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(Current Problems With The Image Of God)

 

††††††††† One of the single, most important, aspects of religious belief is its Ultimate Concern; that is, the core from which it proceeds. In the monotheistic faiths, this core is God! The perception of this Supreme Entity has a profound psychological and sociological influence upon individuals as well as the societies they build. When God is the Ultimate Concern, the Image we have of Him, influences: who we are, how we live and how we interact with one another. It is for this reason that responsible theology will always try to avoid assigning human attributes to an Entity to which human attributes cannot be applied.

††††††††† While it is true that we need Images of God that we can relate to, we must be careful in these Images that we do not declare what God is; for God is transcendent of what is! Individuals need to accept and realize that the Image of God that we perceive can be nothing more than a symbolic representation of God, for in the world of our physical existence there is nothing comparable to the complexity, diversity, and intellect of a Divine Being. The closest one might come to visualizing God in Her totality would be in viewing the night cosmos in all its immense splendor and pondering that this is nothing but a minute reflection of the Divine Itself.

 

††††††††† Before going on with the current problems, it needs to be acknowledged that there can be positive affects by any religion upon the people it serves. One need also look at the empires which have tried to thrive on godlessness and we most often find that they are no better, in fact are more often far worse, than most of the believing societies. God can be a powerful motivator by which a people can move forward in a responsible and loving manner. On the other hand, God can be divisive, fueling oppression and persecution, depending upon the Image people have of Him.

††††††††† In postulating these assumptions, we believe that God has made Himself self-evident in our human nature and that there is a natural and inner awareness of the Divine existence. It could be speculated that human beings are aware, at an instinctual level that God does in fact exist. This would explain why human beings spend so much time searching for a belief, becoming completely convinced when they finally do find something they can believe in.

††††††††† In a sense, the idea of God seems absolutely essential for many of us. The problem is, that in seeking this Divine influence in our lives, we are prone to make Her more of what we feel He should be than accepting the transcendence of what She is. This is where individuals, theology, and religion often run into trouble, in that, in their desire to believe they make the assumption that they can speak for God. We will see later in this chapter why such a notion is futile and often harmful.

 

††††††††† We can see the influence that religious beliefs, and their various Images of God, have on a society by viewing various cultures and periods in history. The affects of a God Who is feared, judgmental, and a deity, who demands worship and appeasement, can be very negative in the actualizations among a people. Such ideas can lead to blood sacrifice as they did in the Old Testament where animalsí throats were slit, and the animal burned upon altars in an effort to keep God from bringing forth Her wrath. In the extreme, such belief structures can lead to human sacrifice, or holy wars, in an effort to appease the Divine.

††††††††† A punitive Image of God often leads to intolerance of what may vary from the norm in a society. Blame for any problems in the society are often projected upon minority thinkers or groups who become scapegoats and persecuted in the name of God. This punitive ideal also leads to intolerance of question, suppression of truth, and often feeds ignorance and superstition. As one examines history: when the religious beliefs are intolerable of question, they can stagnate the growth of science and knowledge to an alarming degree. Study medieval Christianity (if it had its way) we would still think the earth was the center of the solar system! We are citing this as just an example, for most religions can have a stagnating effect upon people; especially, when they are based on a judgmental God who is dogmatic with her law. As Thomas Paine most eloquently expresses, "Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man."

 

††††††††† The real key to our belief in God and its truth should be in what is accomplished with the belief - its affect upon the people - its accomplishments for individuals; all, balanced with the accomplishments for the whole. We could almost say this is the litmus test we can use to determine if our faith in God has substance or is self-serving. Religious ideals need a fine balance so that they do not promote self-centeredness, but at the same time, they must serve the whole without oppressing the individuals in the society. Guilt and fear can be very counter productive in religious beliefs, especially, at the individual level.

 

††††††††† If we truly believe that God is the Creator and that all men are created equal, and, that God plays no favorites judging all men the same, we must concede that every human being has equal opportunity to know the Divine. The only way that this is possible is if the revelations of God are universal in their scope; and, such is only attainable when revelation is seen for a symbolic message rather than literal truths.

††††††††† This then is one of the first dangers the responsible theologian and religious leaders should be aware of. Literal interpretation of scriptures, or any of our man declared inspirations, needs to be avoided, as that approach, tends to limit a Divine which cannot be limited.

††††††††† As an example: East verses West in the argument over life after death. The East claiming reincarnation; and, the West with its portrait of an eternal Heaven or Hell and final resurrection of the body. But if we examine both of these belief systems resolving the difference in a manner that makes God's revelation to all peoples equal and fair, the solution becomes apparent in symbol. Neither explanation is a literal description of what cannot be described, but rather, a metaphor to convey the idea that life goes on in a transcendent manner.

