Some questions for pro-lifers

The Thinker by Rodin

I do have some friends that are pro-life. There’s nothing wrong with that and certainly in principle since the opposite of pro-life is pro-death, well who really wants to be that?

Pro-life though generally has a more specific meaning, at least here in the United States. It means that you are against abortion, generally at any stage of a pregnancy for any reason and want law to criminalize abortions. Some though do make exceptions in the case of rape and incest.

The most common reason for being pro-life is: since only God gives life then only God should be able to take it away. And the fetus is defenseless and can’t speak for itself, but if it had a voice would say, “I want to live!” So in the minds of pro-lifers for a human to take away a life that hasn’t gone to term means you are murdering a human being, even if the “human being” is just an inert blastocyst consisting of a couple of dozen cells. Murder is a crime and in the eyes of most Christians and Jews a sin, presumably because it violates the 6th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

Naturally I have some questions for pro-lifers. Feel free to leave comments with your answers. My suspicion is that most pro-lifers simply don’t think through these questions. First, their ministers tell it is so that’s good enough for them. Second, if they parse these questions of mine it will probably set up cognitive dissonance. Most of us deal with cognitive dissonance by not thinking about it. So I don’t expect much if any response from pro-lifers as these questions simply won’t be read. But just in case, please satisfy my curiosity.

  • If you believe that only God can create life, are you saying the mother and father had no part in creating life, and that it’s only coincidence that sexual intercourse (or artificial insemination) is involved? In other words, that all conceptions are essentially virgin births and that God has somehow magically combined the DNA of the mother and father?
  • If there is a miscarriage, is God complicit in the murder of the fetus?
  • If so, is God a murderer? Or is this some sort of mysterious love beyond our grasp?
  • If God is a murderer, doesn’t that make God in some part also evil, and thus not worthy of worship?
  • If God does not cause miscarriages, then whose fault is it? Are the parents at fault, maybe for not going to the obstetrician enough? Is the mother to blame because ultimately it is her body?
  • If it’s the parents’ fault that a miscarriage occurred, should they be charged with murder or face other criminal charges? If so, what is appropriate? Presumably the death penalty it out.
  • If a miscarriage is neither God’s nor the parents’ fault, does this mean that some actions are essentially nondeterministic and no one’s fault?
  • Should the government take all necessary actions for every pregnancy to go to term? Should this include providing free neonatal vitamins and prenatal care if necessary?
  • At what stage if any do you stop becoming pro-life? For example, if an adult commits murder, are you okay with their execution at the hands of the state?
  • If so why can only God take away life before birth, but it’s okay in some cases for man to take away life after birth? (I’m guessing there are quotes in the Bible that would justify this, but they seem to conflict with the 6th Commandment. If so how do you resolve the conflict?)
  • If only God can take away life, are we under an obligation to extend every human life as long as humanly possible? Should we forbid voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide and hospice care in favor of all measures to extend life as long as possible, no matter how much pain and suffering this may cause to the dying person? Where do you draw the line and why?
  • Should we care about a child not yet brought to term more than a human being already born? If so, why? If not, can I also assume that you are in favor of any taxation necessary to ensure that all people live as long as possible? If not, please explain.
  • If we should ensure that all people live as long as possible, should we also do everything to ensure they live as health and misery-free lives as possible? If not, why not?
  • Are diseases caused by sin?
  • If diseases are not caused by sin, why does God allow them to exist, as they tend to cause misery and shorten lives?
  • If you allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest but are otherwise pro-life, why do you make these exceptions? Did not God want these lives to happen?
  • Do you think the use of contraception is a sin? Why or why not? Please explain.
  • Do you acknowledge that overpopulation is straining our ecosystem?
  • If so and trends continue is there any point at which society must control the population to ensure the survival of the species?
  • If not and our ecosystem breaks down due to excessive human population and climate change, leading to the extinction of our species and massive misery and death, are you okay with this? Why?

