Friday, January 15, 2010

The purpose of god

So I met with my sponsor yesterday and had lunch. We talked about all manner of things, including some spiritual stuff. After the usual niceties, she looked at me and asked, "What do you need?"

What do I need from my spiritual life? What is it that I expect, or want, from the ethereal side of my existence?

What I came up with for this moment in my life is a need for my god to be a little better defined than the foggy, nebulous sort of force of nature/force for kindness and good in the universe. I want something a little more tangible, something I can hold on to.


What is it that makes me yearn for a tangible god at this moment? Probably the life transitions that I am going through right now: end of a relationship, considering some kind of change in careers, assorted people muttering things in my ear about what they think I might be suited to do, and me trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

It makes sense, then, that I'd like some part of my life to be a little more tangible than all of the uncertainty that swirls around me at present. My little dog is pretty solid, as is the cat, and my tools, but it seems like so much else in my life is just, well, not really firm. I'd like to set my feet down on something that feels solid.

So, I want a god I can rely on. A god I can understand. A god I can cling to, perhaps. A source of comfort and security when my world is uncomfortable and insecure.

Do I want a god, or a security blanket? A god or some kind of physical, emotional and spiritual bodyguard?

Is god supposed to be those things? I don't remember seeing anything about that in any of the books I have read on god and spirituality over the years. I have read plenty that said that god will sustain us in times of trouble or need, that it was god's job to keep us safe, or to give us the strength to endure what we must, but I am not sure exactly what that means.

I heard growing up that god was kind and loving, not vengeful and mean. I heard that if I wanted or needed something, I was to pray for what it was I felt I lacked, and god would provide.

As I aged, that message was modified some. God was still kind and loving, for certain, but he was no longer some kind of cosmic Santa Claus, granting wishes from petitioners. Pray for what you want or need, I was told, but know that there are a variety of answers available to you: Yes. No. Wait.

Oh. That sounded more and more like a public relations statement from an organization or entity that does not want to be pinned down for promising anything. Sometimes you get a yes, sometimes you get a no, and sometimes, well, sometimes you can't tell what you've got, and that's what we call a Wait answer.

Sorry, whatever theologians came up with that, it does not pass my sniff test. That's using language to explain what happens naturally in a way that shores up what you would have me believe. There is no way to prove or disprove it, so you're left standing there saying, "see? Its just like I said!" Nope. No dice.

In my 12-step recovery program, we talk often about god. People have all colors of beliefs about the divine, but most believe in something. Most use the masculine pronoun "he" to refer to god, and I tend to as well, but not because I believe (or want to believe) that god has testicles and a penis. I use "he" because it is convenient.Truth be told, I do not think that god has any use for a sex or gender, never mind reproductive organs, but then again, I'm not sure what all I believe, so there's that.

So I come back now to discussion of what is it that I believe. I wish I had a better grasp on this. I believe in something, I'm not sure what, exactly, but I believe in it. I do believe that there is some force that runs things and keeps the planets spinning where they are supposed to go and makes sure gravity works and that the tides go in and out so we can have great seafood. I also believe that that entity has a subtle sense of humor, and that he/she/it will sometimes intercede in the affairs of we meager earth creatures and put shit in our paths for us to learn from. Sometimes it is a difficult thing that we otherwise would never have faced that teaches us humility, and strength and faith, and sometimes it is just the help and kindness we needed when we had no idea we needed it.

We all have stories like that. The guy who stopped to help change a flat who turns out to be the cousin of you're mother's uncle's brother-in-law from your home town back east, just when you're feeling homesick. The impossible situation that hits you at work after you've aced everything else you've tried and suddenly you're in over your head and you have to ask for help.

Some people write such things off to coincidence or fate, but I don't know. Like the "yes, no, or wait" people I mentioned earlier, there is no way to prove that an omnipotent, interceding god did not arrange that shit for the parties so involved to get what they needed. But there is no way to prove that it was not the handiwork of such a being. Somehow, thinking that a god of some kind arranged such things makes my head hurt less than the thought that all of life and its experiences are simply the results of the random acts of atoms colliding with each other in a huge chemistry experiment.

I'm not sure that Hollywood is an ideal place to search for theological or spiritual development, but I keep remembering a scene from a Whoopi Goldberg movie, Corinna, Corinna. For those who have not seen the movie, it involves a widowed man, Manny (Ray Liotta) his daughter Molly (Tina Majorino) and the housekeeper/nanny Corinna (Whoopi Goldberg). Manny must find someone to keep house and care for his daughter after his wife's death, which has so devastated the little girl that she is non-communicative and nearly catatonic. Corinna and Molly bond and the little girl begins to flourish again under her care, but there are some distinct cultural and racial tensions among the adults that make the film worth what people paid to see it.

The scene I remember is when Molly and her father have the following exchange:

Manny: Molly, I told you. God is just a story people tell to make themselves feel better.
Molly: What's wrong with that?


What's wrong with people creating an all-powerful entity, even an imaginary such entity, to make themselves feel better? What is wrong with people providing themselves with a method by which to seek and find relief from what can be a grueling existence? When we have a head ache, we rub our temples. When our back hurts, we stretch and find a heating pad. Why then, when our hearts and souls hurt, is it wrong for us to seek something that will ease our suffering?

