Can We Take Back the Word “God?”
God has been kidnapped. The word, the name, the concept is so widely belittled today that it seems there’s barely anything left to pray to. You know? We can’t see the Godhead for the trees.
“God” is gone. Only His or Her shadow remains. And what a shadow. The God we hear about? Kind of an asshole. A voyeuristic weirdo. A bizarre fetishist, a murdering psychopath at worst. Damning people eternally. This can’t be God.
But that’s what the contemporary religious jungle offers.
So let’s (quickly) traffick in the myriad insanities. Is perspective even possible, in God’s world? A prayer: let this writing be a springboard. May it validate my point of view, by invalidating others. No! I meant…by looking with love and laughter at the varied richness in diversity around us. Yeah.
Looking into the beauty pageant of contemporary religious practices, it seems that none of us are free from inane superstitious thinking, if we look deep enough. There are elements of the great undying weird in us all. It’s the water we swim in, lovers. But I digress: more on that later.
It is currently believed, in one sect of a major religion, that if you wave a live chicken about your person, your sins will transfer into the chicken’s soul. Seriously. Great news for sinners. Not such great news for chickens! Practice this one with caution, buddy. What if it works? Come Judgement Day, how will you be asked to atone for the chickens you screwed over? NPR did a piece on the practice some years ago, and mentioned one lone protester:
“It’s not easy undoing a millennium of tradition, one chicken at a time. And it’s lonely.”
What a poem.
Religions and institutions of faith, in their attempts to usurp and distill God for their members’ collective thirst, (and their huge-ass bludgeoning, full-to-busting bank accounts!) seem to keep getting weirder. Personifying this force always seems to invite, how can I put this, genuinely dumbass ideas (Dumbass is one word, right?). There are some shockingly stupid practices out there, and as my brother Kev would say, sometimes, it’s either laugh or cry. I opt for the former.
There is an unsmall group of people who believe their Lord once rode from city to city on a flying miniature horse. Seriously. I’ll spare you the anatomical details regarding the horse. They rob the story of all credulity. Definitely not my place to judge, but the phrase “What were they smoking when they came up with that one?” certainly leaps to mind.
Heinlein had an interesting take on religion and prayer:
“The most ridiculous concept ever perpetrated by Homo Sapiens is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of his creations, that he can be persuaded by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not receive this flattery. Yet this ridiculous notion, without one real shred of evidence to bolster it, has gone on to found one of the oldest, largest and least productive industries in history.”
I love that quote. I agree with it. And yet I pray! I was doing laps on a mala last night, reciting a mantra until I fell asleep. I really love the thought Heinlein plants, of God gone petulant. “Dammit, nobody prayed the peace and love sutra this morning! Probably because it doesn’t exist yet but still!” It’s laughable, and I am laughing here at my own ingrained habit. I prayed the Gayatri Mantra.
The prayer asks, in my interpretation of it, for a moment of inspiration. I pray it in full understanding of how odd, strange, and otherwise weird it is to supplicate anything for any reason.
I pray even though the arrogance implied in the act rivals the humility it fosters.
Does it matter if what we pray to listens, or hears us? Or exists? I picture a monk on a cushion, or a soccer mom on her knees. Probably in beige Capris and flats. Or no, in yoga pants, barefoot. Wait wait, that’s way too distracting.
I have no explanation for why I believe: I simply have this belief. It came I guess from my insane upbringing. We were people of faith.
My people believed in a weekly form of spiritual cannibalism. We ate the body of our Lord every Sunday. Literally. And, figuratively.
The host, or bread wafer, is said to be transformed into the flesh of Jesus Christ by the ritual. It involved ringing bells. Seriously. God as food. Talk about weird.
We believed that our Lord, three days dead, got up, hoisted the stone away from the tomb’s entrance, and walked out fresh as the proverbial daisy. All hail the zombie Jesus, arisen! (Then, I think, run for your lives! Who knows if he became a brain-eater in that dead time?)
Virgin birth, walking on water, and complete absolution for confessing sin. All accepted as true. The compounded~weird thing for me is I am a believer by nature. I just believe there is a creative force. I love to pray. So all these madnesses still hover around me. My hope is that they didn’t leave too-palpable an indentation on my cranium.