††††††††† We shall deal with these issues in their entirety later in this work. For now, we are simply trying to illustrate how we shall approach our Image of God in this chapter, for it is important to realize that the Image can determines what kind of people we are. It must be emphasized here, that when we seek to establish an Image of God based in symbol, we can go a long way in overcoming religious animosity towards one another. Love, harmony, tolerance, responsibility and brotherhood are the things that serve God and Her creation. In other words, it becomes the actualization of our belief that serves God and not the belief itself.

 

††††††††† This leads to another of the problems with many of our present religious structures. Too often, they have turned belief into the reality; God into a Word; and, replaced personal responsibility toward the whole in the hands of the Almighty.

††††††††† As an example: the abuses of our natural world could be explained in part by our belief in this worlds end and the idea that life is merely a test to be replaced by something better. Much of Christianity (more so than some other religions), because of its world to come doctrines, needs to accept some of the blame for our environmental concerns. The reason being that their implications often tend to remove the Creator from the creation. They paint this picture of God being in heaven and man being on earth. They often have declare theologically that man has dominion over the earth; which is logically, an absolute falsehood, for ultimately we are totally dependent on this reality for our lives and survival. Religions often confuse the concept of self-determination with dominion. Because God has given us free choice, they interpret that to mean, God has made us superior over all! This is not a psychologically healthy premise, especially, when one seeks to justify their own exploitation of the resources around them.

††††††††† And beyond environmental problems, there is a lot of talk these days about the violent and selfish nature of our societies. Blame is cast upon parents, peers, television, books, movies and music. But only a few psychologists, and yet even fewer clergymen, are examining our Image of God as a possible contributing factor to this very troubling age we live in.

††††††††† As already stated, the things we believe about God: influences who we are, our attitudes about others, and our treatment of our world. This becomes especially true if we believe mankind is in God's Image, as He is portrayed in our Judaic-Christian societies.

††††††††† The problem begins when, in our effort to keep humanity in God's Image, we begin to mold God in man's image. This is one of the reasons we must be so careful in examining our scriptures. If we look to the Bible itself we can see an ever dangerous Image of God that in many ways actually condones violence, suffering, guilt, and even oppression. This Bible, often referred to as the "written word of God," can be used to condone slavery, justify oppression, and condemn people to death. We must never forget that people have been tortured, burned, oppressed, and murdered by those who have laid claim to be the "keepers" of God's Word or Truth. The Gospels themselves contain this very metaphor of the Divine Word (Jesus) being rejected by those claiming to represent the Divine (the temple clergy and the Jewish State).

††††††††† Over the years, theologies have compounded this by accenting the sufferings of humanity; proclaiming, God redeemed mankind in a blood-feast we commemorate on Good Friday. Many religions proclaim God's vengeance upon mankind for its weakness and ignorance. Religions often glorify the blood spilling from the lambs of the Old Testament by replacing them with the Lamb of God on the Cross. In many ways, some of the Christian theologies beg the question: Is their God any less cruel than their Devil? Such ideals also must be examined for their psychological impact upon people.

 

††††††††† Before presenting any alternative views, we need to take a little closer look at some of the present concepts, and the possible psychological influence they may directly or indirectly have upon our thinking. One needs to keep in mind that children are particularly vulnerable to suggestion and implication, particularly when they are religious in nature.

††††††††† A good place to start is by asking ourselves: 'if the temperament and actions we often attribute to God, were assigned to another human being such as a political leader, what would we think of him or her?

††††††††† As already implied, THE LITERAL IMAGE is perhaps one of the most dangerous theological approaches. It is not only because of its contradictions and its lack of scientific harmony, but because it sometimes can be used to present an Image of God that makes Him an ego-maniac at best, at worst, a monster to be feared. The literal interpretation seems to put law and worship above love and mercy. Individuals have to fear for the transgression that might offend God; over, what they might be doing to show their our love. And it doesn't take any psychologist to see the mean spirit and intolerance that often accompanies literalists or fundamentalists, and such is not unique to Christianity.

††††††††† The literal Image of God also assumes that what was written by men is the infallible word of the Almighty. In a sense, the Bible, or some other sacred work, becomes a handbook to deal with problems that couldn't even be dreamed of at the time of its writing. (Our dealings with Scripture and Revelation will cover this in much more depth.) The Bible also becomes the portrait of God, as if it were written as an autobiography by God's own hand. Buy in reality, it is nothing more than the perceptions of men who were often driven by fear of natural forces or a lack of understanding of human cruelty and greed.

