Friday, August 7, 2009

Face of God

Tell me how you see your god, and I'll tell you who you are. The Bible and Q'uran are both inherently interpretive by nature, as is the Talmud. There's a reason each of these faiths - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - has different sects, with different practices and rules, and different interpretations of their holy text. My grandmother was a narcissist. Her god was petty and jealous, spiteful and vengeful - a tyrant like her, and I think that's how I saw god as a very young child.

As a child you have the god of your parents, the only god you've yet conceived of. But as you grow and learn and expand into your own person more each day, your view of god begins to take on some of your own nature. As a child I saw a god who cared about the starving and cold children I saw on TV commercials. As a child my god was a Republican god - focused on the Bible, Southern heritage, states rights, and the protection of unborn children. My fourth grade class went down to the media center so that we could watch Bill Clinton's inauguration live. I cried tiny little Republican tears, convinced that we were - officially - in a handbasket headed for hell. As I grew into more of my own person, and less a replica of my upbringing, my views changed and my god did with them.

As a freshman, I participated in letter writing campaigns, joined Amnesty International, signed petitions to get the school board to provide a vegetarian lunch option, and participated in a silent in-school protest to get the principal to allow us to form a student Gay-Straight Alliance (we won). My god became liberal, permissive, progressive - kind of a hippie, which was great because I spent most of high school stoned. My favorite book of the Bible went from being Deuteronomy 28 to Ephesians 2, from "I will curse you as you go in, and curse you as you go out" to "By grace ye are saved, not by works, lest no man shall boast".

Grace instead of the Law? It sounded great and besides, I had to rebel against the Law, against my childhood. Alexander* died my sophomore year. Samuel died a few months later. And Marie* was battling breast cancer the whole time, and I took it hard. I had to get away from that, but my whole world, my mind was black-and-white. So when I knew I didn't want that, I just did the opposite.

I wanted to please god, but I was terrified of having a coerced relationship with him, of him being that domineering parent or abusive boyfriend. I didn't know how to describe this almost commitment-phobia I had with god. I knew I wasn't allowed to ever leave him. There would be grave consequences if I did. So I tried to stay in this relationship, that felt like the worst power-imbalance imaginable (all-powerful ancient diety vs. scared, confused, hormonal teen girl) and tried to exert my independence, make my small bids from freedom, at the same time. It was horribly conflicting. I didn't don't know what I wanted, so I tried to have it all.

As an early adult, I tried to see god in nature - in the crash of the surf off the coast of Florida as I drove down the A1A by starlight; in the cool, fat raindrops that I tried so hard to believe were some communication from Him; and in warmth of the sun against my skin, that I thought of as god's kiss to me. We had a distant relationship. I still unquestioningly thought that god was good, but we weren't close. I reached out, but I never heard back from him. It was a very spiritually lonely time in my life.

I taught Sunday School. I remember spending the night of February 13th the year I was twenty writing twelve copies of 1 Corianthaisn 13 in calligraphy, while I had a pint at the bar. I taught the middle schoolers. I loved that group. I remember telling people that those kids were in my favorite age group for Sunday School because they were starting to ask questions and form their own opinions and religious identity. It's possible I was a wee bit subversive as a teacher, but it was never my intention. I just wanted it to be true that you could live a full, fun secular life and still claim a personal relationship with Jesus.

There are so many Christians all around us. Some you come to find really aren't much more than deists who believe there's some guy in the sky. Some are of Fred Phelps' ilk. Or Pat Robertson. Or Pat Buchannan. Or Billy Graham. Or James Dobson. Or the two new openly gay bishops of the episopal church. But I think you'll find that people create for themselves a god which seems most good to them. Only a magical-thinking mentally-ill narcissist like my grandmother would choose to worship a god like the one she described. Likewise fire-and-brimstone types would want nothing to do with the Hippie Jesus god of my high school years. The way soemone sees god says more about their own character than it does about their god's, or the religion as a whole, or their holy text. Does the Christian choose as the verse to follow "an eye for an eye" or does he "turn the other cheek"?

During my final years of faith, I started to read the Bible more earnestly. I don't think I've ever been able to make myself keep at a daily devotion for longer than three months, until this past year as an atheist. I never went more than 6 months before I started trying to keep myself on schedule for a devotional yet again. A bought one of those "Bible in a year" study books and a bible with 365 portions, with each day having a reading from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Pslams, and one verse from Proverbs. I knew what god said about being lukewarm, and I wanted to really commit myself to God. And it was the first time in my life that I realized my god and I shared no values. The Bible was full of nonsense, lies, and violence. The book goes on and on and on about how to assemble the tents and curtains and bronze oil basins of the ancient temple. And not one word against rape, or owning slaves. Again, I was trying to reach out to god, but no one answered my call.