Curious minds, well at least this mind wants to know.

God gets revised

The Thinker by Rodin

Yes, it’s pretty cheeky of man thinking we can revise God. It’s cheeky unless you think that God is largely a creation of man anyhow. I happen to be in that boat. So seeing the book God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age by one of my favorite Unitarian Universalist luminaries for sale had me plunking down twenty bucks or so for the hardcover version.

Its author is Galen Guengerich, the senior minister at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan. What made this book particularly interesting to me is that I got a preview of it four years ago, when I first attended the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I got introduced to Rev. Guengerich in a large conference room over two days. Yes, there was so much meat in his seminar that one-day would not do it. Clearly that occasion was on his mind. He even alluded to it this year, during another seminar that he gave. You might say I was there in the beginning of this book. This book is the result of four years of thought.

Guengerich himself is something of a contradiction, but that makes his story all the more interesting. He grew up in a Mennonite community near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As a Mennonite community, it was considered moderate, but Mennonites are very much a cloistered religion where you generally entered the faith with birth, married someone in the faith, lived your life in a Mennonite community and died therein. Guengerich eventually left the faith, but not the ministry. It is in the family blood as his father was a minister. His rambling search for a faith consistent with his rational mind and his calling toward ministry eventually lead him into my Unitarian Universalist denomination and to the very prestigious church in Manhattan as its senior minister.

In Unitarian Universalist (UU) circles, he comes close to being a rock star. UUs are uncomfortable with this designation, but he is clearly one of our leading theologians and luminaries. In this book, Guengerich ponders what God is in the scientific age and if so what it means to be religious. His conclusions will seem radical to those enmeshed in a traditional faith, but not so much to Unitarian Universalists. I was not surprised that he still sees the need for religion. However, religion is clearly in decline, at least in the secular areas of the world. More and more people have ditched religion and prefer to be labeled “spiritual”, a bland word that really describes nothing. As a minister that caters to people who are more spiritual than religious, Guengerich sees this type of person all the time. Mostly they consist of people too rational to believe in most of the clearly wacky and antiquated notions of God, and who often have been spiritually wounded by the faith of their youth. However, try as they might this “spirituality” thing isn’t working for them. There is nothing much to lash onto. Many feel disconnected and flighty, carried by currents they don’t understand.

This book was really written for these people, not people “of the book” who find their revelations in the Bible, the Torah or the Quran. Those in the latter group, if they read the book at all, are going to feel offended. It’s not that Guengerich dismisses them or their beliefs. One of the curious things about this book is how respectfully he writes about all people of faith, and how he qualifies his own faith (such as it is) with uncertainty.

One can accept the mystery of holy books full of contradictions, as billions are glad to do, even though it leads to cognitive dissonance. Or one can look at these holy books, put a yellow highlighter to them and see that much of the advice or beliefs are just wrong, or simply don’t work in our modern age. Guengerich does the latter, and systematically but respectfully goes through many of these beliefs and shows why they not only should not be believed, but also are dangerous to believe. He goes through the consequences of people believing in some of these ideas, the wreckage of which is all around us. The Taliban are an overly extreme but not unique example. They would keep women ignorant, cloistered in their houses and covered in all public spaces (well, at least while they have periods).

His conclusion, unsurprisingly similar to mine, is that there is no personal God, but that our universe is worthy of reverence. He pretty much agrees with my independent thesis some years back that God is not a noun, but a verb. He also believes that religion is necessary. It connects us with a higher purpose and gives us the courage we need in an impersonal world to change it, but also to feel real community. The practice of worship, he argues, connects emotion with reason, for we need both to find the courage to make our dispiriting world a better place. To the extent that God exists, he argues, it is through us. As I mentioned some posts back (and I confess I stole this idea from his lecture), we are very much the hands of God. (He says we are the fulcrum, the change agent that makes change possible.) The world can be made a better, more civilized and loving place only through our actions. In congregation and through the practice of worship, we find the stamina and the courage to turn abstract hopes into concrete actions. We become the change agents for the better world that we need.

