Wednesday, November 28, 2012

God and the Future of Faith

Author Margaret Atwood once quipped:

I like that comparison by Margaret Atwood.  The God you find in church is imprisoned.     If you want God in the wild, get out of the church.    Does the wordplay assume, however, that there really is a God in the wild?    Is there a God that is more than a story or even stories about God?

Bishop Spong said that modern science has rendered God homeless and unemployed.   Cosmology took away his residence and evolution his paycheck.   He is not "up there" and he doesn't have a job.   That is a funny way to put it, of course.  What science has taught me is that there never was a home and a job for God in the first place.   God is an invention.    My quip, while not as clever as Margaret Atwood's is, I think, more real:

"Story is to storytellers as God is to churches."

Without the storyteller there is no story.  Outside of churches (and mosques, synagogues, ashrams and what have you), there is no God.     If Margaret Atwood thinks her god is more wild, natural, or real than the church's god then I would just say:

"Story is to storytellers as God is to Margaret Atwood."

It could be that for Margaret Atwood, God is another word for Nature.   I think that way at times.   God and the Universe are one.   God is Nature.  Nature is God.  But if God is something other than Nature, then it appears that God is a fictional character whether God is in the Bible, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Unconscious, in Margaret Atwood's imagination, or in yours or mine.  
Once someone made a snide comment to me about my church.  She said,

"I think the people at your church worship trees more than God."  

I held my tongue even as I wanted to reply: 

"Well, at least the trees are real."  

Of course, once the story is told it takes on a life of its own.  It takes different forms.  It is shaped, renamed, added to, subtracted from and on it goes.   Such is the case with God.  But God whether capitalized or plural has always been a fictional character created in the imaginations of human beings.    God has no existence outside of the stories about God.    The stories of God and of the gods are our creations.  God is our creation.  We should own that.  

I utter that blasphemy with a straight face.   I understand that for many, this is hard to take.
It seems to me that God in the Bible (or in any other book modern or ancient) is a fictional character in a collection of stories.    If you are convinced that God is more than that, than I would challenge you to show me.  Show me one thing that God does.  Then I'll show you your imagination at work.

More and more people are realizing this.  I happen to like stories about God even as they are all fiction.   I should clarify.  I like some of the stories.  Some stories about God are simply toxic.  They are as toxic as the people who tell them.  As fiction, they tell me about the tellers of the fiction.  As our ancestors told fictional stories about God, they made meaning.   They told about themselves whether realizing it or not.

I am not convinced that we need the middleman, that is God, to make meaning.   This is part of the change that is happening within the church, not just my congregation, or just the Presbyterian church, but other denominations, too.   This is a change that is happening throughout human culture.   We are in a time of transition.  This transition could last for many decades, centuries even. 

As more and more people come to recognize that our stories of God are human creations, we will have decisions to make.   Do we abandon the church or whatever other sect houses our stories when we discover that the church's God is fiction?   Might there still be value in the church and in its fictional tales?   Some say no and are heading off into the wild.   

Others think there still is a purpose for the church.   God is extra baggage and we can do good in the church without God.  Maybe we need to base what we do on new poetry.   We can make up some new stories.   We can also tell the old God stories with new twists.   Perhaps a mix is in order.   Of course some of the more toxic God stories are not worth saving.   We may draw wisdom from a variety of places.   A crucial place is science.  

According to Phyllis Tickle, it is a great rummage sale and we are on a great adventure.   Phyllis Tickle calls it a great emergence.   She is my guest this week on Religion For Life.    It is all part of my "future of faith" series.   

Join us! 

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