Natural Disasters and the Hand of God: Why do bad things happen Part 2

Let me get something off my chest: If you survive a tornado, hurricane, or earth quake that killed children and leveled entire neighborhoods, this is not the time to thank God. God didn’t put out a personal hand to save you, because that implies that the same hand intentionally left others to suffer. God does not direct tornadoes. God does not shake the Earth. God has bigger problems. The Universe is huge, and God doesn’t have time to direct the flapping of every butterfly to ensure that hurricanes only destroy evil people. God cannot be said to have saved you without also having to condemn the dead. That is clearly beyond our ability to understand the intentions of the divine.

You can thank God for the life you have. You can thank God for seeing to it that we have a divine spark of humanity. The spirit of God is at work in the first responders and the Red Cross. God gave us the ability and the compassion to take care of each other. We are created as curious, caring, cooperative creatures (sorry for the alliteration, it came too easily to ignore). That is what we should be thankful for. You never felt thankful for your parents failure to keep you from getting ill, but for their care that helped you get well. Bad things happen because the universe is complex, and we are such a small part of it. The winds are not out to get us, nor the rains or the ground, but it is virtually impossible to build something to withstand all of them. The Earth has its own stresses, far below us, that are released as tremors. The weather is dictated by the sun, the spin of the planet, and every tiny movement of the air. It is beyond our prediction, and it is unconcerned with our desires.

God does not single us out for birth, for death, or for salvation. The tools have been put in place, and it is up to us to use those tools in the best possible way. We’ve been given the intellect to overcome the worst climates and even the vacuum of space. God has intrusted us to save ourselves. It is up to us to put our creativity and compassion to use, putting storm shelters in schools and neighborhoods and building safer homes and offices. God made sure that the universe would provide, but, from a human point of view, bad things happen because we are not the most important thing in the universe, and there are forces at work that we cannot predict or outsmart.

It isn’t fair to blame our individual suffering on God, and thus, it isn’t really necessary to credit God with having a well designed and built house, or a safe place to shelter, or for any of the other human factors that saved you, just like God doesn’t force either team to loose the Super Bowl every year, just so that the other can win.


The Almighty: Images of God

While far from unanimous, the Western world has largely settled on the idea of Monotheism, or at least that is what the majority would currently profess to, if you asked them. Most of the people on Earth, the world’s Christians, Jews, Muslims, and followers of many other religions with fewer believers, are monotheists in dogma and doctrine.

The trick to monotheism is the idea that there is one creator, who oversaw, designed, or even hand-crafted the universe according to a plan. There is much disagreement about the intent, and whether this being remains “hands on” in the operation of the universe is certainly up for debate. The essence, though, is in the creation and the idea of a design or plan for the universe. As we try to understand this force of creation, our main focus and most valuable tool is our ability to understand what was created.

Thus, there are, even within monotheistic religions, many different views of what this creator wanted for creation and why there is a creation at all, and most importantly how we are supposed to react to the creator and the rest of the creation. Each person, even in hearing the same words, even those who internalize the same stories and doctrines, must shape their perception of God around their experience with creation.

For many of us, our understanding of God is, at the most basic level, the idea that God is almighty and powerful. After all, isn’t the creation of the universe enough to indicate the absolute power over the universe? We shape our idea of God based on our idea of power. The things we see as “Powerful” and “Capable” become the things we ascribe to God.

This is why many depictions of God give the creator a masculine body, and generally one that is elderly, with white hair and a beard, but also physically fit and imposing. God, of course, would have none of these traits, inherently. If the creator of the Universe is still in existence, then our concept of age clearly does not apply, and even if, as Genesis tells us, man and woman are both created in the image of God, then God must not conform to our gender roles or sexual characteristics.

What we are left with, then, in my opinion, is an image of God that mimics our image of power. The people in power in the Middle East and in Europe were mainly older men, and that became intertwined with the idea of power and authority. Being the ultimate in both power and authority, God, in those cultures, took that form in their collective consciousness. Whether this was God’s intent, or just the only way that certain people or groups could relate to the idea of The Almighty, we may never know.

