I was content to be a “sort of” believer for many years. It seemed impossible, and decidedly uncomfortable, given my personal history, to completely give up the God and religion with which I had grown up. At one point, I even decided that perhaps I needed to go back to church…perhaps that was where I would find what I was looking for. A little over three years ago, I embarked on a spiritual search of sorts…albeit a half-hearted and unsuccessful one. I blogged about it in a four-part “Seeking” series in January of 2006. When I reread those posts this morning, even I could see that I was setting the Church up to fail. By that time, it would have taken a conversion experience no less spectacular than that of Saul of Tarsus to bring me back into the fold.
(You can find that series here if you’ve a mind to... Scroll down to the last post at the bottom of the page and work your way up…)
The foibles of the Christian community with which I became involved when I was in my twenties planted the seeds of my conviction that religion was a gigantic exercise in self-deception. I had personally witnessed the phenomenon of believers wanting something so much that they decided God wanted them to have it. I myself had indulged in that same self-deception years later when my sister was ill. I wanted her to get well, and I was sure God could make that happen. When it didn’t, I realized that “God” had nothing to do with it. It was all me. I had wanted a healing. I had set my heart on it. I had created a God that could and would provide it. My bad…
Still, I had only progressed to the suspicion that we humans had a flawed idea of how God related to us and how he moved in our lives. I hadn’t yet rejected the entire human concept of “God.” After all, I was raised Christian. I grew up professing a belief in a deity that was so closely linked with the human race that it had taken human form. As this belief had been kicking around and influencing civilization for a couple thousand years, I continued to allow that Jesus Christ must have had some powerful connection to the Divine to have been such a huge force for such a long time. Surely humans were incapable of “creating” a Person with so much historical staying power. Impossible, I thought, to explain Christ’s enduring influence as some form of brainwashing or group-think so pervasive that it endures to this day. I could not fathom a set of circumstances under which such a massive deception could be perpetrated upon so many and perpetuated for so long.
Until I became an incredulous witness to the political events in the United States of America during the first ten years of the twenty-first century. Because now, I have witnessed firsthand the frightening power a group of men with a political agenda can exert over a populace made malleable by fear. A deadly attack on the American homeland created the perfect storm. The exact combination of shock, fear, anger and vengefulness, exploited to the nth degree by men with the insight and brass balls to play the situation for every drop of advantage it was worth. I’ve seen lies accepted as truth, fabrications become fact, evil embraced as necessary. And vast multitudes of upright citizens nodding their heads, pumping their fists in the air and lining up dutifully behind the ones who promised to preserve their lives.
I understand, now, exactly how capable we human beings are of choosing a reality. And that millions of people can believe, perpetuate at any cost, and even stake their lives upon something that has no basis in fact. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
It seems to me that religion is all about choosing a reality. How else to explain all the differing, and often conflicting, belief systems in the world? As a species, we understand that there is a spiritual realm, some kind of energy that runs parallel to our reality; we encounter it just often enough to know it is there, but we understand almost nothing about it. Being the creatures we are, with our insatiable need to understand (and control), we’ve taken that thing we know nothing about and created various explanations…which started out as guesses, progressed to theories, then became doctrines and gospels. And superstitions and hocus pocus…and ways to threaten and control each other. Have not Osama bin Laden and his ilk demonstrated how poisonous religion can be? We here on our safe American shores were brought to a fresh and stunning understanding of exactly how lethal a weapon religion is, in hands that choose to use it as such. And we humans continue, and shall continue until the last drop of blood is shed, to wield it with deadly accuracy against our fellows. It’s what we do.
So, since history seems to invite us to choose our reality, I have chosen mine. I choose to believe there is a Power behind the beauty and order of creation. And I choose to believe the Creator does not encourage or condone our tendency to manufacture an alliance with It, and use that imagined alliance as a means to destroy. And I choose to believe that the anthropomorphic image we’ve patched together of this sometimes wrathful, sometimes benevolent ultra-human “God” does not even approach—nor flatter, I think—the character of the Power that is responsible for our existence.
I choose to acknowledge my ignorance of the Creator and the mystery of Its connection to the human race and this tiny, insignificant marble upon which we exist. And I choose not to judge any other person’s attempt to peacefully and affirmatively define the Power.
Not so hard to understand, I think. Not so hard to swallow. The other day, I read an interview with Michael J. Fox—the young actor who has been struggling with Parkinson’s disease for over a decade. Answering a question about how he copes with his disease, he said, “To survive this…I must look to a higher power. For my purposes, I need neither define it nor have others define it for me, only accept its existence.”
Good answer. That’s PRECISELY the reality I choose.