Monday, November 23, 2009

I've been trying off and on for a year and a half now to write a post about letting go of expectations about what God "should" be like. It's a difficult task for those of us who were raised with very specific ideas. It was going to be called "forgiving God," because in spite of the blasphemous sound of that phrase, that is often what it feels like. But that post isn't going anywhere, in spite of my long-term efforts. So maybe that's all I need to say about it, or maybe more will come up later. So... moving on.

What I've been thinking about recently is atheism. The word has such a slanted, loaded meaning in our culture, especially because of the very vocal appearance of a number of prominent atheists in the last few years (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc). In some circles it seems to mean the same thing as being un-American, immoral, and a devil worshipper, which is absurd, of course.

But honestly, their take on it is not particularly appealing to me-- in part because while their stated ideas are provocative and often convincing, their motivation on a personal level often seems to be something like an inability to forgive God for not being what they expect him to be, and perhaps more obviously, an inability to forgive believers for believing in God anyway. I'll confess that's a pretty biased statement about their work that is based on a very limited reading of their books, and hearing a few interviews. But read the first chapter of God is Not Great and see if you don't find that the prevailing sentiment is not so much the freedom of letting go of religious ideas but anger--even bitterness--at the (perceived) stupidity of people who complacently accept meaningless ideas about God. They seem both angry and gleeful to point out the ways in which God cannot possibly be like what is advertised by the religious establishment, but at the same time they are unwilling to acknowledge that God might be something entirely other than that. In the end, I find them unconvincing. Trumpeting that the God of Sunday School piety doesn't exist is so self-evident as to be boring, if you ask me.

But it doesn't change the fact that atheism has become a viable alternative for me in the past few months. I don't think I mean the term in the same way that they do, because when they use it, it seems to have an automatic pejorative meaning toward religion and spirituality, and I don't feel that. I still can't deny my own experiences with spirituality-- both in the past and present. But neither can I deny the part of me that just doesn't think there's anything out there, and certainly not anyone.

It's almost like two separate compartments in my brain: the part of me that believes implicitly in the spiritual experiences I've had, and the part of me that thinks it's all utter nonsense. I'm going to assign this to right brain and left brain, respectively, just because I need something to assign it to, not because I have any proof that's really what it is. It's just what it feels like. When I'm thinking with my right brain, spirituality and connectedness and a wholistic approach to my experience feels completely and utterly right and natural. When I'm thinking with my left brain, that right brain thinking seems absurd. Even silly. Which is one of the reasons I've had a hard time posting recently. It is becoming more and more difficult to overcome that "This is DUMB" feeling.

But I wrote a paper a couple of weeks ago for my Bible as Lit class about the Book of Job. I argued that the reason why God approves of Job at the end of the story is because Job refused to stop asking questions until he was satisfied. He held onto the contradictions until he felt them resolve. Like a Zen koan. And God was pleased with him.

So I'm trying to do the same, and my right brain is trying to trust that God (or What I Think of as God) will be OK with that, because he/she/it was OK with it when Job did it. while my left brain wrestles this out.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being... (Psalm 51.6, NASV)

1 comment:

  1. Amen.

    I do think that is what God was approving in Job.

    Job accused God at various points of being some pretty awful things. He, at other times, worshiped God as some pretty awful things.

    But he was honest enough to challenge God. He never pretended there was a resolution. He held on to his integrity through it all.