Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
I don’t know whether or not it is a curious thing that I get a lot of my ideas for articles when I’m at church group. I could have writer’s block or just not be interested in writing for a while and then at some point during worship the scattered thoughts that I have during my general interactions delicately cohere into whole outline points.
First of all, I think it’s important for me to admit that I haven’t “recovered from religion” completely so far, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be fully “recovered.” I still believe in God, albeit I believe in “Him” in a less vertical sense and more of a horizontal one. God is the presence of life in us, around us, and working through us. I see him blatantly in the vast diversity of nature and less explicitly in our small fortunes- and misfortunes. I still like to think of God as “good” but I haven’t yet settled whether or not I believe in an equally opposing “bad” force in the universe as well. It’s less about “good” and “bad” and a little more about “balance” I think, something more like ying and yang and karma.
Secondly, maybe I can believe that He is present, but then I’m left to question whether He is impartial. If I believe that He is responsible for my promotion at work, then I must accept that He is also responsible for someone else- who may be more or less qualified than I am- not being promoted instead. To believe that God is intervening positively in my life specifically, while maybe intervening negatively in the lives of others is to believe in a God who plays favorites. To believe that God simply favors those who are good and shuns those who are bad, is in opposition to the message of grace through Jesus Christ that most modern Christians teach. We are taught that “we are all sinners, who have fallen short of the glory of God.”
Actually, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses this question of God’s partiality through a careful review of Genesis (this can be found in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence). God chooses Noah to save out of all the people on earth. Later, He chooses Abraham to be the father of his “chosen” people. He chooses Isaac as Abraham’s heir, instead of Ishmael, his true firstborn. God chose Jacob while seemingly dismissing Esau.
The Rabbi, however, makes the point that even though God chose one, it didn’t mean that He totally rejected the other. Despite the fact that the Jews were recording as being His chosen people, he said “Love the stranger, because you were strangers in Egypt.” Even though Jacob seemed to have nabbed the better blessing, Esau was also blessed by his father, Isaac. Ishmael’s mother was told by the angel that “of him [Ishmael] will I make a great nation also.”
The Rabbi was attempting to argue that even though God might select people for specific blessings or callings, that His love is big enough to encompass all of His creation. Also, more than once in the Old Testament God calls himself a god of, “mercy, righteousness, and judgment.” These distinct attributes seem to lend to him some diversity. In Psalms, David writes, “He will not chide with us, nor will he keep his anger forever.” The Rabbi embraced the different attributes of Yahweh, citing a verse from Isaiah.
“I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things.” -Isaiah 45:7
As I might’ve alluded to a little in my other post, the Rabbi pointed out that the problem comes when we have an Us vs. Them mentality. Whenever we demonize the “other” and see ourselves only as the favored ones then we run into trouble. The reason why certain strains of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are at odds today is because each expected that they would supplant the other. The Jews saw the Christians as heretics, but the Christians thought that the Jews should convert. The Muslims believed that they received a specific revelation that gave them a right to call for the conversion of Jews and Christians alike. Each one claims to have a monopoly on how to serve God.
I know you’re probably wanting me to get to the point. (Well, I will.) Today I heard some very interesting things in church group, namely about speaking in tongues, worship, testimonies, dreams and visions, and the Christian’s “authority” with the name of Jesus. This is not meant to be an offensive statement, but when we’re not really directly discussing “spiritual” things its easy to forget that the people in my church group are Christians. They goof off on snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook just like “secular” people do. They talk about food, fashion, and sports. They’re totally “normal” and then they start talking about their callings, giftings, and ministries and I suddenly remember that I’m in an Evangelical social group. Of course, being raised Evangelical, it’s easy to fit in. (Actually it’s easy to fit in almost anywhere if you wear the right clothes, nod at the appropriate moments in a conversation and ask on-topic questions but that’s beside the point.)
it’s always interesting how all supernatural phenomena they experience is filtered through that specific Evangelical lens. Yes some of them have clairvoyant dreams- but so do people in many pagan religions. Iyanla Vanzant is a great example. She’s a Yoruba priestess (although she does go to church) and she talks about her clairvoyant dreams and being visited by spirits in her book, “Yesterday, I Cried”. Also, Evangelicals are big on “prophecy” and “prophetic gifting” but they’re very quick to denounce fortune telling, palm reading, and in most cases astrology as being Satanic. They talk about waging “spiritual warfare” on “principalities and powers” (see Ephesians 6:12).
Of course we could easily just go to the book of Acts for an explanation of this particular superstition, but I think it’ll serve us even better to go back to the book of Deuteronomy, where God gives a peculiar command to the children of Israel.
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. -Deuteronomy 13:1-5
Now that’s some serious power, folks. God is basically recorded as saying, “I’m such a Big God, that any attempts to prove me wrong, are really just Me testing your faith in Me.” The implications of this are enormous. This shows the Judeo-Christian God as being literally omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. It also raises all sorts of questions about his possible character and the nature of non-Judaic faiths.
