Sunday, September 25, 2011

God the Superfluous

Attended services this morning, held on my back deck, of the Church of God the Superfluous.

God, I prayed, if you exist, forgive us for our careless, selfish and unworthy thoughts of you. We have looked upon you as a gift giver and a bribe taker, as a sentimental old fool (with a beard) to be flattered and cajoled. We have ascribed all of our mean and scurvy human qualities to you, and depicted you as cruel, vindictive, grasping, jealous, angry, petty, vainglorious. We have leached all the magnificence and splendor out of you in trying to understand you.

We have created you in our own image, in the belief that man is the measure of all things.

God, we have made you the repository of all our confused notions about good and evil. We have made you bear the intolerable burden of perfect goodness, and have cursed you in our hearts for not making us good.
We have made you the author of the universe, and held you accountable for the narrative, which we perceive but dimly.

In our immense self-concern we have demanded that you give meaning to all of our lives.

Forgive us, o Lord, we beseech Thee, for making Thee superfluous.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nature, long in tooth and nail

Because our natural world is so pleasing to the human eye, it must be the handiwork of God. So the argument goes. It is usually put forth by those with little firsthand experience, apparently, of Nature.
Have you been out in the woods lately? Swarms of gnats, savage horseflies, blood-ravening mosquitoes, and homicidal spiders assault you at every step. A poem, addressed to God:

Why/The fly?/And at that/The gnat?

The spider strings its webs between low-hanging branches, in the air lanes of flying insects, and those that are trapped it often devours alive. All through the murmurous glade, creatures pursue and are pursued; the race is to the swift, and as for those that stumble and fall, seldom is the courtesy paid to let death descend before beginning the meal.

What a book a devil’s chaplain might right on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horribly cruel works of nature!” That was Charles Darwin, devout to begin, who gradually lost his faith through long observation of random and remorseless nature.

The woods offer a pretty prospect from my back deck. All art is deception.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

A recent poll of self-identified Republicans, conducted by the Daily Kos, asked the question: “Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is though Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith?”
Sixty-seven percent said that Jesus was the only way; fifteen percent said there might be another way, and eighteen percent weren’t sure. I’m wondering about that eighteen percent. Were they not sure about the proper way to get to Heaven, or were they maybe not sure about the whole idea of Heaven itself? I’ll assume the former, while wishing for the latter.
Two thousand and three people participated in the poll, which means that, at most, about 360 people might have answered: What a stupid question! You’re assuming that I subscribe to the inane and idiotic notion of Heaven. Do you think I’m a child?
Polls can be very revealing, but they seldom tell the whole story. In this case, they can only hint at how depressingly inchoate or infantile most people’s beliefs are. Some corollary questions might have been useful or interesting. Such as:
What will this Heaven be like? What will you do there? And if you’re bored with this life, why do you want another that will go on forever?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mr. God Takes a Vacation

It appears that our God in Heaven went away on vacation in or around the Year 1, shortly after the death and then the disappearance of his son. He left no forwarding address.
A source said that God was despondent over the loss of his only offspring, Jesus Christ, and worn out from the demands of the public. He was reportedly particularly exasperated by the continuing obtuseness of people in positions of trust. Having brought his son back from the dead, he was disappointed, the source reported, that the disciples still wanted proof that he was Jesus the Chosen One.
God’s mood went from depression to anger, those close to him said, to the extent that he considered another flood; friends and associates, however, talked him into taking some time off.
Apparently God left sketchy, at best, instructions for subordinates to carry on in his absence. The ship of state sailed on under its own momentum for some time, then began to founder during the so-called Dark Ages; it has continued to take on water ever since.
God’s place of retreat is entirely unknown to this day. His date of return is likewise a mystery, but concerned constituents should bear in mind that two thousand years is but the blink of the eye in eternal time. It may be that God is just now opening his beach bag and putting on sunscreen.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