Many ancient peoples and pantheons held that the creation of the universe was the act of a primordial mother, or a primordial “couple” forming Earth and Sky. The primary Greek creation myth was one of the Feminine Primordial Gaia, who created her own mate and birthed the Titans, who gave birth to the Gods, who created the world as it was known to the Ancient Greek people, who understood on some level that the planet was much older than their civilization, and incorporated that into their mythology. Ultimately, though, the world of the Greeks was ruled by men and by Gods who took the power for themselves, making it theirs by right of strength. In a way, this mirrors the progression of theology through most of the world: masculine figures taking prominence, and eventually displacing any divine feminine figures more or less completely.

Clearly, then, our image of the divine is shaped by our perception of potency and the essence of what makes something powerful. Many people see power in strength. Many see it in some form of magic or in the promise of technology. In reflection, some deities are strong, some wise, and some clever, but the monotheistic God is usually all three. Gods are born of ideas, and powerful ideas become powerful deities. Likewise, the attributes that you ascribe to God say a lot about what you value in leadership, in relationships, and in your life.

It is important, then, to consider what you really think  about God, and not just what you have been taught, or what you say in front of others. Is your true concept of the divine as loving as you say? If so, then how is that love manifested in the world? How do you emulate it? Is your vision of God vengeful? Does that make you vengeful, too? Does that improve your relationships? Is your God forgiving? Does that help you to forgive? Has that been healthy for you?

Another common and important factor in monotheism is that God is “good” and that the intent of creation was to give rise to life, and ultimately to intelligence, and that intelligent life was meant to have a relationship with God. We are meant to be “good”, helping to bring about what God wants in the Universe. Being like God is being good.

By really examining your view of God, and thus your perception of what makes one “good”, you can shape your whole being. If you know that God is vengeful, and live in fear, then you are likely to resent those who see God as loving, and live at peace with their place in the world. If you know God in absolute terms, then you will be distrustful of science, revelation, and even your own senses. If you know there to be no God at all, then it is possible to fall into arrogance and conceit, looking only at the world around you for your sense of purpose and power. Your image of God both often both dictates and mirrors your best and worst traits.

Robert Ingersoll once said that “There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.” This is the essence of what I am trying to say: As long as we value anger, discrimination, and vengeance as divine traits, it will be impossible to remove them as cultural institutions. We must examine our concept of God, and decide, objectively, if it matches our understanding of what is good in the world. If you wouldn’t respect your God as a neighbor, then you have to understand that your image is too small and too personal. We need a universal God, who is good without resorting to divine dispensation. We need a God willing to give us our curiosity and senses in order to use them, rather than one seen to tempt us with knowledge we are forbidden to seek. We need a God who loves all humanity, rather than picking and choosing based on situation of birth. We need to see God for what God must be, rather than for what our tribal ancestors had hoped was a champion for their way of life.’

It is said that most people have some instinct for good, and that this “conscience” is an echo of the voice of God in our lives. Whatever the origin, we know what good is. Our understanding of the Universe, both of what is true and of what feels right, must be applied to our understanding of the creator. What is wrong to do to one another in any other cause is also wrong to do in the name of God, or the name of God isn’t worthy of our worship and reverence.


Can God Make a Soul So Evil That Even God Cannot Love It?

I know that I am not alone in thinking that particularism is flawed. Eschatological Particularism, the idea that God can not or will not “save” every one and every thing, relies on a belief in a God who is either not omnipotent or is not benevolent. One of these must be lacking, or else God would spend all of eternity trying to reach every last soul, even if we accept that every person must submit to playing by some arbitrary rules set that God has imposed on itself to make creation into a game.