††††††††† We need to ask ourselves questions when we are confronted with some of the more violent Images our Sacred Works might imply in a literal interpretation. For example: can we really believe that God, the Creator, could be so angered that She would punish the whole human race for a simple act of disobedience by the first humans? When we hear the story of Sodom and Gomorra, where Lot gets God to agree to save the city if he could find but one good person - why are the children never mentioned? Was there not one good child who could fit the bill? The same is true for the flood; how could the children of those people, the babies and toddlers, how could they have earned God's wrath? What kind of a God would single out the first-born baby of the Egyptian households for slaughter, when it was the Pharaoh who was responsible for the enslavement of God's chosen? Such atrocities are comparable to Nazi Germany, and we all know how decent people feel about that period!

††††††††† Can we really say it was truly the word of God when we read in the Bible that stubborn or rebellious children should be put to death (Deut. 21:18-27). And what about some of the other capital offenses: the use of abusive language towards one's parents (Lev. 20:9) - various forms of sexual misconduct (Deut. 22:22-29 & Lev. 20:10-16) - or homosexuality (Le 20:13)? Can we really claim it is the Word of God which tells us it is okay to kill the males of any town we have taken in battle and confiscate their women, dependents and possessions (Deut. 20:14-18)?

††††††††† For most of us such things are uncivilized as well as unchristian, but these things are in the book which literalists' often assert as the Written Word of God! He might have changed His Mind over the years, but if this book were the word of God at one time this would have had to been Her law at that time.

 

††††††††† We are often outraged by the violence we see in our society, in our entertainment. But what about the violence in our so- called written word of God, the wars, plagues, death and destruction. The cruelty towards animals, towards human beings; can these things really be of the God of Love? What about the Image of Jesus tortured, bleeding and nailed to a cross to earn our salvation - what kind of a message does this send to children?

††††††††† We know from psychological studies, that abusive violent parents often produce abusive violent children who carry on the tradition to the next generation. If violent parents can inflict this type of psychological damage, what is the psychological implication of a God that is punitive, that is to be feared, that is violent in Her retribution? A God which demanded the blood sacrifice of His Son for the appeasement of our sin! Most well adjusted adults don't ponder this too much; but, think back to when you were a child and ask yourself if you ever lived in fear of God punishing you for some simple transgression? Was that fear and terror real?

 

††††††††† Psychology has also realized the dangers of sending children mixed messages, or proclaiming platitudes that we do not live up to in our example. Think about the mixed messages contained in the Bible and proclaimed from some of the pulpits. We preach a God of Love, Mercy, Justice, and Forgiveness, then proclaim His wrath, punishment, and judgment on anyone who doesn't live up to certain religious expectations. We preach a God of Love who has created an instrument of eternal torture and suffering which is in a concept hell. And according to much of the present theology, our God of Mercy demanded the suffering, torture and death of His Son for the offense of a man eating a piece of fruit he was forbidden to eat. Religiously, humankind's hope and salvation are interwoven with the slaughter of Christ on Calvary; this, from a God we call a loving Father.

††††††††† As if this were not enough, some theologies reason that God has given the Devil, the second most powerful supernatural being, dominion over the earth for a thousand years. People are often told that they are weak willed human beings, prone towards evil - whose only chance of salvation is in a faith and belief that a man of love was crucified for us and redeemed them.

††††††††† Think about the contradictions here for a second. God commands us not to kill one another but makes our salvation dependent upon us killing an innocent human being or, Divine incarnation if you prefer. The God of Love and Mercy plans and ordains our salvation in a violent and bloodthirsty barbaric act which humans must carry out. The God who was offended by one-man eating forbidden fruit is appeased by the violence of men in the slaughter and execution of His Son! The God, who has condemned human sacrifice according to our Judaic/Christian belief structure, fulfills his own plan of salvation in an act She has forbidden?

††††††††† The Christian world commemorates the slaughter of its God every Good Friday, proclaiming such their salvation. What is the psychological implication of such a belief? Instead of using Good Friday to see the potential cruelty of human nature and its resistance to love, we use it to proclaim our salvation. Christ becomes the martyr who died for us; instead of, the model of goodness who died because of our rejection of the message of love.

 

††††††††† Many religious attitudes about sex are another area, which can often lead to contradiction, and this too stems from a confusing portrait we paint of God. Sex is one of our strongest drives which can be used to share in creating; can be used as an expression of love; or participated in as a pleasure shared between two people. But somehow, chiefly because of the influence of men like Paul and Augustine, we view sex as evil and something to be ashamed of except in the very narrow definition that religion sanctions. In our Western culture, we are so hung up about sex that we find it easy to tolerate murder and crime as evening entertainment, but we would never tolerate an overt act of copulation in that same entertainment. Of course, this is not to advocate such entertainment, but simply trying to convey the reality that we are less outraged by murder than we are about our natural sex drive.

