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God Only Knows

March 1, 2011

My father awoke from his cancer surgery. It was 1972, seven years after he’d lost his wife to the same disease. I sat with him and we started talking, and I tried to convey something to him — what I had done while he was under the knife.

“I think I know, “ he said with half a smile. “It begins with a ‘p’.”

It was not just that my dad was an atheist; it was that in my secular Jewish family anything truly reverent was so embarrassing, my father couldn’t at that moment even say the word “pray”. And indeed, many religious people, and many religions, are an embarrassment. And for the longest time I didn’t want to be associated with them. It’s sort of the same reason I was a closet vegetarian for years –- I didn’t want to be associated with so many of those smug people who thought their stool didn’t stink because they only ate what grew in the ground as opposed to what walked upon it.

But I do believe in God. I believe simply because I have experienced too many small miracles, answered prayers, synchronicities and tastes of the eternal to not believe. What I am unsure of is the exact nature of God. The gender; the appearance; the character. But ever since I started praying daily back in 1998, after something of a spiritual awakening in a California stream, I’ve experienced prayers answered a multitude of times. I often don’t get what I want when I want it, but I get what I want eventually. A wonderful book called “Conversations With God”  taught me how to pray, and it seems to work, at least for me. Especially the part about thanking God for something as if I already have it. This is why the so-called Law of Attraction has become part of my cosmology: It just seems to work, that’s all. Not always, and not on my time schedule, but things seem to have a way of turning out the way I want them to when I pray for them. And I’m just not that competent enough to have made all those things happen by myself.

So I’m grateful for all this. And I’ve come to find gratitude such a joyful, empowering feeling. And it just makes more sense to me to feel grateful for my blessings if I believe in a Blesser – some One to thank.

In the end, it’s a choice, isn’t it? I believe in God because life and the world make more sense to me this way. And I receive more comfort this way as well.

Look — we arrive in the blink of an eye, and can go out the same way at any moment. So to honor the between time, I find it most meaningful and gracious to thank He, She or It that doesn’t die.

And if you’re wondering, I use the masculine pronoun because that’s the tradition I was raised in, and I have no problem seeing the Eternal as male. I kind of like the idea, actually. (Now, why would that be?)

So yes, I believe in and pray to God. Religion of course is another matter. Religion tends to divide the world into Us and Them, a most ungodly distinction. In far too many cases, religions and the religious give God a bad name. Too often, as the hangout and refuge of the ignorant and intolerant, religion is our modern day golden calf.

It’s also the hangout of the judgmental. Funny thing about being judgmental – religious people judge me (like my mother in law, who’s now a Baptist and certain Shelley and I are going to hell), so I in turn find myself judging them. It’s contagious.

And speaking of judgment, here’s something else I notice in myself: Sometimes I have the urge to — I believe the proper phrase is — lord it over atheists and agnostics. I notice the impulse to ridicule them self-righteously. What is it about believing in the One who exhorts us to be humble, compassionate and tolerant that tends to bring out the condescending bigot in us? For me partly it’s because, well, it’s just fun at times to feel superior to others. (And those who refuse to? Well, they think they’re above it all. The dirty little secret of so many so-called spiritual people is their unacknowledged sense of superiority – unacknowledged exactly because it would belie their claim to being spiritual.)

But getting back to atheists, it seems absurd to me to not believe in God. Indeed, to believe in a meaningless, accidental universe that just happened to have evolved phenomena like you and I and the human eye and orgasm and memory and turquoise and empathy in humans and animals and Nora Jones’ voice (and face!) and how waves breaking on sand mimic breathing and how atoms mimic galaxies – all this a random accident? That just seems silly to me.

In addition, half the atheists I’ve known are that way because the idea that there exists something bigger, wiser and more powerful than they appalls them. Or they can’t stand the idea that something may hold more authority than they. And those who call themselves “spiritual – not religious” (the “God is you and me and all that is” folks) all too often fall into this category as well.

Of course, Does God believe in us? may be a more interesting question.

Another question I find of interest: Do we really need to believe in God, or is it more important to follow the godly impulse within us? Isn’t it more important to recognize the sacred – and the sameness – in each other, and in all that’s alive, and to act accordingly?

And here’s one more: Did God create us in His image, or was it the other way around? Considering how egotistical we are, I wouldn’t put it past us. What I notice is that those, for example, who see Him as a vengeful Jehovah, tend to be those who aren’t very merciful with themselves. Another example I’ve observed is that many who reject the idea that God is male also tend to disown their own inner aggression, and would find themselves incapable of hurting another,  even if their own life, or the life of their family, depended on it.

In other words, to paraphrase Anais Nin, we don’t see things  as they are; we see things — God included — as we are.

So I believe, but I still have more questions than answers.

Meantime, I pray. Sorry, dad.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Laurie permalink
    March 1, 2011 3:01 pm

    What is prayer? Focused intention. An elegant, powerful force. A belief in God lends power – when the intention is a positive one, that can only be good. Of course, the converse is also true.

    Absurd not to believe in God? I challenge you to quantify the number of unanswered prayers and absence of miracles and see which is more numerous. Why is it a miracle for someone to survive a near death experience after a car crash or even emerge unscathed? Wouldn’t the miracle be that car crashes just didn’t happen at all?

    We don’t want to consider ourselves so insignificant that life is but a glorious accident…we have evolved to be meaning-makers, it is how our brains are wired, and it serves to perpetuate life – we need meaning for a sense of well-being, and we need well-being to perptuate a desire to continue.