Of course I don't believe in god anymore (it would be rather disingenious to run an Anti-Theist website if I did), but I still think that the way a theist describes their god says something. My mom thinks god is merciful, because she values mercy. My godmother believed god was colorblind, because she honestly couldn't understand why people didn't know that her white natural-born daughter and black adopted son were siblings (it was so *obvious* to her). My grandmother believed god was a vengeful task master, because she was vindictive and cruel. Her god was the god of Abraham, and he was a monster, just like her.

Totally side note but my mom just called and we exchanged Dawkins quotes for CS Lewis. Hmmm, tell me who your apologist is and I'll tell you who you are?


  1. I think it is very true that most people tend to put their own personal touches on their gods in order to make them more real. Of course this practice has been around forever. The Greek and Roman gods were quite obviously humanistic: they got jealous, they had fights, they slept around, etc. I find it quite hypocritical when Christians use the Bible to rail against homosexuality or abortion, but then turn around and have their own, personalized version of god which doesn't fit with what the Bible says at all. I think all this does it to tell us something about basic human nature. As a child, most people think about their heroes and personalize them, likening their heroes to themselves. It is a comfort thing which indicates that human beings tend to project their own ideals and qualities onto others. For what purpose, I am not sure. It may be in order to gain self esteem, or as a way to strengthen the connection between ourselves and others. Regardless of purpose, I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing. It is something that we need to be aware of, and not take for granted when dealing with issues as serious and important as religion.

  2. Jews and Tana’’kh don’t support slavery – the opposite (I can give you a book reference if you are interested to read). You should love your neighbour as yourself, therefore a person practising Judaism is totally forbidden to have sex with another person of the same religion if he/she doesn’t want to.

    It is also forbidden for that person to have sex with a person who doesn’t practise Judaism because 1.We shall reflect the Creator’s love for people in all our relations (Tanakh says the the person practising Torah should be a light to the goyim); and rape is the opposite of love. 2. It would be assimilation.

    If you read the “Christians”-page in you will find proofs using logic and science for the extistence of an intelligent Creator and that Torah is His instructions.

    Anders Branderud

  3. Anders - thanks for commenting. I've read the books of the law. Where in *there* does it say don't rape? If you think that Yahweh is an all-loving God you're just not reading the same scripture. Check out my post on Deuteronomy 28 to see what I mean.

    If you wanna get into a debate on the existence of god, I'm more than willing. You present your evidence, and I'll tell you what's wrong with it. Unless of course you have actual proof, in which case I'll no longer be an atheist. Deal? Because there is no WAY logic and science lead to the conclusion that 1) there's a god at all and 2) that god has desires and instructions and 3) the torah is that instruction list. Never gonna happen. However, you're more than welcome to try :)

  4. The Secular Thinker - (I wanna call you TST because I like the sound it makes - *tst*. Can't you just hear it?) I think that as social creatures it's natural for us to try to form connections over common things. (In high school it was what brand of shoes you wore and which radio station.) People with antisocial personalities focus on what makes them unique and what makes everyone else Other.

  5. A very honest, well written and thoughtful post.

    Thank you.

  6. Thanks ARC. I do surely try. I have no idea how I'm going to combine these blog posts and my journals into a book, but I do surely try.

  7. Thanks for the follow up AJ (if we are going with abbreviations here), I'm with you there. It's for the same reason that we see animals or objects in clouds that we see Jesus on a piece of toast. As human beings, we want to see connections, we want to feel unique, we want there to be purpose and guidance from above, but none of that desire has any sway over the objective reality of it.

    On another topic, I'm glad that you are attempting to write a book. I have just undertaken that very same task, and it is thrilling and daunting at the same time. Perhaps we could help each other out along the way. Feel free to ask me any questions, although I'm only in the early manuscript stage, but I do have a lot of ideas about how to publish and those types of things, and perhaps you could help me out as well. Keep in touch.
    -TST :)

  8. TST - I actually picked this pen name in part because I like the initials AJ. Also Andrew Jackson was a kick ass president (seriously). Have you ever noticed that people in Muslim countries never see Buddha in their food or windows? Or that Buddhists never recognize the face of Jesus in their sausages? We believe the myths we're told as truths when we're young. I realized just today that my son has no idea what an "angel" is but we've talked about things like the age of the earth. He'll have a much easier time "believing" evolution than I did.

    I'd love to compare writing projects with you. Do you use google docs? The pieces of the manuscript that I'm sharing with a few people are in cloud (something about utter computer failure paranoia). Yes, I'm only really familiar with the cult teachings publishing circuit, and I have the feeling a different approach will be needed in a secular market :)