This conclusion should not be surprising but is not something we routinely think about. You look at how great positive change occurs in the world, and it arrives by practicing faith that typically gets set in houses of worship. It’s how slaves won freedom and found safe passage north. It’s how Gandhi won independence for his country and how Martin Luther King reoriented our moral compass. It’s how suffrage happened and Catholic abuses of indulgences were ended. Without worship space for like minds to come together as people of faith, positive change is much less likely to happen.

Guengerich writes eloquently but sparsely, packing ideas into short sentences that connect well with his larger themes. His one largest theme is gratitude as the basis of faith. Having the gift of life, in spite of its complexities, is still an amazing experience. We exist only because of our utter dependence on each other. Breaking our bonds of connection is suicidal. He says that we need a reverence for our relationships with one another and the natural world. A positive religion for the 21st century will help get us there.

His book is a great read for open minds but is also straightforward, easily readable, and just the right length to keep you turning the pages and to never feel bored. Put it on your Kindle for just $10.67.

The hands of God

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s been four years since I wrote a sermon. There is little reason to write one if you are not a minister, which I am certainly am not. But it has also been four years since I attended the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Four years ago it was in Salt Lake City. This week it is in Louisville, Kentucky. Unsurprisingly if you attend an event like this you will hear lots of sermons as well as prominent speakers, albeit given in large conference rooms instead of sanctuaries. This sermon is tangentially based on a lecture I attended yesterday. No one will hear this sermon but some will at least read it. Enjoy.

Not long ago I wrote about TheTweetofGod, a Twitter feed that hilariously claims to be thoughts from God himself. Many of the prayerful believe they get personal communications from God. Most of us get the sense that God is distant and at best we hear from him through other channels and rarely get information we need when we need it. Many of the more secular of us, such as me, observe that God seems to be far too busy in other outer worldly tasks than to bother with my pedestrian needs. It is hard for us to reconcile the perfectly compassionate God we were taught with the world we inhabit. In the real world, so many of us live harsh, cruel and often capricious lives. Why does an all-loving God allow evil to happen to people? It’s an eternal mystery and for all their quoting of Bible passages, the arguments by the devout are weak at best. It is entirely rational to see God as absent at best and a figment of our suffering at worst.

Yet we move forward in life, at least those of us do with innate survival skills, aided perhaps in part by our local house of worship. Some of us end up as road kill: victims of suicide, homicide, starvation and various diseases. Most of us particularly if blessed with opportunity and education carve some meaning through career, family and social engagement. Life becomes, if not heavenly, at least somewhat bearable with challenges and happy periods. All of us share the same fate. All of us, if we are honest, can say that any other life that happens after death is unfathomable.

Catholics in particular are comfortable with the notion of saints. Saints are men and women with god-like spiritual powers, whose works on earth seem at least inspired by God. Some of the saints Catholics worship seem to have wizard-like capabilities. They are not God, but seem touched by God in some special way to channel abilities seemingly beyond mortal men. Saints tend to have specializations. St. Francis of Assisi, for example, seemed to be especially in tune with the animals.

In truth most of us have gifts that if we practiced them would make us saintly. Simply practicing compassion to those suffering around us can do much to reduce suffering. Many of these skills are easy to learn, if not innate, and are not difficult to practice on a daily basis. I am a reasonably compassionate person but I will confess it is hard to act compassionately to the homeless people on the streets here in Louisville as I walk to the convention center from my hotel. It’s much easier to be compassionate toward more trusted sources, like my wife and daughter. Given that these skills are easy to acquire, and perhaps innate, all of us are in some ways capable of being ministers. The fundamental skill required of ministry is simply the ability to relate to a person and acknowledge them as a person, no better or worse than ourselves.

