Friday, December 14, 2007

Tell me all your thoughts on God

Since I'm still not sure about this whole God thing, I think I'm going to do a series of posts about the different things that I like and dislike about the idea of God as I know him. Some of these things, obviously, are what keep me from believing full fledged anymore, and some of them are what keep me hanging on to the shreds of desire to believe.

Probably the first thing that bothers me about God, is that he is a he. Oh I know, several religions/mythologies have made room for a female goddess or counterpart to God, but really, we've heard very little from her. She hasn't started any religious movements, she hasn't spoken to any prophets/prophetesses, she hasn't validated her existence in any way nearly as clearly as God has. And, no matter how far back you go looking for the Goddess, she always reports to the God. She doesn't share power ever, she is delegated power and must connive and/or cajole the God for anything that may run contrary to him. And in traditions where there is an acknowledgment of her but no worship of her, she doesn't do a whole lot to protest said arrangement.

So that sometimes gets me to wondering if religion is a boys' game. Something that crept into human existence a long time ago in order for men to rule with a little bit more validation. Or perhaps, drawing from an article I read in TIME once, some guy was scared about his impending death and had this hallucination that simply confirmed his status in relation to the women and made death not quite so scary. But really, all the major religious movements that we now recognize were founded on the visions of men who simply confirmed the already patriarchal society in which they moved. But do we have any records of women receiving such visions complete with admonitions to gather followers? Nope.

At this point, I must admit that I am sorely lacking in my knowledge of Goddess lore. I know that some women believe they have tuned in to her, can pray to her, etc. But they've had to do their searching outside any religious structure. And they have yet to form a movement around this idea. So I'm going to make some assumptions from this: 1) The Goddess doesn't exist and is simply a belated response from women who have finally realized that they are worth just as much as men, 2) The Goddess does exist, but women were so oppressed for so long they didn't know where to find her (although this calls into question her mercy/love for her daughters if you ask me), 3) The Goddess exists but realizes that religious movements can cause more harm than good and so has not felt the need to gather groups around her in great numbers--she's happy to speak to each of her daughters individually without getting into dogmatic bullshit about how to approach her, when, who's worthy, etc., and 4) God really does transcend gender/sexuality but hasn't felt the need to tell humanity that females are worth just as much as males (since the two genders/sexes really aren't separate after death) until the last hundred and fifty years give or take a decade.

Now I know that this sounds rather gender essentialist in a lot of ways, and I don't really consider myself an essentialist. I just know that for a long time, the sexes have been considered to have essential differences that reach beyond biological function and so women's and men's experiences have been different for a long time and thus a lot of women would take comfort in a deity who could understand their particular troubles. Obviously the non-existence of or gender transcendence of God would make these issues moot, but then, that's why I have so many issues to begin with. All the conceptions of deity that I've been able to think of are still vastly problematic when I view them from my own sense of justice, mercy, and love (and to all believers, that was probably the most arrogant sentence in this whole post, huh?). Okay, enough for now. Must go do something productive.

23 comments:

Rich said...

Hey, first time here. Hope you don't mind if I quote a few excerpts from one of my favorite books, "How Good Do We Have To Be" by Rabbi Harold Kushner:

I see Eve as being terribly brave as she eats the fruit. She is not frivolous, disobedient, or easily seduced, as later interpreters have insisted on describing her. She is boldly crossing the boundary into the unknown, venturing to discover what lies beyond the limits of animal existence, and reaching back to bring Adam after her. The portrait of Eve in Genesis calls to mind the Greek myth of Pandora (described in some versions of the story as the first woman on earth). Pandora was given a box and told never to open it. Inevitably she did, and all manner of troubles and diseases flew out to plague the world ever after. One suspects that the original story has been distorted, as the Garden of Eden story has been misinterpreted, to paint the woman as the villain responsible for all the world’s problems. The name Pandora means “all gifts” in Greek, and one might speculate that in the original story, the box contained all sorts of good things the gods wanted to keep from mankind. In the same way, I read the story of the garden not as an account of Eve imposing Sin and Death on her descendants, but as an account of her giving us humanity, with all of its pain and all of its richness. Like Pandora, the donor of “all gifts,”, Eve has given her descendants more than existence; she has given us Life.

