Monday, March 2, 2009

God Speaks: Does Not Have Human Voice

Something that bothers me about the Christian perspective in my country is the belief that God has human qualities and human tendencies. My issue with the idea that God listens to us, understands us in personal terms, or judges us using our own, constructed morality comes from my belief that people created this deity – not the other way around. I know this hammers at the deepest foundation of the Christian faith, but it does not have to raze the religiosity of folks of this conviction; more on this at the end of the post. My mindset comes from thinking about the history of our world in what I consider an honest, evidence-informed way: the planet was formed 4.5 billion years ago, humans came along about a million years ago in some form, and our minds evolved into their own capacities of imagination. From this we gained curiosity and innovation, and the initial step in answering the great mysteries of the world and the universe was to create all-powerful beings that resemble ourselves.

The universe is a vast place. Hundreds of billions of galaxies vast. It, like Earth, is evolving, has evolved over billions of years. Those hundreds of billions of galaxies each have hundreds of billions of stars; how could we think that we are the most significant form of life in the grand scheme of the universe? We happened to evolve on a planet that happens to be the perfect distance from the star it is orbiting, and the further away from our home planet our scope gets, the smaller we realize we are, relative to the infinitude of our existence. To believe that the force behind this never-ending reality and its natural processes enforces the morality of one intelligent species orbiting one star is extremely self-serving and narrow minded.

I prefer Albert Einstein's philosophy of religion. Einstein was a deeply religious person, reverent towards the arrangement of natural laws that govern the movements of celestial bodies and Earthly nature alike; to paraphrase, he described his religion as "veneration for this subtle, intangible, and inexplicable force beyond anything we can comprehend." When asked if he believed in God, Einstein replied, “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings” (Max Jammer: Einstein and Religion, Princeton University Press 1999, p. 49). Good and evil are strictly relative to human needs and desires, and the universe continues to churn whether we are present or not; "life flows on within you and without you," if I may. The viewpoint that the force that moves the stars judges our every action creates an environment of irrational fear and a debasement of humans' intellectual capacities.

This weekend I made the drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix and back. As will happen on most long drives in America, I came across a fair amount of Christian-influenced billboards, bumper stickers, and license plate holders: a representation of the marriage of mainstream organized religion in the United States and the commercialization that permeates every facet of the country (sorry to go all Peanuts). I saw a "God Speaks" billboard for the first time in a while: those all-black posters with white writing that are signed by God. The message on the billboard enforced the idea that God is just as annoyed with the human experience as humans are: something akin to this God Speaks advertisement, which reads, "Keep using my name in vain, I'll make rush hour longer. -God" (see right). I think that neither what language comes out of our mouths, nor the marginal time added to our commutes are a concern of God's (to repeat, I do not think "concerns" really figure into the deistic picture); furthermore, I would argue that this specific mental image of the supreme power does not leave room for higher human spiritual fulfillment; if a deity is sitting around for all time and making me slightly irritated at traffic congestion, simply because I said two or three specific words out of frustration or sleep-deprivation, then this deity should not be perceived as all-wise or all-powerful. Put in another way, the God of these billboards (I believe He has a sizable marketing and advertising budget) reinforces the anthropomorphic psychological deity, and I do not believe that a God who is simply a human in omniscient form leaves much allowance for spiritual evolution or transcendence to higher religious planes of being, experiences of which we are certainly capable.

Christianity, in my opinion, has the potential to be larger than its myths. I was raised Presbyterian, attending church every Sunday until the age of fourteen. I consider myself, at present, a relatively moral person - I enjoy helping people out, I try to turn the other cheek, I am not violent - and I credit the Christian environment for imprinting many of these feelings and intuitions unto me. What I do not fondly remember in my childhood experience is the acceptance of the myth-stories of the Bible at a literal level: using metaphors including heaven and hell and the virgin birth as truth, the veracity of miracles, tales of resurrection. I wish for the Christian populace to completely utilize the moral goodness of Jesus' message, while muffling the symbolic and mythological, turning these tales into background noise. My argument is that religious people do not need to accept the thaumaturgic as a precursor to either spiritual fruition or moral goodness; the powers of God can be much more subtle and completely inexplicable, as Einstein would have it, and we can still feel a veneration for the concept of life itself, without confusing ourselves into too narrow scopes of understanding.

1 comment:

  1. Will—
    From a completely fundamental standpoint I must say that I really enjoyed your posting and I respect your ability to write on such a controversial topic. The discussion that took place in class was evidence enough to the courage it takes to discuss such matters, and I believe that you handled yourself in a very mature way when you wrote this post.
    Mechanically, I was impressed by your excellent grip on the English language-particularly by your diverse vocabulary. Writing about religion often requires colorful diction, and words like “thaumaturgic” and “transcendence” illustrates your understanding of this requirement as well as your dedication to making yourself absolutely clear. Additionally, I was glad to see that you brought other philosophers and religious characters to your post, often citing their arguments in order to produce more of your own. This is another important facet of this type of discussion: beliefs are better understood when considered in light of other discussions.
    Personally, I was glad to see you address the notion of Christianity as a “parts” religion rather than a “whole” religion, as this is something I have considered myself. I admire the fact your integration of the moral aspects of Christianity while questioning others that make its followers feel guilty or scrutinized; I believe religion should be a positive, constructive philosophy rather than a restrictive and negative one. It was good to see you defend your position, both with citations and with asides that assured readers you were not simply attacking Christianity itself, but rather describing your own opinions. Again, due to the controversial nature of this discussion, it was important and commendable that you treated it with utmost care.
    As for constructive criticism, I believe that the aesthetics of your post may have benefited from more attention. For example, the pictures included in your post were somewhat large and made the second paragraph in particular appear off kilter. Additionally, from an academic standpoint, you might consider relying on Wikipedia less for examples important to your main discussion (the topic of peak experience) and more for those that are not “critical” (the Charlie Brown Christmas). Though I find Wikipedia informative and beneficial in that it explains difficult concepts quickly, I worry that others may find its use academically wanting.


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