Belief does not feel to me like a choice. I’m stuck with it. And its many manifestations confuse the hell out of me.
There’s a religion alive and well today that claims a leader who once sat on a mountain and from that vantage point saw the entire world. Seriously. One major big-ass religious founder used to be a sci fi writer. He is said to have said:
“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.”
Good old Capitalism.
God is so far removed from the unholy mosh pit of contemporary religion, it’s as if she is blindfolded and in a cheap tenement somewhere just outside of Mexico City, awaiting the $7,500 ransom. And nobody’s got the cash.
There are literally mind-numbing rules and regs offered to those who would access God-as-touted today. It’s sad because people by nature want to belong. Desperately. And here’s something else: there is a genuine power in groups of people gathering with a stated purpose. Disaster on the wing meets thwarted potential.
There are religious sects that ban wearing particular clothes, and some that ban removing them. People show their devotion by wearing all black, all the time. Others paint pretty colors on their faces to prove how pious they are. I love it!
God as a micro-managing fashion consultant.
But it gets weirder.
There’s a major religion claiming, if I have this right, that evil spirits were trapped in human bodies, get this, by hydrogen bombs. Not weird enough? Apparently this took place inside volcanos. Seriously.
In 2012, 40,000 Orthodox Jews gathered in Citi Field to discuss the dangers of the internet. Organizers broadcasted the event live on the internet.
Westborough Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps is said to have been excommunicated from his church for advocating a kinder approach among church leaders.
The hate is wagging the dog.
A Pope once said that condoms help cause the spread of AIDS.
Researching this article was not difficult or extensive. It was a little heartbreaking, for all the insane stuff I had to leave out. We are definitely whacked out on the subject of God. I indulged briefly in a discussion board called “Does God Exist.” The amount of passion and bile drove me away. People really care about the topic, and are quite convinced of their rightness on it. Which is funny on top of weird, because God is by definition undefineable.
And I think when we discuss “God,” we traffic in the residual creator which the Godmongering Armies that precede and infiltrate this moment left behind. Am I making any sense at all there?
There’s no deity required to get all nutty. Many believe that if you repeat the name Amitabha Buddha and repeat it enough, you can slip into a parallel universe, to pray in peace at the feet of some solid master. Who came up with that baby? Oh my God speaking of babies…
At a shrine in Maharashtra, India, babies are dropped 45-50 feet off the roof to provide them with luck. (Crowd with sheet catches them.) Meanwhile in Spain, babies are jumped over once a year on Evil Kneivel Day or something like that. Seriously.
Who knows what kind of scarring is going on for those babies? But hey, I don’t think any of us are unscarred. Even those born of enlightened parents had schoolmates who were quick to point out how doomed they were. We carry the residue of religious weirdness in our pores. We are products of our environment.
Like many of us, HG Wells has a history with the whole God~as~meanie thing:
“There was a time when I believed in the story and the scheme of salvation, so far as I could understand it, just as I believed there was a Devil… Suddenly the light broke through to me and I knew this God was a lie… For indeed it is a silly story, and each generation nowadays swallows it with greater difficulty.”
There may be no rescue. “God” could be lost forever. But at the very least, we can remain free of the kidnappers, walking away from tamed, belittled versions of God. We can stay away from the hydrogen bombs in the volcano. Steer clear of the jumping onto our husband’s funeral pyre to become divine, as tempting as that can sometimes be. We can give the whole no driving on Saturdays a wide one. We may not be able to find our God or Goddess. May not have the 7500 bucks and besides, she may have already escaped her captors. God knows I hope she did.
But we can call the shots on what we want to do.
We’ve got sacred human awareness. Free and clear: ours to command. How much of it we give away to the pre-solved puzzle sellers is completely our call. (None at all might be a good starting point.)
We can hold fast to our curiosity. Guard our openness. Refuse to pretend we know.
We can stay unruined.
And for sure, we can take back the word “God.”
Relephant by Karl Saliter:
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Editor: Waylon Lewis
Photos: elephant journal archives