I don’t believe that eating from the Tree of Knowledge was sinful. I believe it was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race...

The woman is not the villain of the story, enslaved by appetite and bringing sin and death into the world. She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions.

And religion is not the carping voice of condemnation, telling us that the normal is sinful and the well-intentioned mistake is an unforgivable transgression that will damn us forever. Religion is the voice that says, I will guide you through this minefield of difficult moral choices, sharing with you the insights and experiences of the greatest souls of the past, and I will offer you comfort and forgiveness when you are troubled by the painful choices you made.

To say that human beings do wrong things, to say that they are capable of cruelty and deceit far worse than any other creature, to say that nobody will ever lead a perfect life any more than any baseball player will ever bat 1.000, is a statement about human beings and the complexity of the choices we have to make. To say that we are destined to lose God’s love or to go to Hell because of our sins is not a statement about us but about God, about the tentative nature of God’s love and the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness. It is a claim that God expects perfection from us and will settle for nothing less. I agree with the first concept, the fallibility of human beings. But I strenuously reject the second. If I am capable of forgiveness, of recognizing intermittent weakness in good people or good intentions gone astray in myself and in others, how can God not be capable of at least as much?

HOW THE STORY MIGHT HAVE ENDED

So the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and a delight to the eye, and the serpent said to her, “Eat of it, for when you eat of it, you will be as wise as God.” But the woman said, “No, God has commanded us not to eat of it, and I will not disobey God.”

And God called to the man and the woman and said to them, “Because you have hearkened to My word and not disobeyed My command, I shall reward you greatly.” To the man, He said, “You will never have to work again. Spend all your days in idle contentment, with food growing all around you.” To the woman, He said, “You will bear children without pain and you will raise them without pain. They will need nothing from you. Children will not cry when their parents die, and parents will not cry when their children die.” To both of them, He said, “For the rest of your lives, you will have full bellies and contented smiles. You will never cry and you will never laugh. You will never long for something you don’t have, and you will never receive something you always wanted.” And the man and the woman grew old together in the garden, eating daily from the Tree of Life and having many children. And the grass grew high around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it.

shukr said...

My first visit.

I'm Muslim. Allah is what we use for God, and it is specifically neither male nor female.
Constraints of English, eh ,)
although, it doesn't bother me to have He used anyway. It's just a word, and all words fall short of God. Do people ever really see God as male/ female !?! That would be totally bizarre and making a 'mini god'/ grand human imo.
Limiting to say the least.

We also have a description of the 99 Names of God. They give us an indication of what God is, ( or is not).

These 99 Names include more commonly associated feminine characteristics such as Beauty, Most Gently Kind, Compassionate and so on. When we see someone being generous it is said that we are seeing The Generous.
Same so for all the Names.

Lessie said...

Wow, thanks for stopping by you two. Where did you find out about my blog?

I appreciate the quotes rich, although I'm not sure which ones are quotes and what are your own thoughts.

shukr, I think it's interesting to hear your surprise at a gendered God because in my religious tradition, God is very much gendered and we do indeed believe he was once a human that reached exalted status and that someday we can do the same. That's why gender is such a big deal to me--it was a huge deal in my previous religious life. I've studied a minimal bit about Islam (just a humanities of Islam class in my undergrad work) and was very impressed by some of the founding tenants of the religion. I'd be interested to hear more of what you have to say.

Rich said...

Hi again, I don't remember where I followed you here, probably Mind on Fire.

To answer your question, those are quotes from the book, but they certainly reflect my own beliefs about the creation story more than anything else I've encountered.

