Houston, we have a God problem. Seriously. Far too many people are carrying an image of God not unlike the one below. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such an image, but it is extremely limited and in a modern context affords a number of problems – not the least of which is that God has terrible posture and two naked boys under his butt.
Even more surprising than the fact that many Christians still hold to this God-of-white-privilege (who more resembles Leif Erickson than Divinity) is the fact that so many people outside of Christianity use this image of God to discredit all of Christianity. I understand that it’s easy to use this image of God to accomplish your goal, but doing so shows all of the insight and ethics of a politician. This, after all, is the God of slavery, genocide, misogyny, rape, pillaging, fratricide, concubinage, racism, and a host of other social ills than human beings have projected onto their deity.
Do we remain both so petty and so egocentric that we cannot imagine a Ground of Being larger than ourselves?
Are we so morally retarded that the only thing that will keep us well-behaved is the threat of punishment?
Most importantly, are we so mistrusting of our own powers of reason that we remain willing to ignore them in favor of the reasoning of people who died two to four millennia ago?
One of the things that attracted me to Anglicanism when I went on my search for a spiritual home in my twenties was the belief that all good human qualities are from God. If we are positing a divine source that contains all good, there couldn’t be any good quality in humans that God wouldn’t also have. The ability to reason is without doubt a good quality. This led early Anglicans to create what is known as the three-legged stool from which to proceed – scripture, tradition, and reason. This, coupled with the perspective of the middle way, resonated deeply within me. Who among us hasn’t recognized that the truth is always somewhere in the middle rather than at extremes?
Perhaps the most important job for the current spiritual revolution and evolution for followers of Jesus is re-visioning God. The God of tribalism, who made perfect sense to and for people living in a tribal period of history, must be abandoned – not because that God was wrong, but because we were wrong about who God was! The idea, for example, that God wants anything other than peace is obscene. The God who would have us take sides in an Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than work for a peaceful resolution to that conflict is no God at all. The God who told George W. Bush to launch two wars was his own ego masquerading as divinity. The God who tells any politician or any person to ignore the plight of the poor is greed masquerading as God.
This “no God at all” is unfortunately the image that most of those outside of Christianity have of the Christian God, doubtless because this is the God who is proclaimed loudly by the Christian bullies of the world. My experience is that when I hear people from other traditions, including atheists, describe the God they cannot believe in as if it was the Christian God I am in complete agreement with them. I can’t believe in that God either, largely because I have evolved beyond the notion of a theistic (embodied, corporeal) God to a non-theistic understanding of what Paul Tillich called the Ground of Being. I recognize that science and spirituality are complementary and do not seek to answer the same questions about the world we live in. Science wants to know how things happen, while spirituality wants to know why they happen. To hold to one while throwing out the other is nothing less than foolishness.
Consider for a moment that even the most die-hard atheist is overwhelmed at the birth of their child or grandchild. It’s a feeling that an understanding of the biology behind the child’s appearance can’t dampen. Looking at a sunset or a rainbow, something impacts us that is beyond science. The same is true for a beautiful symphony. Can science really explain the effect of art upon our spirit? Does knowing how long it takes the light from a star to reach our eyes really change the beauty of a cloudless, starry night sky? In all these things and more, I find God – and it doesn’t look anything like Leif Erickson!