By Amy Meyer
It is troubling to me when religion gets in the way of faith… so many debates about who God is… and who is qualified to interpret God’s wishes and rules for humans… and who is capable of “interceding” for us with God… and who decides.
Is God a man? Perhaps a benevolent old white man with a white beard? Or, would that be Santa Claus? Is God a woman? Or even a person? I don’t think so. I know the Bible says God created humans in “His” own image, but this sounds to me like anthropomorphism. God didn’t write the Bible anyway. With the exception of some female Roman Catholic saints, and a few small sect leaders like Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy, and Shaker Ann Lee, western religions are male-dominated, perhaps having been mainly interpreted by men? I don’t believe a loving God of all would be sexist!
Pope John Paul II was recently “fast-tracked” to sainthood… by God? Or by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church? Mother Teresa was fast-tracked a while ago by John Paul himself. I personally think Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King would make good saints… but they aren’t even Catholic, and I don’t get a vote.
I don’t mean to suggest that a particular religion or denomination is at fault… even King’s Chapel members, with our “freedom of pulpit and pew,” argue over “how Christian” is Christian enough; and should we adhere to the UCC rulebook or the UUA? Or both? Or neither?
I want to believe that the vast number of religious divisions through the ages, are well-intentioned attempts to understand and connect to the invisible and incomprehensible enormity which is God. But sadly, they often interfere… confusing faith in God with human control of a God story, and alienating many who are sincerely trying to figure out what is true.
To me God is a Higher Power or great spirit we can’t see or even visualize, incorporating the universe itself with all its mysteries from the big bang onward…. as well as all of us, and much more, all of Reality, and more… infinite love and light and hope. It might be more comfortable for humans if God weren’t beyond our human understanding, if God were more accessible, more like us, or more like our popular images, but then “He” probably wouldn’t really be God.
For Christians, Jesus is a link between humans and God, He being some of each. Catholics accord saints special powers to intercede with God on their behalf, and pray to them as well as to God. The Hebrew prophets; then Jesus, an illiterate Jewish carpenter who became the founder of Christianity; Mohammed, a poor orphaned camel boy, founder of Islam, are all thought… and embellished… by their followers to have possessed special powers to connect with God, and let us know what God wants of us.
But do intermediaries really help us connect to the unknowable infinite loving spirit which is God? I’m not sure. I understand the value of rituals and stories, helping develop our spirits by focusing our minds and hearts, opening ourselves to God as infinite and omnipotent. But further human efforts to define God seem to me not only inadequate, but counter-productive. As Ann Landers used to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
If there is one omnipotent God who made everything, who is bigger than the universe… then there is a basic contradiction in the fact that different religions visualize God so differently... how can the one true God in fact be Yahweh, a Jewish God; Allah, a Muslim God, a Christian God-man like Jesus, or even a blue elephant like the Hindu God Ganesh?
No one has ever convinced everyone else that a given belief system is correct. Yet many sects persist in proselytizing that their own beliefs are “right,” whether adhering literally to the Bible, as fundamentalists; allowing only male priests; or not drinking coffee, as the Mormons. Such rules reflect human desire for power, control, clarity… as do wars and intolerance in the name of religion down the centuries.
We are far from the universal harmony which we hope characterize the one loving God who made us all. Maybe it is harmless, or even positive, for humans to believe in God by different names… to appeal to humans via different idioms. Probably this makes belief easier for people who relate more easily to their “own” God, through their own rituals and traditions.
But what a contradiction! Faith is a hope in the unseen… we don’t really know who God is… and can’t know. God probably isn’t much like a person at all, but a force or spirit beyond the limitations of our human imaginations, an elusive form of perfection. To me trying to define God in easy human terms is actually an obstacle to faith.
God, who made the universe, and probably other universes beyond ours, can make lightning bolts, yet loves the tiny sparrow… can threaten humans preoccupied with our own power. How can we control even ourselves in the face of God’s omnipotence? How can we even compete effectively to get what we want in our human lives on earth… knowing that our mini-creations can be swept away like an elaborate sand castle when a wave hits? It is tempting to try to control God, our images of this great spirit… and to dictate what God wants us to do, and even who is “right,” to reduce the uncertainty inherent in faith.
But, a God who was concerned with whether I pray at the “right” church or temple or mosque, would be a “small” anthropomorphic God, rather than the all-powerful creator of the universe. I’ve never seen God or “known” God’s name, but I want to do my best to understand and comply with God’s will. This requires my asking God’s help and trying to understand it and do it as best I can, without overly complicated human interpretation through our many flawed human rules and filters.
Thank you God for every beautiful moment of life as You made it and share it with us. Amen.
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