Friday, October 27, 2017

What About God? - Part I

“I won't say that I'm an agnostic, since agnosticism maintains that one cannot know... but I'm not averse to the idea of some intelligence or some organizing force that set up the initial conditions of the universe in such a way that ultimately generated stars, planets and life.” -- B. F. Skinner

“I am an agnostic; I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.” -- Clarence Darrow

“The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.” -- Charles Darwin

Fully exploring the existence and nature of God lies far beyond the scope of this blog.  It would, nevertheless, be inappropriate to consider reality without addressing the matter in some fashion.  What I offer here are merely my own thoughts about God.  Whether you agree, adamantly disagree or are completely indifferent,  I assure you that I have not arrived at my current views lightly.  They represent the conclusions derived from many years of literary research and extensive contemplation.

A minor difficulty in speaking about God is the lack of an appropriate gender-neutral pronoun.  Surely a being of this magnitude would have no need of gender.  In many polytheistic cultures we find a mixture of male and female gods.  However, within male dominated monotheistic societies He has traditionally been attributed with masculine characteristics and addressed as such.  Yet there are some ancient teachings that view Her as having both female and male attributes.
Addressing God as “It” seems rather impersonal and somewhat irreverent.  I recognize that there is no way to make everyone happy no matter what I choose to do.  So, I will alternate my pronouns as I refer to Her/Him.
Although specific doctrines may differ widely, the general concept of God in our western culture has been heavily influenced by the ancient polytheism of northern Africa, the middle east and Europe, as well as the three major Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  It is a belief in a divine, anthropomorphic, transcendent being that is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.  He has created everything, is intimately aware of the minutest details of our lives and is capable of intervening in the affairs of mankind.
Traditionally every phenomenon for which there is no known explanation has been attributed to God.  In the ancient world this included electrical storms, plagues, drought, infestations, earthquakes, eclipses and much more.  As scientific discoveries have identified the natural source of these events, the list of items requiring His direct involvement has diminished significantly.  Nevertheless, She is still blamed for causing horrible disasters that we refer to as “Acts of God.”  Simultaneously, in the midst of those tragedies, He is praised for protecting the survivor’s.  Apparently, God’s actions are capricious and completely arbitrary.
With this view of God, it is little wonder that people become angry with Her when hardship befalls them.  The universal cry is “Why?”  Implicit in that single word is a plethora of questions.  Why me?  Why my loved ones? What did we do to deserve this?  Why did You allow this to happen?
If we are to be completely honest, the ultimate question is simply this, “Why would an all-knowing, all-powerful, supremely wise and loving deity allow suffering?”  Even we, as mere mortals, respond to hardship with compassion and make every effort to alleviate it.  Why wouldn’t a superior being surpass our efforts to do so?  How is it possible to ignore the agonies experienced by innocents in war-torn regions or allow the physical and sexual abuse and exploitation of children?
Of course, many biblical passages deny the legitimacy of ANY questioning OF God’s actions.  The entire book of Job is devoted to addressing this very issue and concludes that, as creator, God is entitled to do whatever She chooses without reproach.  For Job this meant that crushing his children beneath a collapsed building, having many of his servants slaughtered by marauders, the theft and destruction of his possessions and afflicting Job with “painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head “were a justifiable test of Job’s faithfulness.
In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,   neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.   “As the heavens are higher than the earth,   so are my ways higher than your ways    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Are we to accept that this and similar passages are the only explanations we are to receive from a supernatural creator?  Are we supposed to passively affirm that all of the turmoil and destruction in the world are part of some divine master plan? Or, do these scriptures represent human efforts to mitigate the glaring discrepancies that exist between a particular theological conceptualization and events occurring in our observable reality? 
Embracing any faith-based religion requires more than belief in a higher power.  It is necessary to have confidence in the validity of the source of the theology being presented.  In the case of the Bible and the Koran, the credibility of the respective religions is completely dependent on an acceptance of these writings as direct communications from God and not merely of human origin.
Rejection of a particular religious perspective is not automatically a denial of the existence of divinity.  The majority of the world’ s population do not share the view of God set forth in the Abrahamic religions.  When Judaism was in its infancy in the middle east, Vedic yogis were pondering the universe and laying the perceptual foundations of Hinduism.  While the Greeks were expounding on the antics of the gods in their mythological pantheon, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were spreading throughout the far east.  Those in this latter group were being established as major world religions centuries before Christianity and a full thousand years before Islam.
Though there are notable differences between the various forms of eastern religion, none of them envision an observant god who intervenes in the affairs of mankind and will eventually administer a final judgement. The primary focus is awakening to the unity that exists among everything in the universe.  The measure of one’s life is based on the degree to which we harmonize with other beings and the natural rhythm of the cosmos.  Reincarnation offers an endless cycle of lifetimes through which We progressively learn and grow until we achieve a state of enlightenment and are freeded from the need for rebirth.

So, who is right?  Inasmuch as the prevailing religious views were conceived in pre-scientific cultures, I think it is safe to say that none of them completely grasp the full magnitude of ultimate reality.  In our age of scientific discovery, some might question whether considering the existence of God is a relevant concern at all.  No matter what our present belief might be, the most significant question is whether or not we are open to a new perception of reality even if it challenges our current understanding.

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