(Picture: Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died July 4, 1826.)
On this day we’re reminded that our Founding Fathers consecrated “the pursuit of happiness” as one of our sacred blessings and inviolable rights, and vexed us ever afterward with the question: What is happiness?
Disregarding all those many whose notions of happiness are no more than those of a pig in a trough, what makes us happy? A placid existence, unruffled by care? Aside from the near-certainty that no one has ever experienced it, should that really stand as our ideal of happiness?
Wealth and fame? But don’t we all know by now of the tribulations of the rich and famous, which console us for being neither? And besides, should mere ambition and the grab for money represent and epitomize the pursuit of happiness?
How about a sense of purpose? This is probably what the Founders meant, more or less, by their vague phraseology. In the new world they were building they expected everyone to take part in the endeavor, to exercise his freedom to seek happiness in a way that would contribute to the common good. But when the sense of such a purpose is stifled or overwhelmed, or is nowhere to be found in an anonymous mass society, then people will look elsewhere, and the religious impulse may take hold. It bids us, in our pursuit of happiness, to worship the unseen, to believe in the unbelievable, to trust in a life to come in which wishes will be reality. So “happiness” becomes the idiotic mooning over something that never was and never will be.
Our Fathers decreed that we were endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, but they disagreed about the nature of that creator and whether it even concerned itself with the affairs of men. They saw that for us to be free we must be free of superstition and fear, and that for us to be happy we must find our own purpose in this life, the only one we can be sure of.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beasts of pray

It sounded like a novel form of animal abuse, worshippers taking their dogs to church with them, but then I read that the four-legged friends get treats and beds and aren’t required to hear a sermon or attend Sunday school.
The Covenant Presbyterian Church in California has instituted a weekly service for dogs, our town’s daily dog-bed liner has reported. The pastor takes canine prayer requests from his flock for the infirm and afflicted and the dearly departed denizens of dogdom, and then intones the Lord’s Prayer. Wouldn’t the 23rd Psalm be more appropriate (“The Lord is my Shepherd…”)?
The idea, in part, is to accommodate slackers who are more devoted to their pets than to their faith. And don’t all preachers fervently pray for a congregation that will sit up and take notice?
Wonder if, at some point during the services, attendees turn backwards and offer up a hymn to doG?
Do dogs have souls in need of redemption? The Bible is vague on the question, except to say that man was meant to have dominion over the beasts, who are too dumb, presumably, to apprehend the weighty subjects of death and original sin and grace and eternal life. But plenty of simple God-fearing Christians fully expect to be reunited with their beloved bow-wows in heaven. And, if our pooches can’t be as immortal as us, how to account for Cerberus, the hound who guards the gates of Hell?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

God bless, and help, us all

“God Bless America” should be the national anthem of our country, someone (probably more than some one) has said. Certainly that phrase, God bless America, is a favorite of speakers striving for a surefire rousing signoff. What is it about those three words that stirs the heart and raises the temperature of red-blooded Amurricans?

Do the citizens of Uruguay, Burkina Faso, or Belgium, for example, exhort God to bless their countries? Do they imagine that God already has blessed their countries, and beseech Him to continue to do so? In their appeals to God, do they put in a word for a neighboring country, or maybe even a country far away but particularly in need of being blessed? Or is their wish only for God to bless theirs?

When God hears these requests, how does He judge which ones to grant? In parceling out blessings, does He favor the largest countries, or the ones with the most supplicants, or those with the most ardent or eloquent?

When we say “God bless America,” are we including South America? If just North America, do we include all 23 countries involved? To be precise, shouldn’t we say “God bless the United States of America”? And even then, are we including all the territories? Just where do the boundaries begin and end? And what about Americans who happen to be living elsewhere?
Thorny questions, all.

Surely, when we say “God Bless America,” we mean, God bless the idea of our country. For surely, the idea of America must be the apple of God’s eye.

And the song is catchy, too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A novel enterprise

It’s been a year since I finished writing a novel. (Shameless self-promotion: It’s available at Amazon; title is The Misforgotten.)

There wasn’t any reason or logic, especially, behind this undertaking. I wrote my 340-page magnum opus to purge myself of accumulated random thoughts and a narrative that’s been nagging at me for years. It was an act, you could say, of pure self-indulgence. Beyond that, if there is a beyond that, it was an effort to make sense of things.

And, for better or worse, that’s what religion is. Dawkins and Hitchens and Maher and all the other shrill and strident atheists want everyone to come to their senses and start using their heads on the question of God. But if everyone used their heads all the time then no novels would get written (also for better or worse, people will argue), no music would get composed (except the sterile kind of music), no paintings would get painted (ditto on the last parentheses). Literature and music and art are what help a lot of us get through life, and the same goes for religion.

The utterances of Jesus are as beautiful and mysterious and startling as the works of Michelangelo or Bach or Keats, and to ask that we abandon our “belief” in any of them is to say we should close our hearts – while using our heads – to the ineffable.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hell's bells

A megastar pastor and author of a best-selling book about hell was in Music City last week to deliver a sermon on his view of God and His fiery furnace.

