I continue to think about whether I even want a personal relationship with “God” (leaving that term suitably vague and undefined, per my churchless bent).
As I observed recently, the idea that God is right by my side, watching everything that I do, is creepy and voyeuristic, similar to fears about what the Department of Homeland Security might become, except a lot more omnipresent and omniscient.
Omnipotent too. Because most conceptions of a personal God presume that He/She/It can intervene in the affairs of the person with whom God has a personal relationship.
This makes sense. How can you have a relationship without relating? Give and take, back and forth, talking and listening, doing and being done to. You can have a pseudo-relationship with a pet rock, but all the relating is on one side. The rock just sits there, passive and inert.
Most people aren’t attracted to the idea of a stone-cold God. They like the feeling that God is walking by their side, supporting them through good times and bad times, stepping in to offer a helping hand when the situation (or prayer) demands.
On the face of it, that sounds good. And some Eastern and most Western theologies affirm that it is true. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are, by and large, entirely comfortable with the notion of a God who inserts himself into human affairs on both an individual and societal level.
And so are certain Eastern mystical faiths, such as Sant Mat, as I observed in my previous post. Much like Christianity, these faiths usually posit that a transcendental divine being exists (the “father”) who becomes embodied in a human form (the “son”). The embodiment of God, such as Jesus or a guru, has many of the powers of God—including the ability to jump into people’s lives/minds and change things around.
However, there is a competing conception of how divinity interfaces with the world that also has had, and continues to have, many adherents in both the East and West. This is a universal and impersonal metaphysics. Or, perhaps stating the case more accurately, a not-particular and not-personal metaphysics.
Not this, not that. Such is the manner of speaking of the via negativa, the way of approaching “God” that leaves divinity mysterious, ineffable, beyond purely human understanding. Since there remains a gap between what God really is, and what we can know about God with our intellect and senses, the idea of divinity coming down to our level doesn’t mesh with what we might call the way of mystery.
This way teaches that the universe is governed by universal forces that appear impersonal. Karma, in Eastern thought. Providence, in Western (Greek) thought. The cosmos is connected. Unity prevails. Life is fair. Destiny is deserved. What goes around comes around. All this happens naturally, without any need for God or a guru to step in and make wrong things right.
I don’t know which way of looking at the world is correct. But clearly the second “God is universal” hypothesis is much more in tune with modern science than the first “God is personal” hypothesis. For the laws of nature have been found to be remarkably, well, lawful. You don’t find gravity deciding, “I think I’ll take a break and let that car soar into space.”
Yet many people believe that God does just that: deciding to intervene in their lives and make something happen that otherwise wouldn’t. On cable news today I heard President Bush intoning something like, “And we pray that our troops in Iraq will be kept safe.”
A nice thought, on the face of it. Who could object to God keeping American troops safe? However, what this means, when you delve beneath the prayerful platitude, is that Bush wants God to assure that American soldiers will be successful in killing Iraqi insurgents without being killed in return.
The insurgents, of course, are praying to God for the same thing in reverse: for them to be successful in killing Americans while they remain safe. If there is a personal God who answers prayers of this sort, one or the other side in the Iraqi conflict is going to incur excess deaths because of a divine decree.
That doesn’t sound very Godly to me. For sure, this isn’t a God that I feel like worshipping—a God who plays favorites in choosing who will live and who will die. And even if this sort of God is just a fiction in the minds of true believers, belief in such a being leads to a destructive and divisive “God is on my side” mentality.
Which leads, in turn, to such atrocious behaviors as sky pointing. After the 2004 World Series ended I felt drawn to pray “Please, God, no more sky pointing.”
I’ve watched a lot of sports on TV since then and I can tell you, God isn’t answering my prayer.