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Saturday, December 13, 2014

God and our idols

Collectively and individually, we often attempt to create the God we want to worship. We construct an image in our minds of what we think God looks like, and we attribute to "Him" the personality traits that seem most appropriate to us. We do this in 2014, and the people of ancient Egypt and Babylon did it in times past. Moreover, it is clear that some of the people who contributed to the Judeo-Christian canon did the same thing. It is, therefore, the epitome of arrogance to suggest that the "Christian" conception of God (as if you could actually get Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses to agree on such a thing) is the true image of the Supreme God; or that other conceptions are somehow inferior to the one put forward by Christians.

"How can you say such a thing?" some of my Fundamentalist friends will ask. "Read your Bible!" is my answer. There are numerous scriptures that portray God as an angry, hateful, impatient, vindictive and cruel personage. There are many scriptures that have God zapping people in an angry outburst. Other scriptures suggest God's approval of genocide or have "Him" ordering "His" people to exterminate their enemies. In many of these scriptures, even babies and little children are not spared from God's wrath. It's like "Oh boy, now you've really pissed me off!"

Is God that much like us? Does "He" lose his temper and hold grudges like we do? Does God lash out at people who anger him? What about the scriptures who portray God as the epitome of love? What about those scriptures that attribute endless patience, compassion and mercy to "Him?" Aren't scriptures that portray God as being better than us more believable than those that identify "Him" with our basest tendencies?

Isaiah wrote: "To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him? Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold, overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?" (Isaiah 40:18-19) And, "'To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?' asks the Holy One. Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing." (verses 25-26) That's God on a cosmic level - not some petty tyrant ready to zap an errant human at a moment's whim! (That sounds more in line with the Greeks' conception of Zeus and his lightning bolts than it does with a God that would be worthy of everyone's worship)

Indeed, we could argue with some justification that one of the central themes of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is the admonition that all of us should strive to be more like God. In this respect, it might be instructive to consider the aims of other religious faiths to see if they contradict or comport with such an objective before we dismiss them or declare them to be in error. As an example, I found this statement at http://www.aboutbuddhism.org/what-is-buddhism.htm/ under the heading "What is Buddhism?": "Buddha explained that all our problems and suffering arise from confused and negative states of mind, and that all our happiness and good fortune arise from peaceful and positive states of mind. He taught methods for gradually overcoming our negative minds such as anger, jealousy and ignorance, and developing our positive minds such as love, compassion and wisdom. Through this we will come to experience lasting peace and happiness. These methods work for anyone, in any country, in any age. Once we have gained experience of them for ourselves we can pass them on to others so they too can enjoy the same benefits."

Maybe we should take a moment to evaluate our own conception of God. What does your idol look like? When you think of God, do you imagine something or someone that transcends yourself and the world around you? Or do you thing of someone who looks, thinks and acts like you? And, when you calmly consider such questions in this fashion, which version of God seems more plausible or probable to you?

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