I'm still an active Mormon (however unorthodox), hoping to effect some positive changes from within the system. I credit my faith with much of what is good in my life, in spite of much frustration that it sometimes brings (think politics for example). God for me represents the ideal to aspire to, male or female, as a loving parent. Since I have loving parents, this wasn't too hard for me to picture (though I realize for those less fortunate, it may be). I like to believe that life here is just one chapter in an endless journey of discovery and creative enterprise.

shukr said...

Wow, indeed, to the gendered thing!

I came from another blog, but I'm not sure which tbh. Our Organic Life maybe? or words to that effect I think. And that came up from a google search on parenting.lol. shrug. it is funny where we end up with these things!!!

I know almost nothing at all about Mormon'ism', ( if that is even a way of expressing it?) other than what I have read yesterday on a couple of blogs. I studied comparative religions very briefly when I was in my late teens after I became interested in Islam. I grew up Methodist/ Church of England (with an agnostic/ atheist mother).
Then I went on to study at degree level after having embraced Islam because I was interested in learning more about various relgions, especially how culture affects people's interpretation and so on...

Anway, with all that, I still don't remeber coming across Mormon belief. I have always had a vague understanding that it was quite a structured system, with an emphasis on some kind of mediation between people and God, ( something like priest/ confession for Catholics)- but after what you have said regarding human becoming 'god', I'm not so sure where I got those ideas!?!?!
Just to say where I'm at is in ignorance regarding where you are coming from iykwim. I guess I should apologise for that! It's funny to be saying that because it's what I normally hear.lol.

I will try to keep up with your questions and reflections and offer something of my world view where I can.

I know in my greatest time of questioning when I could no longer wear my cross, it was a time both of great excitement and terror for me, all wrapped up into one. but I think the excitement and wonder was the greater .)

Lessie said...

"I agree with the first concept, the fallibility of human beings. But I strenuously reject the second. If I am capable of forgiveness, of recognizing intermittent weakness in good people or good intentions gone astray in myself and in others, how can God not be capable of at least as much?"

I agree with this part of your quote rich. If God is there, he's not the vindictive, revengeful God of the old testament. He's loving, forgiving, etc. I also agree with the rabbi's interpretation of Eve and Pandora's stories, the cynic in me, however, says "Why weren't these women telling their own stories? Where are the women prophetesses writing their version of the creation of the world? Oh yeah, women were discouraged from becoming literate until about two to three hundred years ago." They couldn't have written it down even if God had wanted them to. This bothers my ideas of God being loving and just. Which is one reason I have doubt issues right now.

Lessie said...

Shukr, Chandelle (over on Our Organic Life) is an acquaintance of mine. We've met briefly and attended a women's conference with Artemis from Feminist Mormon Housewives (there's a link there from my blog's home page).

Anyway, this part of your response made me smile:

"Limiting to say the least."

According to a small minority of Mormons, this is how we deal with the problem of natural/moral evil. God is limited by the physical laws/free agency of the universe and humanity and therefore cannot always stop natural disasters, evil actions, or even hurtful disagreements. All he can do is tell you that he loves you, he's been there, done that, and so to hang in there, it's all worth it to get to do the whole God thing yourself someday. So in other words, we don't all believe in an omnipotent/omniscient God. However, I realize that has it's own problems as well. We can get there if/when we get there.

G said...

Hey lessie!
(you got some cool visitors here)

okay, not all my thoughts on god... just a few rambling ideas.

growing up Mormon, God was always male, had a physical (male) body with flesh and bones... and later I came to understand that He had a wife, our Heavenly Mother, who we knew nothing about because she was too precious, and who we were NOT to pray to.

Speaking of prayer, there was a very set, didactic way in which you approached god, the correct opening (Dear Heavenly Father...), the correct type of language (biblical style), the correct order of thanking for things and asking for things, and the correct closing (in the name of Jesus Christ...)