Hell, says Rob Bell, whose Love Wins has won him fame and fortune (it’s second on the New York Times bestseller list), but also the wrath of the fire-and-brimstone set, may not be irrevocable. God can give people a second chance, in Bell’s eschatology, although He does fell the need to punish them for a spell, for purification’s sake.

But “a God who tortures people in hell forever can’t be trusted and is not good,” Bell says.

The argument raises some interesting and pressing questions: Can a part-time torturer be called “good”? What conduct should one strive for in hell, in order to earn a reprieve? If we can spring ourselves from hell, can we also fumble our way out of heaven? And, more to the point:

Has everyone lost their mind?

Here we are, a decade into the 21st century, and still the idiotic and monstrous notion of hell, which has made life a hell on earth for so many millions, has not relinquished its hold on our imaginations. Like babies, we conjure demons in our dreams and boogeymen under our beds, and then try to explicate such infantile fancies.

Our speculations about hell—its design, its curriculum—are as senseless as the visions of a lunatic. And our debates—so earnest, so learned—about just what species of ogre God is, must set the Almighty, if He’s listening, to either roaring with laughter or trembling with rage. Sometimes He must think that a really big bonfire wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We scratch God’s back…

Looking for Christ-inanity material in the local libes the other day, I picked up A Life God Rewards Devotional, published in 2002, a slim volume but chock-full of fodder for ridicule.

Author (he’s world-renowned!) Bruce Wilkinson kicks off with a preface, or “Invitation,” introducing his theme but mostly taking the opportunity to plug his other products. “I wrote A Life God Rewards to help people recapture the truth about the connection between what we do today and what God will do for us in eternity…If you haven’t read the book, I urge you to do so.”

The devotional I’m holding in my hands, he explains, is to take me further in my understanding and to live a life that will earn me “God’s ‘Well done!’” And toward this end, the world-renowned Mr. W. further urges me to “By all means pick up the companion tool, A Life God Rewards Journal…Also, be sure to take advantage of A Life God Rewards Bible Study and video seminar…”

“Join me on this joyful, life-changing journey today,” his Invitation concludes. (We’ll be wiser but poorer, after shelling out for all the necessary supplies.)

A real Introduction follows this, entitled “The Big Picture of Your Eternity,” and it turns out that this picture is so big that it requires three days to take it all in. (Day One: A Welcome Jolt; Day Two: The Keys That Unlock Forever; Day Three: Forever in Focus.)

The book’s body is divided into four weeks of seven days each—God rested on Sunday, but not our mentor, and neither does he advise us to. The short chapters have snappy titles: "Working in the Son", "Who Ate My Cheesecake?", "God’s Secret Service", "Hell Is No Party", etc.

On the subject of Hades, the author pulls no punches. “Hell is a place of torment without an exit,” he says. (I imagined a stalled elevator piping New-Age Gospel songs.) “People there are conscious, they can communicate, they feel pain and regret—and their condition will never change.” From this, he concludes “Life is short, but God is good.”

Merciful, too, because the little devotional ends a few pages after this, before I succumb to violent laughter and have to face the eternal flames prematurely.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

God's Bodkins

How odd
That God
Would demand
A hand --
Just because
He's on high
-- What a guy!

Who craves
Our raves?
The almighty!

That hussy,
Wasn't as fussy,
Was old Thor
Up in Norway!

Only Jahweh
Great choirs
Of praise --
Heavenly days!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Knowing God to death

When my daughter was about six or seven, she asked me if I believed in God. I told her no, and she asked me why.

I don't see any evidence, I told her.

"He's not a person, Dad," she told me. "He wouldn't come down and leave any evidence."

Why would he? Why would God want us to "know" him? Our knowledge of him would diminish him -- he would no longer be perfect.

And furthermore, can we say of a perfect being that it would "want"?

"The more we refine our concept of God to square with natural law, to explain what we know, the more pointless it seems." -- Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

God as designated knower

People have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what's worth knowing, said Oscar Wilde. "Newspapers provide that service."

I like to know things but there are many things I don't want to know, like what goes on in a slaughterhouse.

We make God in our image and require Him to know all the things we don't care to know, and to love them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God, what nonsense

"The extreme of human knowledge of God is to know that we do not know God." -- Saint Thomas Aquinas.

God wants me to be the best I can...God has a plan for me...God will tell me what to do...

