Speaking of God
Originally published in the June 1980 issue of Senior Edition newspaper
Nobody I know is sad to see the Seventies slip into well-deserved oblivion, sucked into our human propensity for seeing the world in ten-year segments, categorizing our perceptions into convenient historical blocks that make it possible for our all-too-human memories – often incapable of retaining even what happened last week – to store large masses of data decennially so that, in what has all too often been referred to as our declining years, we may regale our grandchildren with wondrous tales of what it was like in those good old days before all of the rest of you came along and made such a God-awful mess of everything.
No doubt, some time hence, in a fit of irrepressible nostalgia we will all dig up old designer jeans with Calvin Klein’s autograph across all our derrieres, listen to collectors’ tapes of Nixon, Haldeman, Dean and Co. deleting expletives in the Oval Office, sip on 20-year-old bottles of Perrier, discover old photographs of Farrah Fawcett what’s-her-name, watch old video replays of “Saturday Night Live,” contract disco fever, revive personalized license plates with catchy slogans like “I Love Me,” recall when gasoline was only $2.00 a gallon, become born again again, and in general whoop it up and recount entertaining, apocryphal tales about an era right now most of us wish might succumb to a temporary bout with amnesia.
The whole decade was rather a nightmare. It is difficult to glance backwards at the ‘70s without conjuring up some rather disturbing images of our little human community here on Earth. Bangladesh. The Symbionese Liberation Army. Watergate. Jim Jones. Idi Amin. Three Mile Island. The boat people. Cambodia. The Ayatollah Khomeini. I could go on.
Some of the more pleasant images of the ‘70s arose from those cinematic extravaganzas which lured us into a suspension of disbelief long enough to hope that some extraterrestrial forces were out there plotting redemption for a world which long since abandoned hope of coming to its own senses. “May the Force be with you!” – Star Wars. Who can forget those wonderful, globular little creatures in Close Encounters of a Third Kind, coming to take us away. Even Superman, appearing like a comic-book Christ, suffering the human pangs of unrequited love, offered us redemption from afar. Most recently, Star Trek launches on the next step in human evolution through an encounter with an alien intelligence seeking its creator.
I always find it difficult the next morning after viewing one of these otherworldly encounters to open the morning paper and read what new, seemingly innocent victim’s life is being held hostage to whatever small and demeaning human purpose.
But, c’est la vie. Eh, mes amis? You are born. You grow up. You go this place. You have this job. You take this vacation. You see this movie. You read this book. One day, poof! – You die. What’s the use? It doesn’t mean a thing. Where is this hidden meaning that is supposed to ennoble our lives? To raise us above the mosquitos? To refute this cosmic joke of spurious existence?
For me, the incredible part of this little experiment we call Life is our position midway between something which appears to be limited and finite, and something else which appears to be unlimited and eternal. We quite literally have our feet in the mud and quite figuratively have our head in the stars. On the one hand we appear to be profoundly and even hopelessly ignorant, not only of the universe which surrounds us but of our own self-conscious selves as well. On the other hand, we feel impelled to try to understand the sublime mystery of creation into which we have awakened, conscious, knowing naught.
Our notion of God arises out of this conflict – between our ignorance and our thirst for knowing. God gives a plausible and interesting solution to the conflict. He arises out of the what-we-do-not-know to give explanation to the known. And while postulating God does not explain the mystery, it does offer us a means of relating to it.
Now I have not talked too much about God in this column. Some people who run around mouthing off about God get locked up. Others become ministers. Since I am not a minister, you can understand the risk I am taking.
Another reason for keeping quiet about God is simply a matter of social etiquette. When you talk about God, you’re talking about a Guy who’s extremely significant to a lot of people, and if you take the subject lightly (God knows I’d never do that) or if you say something about God that doesn’t quite fit the image somebody else has of the Big Guy, then you might get into a fight.
And I have discovered, after many years of observation, that most of the people who profess to believe in God aren’t inclined to talk about him very much. Even, to be frank, think about him very much.
Those who do talk about him generally are so wrapped up in all of the dogma, of whatever variety, that they have associated with him that the discussion ends up being about the dogma, not about God.
Nobody really talks about God anymore. Or very few, anyway. The subject is widely discouraged. Ironically, it is particularly discouraged by the leaders of established religious faiths who you might naturally suppose would have the most interest in the subject. Every once in a while you will hear about someone being summarily dismissed from membership in a faith for theological musings that are considered threatening to established religious dogma. You can take that as a sure sign that the person thereby extricated from the faithful was talking about God. It is virtual blasphemy in many faiths to talk about God; you may only talk about – better yet adhere to – dogma.
Back to God. Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I think the major mistake many people make when they talk about God is in talking about the many ways in which they know him. To my way of thinking, since God arises out of the what-we-do-not-know, when we talk about God we are generally speaking of the many ways in which we do not know him.
I think this distinction is an important one, because it is out of the profound awe which arises in our encounter with the unknown (not the known), that we experience reverence.
While the experience of reverence may not, in the literal sense, render life meaningful, it does lend a certain significance to life that is lacking without it. Reverence ennobles us. It makes possible a world in which, despite whatever shortcomings they may have, men can believe in things they cannot touch.
Actually, I spend very little time thinking about God. I think it is that way with most of us. We wake up, do our daily routine, go back to sleep. Without once thinking about God. Without reverence. Without gazing in awe upon creation.