Thursday, May 16, 2013

Views on God, Religion and Human Nature

I believe in God.

There, I said it.

Now's a good time to clarify a few things in light of some of the responses I've gotten from my recent post Questions for Christians (and other Religious People). It's been interesting to see what assumptions people make about a writer based on a line of questioning.

Do I believe in God, creator of the universe, an absolute, a first mover? Yes.

Am I evangelizing something? Atheism, agnosticism? Hindusim, Buddhism, Daosim, Jainism, Shinto, Confuscianism? Scientology? Science? Islam? Christianity? Judaism? No. Am I attempting to challenge anyone's faith, to get anyone to not believe in God, to change religions, to critique the teaching of any religion apart from its human followers? No. Most emphatically "No!" And my questions, flawed as they may be, state neither implicity nor explicity any sort of rejection (or embrace) of any Biblical teaching whatsoever. I asked the questions so that I'd get feedback, so that I could attempt to understand things, even to challenge my own assumptions. If I assume something about someone else based on superficial criteria, then I hope to be open enough to stand corrected. The fact that the responses have been as varied as the people responsible for them has been very satisfying, helping me to know the responders more deeply.

Do I believe in the soul, the human spirit, endowed to us by God, an entity separate from the body and also the mind, the spiritual aspect of human nature? Yes.

Do I believe that the soul is eternal, that there is a life after death, heaven and/or hell, reincarnation? I don't know. I'm ambivalent on the subject, by choice. I choose not to let a promise of eternal reward or punishment affect the choices I make. This doesn't make me an atheist, or imply that I have no moral compass, or that I reject all religious teaching, Christian or otherwise. And it's a personal notion that I have no desire or will to be disabused of.

With this in mind, I am comfortable, indeed happy in my doubt of the literal interpretation of the Hebrew creation myth as history and in the necessity of the Christian plan of salvation. This is fundamental to my character. It's a root. Attack it with your words like axes if you want, but it's pretty thick. You'll never sever it.

Am I flawed, often wrong, irascible, at times licentious, judgemental, antisocial, a slave to my emotions,  negative, overly critical? Am I a sinner? Yes to all of the above. But if I don't choose to believe in the eternity of the individual soul then sola scriptura arguments do little to convince me. I may be wrong, I may be right. God can decide, no one else.

Understanding others' beliefs can lead to personal change. Truly I am interested in changing for the better, but it will be based on principles and values of my own choosing. Certain parts of my soul are wide open for spiritual exercise. Some are not. I'm just being honest. I'm not disposed favorably to religious evangelism.

Why do I believe in God, and why does anyone for that matter? Again, I'm sure there's a spectrum of opinion. I believe in God, that I am a child of God as are we all. And children need their parents in myriad ways. I need God emotionally. This is irrational. But I accept it, I embrace it, I love my need for God. If I had no God, my own life and that of the people I care most about would be much poorer.

All of this points to further questioning regarding human nature. There are possibly as many views on human nature as there are dna codes. If you believe in "God the Father" then possibly you also believe that we are created in His image. Does this pertain to physicality, to the soul, the mind or possibly to all of them? If it's a matter of the soul, then we should look at the character of God the Father as demonstrated by the scriptures. He's dynamic, angry, jealous. Vengeful even. But he's also merciful, compassionate, forgiving. If our souls are modeled on His, then we have the capacity for love, cooperation, compassion, healing and forgiveness within us as well as violence and destruction.

Branches of Christianity would deny the side of human nature that admits compassion, cooperation and so on, emphasizing the depravity and selfishness of human nature. My choice is not to deny those possibilities in humanity but to attempt to lessen them in myself and uncover their opposites, their complements. I choose to look for the possibility in all humans - in spite of our many flaws, failures and sins - of imitation of Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and many others who worked for the benefit of others. It's no easy task, especially when those possibilities are difficult to find within.