FINDING GOD, FOR SKEPTICS AND NONBELIEVERS ONLY
Unexpected Pathways to Belief
By: J. Marlando
Quite often I run into people who are either absolute agnostics or out and out atheists. Some of them are close friends of mine—there’s my PhD friend who calls anything having to do with faith in God, “nonsense.” Another friend, a retired college profession smiles and calls me a “wood Nymph” for my spiritual beliefs. Yet, another friend, a lady researcher I know, is forever repeating the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “Religion is the Opium of the people.”
I know and have met others who are not so opinionated but, when push comes to shove, they are skeptical in the least that there is or could be a Creator God. And finally, I know a few who “kind of believe,” and want to believe, but will talk religion and/or spirituality in terms of well, if there really is a god, then…Anyway, we have all met people like I’ve just described and there will be readers who fit snuggly into the molds of the skeptics and nonbelievers.
Before starting, however, I want to make two points perfectly clear. If the reader has found God for him or herself, is a reborn Christian or devotee to any other religious/God belief, the following narrative is NOT for that person. And so if this describes you, toss this article aside and go do something else. My goal here is not to take belief away but to ground it in a pool of subjective/objective observations and a common sense mixture of mysticism and science.
The second point I feel that it is important to make, is to say I also spent a lot of my life as an agnostic—when I was a kid ten years old or so my mother told me that I should pick out a religion that fulfilled me. And so off I went to find God behind the church doors. I attended a lot of church services from Episcopalian to Methodist, Seven Day Adventist to Catholic. I finally chose Catholicism because I liked the costuming and ritual. I remained a devoted Catholic for a few years but after a couple of realizations along the way and, if you will, God was out and Rock N’ Roll was in. My interest in spirituality didn’t return until I was in my later twenties.
Among the major issues that made me a disbeliever was especially in the Protestant arena where a minister or preacher tells the congregation that they are sinners and need to be saved. I could never get my mind around the idea of worshipping a god that I was taught to fear. This is truer for the Evangelists than the others—because they jump and shout the loudest—but take away the performance and all you have is the same old fire and brimstone rhetoric. Did I find any church that appealed to me? Well, had I ventured into a black Baptist church way back then, I probably would have joined because of the passion, the very dynamics of their gospel singing...and dancing. That to me is a statement that God is there, amidst the people and not out in some invisible heaven unseen and unknowable.
The truth is that I would not have been permitted to join a black Baptist congregation when I was a kid because it had been deemed, even by many sincere white Christians, that we white folks were superior to them black folks because of our whiteness. I was ten or eleven years old at the time so who was I to debate an issue like that?
Now then, with all this said, I would imagine readers who want to go further want to know what I believe and what I practice right now. Well, first of all I believe in Buddha/Jesus consciousness; my wife and I somewhat practice Nichiren Buddhism, I say my prayers to Jesus and to God for my special needs and desires but am a basic Transcendentalists at heart.
Do I still have doubts about there being a God? Absolutely not but beware, my belief is probably not in the God you have been told about.
CONTEMPLATIONS OF JESUS AND THE CHURCH
Nearly everything of value in our Western culture is conceived as being outside ourselves. We are raised to be materialists and futurists. Nearly everything happy, rewarding and gratifying in our lives invariably demands getting from some point “A” to some point “B” and once there, we push the happiness, reward and gratification out into the distance again—onward to some point “C” and this continues over most of the years of our lives. It is a frustrating loop of discontent but understandable: our culture teaches us that satisfaction is basically a dormant state of being. Indeed Westerners actually condemn contentment as being a state of stagnation lacking, in a rather old term, gumption.
Children in our society grow up believing that most basically, whatever they’ve done, they could have done it better and so “next time” represents opportunity, hope while the present is again made next to meaningless. As a result of all of this our entire reality is lived somewhere in a vague present that is stranded between the past (gone forever) and the future (not yet arrived); a Never Never Land where we people live in the absence of things. And in this same way Heaven is pushed out of our reach until we literally die and then the real rewards are supposed to roll in…as long as we have “earned” them through obedience.
Christianity is supposed to be based on the teachings of Jesus—Jesus after all is no doubt among the most profound of all spiritual teachers and yet instead of being used as a guide upon a path toward wholeness with God and so with the self, he is used as symbol of the very religiosity he rejected. In other words he is made into a symbol of sin and redemption; of suffering and salvation; a pillar of religious bureaucracy of rules, morals, dogmas, concepts, rituals…and biases.
