Monday, August 27, 2007

Deconstructing the "Magnificient Lie" Part 1

At this very hour, four weeks ago, I was asked a question that uprooted the foundation upon which the entirety of my life has been based.

Why do you believe in God?

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, laid on the table as the inquisitive and youthful eyes of an atheist looked into mine own eyes for an answer; an answer that I have since sought out with a frantic fervency. I'm convinced that it was the inquirer's earnest desire to truly and sincerely understand this that prompted this metaphysical journey. For if the opposite were true, and she were to have broached the subject of belief or faith with a hidden agenda to prove the primacy of her own theory, I would have continued along my usual path, complacent with the familiarity of the scenery; I would have been unaware of the other hidden passage, seemingly difficult and hazardous but in the end one that could lead to a richer knowledge of the powers that govern man and nature. I can tell you with near certainty that if this question wasn't posed with a sincere desire to understand something grand, we would have engaged in an exercise of rhetorical futility-as is often the case with people who are too educated to acquiesce to the idea that there are things they do not know. Enlightenment, as I have come to discover, is a linear cyclical phenomenon and that realization is a profound as it is humbling.

I spent the majority of that night arguing that God could not be defined and comprehended under the limited scope of the observing human eye and fragile mind. God, as I knew Him, was larger than the maths and sciences; and so to use those studies to define and capture the essence that created them was an exercise in futility. This line of reasoning inevitably led us to a discussion that became far too abstract. I started describing superposition, Shrodinger's cat, and Copenhagen's interpretation. From these theories and hypothetical experiment, I extrapolated responses to questions that were never really asked. The certainty of uncertainties in science was ample evidence of our inability to grasp a higher being with earthly vernacular and I was intent on articulating this point as best as I could. I talked about the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics (theories which, among other things, tell us that that which we observe is altered by our observation of it) and found myself clinging to something whose complexity and incomprehensibility is matched only by attempt to describe in this very paragraph. Thankfully, as the conversation became more abstract I managed to notice that I wasn't answering the fundamental question that had instigated the abstract thoughts in the first place. I was, in essence, describing the indisputable: the idea that we can't possibly know anything for sure. Ironically, this incapacity-this uncertainty when it came to the big picture-was the very foundation for my faith and conviction in a God to begin with. And it was something that I've believed in my entire life without every really examining it.

I went to bed that night frustrated. Here was an opportunity squandered. A person with an earnest desire to be amongst the majority-and by that I mean the family of religious practitioners including, but not limited to, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, Hindus, Sikhs-had asked me the most basic question and it seemed profoundly complex. Furthermore, I could feel my spiritual foundation being uprooted. And while this is an important, beautiful, and necessary process, at the time it was a process coupled with feelings of foolishness, concern, and myopia. How could I have ever been so blind?


The next day, I found a great big tree to sit underneath. It was a beautiful day and I sat staring through the branches into a blue sky. For the past few weeks I had been contemplating Zen meditation and practice and how its application might enhance my ability to experience genuine love for the people around me, actualize true potential, and be awake to the reality of my everyday experiences. I wanted to resume that thought process, but on this beautiful day and underneath this idle tree I could think of nothing but the idea of God.

"He created Man in His own image and likeness"
She had described Him as an imaginary friend for grown ups; a description that, at first glance, may seem offensive to many people. Understand, however, that there is something very intriguing about this seemingly outlandish parallel. Like an imaginary friend God has, for many people, taken the image and likeness of man. What is certain is that there exists a disctinct difference between God and Man. What remains unknown is the extent to which we have God in us and the extent to which God has us in Him.

I grew up with images of God as a white man with a beard and a staff (We'll save the discussion on the repercussion of having perfection embodied in a white man and plastered all over the walls of your place of worship for another post). As I got older, God became colorless but was still a man. And though I would often describe God as "He or She," the reality was that I thought of this entity as a man and never as a woman. God, for all intents and purposes, became a projection of my envisioned perfect self: compassionate and unconditionally loving...giver of free will and thus, creator of chaos...a being seemingly incomprehensible but with a plan and method to His madness...and most importantly, like me, a creator and giver of life. In a way, I created God in my own image and likeness. When I found that he didn't conform with my notions of what is just, I blamed it on human imperfection and the inability of past scholars to fully grasp the message. The reality, however, is that the God I believe in has evolved as I have evolved, a stark contrast from Genesis 1:26.

