I was talking to my friend Sexy D yesterday (and his new ink is GORGEOUS), and we started talking about Heavy Things. We sometimes do that, him and me. He’s good to talk to because I don’t think he comes from a perspective of trying to change my mind, and I don’t try to change his, and he understands about things like how an entire argument/discussion can be completely derailed because the two folks participating in it are using completely different definitions or connotations of a word or phrase.
Anyway, he lent me this book called The Evolution of God, which I’ll add to the reviews section when I’m finished, and in reading it, I’ve been thinking of something that I used to think about rather a lot.
First, something that always bothered me about all religions is that there is somehow a concept that the people who cleave *to* that religion are somehow more right or the ‘chosen people’ (this is nowhere more apparent than in the Abrahamic religions where God actually says, “you are my chosen people”). There are very few faith-based forms of worship which do not claim that they are the one true path, the only path. This has always been a major sticking point for me, from the time when I was a complete non-believer, to the time I dabbled in pagan worship, to the place I am now.
This may be heretical to my faith, and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve held a belief that’s contrary to the doctrine of my faith, but I kind of don’t believe that only the people who worship my God get to be a part of the afterlife. And I don’t believe in hell at all. I never have. I *do* believe in evil, but I think the concept of hell is, to be blunt, kind of silly. In fact, I’m not sure what I believe about heaven. They’re not real places. They may describe states of consciousness or of being in proximity to the Creative Force that I call God. But Dante? Great story, nice illustrations, but dude, what were you SMOKING?
This kind of leads me to the problem of morality. People always get into trouble when they assume that their deity is, essentially, a moral entity. Or is in some way able to be described in terms of morality that we would understand. I don’t believe that God is “good” in the ways in which we understand what “goodness” is. My God transcends that. I think the only way I can truly understand the nature of my faith is to completely remove morality from the equation.
What I mean to say is this: I don’t do good things, right things, because God tells me to. I don’t do good things and right things because I want or expect better treatment in the afterlife. Why waste your entire known consciousness waiting for something you know not what? I do good things and right things because they are the right things to do, regardless of whether God has said to do them. The fact that they *are* Commandments is a nice bonus. I was taught as a child, and I teach my own children, that you must do the right things because they are the right things to do, and because they maximise joy and minimise suffering.
Lying (“bearing false witness”, in biblical terms) is wrong not because god says it is, but rather, God says it is wrong because it is. Because lies hurt. They cause suffering. If we are all interdependent on one another (and I believe we are), then bearing false witness damages our relationships. Stealing is wrong because it sours our relationships with one another, not because God says it is wrong. If you separate morality from faith, everything becomes much more clear.
This is why it’s possible, of course, that atheists are good, moral people (inasmuch as anyone is). It is also why there are faithful people who are horrible, immoral monsters. Because God has nothing to do with morality. To claim otherwise is to take a shallow and, in my opinion, dangerous view of God.
So how then, do we describe God? Well, we don’t. To attempt to do otherwise is ridiculous. To me, it makes no sense not to believe that there is a force greater than ourselves. But it also makes no sense to me to assume that that force a) conforms to any morality we may understand in our current state of evolution; and b) can even be described in terms we understand. But that’s just me. That’s my understanding of God. That’s part of the reason I believe that Christ was sent among us; so that we could have the beginnings of a rudimentary understanding.
But people, being the independent thinkers that we are, we bugger everything up. Celibacy, tithing, indulgences, Confession…hell, even having priests and bishops and popes…why do we need these (predominantly) men to tell us how to understand our relationships with the Divine? Because people of means kept those means from people without means, which is, if you remember, one of the seven deadly sins (avarice). But it’s not a sin because God says “you there, don’t be greedy. Share that pomegranate with the beggar next to you”. It’s a sin because avarice causes inequity, and inequity propagates itself and causes more social problems.
Those are some of my Heavy Thoughts today.