Thus, while all of us are imperfect, we are still God-like. We have the ability to combine reason with empathy to reduce not just our suffering but the suffering of those we encounter. We become, in effect, the hands of God in the world. We have the ability to do the boots-on-the-ground ministry that God himself seems unwilling to do directly.

Perhaps this is because God is not some external entity wholly apart from us. Perhaps it is because we are all a part of the body of God whether we acknowledge it or not. Obviously none of us acts with perfect knowledge and perfect empathy, but neither does an individual cell in your own body. And yet just as each cell in your body has functions, so do you. Some of these functions can be used to spread love and reduce misery. At any moment we can choose whether or not we wish to exercise these talents.

If we have an erroneous zone, perhaps it is in thinking that God is some external being, rather than we are the hands of God. Perhaps we discount our own ability to be the hands of God, because we see ourselves as too imperfect, and thus unworthy of divinity. Perhaps we have been trained to wallow in our unworthiness, and thus find it hard to love and trust ourselves. Perhaps we believe because we know of our innate imperfections that we cannot summon our god-like powers. And yet we all have them and can use them at any time we choose to do so. We can put a dollar in the cup of a homeless man. We can pick up a man who has fallen and take him to the hospital. We can nurture a son or a daughter. We can hold the hand of our aging parent as they confess their fears of dying. We can scour our pantry for food that we don’t need so that the poor can have sustenance. We can peel potatoes in a soup kitchen. We can pick up trash from public lots. We can plant trees and remove garbage from our estuaries.

Perhaps God is simply saying to us who want to worship him: I gave you hands, feet, eyes and mouths for a reason: so that you can make your world a better place for you and for all life. All we have to do is choose to engage that part of us, and we can create the paradise that we imagine. We simply have to act.

Amen.

God says the darndest things

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m not much of a believer in a deity, at least not the kind of deity that most people pray to. I believe in the abstract deity, one wholly indifferent to my personal sufferings, maybe because it has bigger fish to fry. If you are the praying type, you sort of assume God is listening when you pray, and that’s God with a capital G, the big one, not some intercessor like an angel or Sylvia Browne. God is, after all, omnipotent so, sure, God can listen to billions of people’s prayers at once, sort through all of it and channel back some sort of catharsis to all those prayees. God does it without working up a sweat.

God rarely replies back personally when you pray, although God apparently spoke directly to Moses and mostly some very ancient Old Testament dudes. It would be nice if God spoke in words but the best you can hope for is some feelings that can maybe will help direct your life through the nebulous and often painful reality that it is. If you like messages direct from God with no ambiguity, you will be happy to know that God does Twitter.

It turns out that God, or rather @TheTweetOfGod, is a compelling reason to use Twitter. On a typical day God has a half dozen or so tweets of enlightenment for us sinners to absorb, but they may primarily stimulate your laugh reflex. God’s tweets are also sometimes quite insightful, or actually point to a larger thought. If the Bible could be funny and sarcastic maybe it would be like following @TheTweetOfGod.

Sadly, there is evidence that this Twitter God may not be that God because God is supposed to be all spiritual and not materialistic. But this God apparently mostly uses an iPhone, but sometimes tweets come just from the web. But hey, if you are God then by inference you are omnipotent, so you can conjure up an iPhone, tweet with it and broadcast your omniscient message. Or maybe God has a Swiss bank account to pay for his iPhone; I am sure his credit is good. But, no, there is strong circumstantial evidence that God is really David Javerbaum, who apparently has been writing material for Jon Stewart for a very long time. If Javerbaum is the second coming of Christ, be prepared to laugh. Or to do a second take:

If ignorance is bliss, why is the world so unhappy?

A lot of what God says actually makes a lot of sense, if you ponder it for a while.

Am I pro-life? Yes, but if you’re familiar with My work you know I’m not exactly anti-death, either.