††††††††† Yet, on the flip side, much of our society revolves around the very sex that we call evil. It is implied and used to sell products. We whisper dirty jokes at parties and in the office. Many of us are forever searching for the opportunity to have it. Perhaps if our religions viewed sex as the beautiful gift it is, recognizing that nature intended more than one use of it, we might have a much healthier attitude toward it. Having God play peeping Tom in our bedrooms waiting for us to make the wrong sexual move is not a healthy psychological approach. Psychologists' offices are full of people who are sexually dysfunctional because of the religious guilt that has been placed upon them. This is another topic, which will be dealt with at much more length later in this work.

 

††††††††† As it is hoped one comes to see as this text evolves, one need not do away with all the symbols of that are so profound in our religious lives. Instead, we need to use them in a way that makes us more responsible for our own actions in this life; rather than, as projections to get us into the next. The Inspirations do play a role in God's revelation to us. But, we, in order to avoid our own personal responsibility toward God, are using them in a manner that is self-serving rather than God serving. They are often used to project away personal responsibility, rather than, encouraging it.

††††††††† If religion is to serve God (and the only way it can do that is by serving men and God's creation), it must be useful in the everyday reality of our world. When it begins to fail in this area, religion turns destructive, feeding the very evils it intended to destroy. To cite an example: for the first four centuries of its existence, the Christian Church was oppressed and persecuted by those who rejected its claims. Yet, when its power was supreme, it was every bit as oppressive, intolerant and persecutive as any of its former persecutors.

††††††††† If religion is to survive today, and help us to grow spiritually, it must open its mind to seek new interpretations for many of its doctrines and ideals. Symbolism is the key to this. But before we can even approach any new ideas about our belief structures, we need to reexamine our ideas about God Herself. If we approach God as some kind of tyrant who resents our questioning and desire to learn more, we are doomed before we even begin. As we move forward to postulate some of our ideas we will seek to draw upon things, which will help us, become more tolerant of our diversity - which is a part of God! We need, not only an Image of God which might make some sense in our world, but one with a psychology that will help us better understand ourselves - one which helps us to be more responsible to the creation which sustains us. Our Image of God should encourage us to seek more knowledge that enables us to better our state. It should be an image that leads us toward a sense of love and compassion, which would empower us to begin solving some of the problems of our world by recognizing that what we do to each other is what we do to God. We need to stop waiting for God to do for us the things She has empowered us to do for ourselves.

††††††††† We need to face the fact that it is true that God has already redeemed us from evil, but understand that redemption as an is in the empowerment of humanity to overcome evil for itself. Jesus' death is not our salvation; it is his life, with the example he left, which is the true salvation. "Pick up your cross and bear it," were his words - which simply mean, that we are all Messiahs in our own unique way! Perhaps it is time for Christianity to focus upon the emulation of Christ more than the worship of him. In a strange way, such emulation would be greater homage than any ritual, song or words of faith we could express. The ideals of Jesus are the reality of God among men!

††††††††† And God among us is what religion should be about.

††††††††† When you can see Catholic killing Protestant as happened in Ireland. Or, when Muslims kill Christians, or vice-versa, - as is going on in Bosnia. Or, when Christians kill people and take their land under some kind of a Divine Right theory as with the Native Americans. Or, when religious leaders condemn homosexuals as being tools of the Devil as some do. Or, when we proclaim ourselves as God's holy and chosen with others being somehow ignorant or lesser than we are. When any of these things occur, there is something vastly wrong with the way we are viewing our God!

 

††††††††† The Image of God postulated in this text is not going to solve the riddle of God, nor, is it trying to declare what God is. Simply put, we are trying to present a more meaningful and rational approach toward God for our world; one that is psychologically sound and might produce a greater responsibility to the individual for the successes and failures which happen in this world. No human being can understand God in His realm - for such is beyond us! Our faith in God has to empower us in this life, and for such to do so, it must go beyond our words manifesting itself in the everyday realities of Peoples lives.

††††††††† Granted, this ideal might already be present in some religions. But, many of the faithful who are proclaiming their belief in God today, are: mean spirited, self righteous, intolerant, judgmental and disrespectful of those who may disagree with their religious truth or moral positions. Religious ideals that lead to such behavior are neither beneficial to society, nor would it appear, that they in any way serve the Almighty. To have a faith in God and a world to come should not cause us to give up on this world. A fulfilling religious faith will enable us to see God's presence and participation in the everyday events of this creation. To see God in our fellow man and in the creation we share this planet with, could be the catalyst we need to improve our very problematic human condition. Ponder these words of Jesus and ask yourself just what it is he means by wealth:

If then you have not proved trustworthy with the wealth of this world, who will trust you with a wealth that is real?

{Luke 16:11)

NEXT CHAPTER 3-The Divine Paradox

 

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