Today, the second in a series by guest blogger Mark Derewicz originally posted on Mark Derewicz’s Weblog.
Is it okay for people to organize around a delusion?
I imagine this would be renowned atheist Richard Dawkins’ first thought upon reading my previous post defending organized religion. So let’s just take on the concept of God directly.
Speaking in literal terms for just a moment. God doesn’t act like a person or by the conventions we’ve set up as humans. God is not a thing that can be quantified in any scientific way. And God doesn’t act by any measure we humans can calculate. This should not be news to anyone who’s read the New Testament, in which Jesus says: “God is a spirit and must be worshiped in spirit.”
If the figure who inspired an entire religion says God is a spirit, and a spirit can’t really be defined in any literal terms, then to me the entire question of the existence of God is kind of silly and beside the point. How exactly do we prove the existence of a spirit?
One way, I think, would be to consider holy scriptures as collections of metaphors and analogies that speak to the heart and not the head. Jesus spoke metaphorically about who he was–I’ll address that some other time–and he spoke metaphorically about God, whom he also called, “Father.”
Think about that for a moment. In my son’s eyes I’m this source of unlimited knowledge. (Scary, I know.) I tell him that Humboldt squid live deep in the Gulf of California and swim closer to the surface to feed at dusk, and then my son reflects this knowledge back into the world though his play. More than knowledge, it would be good if I exhibited virtues and attributes so that my boy could mirror those back, too. (But what am I, some sort of prophet?!)
An adult’s relationship to God is similar. The knowledge of the living universe–that is, God–is so vast that we can’t possibly comprehend the essence of it. Expecting an adult to know all of what God is–to be “aware” of this existence–would be like expecting my four-year-old son to give me a treatise on the Iraq War or health care reform or even car repair and to be “aware” that such things exist. Such knowledge is beyond him. Likewise, most knowledge of the universe is beyond us. God, as a thing we can define down to its essence, is beyond us. But as we grow we are able to see patterns, become wiser, and gain nearer access to this wealth of spiritual knowledge just as my son will learn over time to understand some of the broader issues of the world. . . . . And this will have positive consequences as we act in the world.
So, God as the father is merely a metaphor. To my mind, this does not diminish the power of Christ’s message or the existence of some greater wisdom.
And that brings me back to my main point. Some atheists view religious people as a bunch of deluded sheep who believe that Jesus performed miracles, was literally born of a virgin, and rose from the dead. Some religionists are so vehement in their beliefs that they demonize others, turning into hypocrites, and thus giving further ammunition to those who disparage religion in general. A vicious cycle, as it were.
But all that is so far beside the point. According to the Bible, never did Jesus say that his miracles were central to his cause. Never did he himself mention his birth, let alone its divine circumstances. Instead, he viewed himself secondary to his teachings. He was like a lamp. The lamp is beautiful. It’s okay to cherish it. But the sole purpose of a lamp is to shed light. That purpose must trump anything else. The purpose of Jesus was to spread spiritual teachings. Those teachings–and those of other religions–are as close to God as humans can get. We can even say that they are God. That’s where our focus should be.
If people were to organize around the spiritual teachings, which they do in many cases, then good would be poured out into the world . . . as it is much of the time.
This is the purpose of organized religion. Or at least it should be. The fact that we get it wrong, that we cling to dogma and doctrine and exclusionary thinking, only means that we’re human.
The way I see it, if we give in to radical fundamentalists, if we let them define what religion and spirituality are, or if we let the Richard Dawkins’s and Bill Maher’s of the world define the conversation, then we are doing a disservice to the truth and the purpose of our existence.