But God does can have something of an attitude:

I am watching you read this. And I know your inmost thoughts about it. And I control your life. And I love you. #notcreepythough

God also has 730,000-some followers, and rising. This is a peculiar way to spread enlightenment, but if so consider me a devout follower.

Reading is fundamental but misreading is fundamentalism.

God can even be self-deprecating:

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m omnipotent. Do the math.

God can give us some insight into dying:

Your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. It takes an average of 70-80 years.

God, of course is white. Whites are the master race, right? And of course, God is a he because men were created before women — it’s in the Bible, just look it up! Which gives chase to thoughts about God’s anatomy. Doubtless he is blessed way beyond all mortal men with his equipment between his thighs. No wonder women swoon in his presence. And God has a recent book out, The Last Testament, apparently dictated to apostle David Javerbaum. I wonder what God does with the royalties? What can you give God that he doesn’t already have or can instantly conjure up? Maybe his real gift is humanity. For it is our weirdness and unpredictability that God seems to find endlessly amusing. It keeps him entertained for an eternity. You got to admit that we give him plenty of good source material:

The problem with government of the people, by the people and for the people is the people.

To err is human, to refuse to acknowledge it even more so.

To conclude: just do what Jesus would do. Especially on Mothers Day:

What would Jesus do? Today, take Mary out to Olive Garden.

God is a verb

The Thinker by Rodin

Those of us who believe in God tend to think of God as a noun. As you may recall from elementary school, a noun is a person, place or thing. God is probably not a person, unless you count Jesus Christ. Nor is God a place, except heaven is assumed to be some physical or ethereal space where God’s presence is overwhelming, sort of God’s home, you might say. Calling God a thing sounds sort of churlish since by definition there can be nothing grandeur or more magnificent than God. Given our poor definition, if we have to define God as a noun, saying God is a thing will have to do.

A sentence is made up of many parts of speech. God cannot be an adjective because adjectives modify nouns. Adverbs modify verbs or adjectives, and since God cannot be an adjective it cannot be an adverb. You can look through all the parts of a sentence and using God for anything other than a noun mostly doesn’t work. God can be part of a word and be something else. Goddamn, for instance, is an adjective and sometimes an adverb. There is only one other part of a sentence where God could work: God could be a verb.

For many of you, you are wondering what the heck I am talking about. A verb expresses action, state or a relationship between things. Dictionary.com defines a verb as:

Any member of a class of words that are formally distinguished in many languages, as in English by taking the past ending in -ed, that function as the main elements of predicates, that typically express action, state, or a relation between two things, and that (when inflected) may be inflected for tense, aspect, voice, mood, and to show agreement with their subject or object.

When you think about it though, using God as a verb makes a lot of sense. Granted it is hard to use God as a verb in a sentence, but what is fundamental about our notion of God is the notion of being in a relationship with God. If there were nothing else sentient in the universe, would God exist? Who can say, since no one would be around to detect the presence of God, but for sure it would not matter. God though only has meaning in the context of a relationship. Many of us seek to find God, and those who believe they have found God then try to understand God. This leads to a lot of confusion, however, because so many people have different interpretations of what God wants from us.

Yet if God is understood as the relationship between people, places and things, i.e. God is a verb, then clarity can emerge. This notion of God though will trouble most of us because we tend to see God as something external, all powerful, all good and unique, i.e. a noun. Saying God is a verb simply suggests it is what holds us in relationship to everything else. In this sense, we are literally part of the mind of God. In this sense, God becomes neither good nor bad, but simply is the relationship between all things, physical and spiritual. God in some sense is energy, or whatever forces exist, whether simple or complex, that hold us together in communion. This notion of God answers the riddle: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound? If God is a verb then the answer is yes. The tree falling in the forest impacts in some measure all of creation because God as a verb posits as an article of faith that everything really is interconnected with everything else. So yes, it made a sound, even if we did not hear it personally.