Jesus’s message about God was made very clear, God loves unconditionally and he wants us to demonstrate our own unconditional love by loving our enemies and our neighbors as we love ourselves; by good Samaritan-ism and by treating others as we ourselves would be treated. All simple and direct! As for sinning, Jesus never promoted suffering or even penance for that matter. If a sinner asked for forgiveness of his or her sins, Jesus merely said to them, go and sin no more. He also said to let the dead bury the dead, in other words the past is no longer prevalent, it is gone, what is done cannot be undone. Indeed, Jesus had little patience for the person “who plowed a field and looked back” as he saw the folly of living in a past that was positive or negative—after all, we are all pure in the present moment and it is only what we do in the next moment that counts.
Remember what we are taught by the words those without sin cast the first stone.
What Jesus meant was that we should not judge others but remain open and loving---just the opposite of what so many organized religions do by creating moral dictates and rules in a context of crime and punishment. Speaking for God they say if you do this or that or don’t do this or that you’ll never see the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus taught was that *the kingdom of god is within us.
This returns us to the theme this section started with. We have all been indoctrinated to give more value to all that which we do not have, than that which we have. Even the most religious or spiritual person is apt to say something like I am here and now but one day I will be with God as if God was something we had to earn or accomplish as if the “kingdom” was one more journey between some point “A” and some point “B.” This is all the nonsense of intellectualism, of our kinds historic will to projecting our values, moralities and mores onto God’s.
This creating God in man’s image has gone on since the advent of so-called civilization and the old sacrificial demands made by the ancient high priests to enrich themselves and remain in religious-socio power over the population of the city state. Indeed, the old god/kings used to claim to speak directly for the god of the heavens and this tradition has not wavered very much even into our own times.
So the place to start seeking God’s spark in the world is not looking at the sky or into the sea but rather, inside you. After all Jesus said:
I will give you
what eye has not seen
and ear has not heard
and hand has not touched
and which has not come into the heart of man
He is speaking of opening our hearts to God, to becoming in oneness with God. After all, as Jesus told us, he and the father are one. When we seek God or you may prefer to call it the spiritual, we are seeking wholeness; to be one with the “father” by any other name.
A PATH TO ONENESS
Jesus said the father and I are one. This has been interpreted as meaning that Jesus is God and thus pops up the concept of the “holy Trinity.” I personally believe that the historic, living Jesus would have been appalled by this statement. Jesus never suggested that he was God. He only acknowledged that he was in the “father” and the “father” was in him. Joseph Chilton Pearce captures the meaning in this by saying: “Mind mirrors the universe that mirrors man’s mind. Creator and Created give rise to each other.”
When we think of how Jesus is conceived by most, however, it is no wonder that many people have lost their faith. As the “son” of God, born of a virgin, who came to earth to save mankind and who died a terrible death in that cause—an ancient Pagan myth, by the way—is all but absolutely unacceptable much less unbelievable. (1) This was certainly not the only alternative for a God who gave “the darkness” light and created the universe from a void. (2) To offer his only son as a sacrifice is obviously a notion belonging to the ancient mind—sacrificing human life to the gods was a superstition that had been promoted by Pagan religiosity since…well, perhaps organized religions became constructs of societies.
This incidentally carried through to the tale of Abraham who God, himself, is said to have ordered him to slay his most beloved son as a signal of his absolute devotion but also his obedience. All three of the world’s Big-3 religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam trace their heritage directly back to Abraham. Anyway, Abraham lifts the knife above his son lying on the sacrificial altar but, at the last moment, God stops him—it had been a test all along but the message is clear…Obey!
Sacrifice was the key to the successful workings of the ancient society; it not only kept people humbled…and afraid of the unknown but it secured leadership who presided over the sacrificial altars but never actually sacrificed themselves. The idea that sacrificing is patriotism exists even in modernism. Leadership is still promoting sacrifice as duty but they fail to give up anything of real value themselves. Indeed, a good example of this is that our “heroes” of the Industrial Age dodged the Civil War: *J. P. Morgan escaped fighting by paying $300 to a substitute—so did John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Phillip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon. Mellon’s father had written him that “a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of less valuable lives.”
One can safely bet that this is the kind of self-serving that Jesus would have been opposed to, the non-compassionate power of the wealthy over the poor; social injustices of the Temple Rabbis and other community leadership that Jesus rebelled against. Indeed, he said the rich man has the chance of getting to heaven as the camel through the eye of the needle. This was not an aversion to wealth it was an aversion of those who saw “other lives as less valuable” than their own. This was certainly the way of the Pharisee of his times.