Of course I understand all of the problems that come when one group has a god that they think is better than everyone else's god. Conflict ensues. Much like a kid on a playground who says that his big brother can beat up your big brother, the argument is silly. What makes us think that an entity such as god could be squashed into a box of definitions made by man? But true believers are not to be swayed. Like so many other things, no amount of logic, reason or compassionate pleading will allow them to budge from their dogma, be it theological or political.

I don't understand the notion of a god who could be so insecure that he/she/it would get bent out of shape if people are worshiping according to a different plan. Jews don't think what Catholics do is exactly right, and Muslims think both of them have it all wrong. Mormons have one way of being, Pentecostals another, Episcopalians something different, pagans dance and sing in harmony with and in celebration of nature, Hindus, scads of Eastern religions I can neither name nor pronounce each has their own way of worshiping, and the Quakers sit quietly until the spirit moves them to speak or act.

Which is right? I happen to think they all are, to some extent. If each practice brings some kind of comfort to its members, then it has done some of what it is meant to do. I do NOT believe that any practice, or group of practitioners has the right -- or even the obligation -- to force their method on others. I know this causes problems, because some religions make it a tenet of their faith that it is required that followers proselytize.

I tend to think that sort of thing is a bad idea, sort of like interfering with some one's cultural identity. Your god is good, but mine is better, let me show you how and change you from you into me, but maybe with a different shade of skin. Bad news.

I also have problems with religions that say it is acceptable to oppress people. Like women. Or non-believers. Or anyone. That's not cool.

Perhaps it is my New England roots that make me think this way, or maybe it is my AA background, but I tend to think that any faith organization ought to attract new members rather than go out and drag them in. In AA we talk about a public relations policy "based on attraction rather than promotion," meaning that we live the kinds of lives that others see and would like to have. They ask how we do it, we show how. As a rule (and there are very few hard and fast rules in AA) we don't go out and beat people over the head with our Big Books. Occasionally, I have given a book to someone who I think might be interested in it, but as for going into a bar, finding the two or three worst sots in the place and dragging them off to a church basement to drink bad coffee? Well, it's just not our style. Which is not to say it hasn't been tried. It has. It does not work terribly well and only offends people who might otherwise be open to the idea of recovery, for themselves or others.

People have to want to get sober in AA, and I would hazard a guess that people must likewise be seeking a spiritual path in order to enter into a faith tradition or get some powerful meaning from the one they're in. Recruiting works to some extent, but I do not respect or trust the methods and thus, am skeptical of the results. To me it seems much like a fad diet. Sure it works, but for how long?

So where does this leave me in my search for a tangible god? I have no idea.

I think it helps to get the words down on the page (or screen, as it may be) to look at them. Please know that this is not a thesis. This is what I wrote before and during my first cup of coffee this morning. This is where my brain flowed and what came out of it. Comments might be nice, but I think I wrote this more for the exercise than for the feedback. Perhaps I'll write more tomorrow.

Stay tuned.


Evelyn said...

Thanks, Dawn-- Couldn't have written this but i certainly have thought most of the thoughts. We certainly are on the same tide and definitely on the same shore ___ Thanks for the time yesterday and we have only just begun! Love ya--

Anonymous said...

The Purpose Of God? Really, my dear, if you're starting with the assumption that some kind of God exists (that there is some kind of over-riding creative force from which everything in the universe arises) ... then wouldn't the more logical approach and question to start with be: "the purpose of US" ? Jean V.

Carlita said...

Interesting, Dawn. I happen to be one of the yes-no-wait people myself. I know it is problematic for many reasons to think of God as a male patriarchal figure, but since my dad is the smartest and most awesome mortal I know, I generally think God is probably sort of like him. And the thing about my dad, or about parents in general, is that sometimes they say no to their kids because they know better than their kids. So that's how I like to think of it. God knows what I need, and he'll give it to me, even if it's not what I think I need.

melouise said...

A similar battle to what I went through about a decade ago; picked up th bible and tried to see what on earth was in there that caused others to have faith- and me to have none.

I found no answers, but a few more Jeopardy! questions...

My sister, after her husband's death, searched for answers in religion and a variety of faiths. She even questioned our mother and I as to whether or not we thought his death was a punishment by god unto her, for abandoning her family. (the car accident that put him into a coma occurred on our parents' 40th anniversary)

She committed suicide after her life had become unbearable and the questions unanswered too haunting.

I see life differently. In my view, religion is all well and good, but it seems a convenient way for people to shove off their own personal responsibilities for decisions, choices, beliefs etc onto an ambiguous invisible figure. A way to dodge.

So says this moral atheist.

People say that atheists have no morals; I argue that because we have no higher being to take the fall, we have 100% of the responsibilities as our own. Then it comes down to "the mirror factor"- am I living my life in such a way that I can look myself in the mirror the next day? If I am not, what do I need to do to rectify that?

Or can I?

Sometimes, one can't "fix what is broken"- and guilt is a waste of time in the long view.

Our lives go through so many stages of transition and growth- sometimes at a rapid pace, like summer in a garden, and other times slowly or nearly dormant, like winter. But they move ever forward; one cannot go back in time.

I guess god has no purpose for me, because PEOPLE DO. I put my -faith? for lack of better word- in myself, in individuals, in that which I have learned for the years on this planet that I can believe in.

And I remain (or try to be) flexible, to accept change, to keep myself available to change.

Anyways, my very exhausted thoughts at the end of the day!

A very thought inspiring post, Dawn- and I look forward to talking and growing with you. I will pay you one of the highest compliments imo a person can give or receive:

YOU MAKE ME THINK. And I thank you for it.