In the history of God we see the history of the evolution of thought in humans. Human attributes and emotions are projected and directed outwardly and subject to change from generation to generation given the nature of the times and the needs of the people. God was once a man, but with women's rights, we find an evolved understanding of "Him" as "He or She." Terminolgy such as "supreme being" is utilized to avoid being gender specific. Where there was once an emphasis on humble living, there is now support for an affluent but socially responsible life. This idea works well in a world where people are trying to get as rich as possible with the intention of giving money to charity. While this is all good an well it is a sacrifice we are making at the expense of human interaction. Without going too much off topic, I think this trend will have a profound and negative effect on mankind and I worry that places of worship are promoting it without knowing it's potential repercussions.

Many people have created a God that is eerily human when the Bible tells us that it was the other way around. Though I would have been hesistant to admit this before God was, for me, a being who never truly transcended the realm of my understanding. He was therefore subject to the same leanings and evolutions as I. There is something problematic about that because by virtue of my humanity I'm always getting things wrong and I will continue to get things wrong. It's a beautiful thing if you ask me, but it becomes difficult when you impose what you believe is just because God has said so, on other individual. History has shown that people have had it wrong in the worst ways and something tells me that more wrongs in the name of God will occur before my time on this earth is up.


And now for one magnificent lie, in the belief of which, Oh that we could train our rulers!--at any rate let us make the attempt with the rest of the world. What I am going to tell is only another version of the legend of Cadmus; but our unbelieving generation will be slow to accept such a story. The tale must be imparted, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers,lastly to the people. We will inform them that their youth was a dream, and that during the time when they seemed to be undergoing their education they were really being fashioned in the earth, who sent them up when they were ready; and that they must protect and cherish her whose children they are, and regard each other as brothers and sisters. 'I do not wonder at your being ashamed to propound such a fiction.' There is more behind. These brothers and sisters have different natures, and some of them God framed to rule, whom he fashioned of gold; others he made of silver, to be auxiliaries; others again to be husbandmen and craftsmen, and these were formed by him of brass and iron. But as they are all sprung from a common stock, a golden parent may have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son, and then there must be a change of rank; the son of the rich must descend, and the child of the artisan rise, in the social scale; for an oracle says 'that the State will come to an end if governed by a man of brass or iron.' Will our citizens ever believe all this? 'Not in the present generation, but in the next, perhaps, Yes.'
I remember reading this passage from Plato's Republic in a Philosophy course and for some reason the words "magnificent lie" remained imprinted on my mind. Sitting under this tree that day, I found myself reflecting upon the use of the religious institutions to further the agenda of the powerful and I couldn't help but wonder whether God was a magnificent lie. Slavery, colonialism, imperialism, the denunciation of premarital sex for women (and men for that matter), the tabooing of homosexuality; religious text has been utilized to justify horrible things and sustain one of the most powerful tools for oppression of the spirit, guilt. Some would argue that this is the work of those in society who have interpreted text in the wrong way. I've found it increasingly difficult to accept the duality of religion. Good deeds done in the name of God are of God and bad deeds done in the name of God are not of God. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The only reason I thought of God as human-esque was because I was told that he was such. The universality of this belief in God and the semblance of overwhelming proof of His existence in light of His followership, made it seem unimportant to explore this question. I don't regret being so naive, because religion and God got me through a great deal in life. These new questions are uncomfortable and I take solace in knowing that I'm not the only one who has sought out answers in a crisis of faith.

On a fundamental level we all feel that there is something out there greater than ourselves. How this "something" became a man with qualities that mimic our own is an exploration worthy of embarking on. And while I've written a great deal here, that I sincerely hope hasn't offended anyone, the reality is that I know very little. I'm complacent in that paucity of knowledge because it is accompanied by an ardent thirst to figure it all out.

Nothing will ever be the same...

1 comment:

Brother Spotless said...

I hope your search is a fruitful one.

As for me, the single most important thing about the search is the search. "Gain knowledge, from the cradle to the grave," is a self-evident truth; it's the one thing we all do. Allowing that search to be pure and simplistic...well that, my friend, is the challenge we all face.