Last year I took two services in which I started my own personal quest for greater spiritual understanding. This was important for me as it forced me to consolidate my thoughts and feelings so that I could return to them later and perhaps see if my ideas had changed or developed. Last year I looked at whether, for me, there was a God and also dipped into the process of death. Today I want to explore my feelings about what God is and perhaps what should or could be my relationship to my God. These two ideas I feel cannot be separated because the second is derived from the first.
For many years I have known that despite my upbringing in a predominately Christian country, I could not accept an image of God continually being depicted as an old, or young, white man in an elevated position, or a throne. For me, this is a cultural stereotype of the worst kind. I found it sexist, recognising the pre-eminence of men. I found it racist, as it portrayed a perceived superiority of a particular race. For me, the elevated figure or enthroned figure represented power and control. This sort of God would want to dominate or demand, and would never appreciate any who question. Whether benevolent or not I found these images of God at the least distasteful and at the worst, insidious and actively dangerous.
For myself, this image was totally at odds with what I had thought of as Christianity. Of course I blame my upbringing within a non-conformist, searching, intellectually demanding Unitarian family, and church. There was no hope for me was there? I was lost. Eventually I was going to ask questions and demand sensible answers. But I was obviously tainted from the start. A lost cause. To ‘real’ Christians I am already dammed forever. I have to tell you that on this basis I have already been refused goods and services necessary for my healing activities, but that is another story.
In my search for understanding, in this area, I had some years ago looked at the other still active major religions and their spiritual power base or God that they described. At this time I thought that it might prove useful. Now I am one of those unfortunates that has always had a poor memory and so everything, every idea has to be pared down to its bare bones, its essential concept. To aid the conceptualising process I decided to encapsulate such thoughts on God into no more than one sentence per religion. Grossly unfair, of course, to the religions concerned as well as their God. Why did I do this? Well I thought that the intellectual process involved in producing such a brief resume would provide the meat for the ‘inner me’ to respond to and the sense of ‘rightness’ that I get. In the last analysis that is all I have got to aid me, as I find that just an intellectual process often leaves me at the edge of decisions rather than carrying me through them to a conclusion.
So what did I find for all the brain energy expended? At the first attempt I seemed to find nothing. I found that the task that I had set myself was not easy. I found a mismatch of related ideas and concepts. To aid the data processing I established the information in date order of when the religions had sprung up and with that the beginning of a pattern started to emerge. Not enough to base any judgements on though. So I went back and started again. The problem that I found was that the practices of various religious groups seemed to get in the way of understanding their God. In some cases I had misunderstood, or more often than not, misinterpreted what I had been seeing, hearing or reading. It was just too easy as an outsider to make suspect conclusions. For example, if in ignorance you wandered into a catholic church you could be forgiven if you thought that there was a whole panoply of little gods or ‘godlets’ called saints. Or that along with other Christian churches was practiced an institutionalised and sanitised form of cannibalism called communion. All religions are open to this sort of misinterpretation. Sometimes what the public say, or church’s public practice, or its public face does not seem to match what the thinkers within the church are saying about the religion. It was also all too easy to bring my own preconceptions to the task at hand.
So it was back to the drawing board. I can’t think why I did not give up, except that if I wanted spiritual clarity of my own I should at least look for it in others.
So, after re-evaluating my data I came up with this. Initially the religious gods of those religions important now, came in two broad forms. On one hand there were those where the spiritual power, or god centre resided within the environment in total including people. These included the ‘earlier’ religions, the earliest starting before 3500BC to the last one starting at 500BC and included in this were the shamanistic folk religions (for want of a better way of putting it), Hinduism, Shinto, Jainism, Taoism(Dowism), Buddism (though they don’t really ascribe to a named God) and Confucianism. On the other hand were those who looked to an identifiable single deity. The earliest of these was in existence by 2200BC and the last by 1800AD and included Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Baha’ism. Although I was not totally happy with either of these two positions I found to my surprise that my ‘feel rightness’ was nudging me more towards the earlier religious Gods rather than the later ones.