You will get no argument from scientists and not from quantum physicists in particular. Certainly no scientist will argue that every action is deterministic. Things are deterministic at the macro level. We know with confidence that our planet will be subsumed into the Red Giant that our sun will become someday, because we understand physics well enough. We also understand physics well enough to know that at the subatomic level outcomes can only be expressed in terms of probability, not certainty. Scientists have yet to find evidence of any phenomenon that can exist independently of anything else. A hurricane, for instance, requires heat and lots of water, so it is in relationship with its environment. Everything is in relation with something else, and the evidence is that every action affects everything else in the universe as well, not instantly, but over long periods of time.

Perhaps expressing a reverence for the relationship between all things is worship, and the relationship itself is God. Perhaps God is not a destination, but experiencing God is simply a matter of tuning into the relationship between all things, seen and unseen. God may feel most God-like when we feel a sense of awe from our interconnectedness. I feel it regularly. I felt it last year when I was traipsing around South Dakota’s Black Hills. I could feel it in the life of the soil at my feet and hear it in the brisk wind whistling through the pine trees. I felt it on Friday at a rest stop between Richmond, Virginia and my home in Northern Virginia when I stepped out of my car into stifling hundred plus degree heat. I feel it when the cat is on my lap, and is purring and looking at me with its adoring eyes. I felt it on Friday when I saw a broke, pregnant and homeless woman with a cardboard sign on the streets of Richmond and I felt a pang of remorse by driving by her without giving her a dollar or helping her to a homeless shelter. I feel it in the life cycle in particular, and my experiences of my encroaching mortality. I felt it when as an infant I was nuzzled up to my mother and drank milk from her breasts.

Perhaps God is simply what is. Perhaps our religious struggle is simply to come to terms with and accept what is, and to magnify and glorify the connections between all things. There are many ways to do it, but the principle method is to practice love as much as you can. This is because love certainly is a verb, and has god-like powers.

Perhaps we just need to accept the truth that God is love, and nothing more than that. Love is about enhancing the connection between all things so we are in greater harmony and understanding with each other. It works for me.

God as a gecko

The Thinker by Rodin

Looking for God but having a hard time finding him? Most people claim to know where he (sometimes she, occasionally it) lives and what you must do to know God. They will be glad to lead you to their local church, temple or place of worship so you can find God too. Others will be glad to give you their holy book of choice, whether it a Quran, Bible or Torah and say that you can find God by pondering the words therein.

None of these approaches will render a tangible God. Rather you will find that you need an intercessor or intercessors of various sorts. The intercessor may be Jesus, or Mohammad, or Buddha (although Buddha did not believe in a deity in the classical sense) or a televangelist. You are invited to try to find God through them.

The problem with this approach is that unless you are consumed with an unquestioning faith, you can never be quite sure the God you believe in is the genuine thing. Recognizing this paradox, a number of people have decided they don’t believe in God at all. Christopher Hitchens is a prominent atheist who is inconveniently dying of stage-four esophageal cancer, the same cancer that killed his father. Curiously, his imminent demise has certain people (principally dyed in the wool Christians) busy praying for Hitchens. Specifically, they are praying that before Hitchens passes into the great unknown he finds God and especially for him to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. (For some peculiar reason, the chance to know God can occur only during life, not in the thereafter.) Hitchens, as you can imagine, is not too happy with these religious people. He has the weird idea that he should be allowed to die in peace and respected for his convictions, rather than listen to a torrent of well meaning religious folks convinced they know the truth and passionately praying for his quick conversion.

Clearly there are no lack of folks that due to their passionate religious beliefs would like to introduce you to their idea of God. However, suppose you want to find God independently. Where could God be hiding? Why is your sight so veiled?