Any anthropomorphic statement about God is senseless. To attribute human characteristics to God is to limit him, to deny his Godhood.

If we know the will of God, he is not God.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For the love of---

"God wants me to love Him." How pathetic. The ugliest girl in my high school wanted me to love her.

God's principle attribute: Insecurity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Preaching to the choir

Bill Maher gives skeptics a bad name. His sophomoric rants about the absurdity of the Jesus story ("God sent him on a suicide mission...") probably make the faithful even more adamantine. He's smug and, frankly, creepy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What was the question again?

"Jesus is the answer."

Shouldn't it be "Jesus is the question?" Jesus didn't have any answers; whenever someone asked him anything, he responded with another question, or with a statement that prompted further questions.

"Nicodemus saith unto him, 'How can a man be born when he is old?'

"Jesus answered, 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God...'

"Nicodemus answered and said unto him, 'How can these things be?'

"Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Art thou a master of Israel, and know not these things?'"

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Palin comparison

A local yokel writes to the podunkish paper here every week. He fancies himself a "character," I gather, and imagines that his breezy drivel hewing to the Republican line is either eye-opening or thought-provoking.

He was "impressed" by Sarah Palin, apparently only because she could deliver a speech written for her while being ravishable, if I can read between his lines.

In his screed this week he refers to Obama as "a part-time senator of Muslim heritage," and "the only candidate of Muslim heritage to ever run for President," and to drive home his point even more, in case his lip-moving readers haven't yet made the connection, he calls Obama by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama.

Our epistolary wit is, of course, a Christian. A Muslim of any stripe is beyond his ken. He knows that Jesus is the only answer, and he wishes to perpetuate the theocracy in power.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Deer hunters for Jesus

A local radio personality is to speak at an Outreach Dinner at a local church about how special it is for fathers and sons (and daughters) to get out in the woods and hunt, and also about his strong faith and his determination to bring men to God. The story in the paper says when he’s not hunting deer “he is likely hunting souls.” It also says that the largest deer he has “harvested” is a ten-point buck in Alabama.

The “harvested” euphemism is a useful one to justify hunting, if it needs to be justified – hunters, after all, can say that God directed us to have dominion over all the animals – and we might as well go ahead and apply it to the process of proselytizing for God. And the “hunter” is more like a farmer. He plants a seed, he waters it, he clears the weeds (evil thoughts) and keeps the plants in line – his converts are like so many rows of corn.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Born again in outer space

Lewis (see Sept. 8) says he began writing sci-fi because a pupil of his took "that dream of interplanetary colonization quite seriously," and because he saw "that thousands of people in one way and another depend on some hope of perpetuating and improving the human race...that a 'scientific' hope of defeating death is a real rival to Christianity."

So he set out to counteract the "scientism" of science fiction, which he saw as immoral , and to apply his moral vision to the genre. "Any amount of theology," he wrote to a friend, "can now be smuggled into people's minds under cover of romance without their knowing it."

Apparently no place in the universe is safe from a man with a Bible and a mission.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Days of swine and roses

"My life has meaning because of my personal relationship with God," an acquaintance told me the other day, and I started thinking that his smugness was the complacency of a pig in a sty. The farmer feeds and waters the pigs, and allows them to live in the sty or the barn, and maybe there's mud for them to wallow in. And perhaps there are several other pigs in the herd that also imagine that the farmer favors them -- that they have a special relationship with Mr. Farmer. And so they live in that belief until one day the farmer comes and slaughters them -- that is, he sends someone else to do the slaughtering.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The logic escapes me

Was reading the other day about C. S. Lewis's conversion from atheism (or agnosticism -- he seemed not to be sure what he didn't believe) to Christianity in a book called C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church. There's a passage from G. K. Chesterton which the author says was a real eye-opener for the skeptical Lewis. It's from The Everlasting Man, and it illustrates, according to the author of the Lewis book, "the limits of (evolution's) application to any understanding of human history":

"Nobody can imagine (Chesterton writes) how nothing could turn into something...It is really far more logical to start by saying 'In the beginning God created the heaven and earth' even if you only mean 'In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.'"

Why is it far more logical to start so? If you only mean that the whole thing is unthinkable, where does logic come in?

Why is it any more "logical" to postulate a fairy-tale God who was simply "there" in the beginning, than to simply say that things came into existence?

Or why require a "creation" at all? If God could have always been there, why not the universe?