A King of Israel, King Saul, was actually shown in the book of Samuel as being punished by God because he asked counsel from a medium. This is actually an extremely charged subject in the Bible.
So in the end we’ve come full circle. If the God of the Bible is responsible for evil and good things, actually, pretty much everything then…
“Why does he then find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” -Romans 9:19
Apparently, the only answer to that question is, “He’s God, and He made you, so He knows best and you are just a formless clay in His hands.”
If that answer has always chafed at you, then maybe that’s why you’re reading all of this right now. If you’re tired of God-so-Big and Me-So-Insignificant then you’ve come to the right place. If that quote, “If God is all powerful, he cannot be all good, and if God is all good, He cannot be all powerful” perks your attention up a little bit then welcome to the place where creative analyticals thrive.
Maybe God isn’t all-powerful. Maybe He isn’t all-knowing. Maybe He isn’t everywhere at once.
Maybe God isn’t.
It’s that “maybe”, that tiny bit of uncertainty that keeps me up late at night and reading hundreds of pages of material about faith and church history. In picking apart the various intricacies of religion, I am picking apart and rebuilding my very sense of Self.
Let’s change our focus a little bit.
As I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio) I stumbled upon another discussion about the nature of life and death. Actually the first NPR broadcast that ever caught my attention was bioengineers talking about how we may be able to engineer “life” by forming DNA out of proteins strand by strand. This most recent program was about how to alter genes to extend the life of cells.
Apparently, if you take a genetic sample such as one from a person’s skin, and dissolve it in an enzyme the sample will break down into single-cell structures. If the enzyme is given the proper nutrition and conditions, the sample will continue to divide by mitosis and “grow.” This division, however, is not indefinite, as we well know. The scientists were able to isolate the gene responsible for this. It’s a gene that basically tells the cells to stop multiplying after a certain number of divisions. It was nick-named the “grim reaper” gene and in humans, it stops the cell division after fifty divisions.
At one point, the hosts asks the scientist, “Why fifty?” and he answers, “You’ll have to ask God that.” (He didn’t say whether he believed in God or not).
It turns out, in worms, scientist were able to alter this “grim reaper” gene and double the amount of divisions the cells were able to achieve before stopping. It turns out that when you alter the “grim reaper” gene you free up another gene that is actually present to keep the cells young. These genes were responsible for the increased life span of the cells.
Unfortunately, such a concoction is not feasible for testing in human beings. I won’t get into the technical mumbo jumbo, but basically some of the same properties found in the modified cells were found in cancerous growths. So you couldn’t extend your life by this method without risking getting cancer as well.
That being said, I think this is still evidence of how amazing of scientific breakthroughs we are finding into extending and improving our lives. Of course, I am just waiting for some church practitioner to say that it’s unethical. After all, some Catholic priests believed that the polio vaccine was unethical because it “took hold of the powers of life and death that should belong to God alone.”
That sounds pretty absurd to us now, but in some ways our expanded lifespans of even as little as 70 years are causing problems. An NPR broadcast literally the next day discussed how the Japanese were struggling to deal with the burden of caring for the elderly due to their shrinking population of young people. The day after that, there was a broadcast about how much caring for elderly (and sometimes not so elderly) dementia patients was putting a strain on their spouses and family members. One could argue that there are always consequences when we “play God.”
Really though, what does that really mean? When we say that we’re “playing God” we are exposing that we have preconceived notions on the nature of God. If He really is all-powerful, then He shouldn’t lose his power because of what scientists are doing, because the scientists are just another extension of His Will on earth. A child genetically engineered and born of IVF and surrogacy would have no less right to exist and no less God-given purpose than a child born of “natural” means. Taking it a step further, if we can agree with pro-lifers that a child born of a violent act like rape has a right to be here, then any child has a right to be here no matter if they’re born or “made.”
Humanity is very elastic. Yes, sometimes when we deal with things like lifeforms, it’s like playing “whack-a-mole”. We might knock out some bacteria with antibiotics, but those strains evolve and form “superbugs” that are dangerous and unkillable. We may do everything we can to provide food and shelter for our fellow people, but even as we do that the earth itself is breaking under the strain of 8 billion humans. The more of us there are, the more of a chance there is that somewhere down the line there will be none of us at all. Life will continue, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we weren’t a part of it.
These are depressing thoughts. It’s a lot easier, to, instead of facing reality, just embrace the thought that “We are formed in God’s image” and humanity is the most important life form on this planet. We are special, and that gives us a right to lord over everything. Also, we can tell ourselves that this world is only temporary and an afterlife- which we have no proof of- is waiting to embrace us into everlasting prosperity and glory. I wonder though, if many of us would live our lives differently if we didn’t think we had a do-over. What if this was our last shot?
So as the Regina Spektor song goes;
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
We’re all laughing with God.