Eventually I became really unsatisfied with this entirely male centric worship design and so started to look for the divine feminine. I started from a specifically LDS paradigm, finding everything I could out about what church leaders had said about Heavenly Mother, finding out about what people had been excommunicated for saying about Heavenly Mother, eventually feeling led to reach out in prayer to Heavenly Mother, and sort of mentally constructing a whole new ‘godhead’ with four members instead of three (Father, Mother, Son, and [feminine] Holy Spirit).

But I realized I was doing what so many other people had done: constructing God in their own image and to their own understanding. I don’t think this is necessarily bad (I have had very strong spiritual experiences doing it) as long as one realizes what is going on, the impossibility of nailing down God.

I guess (currently) my own thoughts on god can be summed up with stuff other people wrote:

“The philosophies and Cosmologies and Gods we have created are all far too small.”
-Robert Fulgum

and

“I should also confess that I generally refer to God as ‘him,’ which doesn’t bother me because, to my mind, it is just a convenient personalizing pronoun, not a precise anatomical description or a cause for revolution. Of course, I don’t mind if people call God ‘her’ and I understand the urge to do so. Again- to me these are both equal terms, equally adequate and inadequate.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

(I should confess that I try to refer to God as “she’ as much as possible, maybe out of rebellion, also to try to reconstruct the gender norms I was raised with… and because I feel the spirit when I do.)

shukr said...

http://rainbowsandshukr.wordpress.com/2007/08/08/shahada/

was just searching my blog and came across the above. Very much a snippet of experience. I never have got round to describing my actual journey to that point. Like my birth stories. lol. Things waiting to be written perhaps...

shukr said...

http://rainbowsandshukr.wordpres
s.com/2007/08/08/shahada/

link looks like you can't get all of it from above comment, so have just pressed space for the whole lot to show here.

Lessie said...

Thank you for sharing that with me Shukr. My journey away from the faith of my birth was much more troubling. It's refreshing to hear someone who anticipated such a change with excitement.

Lessie said...

G, I agree that we just can't know everything about God and I finally tired of people trying to tell me that we already do. However, I still feel uncomfortable with the huge extremes we go to in making excuses for a loving, merciful God whose interventions into humanity seem so arbitrary at times. That's why a limited God seemed like such a Eureka moment for me. However, the problems inherent in that view also lead to my current agnosticism. So here I am, back at square one, going, "Okay God/Goddess, if you're there, then what the hell is going on?"

That seems flippant, doesn't it? All I can say is that I don't feel God anymore. When I think about praying, it's like talking to a wall. Indeed, my mind goes blank when I decide to try a prayer. Although, I have to admit that your journey away from our prescribed pattern fascinates me. It's odd how much of the Mormon paradigm I still operate in. It never even crossed my mind to approach God differently as far as pattern, wording, etc. goes.

shukr said...

So, have you thought about talking to God like:

'so, here's what I don't understand..(insert queries)..I want to understand, to come to a place of tranquility even in hardship, to know...so please help me, guide me'

and so on...

Or,

'I feel so mad, ( sad, bad, confused, etc etc) and that feeling doesn't feel good. Make things clear to me.'

Islamically, there are prayers said at set times with set words, (they too are supposed to be understood and felt in the heart, not to be merely rote), but there is an emphasis on spontaneous, heartfelt prayer being a key to one's relationship with God.

'If you ask, ask of Allah, if you seek help, seek help of Allah'...

Prayer should be passionate, but sometimes it is simply statements, or talking as if to your intimate friend.

'oh no, which way *now* !?!'

both physically when you get lost on a journey, and spiritually too!

I loved the book 'The Way of the Sufi' by Idries Shah even before I embraced Islam. It is a collection of Sufi sayings/ teaching stories.
On a more technical note, the short book 'Becoming Muslim' by Nuh Keller is a useful look at Islam.