Jesus’s message was to love all people equally, to treat them as kindly, caringly and respectfully as they, themselves, would be treated. This was a political stance and not some far-off claim that God favors the poor over the rich—After all, Jesus taught that God’s unconditional love is consistent and not contingent.
As a quick aside and according to the Gospel of Mathew, Jesus accused the Pharisees of both hypocrisy and pretentiousness. ***However, it needs to be realized that the Church played a significant role in weaving dogma into the voice of Jesus. For example, much of the Gospel of John is mere anti-Semitic propaganda. In any case, Jesus’s message was to love all people equally, to treat them as kindly, caringly and respectfully as they, themselves, would be treated. This was a political stance by the way, not some far-off claim that God favors the poor over the rich—or supported racism or sexism. after all, Jesus taught that God’s unconditional love is consistent and never contingent. Nevertheless, the God of the Big-3 religions already mentioned is clearly a warrior god. For one example, the Lord orders Moses (31:13-18) to raise an Army and attack the people of Midian during which his warriors end up killing the king but also all the men, women and children—well, every woman who had sexual intercourse…the virgins were spared. I will not comment on this further as I believe the point is made. This is a far stretch from a holy man of those times teaching people to turn their other cheeks and love one’s enemies. Words of wisdom that could clearly change the world but instead words that are typically treated as if they had never been spoken at all.
*During the times of Jesus and for centuries before Pagan rituals, dedicated to gods like Apollo and Dionysus in Greece, Hercules in Rome, Iris and Horus in Egypt and many others all had a common myth of a “savior” being born of a Virgin-Mother, living a life devoted to mankind and finally murdered, descending into hell, rising from the dead and returning to the heavens. Edward Carpenter, Origins of Pagan and Christian Beliefs, gives this example. “Mithra was born in a cave, and on the 25th of December. He was born of a Virgin. He traveled far and wide as a teacher and illuminator of men. He slew the Bull (symbol of the gross Earth which the sunlight fructifies). His great festivals were the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox (Christmas and Easter). He had twelve companions or disciples (The Twelve months). He was buried in a tomb, from which he arose again; and his resurrection was celebrated yearly…”
**A People’s History of the United States * Howard Zinn
***The Gospel of Thomas is probably the most trust worthy as it wasn’t discovered until 1945 in Egypt. However, since along with original text it takes from the other Gospels one needs to give attention to passages that apparently break from Jesus’ teachings. While it is true no one can know what Jesus actually said or didn’t say it is almost for certain that the interpreters and scribes would lean toward their beliefs either unconsciously or consciously. Scribes or religious scholars from both the Christian and Jewish sectors were well known to be political. For example, In Thomas Jesus separates himself from “the Jews” saying to his disciples that they “have become like the Jews; fro they love the tree (and) hate the fruit, and they love the fruit (and) they hate the tree. It is extremely doubtful that the historic Jesus ever uttered these words. In another passage, he is said to have said that people who didn’t fast and attend church could not see the kingdom—this was directly from a poster that the church distributed a few hundred years after the death of Jesus.
Now that we have constructed a rather interesting backdrop so where do we go to seek the God of Love that Jesus actually spoke of and not the love that our kind has attributed to Jehovah, the old warrior in the sky. The warrior sky god is known to have loved the world as “he” loved Jesus but that love is taught to be reciprocal. God loves the obedient and a world of his creation born into sin. However, when that love is affronted he quickly turns to anger and wrath. Is it any wonder that so many people find it so difficult to “believe” in such a god?
This is the major gap between us and the god of old who dwells in a far off place, sitting in judgment of the rest of us, without the willingness to forgive or heal the wounds of human frailties but to send one to eternal torment and the other to eternal pleasure; a reminder of Nazi sentiments during World War II who sent some to the gas chambers and others to labor.
Jesus said that God planted his love in all of us, not just a select few, not just those who are obedient but all…That’s you and me; the homeless person in the alleyway and the lady stepping out of her limousine; the sick and wretched, the saint and the sinner! He also told us that Gods love is likened to a seed that sprouts and grows.
How can we believe that God can permeate all our hearts with “his” love?
First of all we need to stop thinking of God as being a specific male…or female. A close look at the ancient and modern image of an all-powerful personage gives us the distinct message that god has been made in man’s image. He is a warrior god, he acts as a loving father until he is displeased then he becomes tyrannical and promises the wrath of hell’s fire; for some he lives in a place where the streets are paved with gold and great temples exist; for others he supplies concubines in his heaven and yet others claims he offers deceased members (in good church standing) entire planets of their own to rule. In some circles this kind of materialism is ever as much believed today as it was five thousand plus years ago. There was even a time in Babylon that God was said to have his own bookkeepers and his own concubines.