This was a bit disturbing to me. What was it about the earlier religious gods which called me to them. What was it that was putting me off the more modern Gods.
Whatever it was something was holding me back from making a decision one way or the other. There seemed no basis for making a firm decision, irrevocable or not. So I looked at the data again.
At the simplest level the earlier religions talked about their spiritual power or God force, (though sometimes showing different facets of itself as smaller deity’s of different sexes or none) as being timeless, being everywhere, being in everything. They said that this spiritual power or God force was responsible for everything from creation to the end of time. They talked about this spiritual power or God force, being available to all who looked for it, both within the environment and within themselves. The spiritual power or God force was described more often as supporting, helping, guiding, caring, loving, the source of good. Now I really could accept that. This has a very high ‘feel right’ response from within me. So what was wrong with the other religious Gods, because to me as mentioned last year I felt there was a god and only one. So I returned to my studies.
The other religions, what did they say? They said that there was only one God or spiritual power. Getting behind the trappings of these religions, their power structures and the public voices, the symbols, their separateness, their hates, their pettiness, their blinkered single mindedness of purpose. What else did they say!
All these religions had followers who thought deeply, explored, discussed and didn’t just accept what was said about their religion and their God even if they tended to be kept out of sight from the general public and sometimes persecuted. What did these people actually say. None of these when you finally got down to it actually believed in the public stereotypes, the public face of their religions, the public face of their God. Nor did they think that their original spiritual leaders or prophets really say these things when viewed within the context of their own times.
The same thing seemed to have happened to them all. It did not matter who you looked at Abraham and the others, Zarathustra, Jesus, Mohammad, Nanak or Baha’ullah, the message had been altered, skewed, changed and hedged about by and for the purposes of others. They did not say exactly the same thing but were obviously talking about the same things.
What did they say? They said that there was only one God which was all powerful. That God had created, is creating us and our universe. That God was beyond time, was everywhere, was in everything and is available to us now at an individual level. God is more often described as compassionate, supporting, helping, guiding, loving and good. God is described as having both male and female attributes or none. Now haven’t I heard this all before? The earlier religions were and are saying this about their spiritual power base, their God.
In general then, behind the people driven public face and power structures of the religions there seems to be little or no difference between one description of God or another. This, for me does have a pronounced ‘feel right’ factor. It seems to me then, that what is wrong is not the original religious concepts of God but the interpretations, the semantic twists, the word games, that some have applied to those concepts of God, to manipulate and twist them to and for their own ends. The problem to me seems not with God but with man who often seems only able to see God in his own image.
So where has my inbuilt ‘feel right’ factor led me? The me that is here now, this minute. Well … for me there is only one spiritual source, power … call it God if you will. The names and semantics do not bother me for it is all one in the end. It is everywhere; in everything; within and beyond time and beyond space (wherever that is). It is the source of life, the universe … everything. This is so far beyond me that I cannot conceptualise it except by what I know and experience and this has been the trap of the priests and clergy over the ages and one I do not want to fall into. For me God is unknowable and that does not worry me one jot for if God was knowable it would be limited and therefore not God.
For me God has no limits but importantly God is available on an individual and personal level, for it is the source of all. It is the force for life, for good.
So how does this God concept affect, dictate even, my relationship with my God?
Well my God by being in everything is a part of me and not separate at all. I therefore, whether I recognise it or not, must be a part of God because we are not separate, but so must everybody and everything else be. This therefore should rule how I relate to others and the world as a whole. This God of mine by being within and a part of me is instantly and always available to me (reprobate though I am), as it is to everyone. Because of the nature of my God concept and the semantic manipulation I have carried out within that concept, despite falling to some extent into what I call the ‘priest trap’ I am left with the following. God is available to me on an individual and personal level and as such does not need an interpreter. All I need to do is to learn how to listen.