I'm sure you could make gender issues in Islam as well btw. We totally would not use She/ Her for God. Though both men and women can and do attain to the highest degrees of the soul. There is a clear pattern of male/ female traditional roles, ( not set in stone, but honoured as ideal for the most part). I find it liberating tbh. All this old fashioned feminist stuff is oppressive - who wants to be an all singing all dancing party trick!?! yuck. That does not mean that women aren't an integral part of humanity. Just that everything and everyone is given it's due and respected role. How many Wise Women, ( surely the pinnacle of feminine design) can you have if they are all in the office on the pill ,) !?!

G said...

lessie, it is rather funny... I am reading a book about wicca right now (written by a wiccan) and just got finished with a section in which the author goes to great lengths to try to explain why 'bad things happen to good wiccans.' (after going on and on about the loving Goddess who provides of all of her children.) She uses exactly the same language that I was raised hearing (agency, learning experiences, accidents, cause and effect, etc...) and gives almost the same advice (trust, faith, work hard...)

I realized while reading it that I don't buy it. pagan, christian, mormon or otherwise.

But i do still believe in something more than mere atheism... though I have now written and deleted several paragraphs in this comment box trying to explain what i do believe.
'a limited god.' maybe.
an unknowable god?
perhaps a cruel and bored greater power pulling strings for personal entertainment... sometimes I could believe that. why is it that I could believe that easier than to believe that there is nothing at all?
don't know, but it is time for me to go to bed.

Lessie said...

G, that's why I'm still agnostic. I don't buy all the rationalizations, but at the same time, I can't quite get rid of that feeling that there's something bigger out there--the nature of which I don't understand at all. I want to believe in God, I think maybe I still do, but in the mean time, I don't what to do with all the philosophical problems I see in said belief. And so I throw up my hands for now and say, "I don't know. Maybe s/he/it is there, may be s/he/it isn't." In the mean time, I try to live my life in such a way as to cultivate understanding and compassion with my fellow humans regardless of their religious background.

Lessie said...

Shukr, I must admit that my opinion about gender roles differs from yours. My experiences with childbirth and homemaking have been very far from liberating or spiritual. They've been full of angst as I really don't enjoy either of them very much. I love my sons dearly, but I'm a much better mother when I haven't been chained to them all day. Let me clarify, though, that I respect other women's desires to do that--have children and raise them in their homes. I know a lot of intelligent women who have made this choice and who are perfectly happy with it. I'm just not one of those women.

Lessie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shukr said...

I also wanted to say something about the homemaking/ mothering, because it's not all like happy happy joy joy on a superficial level here. I have much angst.lol. though did embrace my birthing experiences fairly wholeheartedly.

I must have outside time/ non parenting time/ studying and playing/ meditating/ praying time alone to be the best I can be.
I volunteer work for three organisations, sell things, hang out with good, uplifting company, doula, study outside the home and so on...

If I was in full time paid employment with my children in school, there would be a different *feel* to those roles and, imo, my availability to be a mother which is a choice I made and now deserves my presence of mind and body.

Mothering each other is also greatly lost in these modern times, and is a lamentable loss for a healthy society, (again imo).

I find a Brave New World system offensive to humanity, and don't want to support that way of living by buying into the programming we receive of so called equality and women's rights.

I have an income on my own terms rather than any boss's, and I am really free to then define my role as Woman as I please. I'm not chained to the home/ children, but extended towards them at any given moment/ radiating out from, perhaps.

I notice the benefits of a connected parent/ child continuum and aspire to that however it can be best fulfilled by each one of us, you know.

Lessie said...

Shukr, I think I understand you a little better now. I think your comparison to a Brave New World is interesting. I don't think that women's rights have to result in a dystopia. I think that the problems raised in that situation came from cramming women in to society as defined by men and that if society itself were able to change its structures, women's rights could cause much less conflict than they currently do between the sexes.