The only argument I have ever heard against Universalism, given the assumption of a loving creator, is that we have “freewill” to choose to be saved or not. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it negates the idea of freewill in that we had to be created first. If Damnation is the default, and we have to choose not to be damned, then the act of Creation is the act of damning, and thus there is no inherent choice in whether or not to play the game, only whether or not to submit to the rules imposed. That,  I have to point out, is not freewill.

So, I ask you, if there is a creator who can do all things, but chooses not to love us all, then how is that being worthy of reverence? How loving or powerful is a God who spends eternity fuming that we did something bad, especially if we believe that simply thinking something is a sin, and condemns souls forever? Not just to boredom or even discomfort, but to misery! That is not a God I can love. No temporal sin warrants eternal punishment.

That is why I reject the ideas of eternal damnation and original sin. My vision of God is a being of love, encouraging us to do better and treat each other with kindness; in short, to love each other as God loves us. Any less is a being unworthy of my worship or devotion.

Our Science is often imperfect: Why we shouldn’t rule out God.

I have heard so very much lately from militant atheists claiming that anything that science hasn’t devised a method for testing cannot be rationally considered in one’s word view. My personal experiences, and those of the billion or so other people throughout history claiming some contact with “the divine” in same way, cannot be validated, and continued assertion that the experiences have value is some sort of mental defect.

One man even went so far as to claim that faith cannot survive rational examination, because no one who has faith can be rational. This relied on him equating the words “rather than” to the words “in spite of” in the definition of the word Faith.

Certainly, science requires a lot from the world in terms of proof. Direct experience is often discounted, and rightly so. In law enforcement, witness testimony is widely held to be the weakest form of evidence. People see what they are looking for rather than what is there, focusing on details rather than looking at the big picture.

The mountain gorilla was detailed in a paper published in the Boston Journal of Natural History in December 1847. The official date of the “discovery” of the species is in 1902. Science didn’t trust the skeletal remains and first hand accounts until a corpse was provided.

The story of the platypus is, not surprisingly, very similar.

Science has had a long history of denying things that they just haven’t found a way to test subjectively. There are many advances in neuroscience that are, in essence, proving the mind to be capable (on a small scale) of things that would have only been dismissed as magic 50 years ago. Precognition, telepathy, and other forms of extra-sensory perception are being given a lot of consideration in modern scientific journals. In most cases, the conclusion has been that the results are significant to warrant further study.

To get to my point, finally, science is too hard on God. And, yes, I am being serious. I don’t think that it is unfair to say that no less than a billion people though out history have had an experience that seemed supernatural. Personal accounts of hundreds of thousands of people can be read right here on the internet.

Science demands proof of God, which is fine, but there cannot be proof, because of the supposed nature of God: Something beyond time and space as we know it. Nothing which can be adequately measured by science can be God. If a miracle happens, like a disease being cured, then science explains it away as having been remotely possible, and that is fair enough; medicine has a much better track record than prayer. Even if a creature showed up and cured the disease in some direct fashion, science would, again rightly, postulate some advanced technology that we don’t understand. Just as any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic, so would our understanding of technology always lead us to rule out magic. Again, science is not religion, and it should always strive to distinguish its self from superstition.

It is important to remember that science rarely comes up with neat explanations that account for all data, though. No image of massive ramps will ever satisfy the human need to see wonder in the building of the pyramids. There is no scientific explanation for the annual occurrence of the Naga Fireballs, or the honest-to-god raining down of a single type of animal on a geographic area. Sure, science can speculate, but they can’t even satisfactorily explain the water damage on the great sphinx, presumably build long after the region had turned to desert.

Millions of people alive today have had experiences that they describe as “divine”. This is not to say that none of these claims are exaggerated or misinterpreted, but they also should not be so quickly dismissed. The personal experience of others is all the proof most of us have for the existence of wild mountain gorillas, the the roundness of the Earth. We accept the mutual consent of scientists that some things are true. We recognize that the methods they use could be duplicated, indeed have been, in order to reach the same conclusions. But many reject the idea that the plethora of personal experiences with the divine could also teach us anything important.

