Monday, June 30, 2008

What Have We Done To "God" ?

Generally speaking humankind seems to have a desire to have a Supreme Being, a Creator of the Universe. This would seem to bear some implications for His attributes, the size and scope of the creation. All the stars we can and cannot see down to the subatomic particles making up all of that creation infer a huge act of creation, something well beyond the scope of human concrete conception. We can blithely speak of millions of light years, but our reality is much more constrained, we look at an ocean and know it is larger than what we see, but our conception is limited to "a lot of water," estimates regarding the gallons of that ocean could be made, but there is again a limit to our ability to conceive, we know what a gallon is, but after a certain number it exceeds our ability. This limitation of concept is important, it puts God in a realm beyond our capacity to deal with in concrete conceptual terms. Religion fills this gap.

Religion acts as an interpreter and conduit between limited humanity and the Creator of the Universe. This is accomplished through rules of conduct and rituals of contact and it is here that difficulties ensue. Religions depend on intermediaries such as Jesus, Mohammad, Prophets, Popes, etc. to write the rules and rituals, these intermediaries are the voice of God or the hand of God, divinely inspired. The difficulty is that these are also humans, using human language and concepts, with all the limitations involved in being human.

Words are human derived concepts, love means what it means in human terms, this is not necessarily a universal concept, nor is it even universal amongst humans. But we apply these human concepts to the creator of a universe as though our conceptual framework is somehow applicable to the entire universe. In this process we get to statements such as "I am a jealous God," a phrase that with God replaced with your own relationship definition, ie: husband, friend, etc. would place you in an unattractive category. Behaviors are rewarded or punished by the Lawmaker. There grows from this a certain narrowness and even meanness of behavior on the part of God. Only certain specific intermediaries offer salvation or other rewards.

Ancient religions endowed their gods with very human attributes and some really childish behavior at times and some current religions continue the practice in very nearly the same form. The more modern versions of gods seem a bit more adult in behavior but still reflect very human methods and rationals. The teachings of Christ himself, as quoted, were a huge advance in kindness and concern for our fellows but the New Testament as a whole reflects attitudes of a god much less oriented in that. The figure of Christ is very nearly other worldly and yet the God is very reflective of the world.

The apparent reason for various iterations of God to have such a close resemblance to ourselves rather than the Universe is that limit of comprehension of the very large we face. A personal god that steps out of our reach becomes something other than personal, in fact becomes unfathomable. While the greatness of god or gods has long required intermediaries, this role becomes meaningless if the intermediaries try to present something beyond comprehension, something where gibberish may as well replace words. Science has created huge problems in this respect, not with things like evolutionary theory that bother so many, with elements of scale. Gods remained pretty much within grasp when the stars were lights in the sky and very small was something you could hold in your hand and see, when something near the scale of creation came to have definition, gods began to skid badly.

Today we have some idea of what the Universe is about and some idea of its scales of very large and very small and gods haven't kept up. Our gods still have to speak to us in terms we can understand but we have an idea of the disconnect between that and the scales. This disconnect isn't just felt by the scientific community, little children know about the concept of light years thanks to sci-fi shows and microscopes are commonly understood. At some interior reach this touches chords that may not be fully recognized but still are vibrating away.

Here we are in a modern enough world that ignorance of these things is scarce and yet fundamentalism is rising. The absolute word of various Books is law and sacred and irreproachable. The gods become more rigid and more human in behavior, it is seriously postulated that a Christian God smashed an entire city to punish a few libertines. We would chastise a 5 year old for similar behavior on the same motivation. I only use this Christian example as one generally familiar to my readers, there are plenty of other examples and not nearly enough time? How can this be so?

When a matter of faith collides rather spectacularly with fact something must give. It is horridly difficult for either faith or fact to be dispensed with entirely but something still must give. What gives is that piece of us called critical thinking. God must coexist with reality so therefor rather than modify God to fit, God simply becomes more rigidly defined and locked in place in defiance of the forces pushing for change. Even when there is no action taken against a God he is perceived as under attack. God is under attack, but not from external forces, the Devil in this case is internal, the battle between awareness and faith. Faith demands that the God of the Books continues to exist as defined in those books and reality keeps demanding something more to deal with those scales of existence.

There certainly are religious approaches that attempt to deal with this, they are frequently referred to as liberal theology, but their adherents still face that scale problem as they attempt to hew to the Books. The Books become more subject to interpretation as allegories and advanced understandings of evolving meanings. This loosening of the bonds has consequences as larger and larger portions of the Books become optional or reinterpreted. One consequence is that the sects of the same Book become almost unable to communicate within that framework and anger and distrust is engendered.

As some sects become more liberal the more conservative or fundamental become more so in response to the apostates. The feeling of being under attack is increased by the betrayal by their fellows and a hardening of position ensues. Government is increasingly looked to as a protector and advocate. A tightening of ranks occurs, the not like us are increasingly despised and denigrated. Threats are seen everywhere and the god must be strengthened, both by his followers and in himself, he must be dangerous to oppose.

This is scarcely the first period in history to go through such upheavals. The historical record is full of examples and when they are closely examined large social and scientific changes were occurring. Gods and religions that very much should have been of salutatory effect on their followers became instead agents of harm. Pick the time and the god, what he became was one angry mean son of bitch. Not a god I care for.

5 comments:

Photoman said...

If there is a Creator, then the Creator, not the Created sets the rules. The car doesn't tell the mechanic what color it is to be painted.

"Religion acts as an interpreter and conduit between limited humanity and the Creator of the Universe. This is accomplished through rules of conduct and rituals of contact and it is here that difficulties ensue. Religions depend on intermediaries such as Jesus, Mohammad, Prophets, Popes, etc. to write the rules and rituals, these intermediaries are the voice of God or the hand of God, divinely inspired. The difficulty is that these are also humans, using human language and concepts, with all the limitations involved in being human."

This is all quite true except for one glaring exception, Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the Creator. Given that, it becomes our task to decide whether we believe him or not.

KISS said...

The belief in a god is universal and whatever flavor you choose is the religion that will prevail, extremist or moderate. At least the god of fire made sense, in that the fire cooked your food and kept you warm..direct benefit.Unlike the esoteric god that is prayed to with limited degrees of accomplishment.
Best said ""Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes" and is often referred to as " Religion is the opiate of the people". Like all countries Amerika uses that opiate by politicians and corporation to quell thinking and benefit the power structure. With hoodlums like Baker, Dobbson, Robertson, Graham and their ilk there is no room to ridicule the Islams.
Pogo was right, paraphrasing: "We found the enemy and it is us"

Dexter said...

Interesting article with lots to think about. I have a Ph.D. in the sciences, teach evolution, and consider myself a Christian. He came to take away my sins, not my brains. I have to say, I do not think Graham the elder belongs in the same group with the others. There's a potful that could be said, but it is a sunny day, so enough

Chuck Butcher said...

Please everybody keep in mind that the article was written as generically as possible, it is not my purpose to attack anyone's religon. You will note that I don't do more than ask people to think about it.

Zak Johnson said...

You're right that the process of fragmentation has been going on for a long time. The overlap of stories and ethics makes it pretty clear that Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism are all of the same tradition, basically sects of each other. This is recognized in the term "people of the book" which Muslims use to describe those four religions, all of which are technically acceptable or at least to be tolerated. But in practice the meaning, subtle variations, and interpretation of "that book," whatever it may be, have led to disagreements almost as violent and, ultimately, as pointless as those seen in the debate of texts by the angry sectarians of university English departments.