14/4/2006

My God

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:50 am

I like these lyrics:

If I should find myself in blackest night,
and fear is stabbin’ me all over,
a tiny prayer cracks the dark with light,
and I hear sounds behind my wall.
Inside, a still small voice, it calls and calls.
Then like a thunder bolt it falls and falls:
My God

When life becomes more real than children’s games,
or we’ve become too old to play them,
We’ll grow old gracefully,
we’ll hide our shame.
but there’s that voice behind the wall.
And like my conscience, it is still and small.
Each word is mercy, protects us all:
My God

Know who wrote them? Alice Cooper.

It seems as though the few posts over the past couple of weeks about Bible interpretation and other issues have left some of my friends wondering what is left of Christianity if we do away with a very strict Biblical literalism. For example, if we assume that there was death before Eden and the Fall, does that mean that eternal life is a myth too? I don’t think it’s necessarily so, and that theme is getting explored in the earlier post about death.

A couple of final comments on the interpretation thing and some of what is around it, and then some consequences of that for who God is to me and how I (tentatively) understand faith.

  1. The fixation on a text-derived religion derived from a single text is not something I can continue to subscribe to. I believe we see God in the natural world around us, in other people, in those we love, and in other faith traditions and ethical ideas. The Bible is one important revelation of God, but to privilege it and use it to the exclusion of all the other ways we can learn of God is to fall into a form of idolatry, making the text the god rather than allowing God to be God.
  2. That position does have consequences for doctrines – like recent creationism – that are erected in defiance of other kinds of evidence, and on very carefully developed (and, I have argued here, misunderstood) textual justifications. It means that there are other tests of the justice, mercy and power of doctrines and ideas than the use of ‘proof texts’ from scripture.
  3. No-one should pretend that they follow literally everything in scripture anyway. In how many Christian churches do you see animal sacrifice? OK, so maybe that changed in the new testament. What about women not speaking, and with their heads covered in church? Every church picks and chooses which bits of the text it will apply and which bits it will ignore, so the claim that every word is to be literally followed breaks down in practice in every case. And that’s a good thing: no stoning for a whole range of crimes and sins.

I realise that what I’ve said here places me outside the mainstream of Christianity, at least as it is practiced in the West today. That’s not such a bad place to be, but I’m still a Christian, a follower of Jesus and Jesus’ teaching, and I still believe the Bible has value and teaches us how to live and how to find salvation and live as part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

But I realise that things like the attitude of some of the Bible writers to homosexuality and toward women and their role are things that arise out of particular cultures at particular times, not universal rules that require repression and intolerance as part of faith.

To me, God is an infinite reservoir of love, that I can draw on when my own stores are too shallow (which is pretty much all the time) and reflect onward to everyone around me. God is the Creator: but I don’t understand the specific creative techniques God used and is using in an on-going way.

God is not an old white man with a long beard a long way off. God is infinite and contains the universe, and is throughout it, everywhere, all the time. God contains all possibilities of gender and race and culture and age and an infinity of other things besides. God is the ultimate reality… and is wild and alien, and will not sit still to fit into the tiny, cramped boxes we try to cram God into.

11 responses to “My God”

  1. Cam says:

    As long as, in the end, God is safe, comfortable, non-challenging,
    has no expectations of His followers, has not provided us with a
    text specific life manual, and will not write our names in one
    of two books when we and our childen die…
    Alice Cooper’s mate, the devil, would agree with all that too,
    it’s been his line for ages.

  2. Bravus says:

    Au contraire, my God is *more* challenging. Check out Saturday’s post. (And I’m not quite sure where you’re channeling in the view of God you describe from, but I don’t think it’s from what I wrote, except perhaps by omission.)

    God has massive expectations of his followers – but Christians are massively confused about them. Hassling gays is low, serving the poor is high on God’s priority list. Check out the parable of the sheep and the goats.

  3. Sirdar says:

    “But I realize that things like the attitude of some of the Bible writers to homosexuality and toward women and their role are things that arise out of particular cultures at particular times, not universal rules that require repression and intolerance as part of faith.”

    You know…reading the bible, I feel the bible doesn’t really give that much leeway toward such “social” issues. One of my biggest complaints is that “man” has changed the context of what the bible says….and especially “western” man. If it doesn’t suit his own agenda then the bible gets challenged. Well…maybe the bible doesn’t get challenged but the wording in it does. A lot of people have read the parts where the bible talks about homosexuality. If your social agenda agrees with the bible then it is right and you are labled a “racist” or worse. If your social agenda disagrees with the bible then they challenge the bible wording and say it doesn’t say what it looks like it says and they are labled a “liberalist” or worse. Too much challenging cheapens the scriptures and pretty much all of it becomes challenged to the point that it makes the bible irrelevant.

  4. Bravus says:

    OK, so you’re saying we *should* be beating people to death with rocks much more often? For breaking the Sabbath, cursing their father or mother, owning an ox that gores someone, adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, approaching the sanctuary, worshipping the wrong god, … That’s what the Bible calls for. Or is that to be interpreted away? And if that, then why not what it says about homosexuality? You see my point here? The absolute literalist position is not sustainable.