It could be that God is not who you think he or she should be. Humans have anthropomorphic tendencies. If this word does not ring a bell, it means we like to endow on things human qualities. For example, I treat my cat Arthur much like I would like to be treated myself. I talk to him (in English, not in meows), pet him and hug him when he is on my lap. Arthur’s way of communicating with me is to treat me like a fellow cat. Basically, he would prefer to lick me with his sandpaper tongue. For most of us humans, we expect God to have human-like characteristics. That’s why, arguably, intercessors are required to understand God. Could any human have found the Christian God without Jesus? It seems unlikely. The same is true with Muhammad. How were we supposed to know there is but one god and his name is Allah if Muhammad had not told us so? Were we supposed to read it in tealeaves?

It may be, as I believe, that God is indifferent to us as individuals because we are part of an immensely complex universe unfolding according to his plan. In my opinion, if God exists, it is as futile for us to try to understand him as it is for an ant to try to understand calculus. (Understanding nature, however, is a different matter.) We are all trapped within the boundaries of a finite life, our limited senses and intelligence, our culture and our biosphere. By definition, God must be greater than these finite boundaries but those boundaries frame our level of understanding. Some claim that certain practices, like meditation, allow momentary escapes from these constraints. Others claim that certain practices, like prayer, allow us to hear answers from the Almighty.

It could be that God simply does not speak to us at all. Does this mean that God does not exist? If you see God only in the terms prescribed by the major religions, then maybe not. This version of God is authoritarian, and personally vested in human affairs and cares uniquely about you. In other words, this type of God is anthropomorphic. Yet, God could just as easily be remote and hidden. In fact, God could be nothing more than this tableau we are in called The Universe. God may be just the universe and to the extent that we understand the Universe, we understand God.

Or perhaps God is hidden in plain sight. Like a gecko that blends into the brick façade on our house, maybe he is there but we have to look very hard to see him. That’s sort of what I believe. This was brought home again to me last week when I traipsed through the Black Hills of South Dakota. From the grandeur of the stars at night (normally unseen because of our light pollution), to the beauty of Sylvan Lake late on a sunny autumn afternoon, to the light whispering of the winds racing through the pine forests of the Black Hills, to the largely barren lands of Custer State Park where the buffalo roamed, it was hard to escape the feeling of being surrounded, if not by God, then by the sacred. It was like God was pouring out his essence. All I had to do was choose to feel God’s majesty.

Arguably, humans have learned to survive through wearing blinders. Our lives tend to be rigorously prioritized, because if we don’t put first things first, we may not survive. When you live your life this way, it is easy to tune things out. You may find though that if you can move the importance of survival to some corner of your brain, and feel the presence of nature and the now, that you will experience something far larger than yourself. If you ask me, that is God whispering in our ears.

I feel this God. For me God is not personal, but instead God is the entity that simply is and fills up all time and space. It does not speak to me directly, but reveals its majesty through nature and my senses. It has no special message directed at me, but God speaks nonetheless. God speaks in the splendor of creation in all its manifestations, a work of immense complexity and beauty. This God is found in between things and in moments of time when I choose to be aware of its majesty. It is worthy of awe and worship, although it has no particular message to me other than, “Behold, this universe!”

I believe that God is neither a journey nor a destination, but is always around us. Perhaps in order to find God rather than rifle through our holy books, we should put them down, take a long walk, and revel in God’s presence.

I believe consciousness is eternal

The Thinker by Rodin

Over the years, I have sporadically tried to explain my theology or lack thereof. It has resulted in arguably weird posts like this one. Last night I tried again at the occasion of another monthly meeting of my covenant group. The topic of the month was big questions. We started with one that will usually draw a different answer from every one of my fellow Unitarian Universalists: Do you believe in God?

My bet is that most Americans can answer that easily. Ninety percent or so will say yes and the other 10% will say no. Many of the ninety percent though will put asterisks next to their answer. The whole question though is very hard to answer because you first have to ask: what kind of God are you asking about? Paternal? Maternal? Non-sex specific? Singular or polytheistic? One that listens and responds to your prayers or one that is absent? A God that cares about you in particular? Or a very removed God who has hosts of angels, archangels, sub-archangels and other intercessors that handle prayers from relatively meaningless people like me?