    Gratitude certainly makes sense. We’re alive, and born with a strong life force – anything that weakens that life force is a threat to survival. In the face of tragedy, unbearable sorrow, we need something to believe in to see us through. Creative, aren’t we?

  2. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    March 1, 2011 6:29 pm

    To Laurie, Isn’t Life, itself, the greatest miracle! Isn’t very Life proof enough! Aren’t you, Laurie, proof enough that something of the divine exists?! And aren’t you and I proof that something greater than you and I exists, also?

    Charley, I find your blog full of very honest, discriminating insights. I find that religions have gotten a rather bad name, because so many of the very imperfect practitioners of this or that religion are not capable, or CHOOSE to be incapable, of living in the true spirit of its founders or those that so truly inspired them. Didn’t Jesus essentially tell us God is a Love and faith in Love that passes all understanding, but its very vindication and validation is in in the loving, and living the loving THE LEAST OF THESE?!…

    No vengeful, wrathful, frequently set off and commonly pissed off Jehovah was Jesus speaking of, but of a loving, caring Father who is pained His children do not or choose not to know Him, and are so greatly wasting the precious gifts and the miracle of life He has given them. With Jesus, with the many episodes of Jesus’s life recounted we see a most courageous and beautiful man whose very words were like a fire that purifies, and his very words were better than poetry because Jesus so loved them, so lived them for you and me.

    So, with Jesus comes a radically new conception of God and our possible relation with Him. With Jesus comes an intimacy, so our relation with God doesn’t revolve around just The Old Testament fear.

    Certainly, no one religion, or the people who came after, who set down that religion, have a monopoly on truth, but it IS true that some religions hold more truth and more personal and worldly relevance than others.

    When, a few years ago, I was desparate for work in the education field, I worked off and on as a substitute in an orthodox yeshiva. They wanted to hire me for the following term as an English and Science teacher. In their science textbooks, they would have me skip over all the chapters that spoke of and addressed the billions of years of evolution, and would have the children believe the Earth and universe was only five thousand and some, I think, seven hundred years old. The children, not to be outdone, listened well to their rabbis and took to tearing out all the offensive pages. Similarly, The New York Times was banned in the classroom, as was all use of the Internet. That experience and the rabbis I there met struck me how much, in another time, in another place, these same rabbinical experts,as The Sanhedrin, were fully capable of plotting, turning over, and voting for the crucifixion of the greatest among them who had ever come to this Earth to live, and then going so far as to ignore him and, in the ‘shunning,’ act as if He had never lived and walked among them, often risking his life..

    Such is the fear, the ignorance, the stupidity, and the repressed anger in humans, and such is the fanaticism that masquerades as a religion.

    And certainly Christianity is no sole bastion of purity, given their historical and sometimes hysterical record.

    These experiences I had with fanaticism of all sorts, and with Jewish, close-minded fanaticism, in particular, made me want to write a new kind of book on Intelligent Design, proving the need, by the evidence, for the need for pure intelligence in Creation, Pure Intelligence and the spirit it derives from that is as connected to God as any tree is, rooted to Mother Earth. I’m writing a book celebrating A Creator, and askin the reader to contemplatethat God planted that microchip into the twenty three thousand genes in every cell, and so ordered them that what those trillions of cells, in our bodies serve, would also have the capacity to know Him. Darwin never contemplated or much considered that God could be the very force that gave the capacity for mutation and created such a beautiful and open-ended system of progressive evolution where species and life, in general, could ascend higher and higher.

    So, Wininger, what I love about reading your weekly blog, or talking to you, for that matter, is your fierce commitment to speak the truth, and stand up for your convictions, no matter if they push people’s buttons or are politically or religiously incorrect.

    So, since you’ve also asked about the nature of God and asked or expressed a curiosity about what God may look like, let the God-inspired poet in me react and share…

    If you look for God, and when, may you come to also know Him and greater realize Him in everything beautiful, because God is Beauty, Truth, and more. One can, so-to-speak, enter the heart of a flower and know it as easily as wondrous miracles, the bees and butterflies, or His miraculous hummingbirds can. God is beautiful, and more than beautiful, because God is the SOURCE from which all beauty, necessarily requiring intelligence to reflect that higher harmony, is derived.

    To those who smugly assert all truth is relative, I would ask them and the children they teach to consider and feel that God is the very Truth to which all other relative truths must correspond and beautifully.

    Thank you, Charley, for, weekly, giving us your best, and for, weekly, giving yourself away, as much as you do…

  3. March 1, 2011 9:27 pm

    I don’t think you can measure the existence of God based on “getting what you want” or not. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa, Which football team does God reward when they’re both on their knees praying before a game? God was alive and well at Auschwitz, People weren’t. And people are in charge of “presencing” God.

  4. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    March 3, 2011 3:10 pm

    My reaction to the video you, Eliezer, asked us to watch is that there’s a world of difference between one’s proclaiming himself or herself, as God, and simply saying one is OF GOD, that God has poured something of His essence into each of us that we might grow in our capacity to know and reflect HIM. So, if one is celebrating in the video that one can let one’s “little light shine,” and we can experience the freedom and joy from doing that, that’s a feeling everyone of us can identify with. In our most clear states, we are loving or even love, and since God IS LOVE, we can feel a oneness. However,there’s a danger once someone starts thinking of himself or herself as God. Let us not get so high that we start befooling ourselves that we, as ensouled beings, ARE GOD, because our higher intuition can tell us that is simply false. It’s beautiful to feel and see in each of us the love that we most truly are, but let us not forget THE SOURCE and THE ONE WHO gave all the gifts, in the first place.

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