No, I am not saying that I think any one prophet has ever understood The Divine Plan. I’m not even saying that there is one. But I am saying that denying the very concept of God, simply because you have not had a personal experience with it, is intellectually dishonest. Science is constantly expanding the horizons of what we know about the universe. It has found that particles can exist in 2 (or more) places at once and that things both cannot, and do in fact, move faster than the speed of light. We live in a strange universe. A super-natural entity really isn’t that much of a logical leap compared to what we already think we know.

Only Love Deserves Love; Why I reject Particularism.

I refuse to bow down to tyrants. I will not be ruled by superstitious dogma. I cannot accept that the universe was built on fundamental injustice. My sanity relies on my believing in  a few things which clearly make me a heretic, and I am not ashamed of that. In fact, I would be proud to see heresy spread.

I have tried to defend Universalism against orthodoxy. I’ve used Scripture, and I’ve used logic. Now, I take an approach I’ve never fully embraced in any other medium: I defend Universalism by rejecting Particularism outright.

In particular, I am addressing the idea that any being or creator worthy of being called God, worthy of worship, would create a universe where anything we could do in our short lifetime could warrant eternal punishment. I would sooner believe that the only eternity awaiting us all is, what sounds to our minds like torment than to believe that eternal torture is set aside for some of us because of our temporal actions. There is no justice, no logic, and no balance in particularism.

The only way that God is worthy of my worship or reverence is if, as science predicts, the Universe will one day return to its origins, and all things will return to a single whole. If that whole has a creator, of whatever shape or substance, then everything must be returned to that creator at some point; everything or nothing. Anything else is injustice. Anything else is horrible imperfection on a scale that negates divinity. It certainly is not a doctrine of love or parental concern.

Particularism is about ego. It is about thinking that you are chosen, or that you are gifted or that you are special. It is about thinking that you have a connection with God that you share with a select few who share your beliefs, culture, or genetics. More over, it is about the belief that everyone else is so wrong for their way of life that they will be punished for it in a way that you, your family, or even your entire culture could never manage. Particularism says that God has spoken, but in a voice that few can recognize, and it has been revealed that there is one way that relatively few will ever learn about, and that the only way to avoid eternal punishment is to be special enough to be put in the path of that message. Clearly, that is not something that could ever be applied to the whole world. Clearly, that is injustice.

I cannot believe in such a Universe. If there is a God, if there is a return to God anytime after this life is over, then it must be Universal, or the Creator is unworthy of my praise or thanks. I don’t want to be special at the expense of the rest of humanity. That goes against my own Humanity.

A Little More Eschatology: There are no solid answers.

Yeah. That’s a big word I learned from my DRE, Natalie Briscoe, and for those who don’t know, it refers to the study of the end. That’s right, more talk of Salvation and “The End of the World”.

You see, this really is a major part of every religion. Some argue that the only reason for religion at all is our fear of our mortality. It is certainly the only explanation for certain belief systems, past and present. Why bury the family pet and favorite servants along with Dear Old Dad if you don’t convince yourself, first, that they are all going somewhere? People don’t want to believe that ego, their sense of self, can be turned off.

Maybe it can’t. Maybe it will be. Maybe, by the time we know for sure, it won’t matter to us any more. I don’t claim to know, because we can’t. We can choose to believe, but (and I can’t stress this enough for the religious or the atheists) we cannot know for sure until it is too late to share the information.

What we do know is that we’ve got a life, here on the planet Earth, and there is no hand of God coming down to smite the wicked or support the downtrodden. What we can be pretty sure of is that, for the time being, and for as long as we’ve had reliable records, we are the greatest creators of good and evil in the world, and it all comes down to choices.

That is the back-bone of my eschatology: we make the world we want to live in, and thus the world that our families, friends, and communities will share by our actions, not our beliefs or our pronouncements. The Kingdom of Heaven is within each of us, and so it hell. We must choose which one we will nourish and share with the world. In that sharing, we create our greatest legacy.

