance with our endless squabbling and our constant selfishness and self-aggrandizement. I imagine Him dreading the time when He would be forced to return to His quarreling children, attempt to rule them for a millennium, and then consign them to either Heaven or Hell for the rest of Eternity.

Free will gives us the responsibility and the opportunity to grow up, pick a different fate, chart a different course and resolve our differences.

Free will makes a much more dynamic and interesting Creation. Nothing is known. Anything can happen. God looks upon us avidly, eager to discover what we’ll choose to do next!

Assertion 10: God has placed great responsibility in our hands.

Our fate, be it survival or extinction, is in our hands and we need to grow up and shoulder the burden. We can shirk our responsibilities to our future great-great-grandchildren, but we must remember that our great-great-grandparents got us to where we are. We must at least keep the planet habitable.

We are in this together: saint, sinner and those of us in between; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist; capitalist, socialist and communist; Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, Americans, people in the Third World and illegal immigrants; wealthy, poor, and middle-class. We will survive as long as we can cooperate with one another to discover mutually beneficial, nondestructive ways to settle our differences.

We have unprecedented freedom. We have the world’s wealth of knowledge at our fingertips through the Internet. We can talk to almost anyone on the planet and are finally free to tell others what we truly believe. We have longer lives and more time to pursue knowledge. We have the time and the means, if we choose, to help one another.

Alternatively, we can cause our own extinction and that of numerous other species. At this moment, it is well within our power to accomplish the destruction of sentient life on Earth.

Assertion 11: Religion – at least dogmatic religion – won’t take us to a desirable resolution.

If you want a model for peaceful coexistence, look at the European Union where religion is no longer a major factor politically or socially.

To squander this opportunity because we were constrained to a particular set of archaic beliefs would be catastrophic. I believe we must give up any special status we feel religion, nationality or race grants us and work together towards peace and prosperity. In the abundance of the modern world, this is, for the first time, a distinct alternative.

We watched religion and spirituality side by side during the Twentieth Century.

The religious faction stole Palestine from its inhabitants and gave it to Zionists because they believed God desired this injustice. This, inevitably, led to a century of turmoil which seems to be heading toward a second century of the same or worse.

Had we ignored religion and thought in compassionate and inclusive terms, we might have welcomed refugees into our own communities instead. I believe they would have happily accepted this alternate choice and been useful and productive neighbors. We should not have sent them in massive numbers to a place where they displaced locals and were unwanted. Had we not thought of Arabs as somehow “other,” we might have been able to muster some compassion for people forced to allow unlimited immigration of a group which excluded them and, from the start, planned on evicting them from their ancestral homes.

The religious faction opposed voting by women while the spiritual faction used nonviolent protests to finally move toward rights equal to the rest of us. This struggle for female rights continues within many of our religious communities to this day while outside these groups, most of us, unfettered by scripture, have accepted and even welcomed equal rights – and equal obligations – for our mothers, wives, and daughters.

The religious faction, believing that they were fighting “evil,” managed to champion several unnecessary wars, and was unable to muster any empathy for those they attacked.

Elsewhere, India gained independence and an end to social inequality when a privileged and educated man stood up in determined nonviolent alliance with the underprivileged and people with different skin colors and conflicting religious beliefs.

In 1954, religion added “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance, distancing ourselves from our ostensible “enemy,” the Soviet Union, but also from Americans who happened to be communists, agnostics, atheists, or one of a number of other groups that don’t believe in God. By making the idea of communism or socialism “evil,” they were setting the stage for an escalation in The Cold War. They forced their views on the rest of us by threatening exclusion. They told us, “Your ideas don’t belong here!” This is contrary to the founding principles of our country. It is divisive.

It resumes the Christian and Islamic bigotry that many of our ancestors fled by coming here.

Meanwhile, spirituality quietly tried to solve things using patience and understanding.

When whites joined blacks in peaceful marches for universal justice and equal voting rights, most of the entrenched racist system collapsed so that within 50 years, we have blacks at all levels of management and government. Religion, there on both sides all along, hadn’t helped. With these rights, whites as well as blacks can now sit in any part of the bus, walk on both sides of the street, talk or have dinner with any friend, regardless of his or her skin color, drink from any drinking fountain, and serve any customer without fear of being vandalized.

And so both sides of this divide gained in freedom and safety. Whites could now walk on both sides of the street, invite anyone to a party, be openly friendly with a friend or helper, and even fall in love with and marry anyone of their choosing.

Assertion 12: Spirituality is better than dogma.

While some men can believe in a religion but still consider others with differing beliefs as equals, this isn’t the norm and hasn’t been since dogmatic religion first emerged.

Most dogmatic religions have been, are being, and will be used to elevate their believers to a loftier status than others. Many look down at others with disdain, condescension or both. They use their religious texts to prove the superiority of their attitudes and beliefs and they use the religious texts or utterances of their opponents to prove their inferiority. This bigotry inevitably leads to conflict and misunderstanding – and, all too often, to war.

Religion itself has been the justification for quite a few wars and not just the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Crusades.

Spirituality has many of the benefits of religion except self-aggrandizement and without any of its deficits.

When one looks honestly at history, it is difficult to justify the benefits to the Earth as a whole when considering the lasting legacies of dogmatic religions. It is also difficult to discount the lasting benefits of inclusion and tolerance that Jesus of Nazareth preached prior to the Last Supper and people like Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced during the last century.

Violence has never been an effective solution to the world’s problems, be they personal or global. Flocking to our synagogues, churches and mosques for answers, we fail to see the bigger picture.

©David N. Dodson, 2014, 2015, 2016, Phoenix, AZ

1See the chapter on “The Big Bang” for my response to the wild and unsubstantiated theories of modern physics.

2In the case of traditional Christianity, this would be Jewish and Christian males. In Islam, Muslim men.

3The rest of Abraham’s life also falls below my standards. He and his wife caused considerable damage to others with their selfishness, greed and dishonesty … and were, according to the stories, aided and abetted by Jehovah!

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