God "Out There"?

The notion that God isn’t “out there” somewhere, but rather dwells in and among what I call the created order isn’t a new idea, despite the fact that it may seem very new to many within the confines of institutional Christianity. In fact, the idea that God is not removed from humanity is at least as old as the New Testament. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was among humanity. He also said that he was in God and God was in him – and that he was in his disciples and his disciples in him, which meant that God was in Jesus’ disciples and his disciples were in God. Institutional Christianity has never been comfortable with those ideas, most likely because it has recognized that if people really came to understand that they could access God without the need for the Church then the Church would lose it’s ability to control and manipulate the masses.

The notion of God dwelling within rather than far away is known as panentheism, or the notion that God is in everything, which is different from pantheism which says everything is God. In the middle of the last century theologians like Paul Tillich were writing that God is the Ground of All Being. The Church continued to teach that God was “out there,” floating beyond the clouds – even after both the Soviet and American space programs had been “out there” and found no trace of God. Can there be any question why people began to find the Church less and less relevant to their experience?

Even more damaging, institutional religion in all its forms continues to insist that their particular brand of religion is the only true religion, that members of other religions must be converted at any cost, and that those who refuse to be converted must either be ostracized or eliminated because they belong to a mythological character called the devil. Of course, different religions have different names for the devil, but the fiction of the devil is perhaps even more common and celebrated in religious traditions that the truth of a God is! The vast majority of the wars of history have had as at least a contributing cause, if not the primary cause, religion – this despite the fact that no honest reading of any major religion can justify such actions.

The truth is that the major problem confronting humanity in the west today – perhaps the only authentic “original sin” – is selfishness. Selfishness causes us to be willing to get ahead by stepping on the backs of others – killing them, if necessary – so that we might climb one rung up on the ladder of success. Statements and teachings encouraging mutual understanding and compassion are mocked, and people are more than ready to come up with the most absurd justifications for ignoring the moral imperative present in every religious tradition to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. We have retreated to a tribalism that is even more potentially destructive than the tribalism that led the Hebrew people to rape and pillage their was into the land of Canaan – more destructive because our journey through the wilderness into the promised land is one we make carrying nuclear weapons. There’s no little irony that the religious voices that support such tribalism are the very voices which claim to be loyal to God by being loyal to a book, which is not unlike being loyal to your auto mechanic by declaring the yellow pages to be infallible and inerrant.

I believe the time has come when we simply need to step away from the debates in which conservative, institutional, religious voices would seek to engage us. If you see the Bible in a way that massively distorts its meaning and intention then we have nothing to discuss. The world is moving forward, and responsible spiritual leaders must be lifted up to teach the important lessons of compassion, service, love, and the interconnectedness of everything, because such spiritual lessons are essential to our survival as a planet. There will always be those who seek to side track this important work by wanting to debate “biblical truths” such as Psalm 75:3, which says the Earth is flat and supported by four pillars. I leave them to their arguments and certainly honor their right to waste their time with a pre-scientific world view if that is what blows their skirts back. What I am no longer willing to do is waste my time debating such nonsense, because there is much to be accomplished that is a far better use of my time, energy, and talents.

The truth is that God does love all people. How can I be so sure? I am so sure of that truth because God dwells in all people, and a self-loathing God would be no God at all. God also loves all things for the same reason, which means that we have a responsibility toward our environment that is a spiritual responsibility and a spiritual imperative. Because God dwells in everything and everybody we have an obligation to ensure that human beings everywhere have enough to eat, a proper education, adequate clothing and shelter, and adequate medical care. If that means that those of us privileged to live in the wealthy west need to make due with less, then so be it. One simply cannot watch another living creature suffer and not take action while at the same time claiming with any truth or validity to be a spiritual or religious person. If anybody wonders how to fund this, the answer is clear – cut defense spending.

We live in a world in which most of humanity has allowed politicians and the defense industry to create a climate of fear so that they can manipulate and control humanity. How ironic is it that those are the same tactics used by institutional religion toward the same end? We have the ability to feed the world. What sane person is going to attack the system that feeds them? We can also provide medical care and adequate shelter to the world. All that is required is the decision to do so and the courage to carry it out. Those who resist such efforts must be honest and admit that they are simply to selfish to try. There would be some integrity in that honesty, if not in the decision to fail to act.

It isn’t hard. It doesn’t require complicated theologies. It merely requires an honest assessment of who God is and where God is, followed by the courage to act on the knowledge gained. Will we have the courage?

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