I choose to believe that there is a God. Many will argue that there is no proof, and I cannot defend against it except to say that my experience leads me to believe. We cannot observe God; we can rarely prove a negative. There is nothing but sport in the debate. What we must agree on, though, is that, whether there is a God or not, We, the human race, are the primary cause of most of the fortune or woe that we suffer. Our greed, sloth, apathy, or fear cause more harm than any natural disaster in millennia. Our choice to move beyond those emotions is the best chance we have at making the world a better place. We create our own Heaven or Hell, and it is exactly the future we deserve.

I am a Unitarian and a Universalist. I am both, because I cannot separate them.

I am a Universalist. I am also a Unitarian. I cannot be one and not the other, because I believe that there is one God, and that there is one Creation, and that I am not so special that God would separate me from Creation when the experiment is over, and it is time to clean up the mess that the Universe has/will become.

You see, I believe there is One being. For all intents and purposes related to human existence, there is one Universe, and that Universe is greater than the sum of its observable parts. This Universe is Creation, but also creator. Science tells us that we are made of the stuff of stars, and that the universe is growing more complex as the eons pass. Stars fuse small atoms into larger ones, creating more complex elements. This is the progress of the universe, and one day it will play out, and everything will collapse back in to a singularity. Then, just maybe, it will all happen again.

That is God, experimenting with being. That is God, creating the universe a molecule at a time to see how it plays out. Quantum Physics tells us that the “Big Bang” didn’t require supernatural intervention to happen, sure, but it also says that nothing can happen without an “observer”; some other thing or entity for it to happen in comparison to. Thus, the Big Bang could not have created the Universe without something being there in the void that the Universe was created in. So goes my pseudo-scientific rational for believing in God.

In the beginning, there was God. And for some unknown reason, the stuff of the Universe was created. Maybe it was an accident; maybe it is a purposeful experiment; maybe some combination of both. But in that moment, the seeds of everything that ever would be were present. All the matter/energy (for we now know them to be interchangeable in much the same way that Ice and Steam are both Water) that exists in the Universe now and forever existed then. And so, the consciousness, and curiosity, and the creativity that would come to reside in Mankind also existed in that moment. That is the spark of God that was spread through the Universe, which most religions see as Omnipresence. God is in everything, because the creation of everything required God’s observation. God echos through every corner of Creation, attention being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Just as you are not aware, consciously, of what your liver is doing right now, even though there are so many biological systems keeping track of its functioning, so is God both aware of and oblivious to the happenings of the Universe on the scale that a single human can perceive it.

Yet, we are special, in that we have inherited a greater portion of God’s creativity and curiosity than any other creature we’ve encountered. Our capacity, though, is unique only in scope. We are not alone in using tools or exploring and adapting our environment. That spark may well be universal, and we just can’t measure it on a small enough scale to see.

But, the current theories point to the idea that this may not last forever. The universe will be come more complex, but at the cost of energy. It may stop expanding, gravity will collapse Creation on its self, and return to pristine singularity in time. There is likely no escape from this, as it will encompass all matter, and all energy. No one will be cast out; all will be with God.

One simplification of Buddhist thought is that the whole of creation is just a fragmented God trying to experience Creation for Itself. We are bits that can do the exploring, among the bits that are there to be explored. The goal, though, is to understand that it is a game, and that we cannot win until we stop playing and realize our nature as a fragment of God. There have been many figures throughout history who may have understood this, and tried to move us towards that kind of relationship with the divine; a quiet, personal relationship. The various men who have been recognized as Buddha, and much of the recorded teaching of Jesus of Nazareth,(if that is indeed the origin of the Rabi) seem to indicate that they were “with God but not God” and that we could be, too. The thing is, they told us how to get there on our own, while implying that, eventually, we’d figure it out anyway.