  5. Marshdrifter says:

    Alice Cooper is a very intelligent and (surprisingly enough) devout individual. It’s one of his great secrets. He’s a PK and still regularly worships at a Lutheran church in Arizona (where he lives). Of course, Lutherans, being as square as they are, have no idea who he is. 🙂

    God as an old man:
    “He wasn’t white and fluffy; he just had sideburns.”

    A few of my views on religion (related to many of your recent posts, not just this one):

    1) Miracles are supernatural, paranormal and any other word you can come up with to describe events that fall outside the norm. As build some form of learning that allows us to do repeatable things, such as dependably keep airplanes in the sky, we need to assume a certain level of repeatable normality based on our observation. Assuming that it’s true that God can do anything he pleases, physics be damned, we still can’t depend upon that when advancing our understanding of the universe. We’re observing the observable normality of the universe. That’s what we (scientists & lay people alike) rely upon when we research such things as evolution. Sure God could’ve done anything, but we can only work with the observable and testable data available to us.

    Because miracles are outside the norm, I suggest that they are relatively rare. As such, what is observable is more likely to be the case than an unobservable exception would be.

    2. Scientists obviously don’t have everything, including evolution, all figured out. If they did, we obviously wouldn’t need them any more.

    3. In order to understand a particular religion, it is important to understand the culture that religion is originally associated with. Failing to take into certain cultural aspects can lead to a dramatic mis-interpretation of any religious texts and oral traditions.

    Not all cultures use metaphor the same way and they certainly don’t use metaphorical symbolism the same way. Interpretations of a translation of a text for a religion whose historical and cultural context you’re unfamiliar with is little more than Rorschach test.

    A good example of this is the Adam and Eve story. I see strong Buddhist influence in the Adam and Eve story. I don’t see it as a story of sin and expulsion from paradise, but in a Buddhist framework where the expulsion from paradise is metaphorical for the fall from enlightenment that would’ve accompanied an increase in self-awareness (tree of knowledge?). That said, I have an obvious Buddhist bias and there’s not necessarily any recordable Buddhist influence into the Middle East until Alexander’s great campaign. Now the Gnostics, otoh… 😉

    4. Most of the religion I’ve seen practiced in the US (including both Christianity and Buddhism) are largely folk religions. They are often not passed down with the official texts (and associated cultural data as in #3), but are instead taught through obfuscated methods (e.g., using Latin for the services even though none of the parishioners understand that language). Likewise, using the Rorschach example, people will often make up their minds and find the appropriate evidence to fit their model. In science, this is considered bad science. In religion, it’s more open to debate. Sometimes you’re cast out (where you can build your own church). Sometimes it’s accepted.

    5. All religions are equally valid. We all have our favorite religions. They’re all equally ridiculous and untestable. There’s nothing to say we couldn’t keep believing what we believe. OTOH, we should be willing to allow others to believe what they believe without imposing our religious will upon them.

    Um… I think that’s all, for now.

  6. Bravus says:

    Thanks Marsh, that’s great. I think I’ll get to sit down for a chat with you in a couple of weeks, too, which will be cool.

  7. Marshdrifter says:

    That should be “shouldn’t keep believing” in #5.

    6? Religions are inherently political. Given that religion establishes a framework of values and decision-making (see the excellent structuralist argument by Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon), it is impossible to not incorporate it in your decisions, including those as a leader. There is, however, a difference between citing a religion as the authority and just using the structural guidelines formed by the religion in making that decision.

  8. Marshdrifter says:

    Yes. Coffee house talkin’! Or dinner or something.

  9. Sirdar says:

    “OK, so you’re saying we *should* be beating people to death with rocks much more often? For breaking the Sabbath, cursing their father or mother, owning an ox that gores someone, adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, approaching the sanctuary, worshipping the wrong god, … That’s what the Bible calls for.”

    Your right…that is what the bible calls for. Do I think that way? No. What I am saying is that people read that and then make the wording say what they want it to say. They ignore what the bible says and then belive what the “feel” it “should” mean. I call it hypocracy. Thus why I won’t be a Christian. Thus why you have labeled me “agnostic”. If that is the God that everyone wants me to follow, then count me out.

    On another note, the people of the Middle East still to some point practice what they preach. Is it right in the ‘western’ eyes? No. Is it right in their eyes? I don’t know. I’m not Bravus!! 🙂

  10. Marshdrifter says:

    Sirdar, why do you think that religions can’t be or shouldn’t be mutable? Wasn’t that the point of the New Testament; that God sent his only son to announce a change in the TOS?

  11. Sirdar Inc. says:

    Marshdrifter,
    While I agree that the New Testament allegedly changed a lot of the old Testament issues, I never thought of it as being mutable. Maybe I don’t really believe the New Testament is what people believe it to be. I find it odd that the old testament is all “follow me or else” and the new testament is not. I sometimes wonder if the new testament (NT) is really just a story to get more people to follow the church as they were losing followers. Maybe the NT is to show a different, less forcefull God so that people will follow. I don’t trust churches that much and especially the Roman Catholic church. It also makes me wonder why the Jews do not believe that Jesus has/had come to this world considering they are supposed to be the “chosen ones”. I don’t know why but I bet Bravus does as he studies religion and other religions beyond his own beliefs.

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