But what if God is not the product of intellectualized personage, as promoted by most organized religions, but rather the spiritual awakening of life itself, not the creator as one chisels forms out of stones or takes a box filled with components and builds a car or computer but as creation itself? And so, what if instead of seeing God as some crusty, old wise man making up rules and regulations, condemning some and saving others like some ancient tyrant you realized God-ness as the Spiritual Unity in ALL things?
The physicist *Paul Davies asked, is life divine? “Did God literally manipulate molecules of non-living matter in violation of the laws of physics and chemistry to produce, miraculously, the first living thing?” And later he asked, what is life? Answering: “To the physicist the two distinguishing features of living systems are complexity and organization. Even a simple single-celled organism, primitive as it is, displays an intricacy and fidelity unmatched by any product of human ingenuity.”
Later he concludes: “…how can a collection of inanimate atoms be animate? Some people have argued that it is impossible to build life out of non-life, so there must be an additional, non-material, ingredient within all living things—a life-force—or spiritual essence which owes its origin, ultimately to God. This is the ancient doctrine of vitalism.”
The ancient doctrine of vitalism was diminished by the philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who convinced the thinking world, the so-called civilized world and so our world that body and mind are separate and took God out of Nature. Indeed he even denied that animals feel pain because, he taught, they were more “machine” than living creature. This began farmers working and beating their animals to death, of treating them as god-less parts running on instinct but without awareness. Today’s reductionists see humans as not much more than this. That is, they see each human individual as the sum total of his/her parts and nothing more.
The renowned physicist **David Bohm tells us that we exist in an undivided whole; that behind the see-touch world which he calls the explicate order is an implicate order which is mind or psyche; a cohesive force that is the prime mover behind existence. If you will, this is spiritualism scientific style. What probably helped to spark Bohm’s observations was the particle/wave phenomenon; that mysterious duel nature of matter enfolding in and out of consciousness. It is, however, as yet another physicist, ***Amit Goswami, says, ‘Quantum theory interpreted according to an idealist metaphysics is paving the road for an idealist science in which consciousness comes first and matter pales to secondary importance.”
In this regard the ancient Chinese sage, Wang Shihuai told us that, “the universe is all mind and all phenomenon.” (The terms mind and consciousness are exchangeable).
Indigenous people all over the world, by many names, worship the Great Spirit and experience that spirit in all living things, a reason why the American Indian called animals, plants, trees and river their brothers and sister. They recognized their connectedness by the prime mover in everything; their all in oneness and oneness in all.
Returning to Joseph Chilton Pearce for a moment he tells the following story of an old Indian chief. He says, “The Pueblo chief Ochwiay Biano, told Carl Jung that white men were… ‘always upset, their faces lined with wrinkles…a sign of eternal restlessness.’ Ochwiay said the whites were crazy since they maintained that they thought with their heads, whereas it was well known that only crazy people did that. Indians, he said, thought with their hearts.”
And a sage (or guru) that Joseph Pearce knows told him that “the heart is the true seat of the mind.” Pearce himself states, “I became obsessed with experimenting with true mind, and longed to escape the tyranny of my chattering head. Throughout the fall of 1979 I dwelt continually on somehow opening up this stony organ of mine. I was home for a short stay in November, got up from my early meditation one morning and went to stoke the fire. I bent to open the stove door and something burst in my chest, slightly to the right of center. Physically it felt as though a bag of hot water had burst under pressure. The burst spread throughout my body as an exquisite warm wave of love, different from an experience I had known. I had to fly west for a university lecture the next day, and the entire trip took place in a state of euphoria, certainly, peace and clarity.
“My heart which had burst open was my ‘subtle’ heart, of course, not old thumper itself, and it is this ‘implicate order’ organ that is the seat of the Self, the abode of God.”
This has been the essence of my message here God is not out of your reach or sight. I have not been able to justify that old warrior in some distant and unseen place since I was a teenager and so I understand your skepticism. And so, I suggest if you wish to find God, to feel assured that you are not alone, practice loving God. Going back to Amid Goswami for a moment, he tells us how to love God.
One: Loving God through loving self.
Two: Loving God through service.
Three: Loving God through friendship.
Four: Loving God through the mother-child relationship.