I think you're definitely on to something as far as your volunteering, selling things, study, non-parent time is concerned. I can see how it would keep one sane. Unfortunately, we aren't quite financially able to hire the childcare that would enable me to do any of the above, and so it is that if I want to take classes, volunteer, etc. I must get a job that will enable me to do those things.

Lastly, I think women's rights have been the saving grace of many a woman who finds herself abandoned or widowed. We still have a long way to go before women's treatment in the workforce is ideal, but these women can expect at least decent pay (even if not equal yet) and childcare if they end up becoming the primary financial support of their families.

Have your read Virginia Woolf's essay "A Room of One's Own" (you're British, right? Or am I totally missing something?)? It sounds to me like you may have worked out a situation where you have a little money and a room of your own with out having to go out and enter the workforce. I think that's really neat. I'm still trying to get there.

shukr said...

I am from a british background.lol.

"A Room of One's Own" - I'll look that up. I do feel I've found some kind of balance I'm comfortable with. It wobbles and readjusts regularly - I don't want to make it sound more sorted or final than it is, but I think I see a new angle to the one I grew up with in a *practical* way, not just spiritual.

Women's rights movements coming from a man made system has probably made things better for some women. At least they might be seen in their own right rather than as 'man property' etc but I love the social rights that women enjoy in Islam as part of the religion's appeal. We have so much choice under Islamic law. One of the greatest women in Islamic history was a very affluent, independant business lady. The charity and financial system provides for lone parents and so on...but this is the text of Islam I refer to, not the practical application we see today by some Muslims. Some places the law is upheld, others it isn't. My money and earnings though are mine, (all mine ,D lol) and there is none of this pressure to be an equal earner and so on, split the bills or whatever. Though, of course, what woman would not want to add to family ease where she can in financial terms, and what man would not want to contribute to various home endeavours!
We are a 'lower income' family. That is a choice though. Childcare works around my dh and my commitments (or swaps with friends on occasion). That is the main reason for the having to reshuffle things and work out what we can manage iykwim.

I find the juggling stressful sometimes, and occasionally long for the steady dual income and lifestyle I was taught to expect, but there is an inward stability and rhythm to our reality that I am growing to like very, very much.

Sorry to go on and on and ooon in your comments. LOL. It is actually sorting through my own feelings/ reflections/ experiences.
I thank you wholeheartedly for this space!!! I hope something will also resonate with you in some way that is helpful. There are not so many places one can think out loud these days without condemnation from one place or other, so I thank you moreover for your honesty and open space. I hope nothing I say will hurt or offend, and I really appreciate your feedback and reflections, which move me.

Lessie said...

Is the independent woman your talking of the Prophet's first wife (whose name, I'm ashamed to say, has slipped my mind)? I remember liking her a lot when I was studying humanities of Islam. I also remember coming very close to converting in my own head. The textual laws for women were indeed very appealing. However, looking at the application in different segments of the Islamic world made me realize that ultimately humans are the ones interpreting these laws and I could still run into the same issues in Islam that I did in Mormonism. So that's why I'm currently not affiliated with any religion and not likely to be so any time soon.

However, if we could take the textual laws you allude to and acknowledge the societal benefits of healthy, well rounded mothers, and the rights won by feminists, then perhaps we could finally find a happy medium between the Moms who must work, those who don't want to, those who do want to, and those who don't need to.

Anyway, I've got a future post planned about motherhood, etc. I just need to sit down and write it. I also have future posts planned on the "Tell Me All Your Thoughts on God" theme as well. I'll try to sit down and get to that. They just take me forever though, because I want to make them clear.

shukr said...

perhaps we could finally find a happy medium between the Moms who must work, those who don't want to, those who do want to, and those who don't need to.

YES!

Anonymous said...

Look into Wicca, if you have not already done so. Pagans have believed in the Goddess way before Christianity became popular. The Goddess is worhiped year round, and most Christian holidays are just rip offs of Pagan rituals.