My forebrain may be too developed because I could not give a definitive answer. I remain sort of the agnostic I decided I was some thirty plus years ago. I neither believe nor disbelieve in the paternalistic God that I was introduced to by my Catholic parents. I can say that I never particularly felt the personal presence of God. For me, attempts at prayer are like radio waves; they bounce off the clouds and come back to me. When the Magic 8-Ball replies, to the extent it replies at all, it says “Reply hazy, try again.” I do feel spiritual at times, for example, when nature reveals itself in all its majesty. The experience is very mystical when it happens, but doesn’t feel like God is tapping me on the shoulder saying, “See, here’s all the proof you need that I exist.”

No doubt to some I am being unforgivably ambivalent, but I have developed a certain comfort in my murkiness. I know many people feel the presence of God and I think that’s fine. I don’t mean to say they are deluding themselves, but at the same time I cannot take their testimony with whole cloth when it is not my experience nor the experience of millions of others, including Mother Teresa. I take some comfort in physics, which is slowly peeling away God’s mask.

I suspect God’s existence or non-existence is just one of these questions that is impossible to satisfactorily answer. I do not think there is any definitive answer because we can only perceive what we can experience through our very limited senses. Moreover, our lives are relatively short.

I have read enough about quantum physics to feel strongly about a few things. What I believe is eternal is consciousness: mine and yours. I think consciousness is eternal and like energy itself cannot be created or destroyed. So I very much believe in the soul. I see my soul much like a driver and my body like a car. My body’s brain is like a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedal. I use them to move my body through life. At some point in the future the car will refuse to start. At that point my body dies. However, my soul, the driver, is still around. Perhaps at that point I exit the car and look around the car lot. I pick out another car and use it (the new body) to continue to experience the universe.

This is really not as crazy as it sounds. String theory may be a theory, but it is a very well developed theory with lots of sound empirical evidence. What science does teach us is that energy is never destroyed. It is merely transformed. If string theory is correct then we also know that everything is irrevocably connected to everything else. Buddha understood this 2500 years ago. It also essentially means that individuality is an illusion.

So who or what are we then? I think what we are is a singularity: a point in space-time (or perhaps more accurately, a time-series in space-time) where an infinite matrix of superstrings intersect and it is different from some other point. So you might say we are both individuals and we are all part of the same thing. What is unique about living is that it provides the illusionary experience of individuality. We may prefer this illusion, similar to the way that some people prefer chocolate.

To the extent that I can formulate a belief in God, it is just the suspicion that I am not separate from God, but intrinsically a part of God and God is a part of me. It’s not a question about being separated from God. How can I be separate from something I am already a part of? I am irretrievably part of everything and plugged into the universe as are you.

I am consciousness. You might say I am a thought racing around the mind of God. Each of us is a thought of this larger collective being. A thought is both permanent and transient. We may only think a particular thought in one moment, but the thought is stored in collective memory. It is always retained. That thought is my consciousness and is what I call the eternal me.

Where we came from, I don’t know. I don’t see the point in speculating. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, if everything is caused by something else, then something caused God, which begs the question and points to the fallacy in the argument. Consciousness exists because I experience it. I think it continues after death and I choose to call this eternal part of me my soul. I suspect I live multiple lives and inside this consciousness I call myself time simply does not matter. It does not matter how many lives I have experienced or will experience. However, I do think that it is this experience that feeds the consciousness. Perhaps over many lives we do grow in understanding and maturity.

I believe in consciousness because I feel it and ultimately I can only trust what I feel. I can look at science like string theory to support parts of my beliefs, but I also recognize that because the universe is immensely complex so our understanding of reality is going to be poor at best too. If “I think, therefore I am” then “I feel there is an immortal part of me, therefore it exists” is also valid. At this point in my life, it not only feels right, but it need be no more complex than this.