Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is God for Real?

Making sense out of the nonsense

Over the last 6 six weeks, I’ve attended the Alpha Course. Basically it’s an excellent introduction to Christianity. In exchange for attendance, the prospective Christian gets to meet the local community and imbibe a three course dinner once a week. So, have I learnt anything? Yes! I’ve learn that it is vital that all people connect themselves to the local community, and by implication, give up their hyper individualism.

Aplha is a dated set of DVD’s presented by the charmingly articulate and intelligent Englishman Nicky Gumbel (an ex-barrister). Alpha is very affirming and positive and Gumbel’s analogies are always constructive, and often humorous. Even if you’re not a Christian, his ‘take’ is worth noting.
Christians will argue with this position, naturally. They will say there are many ways to go to heaven, to be saved, as long as it is through Jesus. The idea is that we are born into sin, so basically you’re indebted from the word go, and God, like a benign bank manager, will bail you out of your bankruptcy once you’ve made the appropriate declarations. Really?

This concept makes sense to some Christians; who believe that God is pulling all the strings (you can ask God to organize you parking, give you a nice day, and give your team victory over another). But it becomes difficult to reconcile this ‘reality’ when you start to imagine more than one person praying the same wallowing prayer: “Help me. Give Me. Save Me.” Bruce Almighty found himself in the selfsame predicament.

Flight 93 provides another succinct analogy for how ridiculous our thinking (or lack of thinking) can be: the airplane is in a terminal nosedive and the suicidal hijacker is praying, shouting desperately to Allah, while behind him all the passengers are praying, screaming to God. The airplane nevertheless slams into a Pennsylvania field, killing Christian and Muslim alike.

But the power of prayer, while we’re still making up our minds what to do, and who we intend to be, can’t be dismissed. Prayer is very effective in bringing about specific manifestations in reality. It’s important for people to meditate in a deep, quiet place, on those things of the universe that are important to Being. The act of prayer also does a great deal to reset our paradigms; we are placed once more into the clockwork of the universe, and we’re able to measure our respect for ourselves and others in the world. This is a vitally important practice.

Whereas Christians believe prayer to be a conversation with God, they also concede that it is the person praying who changes, not God. This is interesting, because it presupposes a scenario in which God does not need to do anything. The onus is on the ardent praying person to recognize what needs to change, and take action accordingly.

Those Christians who profess to ‘hear’ God speaking to them actually mean that they read particular verses (even a number of corresponding verses) and then develop a strong response to these messages. Others will describe God’s voice as a ‘feeling’, and often, especially in conversations Christians have with one another, God’s thoughts seem interchangeable with their own. But God’s voice is really man’s voice, and man – whether well or ill-intentioned – gets what he needs done through leveraging the persona of God.

An example: I was in a massive Baptist Church building earlier this year and listened to the pastor (who happened to be blind) saying: “God will provide the poor with food.” It all sounded wonderful, except that this statement required an addendum: “If God speaks to your heart, please respond with tins of food, whatever you’re led to bring.” George W. did the same thing to mobilize his army into Iraq. People understood the move as “God’s work’ and ‘God’s will’. God of course had nothing to do with it, except that when enough people consented to ‘God’s will’, it became God’s will. That’s what faith en mass does.

Thus God’s actions are our actions. This is the reality of the world; it is not the narrow definition of a Christian God, or a Jewish God, or any other God. That God exists there is no doubt. Even Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s foremost intellectuals, would probably agree that the idea of ‘God’ is interchangeable with ‘all that is’. And yes, even you, and even I, contribute to this Isness that is all around us, being created in the present moment.

But is this Isness a God with a personality, an identity, or is the Isness less personal? The answer depends entirely on you. It’s the same answer to this question: what is the meaning of life? No one can provide you with the answer, that’s your domain, for you will someday find yourself pondering the meaning (or lack of) in your own life, and then it is you, and you alone who needs to develop a Life Appropriate and Life Specific response.

The same is true of God. How did God come about? A great way to begin to answer all the most fundamental questions: birth, death, the afterlife, love and God, is to look at powerful firsthand experience. What, really, is your experience of God? Well, that’s what God is for you.

Is there life after death? It’s a question a lot like this one: when you’re sleeping are you awake? Ultimately of course, the question ought to answer itself. In the conventional wisdom of the world, sleep is sleep, and being awake – being conscious – is being awake. So to wonder, as we do, and as we must, about life after death, we are really coming to the core of what we believe.

If Christians really believed that paradise waited for them, why would they and their families endure the burdens of life and work? Why not go there immediately? It may seem like an absurd question, but it isn’t. Fundamentalist Christianity is really taking the bible at its word, and if we did, homosexuals would be jailed or worse, adulterers put to death, and infidels slaughtered on the battlefield.

But many Christians focus on the warm fuzzy stuff in the bible. They say to ‘love one another’ is what the bible is all about. If our idea of the world and God is Isness, then being nice towards one another certainly isn’t a bad idea. Do we need God to tell us what is self-evident: treat people nicely because the world has a way of paying you back for all your misdeeds. This is basic reality.

One argument that is almost never raised when non-Christians converse with Christians is this one: Why would an all-Powerful God have to resort to an elaborate drama that is the life and times of Jesus Christ? To put this into pure and simple terms: if you have a child that has misbehaved (because you said so), would it really be necessary to slaughter someone that is very close to you (as a substitute for yourself) as a way to say, “Okay, I forgive you, everything is fine.”

Is it so hard for human beings to imagine that things are as simple as they seem? Death is the thing that ought to make us think a few times before we do the things we do? We ought to drive more carefully, exercise, treat others well, because after this life, it’s over.

The idea of a second chance, rewards and paradise (effectively for doing nothing but having faith) is the delusion that will doom our civilization. The ‘something-for-nothing’ psychology is an unnatural and insidious deception that most people somehow accept as true. We wish to be celebrities based on our appearance, or win the lottery, or find the perfect partner; forgetting that chance governs a small subset of the universe. Work and deeds governs most of reality.

The idea that each of us (separately and as a collective) are responsible for creating the Isness, is how we save each other and ourselves. Reality is our choice, and each and every day we have a chance to make new choices. Do we accept or reject what is self evident? That’s the choice God has left to us, whatever we may believe.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick
Thought provoking article. One line, in particular,caught my attention-if paradise waits,why not go there immediately -after all, we dont have to earn redemption cos our sins have already been paid for.Ultimately it is the power/energy ( of which we are all part ) of the universe, that counts.D

Nick said...

So you're not catching a plane to Thailand any time soon?-) Actually, have you seen what happened in Phuket recently. Might be a Paradise Lost...there's alweays the Philippines.