Five: Loving God through an erotic relationship
And, he adds, “The list is not exclusive. There are other very tangible methods. For example, Francis of Assisi practiced loving God through loving nature—a practice that today is forgotten in Christianity but lives on in Indian traditions.
Indeed, if you want to see God, take a walk today and say silently to yourself to everything (including every passerby and every plant and tree) I love you, and see what happens. I do not think that you will be skeptical by the time you return home. Is this farfetched? I will leave you with the following to contemplate. ****Jesus said:
I am the light
which is over everything.
I am the All;
(from me) the All has gone forth,
and to me the All has returned,
Split wood, I am there.
Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.
*Davies, Paul *God and the New Physics *Touchstone
** Bohm, David * Wholeness and the Implicate Order * Routledge
***Goswami, Amit Ph.D. with Richard E. Reed and Maggie Goswami *The Self-Aware Universe * Tarcher/Putnam
****The Secret Saying of Jesus—A Modern Translation of the Gospel of Thomas with Commentary *Grant, Robert and Freedman, David Noel * Barnes and Nobel
Joseph Chilton Pearce quote: Spiritual Initiation and the Breakthrough of Consciousness * Park Street Press
I have not written this article to diminish anyone’s current faith or change anyone’s religious views. My only intent in the writing of this narrative is to offer the skeptic and non-believer a stronger base for believing in something beyond the dead world view. I was motivated to give the reader a foundation that not only supports the idea of God from a historical point of view but from a modern day scientific view.
I write quite a bit on spiritual subjects and am mostly opposed to the proposition that God is out of reach, out of sight and out of this world in some land of OZ called Heaven where all is suddenly golden and great…for those who have been obedient to the laws and ways of the Church. I believe that life is a continuum; a Universal dance if you will between birth, death and rebirth. I am convinced that nothing that lives, can die as God, by any other name, is the spark and glow of everlasting life.
There are a couple of issues that create most of our skeptics and atheists in our times: We are told that Darwinism is all but a given. I disagree with this because I do not think the fossil records are, in reality, strong enough to back up the Darwin theory. And, in any case, as Dr. Arthur David Horn tells us that Neo-Darwinism and the science of biology have a reductionist, deterministic, and mechanistic view of life. It doesn’t matter much anyway since evolution could be the way life spreads across an environment naturally. However, Darwin never tried to explain the origin of life!
The other occurrence that has caused spiritual skepticism is the Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang has become all but a scientific acknowledgement in our times which is seldom questioned in any serious way. However, not all scientists agree with the theory! The question remains, however, what came before the “Big Bang” or was it truly a spontaneous event? My personal subjective view is that there probably was a Big Bang, called the original singularity, some 13 plus billion years ago as we are told but the event was the natural process of the birthing of the galaxy; the expanding of space and time. What existed behind the Big Bang was the laying of the cosmic egg. A very definite problem that organized religion has created is through its exclusivity—First it was “our” earth thought of as the center of the universe—wrong! I feel assured that it is just as wrong to assume that our galaxy is the only galaxy and I am in good scientific company when I say this. Indeed, there is no center and yet Churches and Temples and Mosques all content that they are the center of truth and of knowing. Thus, religious wars have been perpetual since the dawning of the first civilization—Catholic against Protestant and Muslim…Muslin again Hindu and Jew…Christianity against Judaism and finally Muslin against all who are not them. It becomes a vicious circle of destruction and bloodshed. One does not have to go very far to see the folly and terrible absurdity in all this bitterness, an individual need only turn inward to seek truth in one’s own heart.
Indoctrination is the great enemy of heartfelt truth. Indoctrination blocks the pathway to one’s own soul. Churches and governments indoctrinate children from birth by brainwashing them with doctrine and dogma, nationalism and religion. Jesus, beyond all else, taught love for each other, compassion and kindness but this is not at all exclusively a “Christian” idea or ideal—As Darryl Reanney points out, Nearly every religion on the planet has given the same lesson.
Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do you even so onto them.
Judaism: What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man.
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as you own gain: and regard your neighbor’s lost as you own loss.
Hinduism: Do naught to others which if done to thee would cause ye pain.
Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.
I only know of one organized religion to attempt following the empathetic directive—Tibetan Buddhism and most all of us know what happened to them. I believe that the God in all of us can be found in kind and loving acts. I am convinced that the Church or, in other words, organized religion must change becoming non-denominational, for only one thing. I believe that intellectualizing God is as fruitless as intellectualizing Love. And in this long established tradition the roots of agnosticism and atheism have been planted. We can uproot them in ourselves, however, by simply opening our hearts to the omnipresence of God-ness in all.