WHAT'S GOD GOT TO DO WITH IT?

"You and I agree on almost everything except one thing, you believe in a supreme being and I don’t.  My question is...why aren’t we attacking each other?  It seems the proper thing to do, given everyone else is killing each other over the supremacy of THEIR god, even those who believe in the same god.  Is there a gene missing in our makeup?"

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   That's part of an e-mail I received awhile back from a friend. It's a subject that we talk about (or, talk around) every five years or so. This time, it came up because he'd just confessed to re-reading all my blogs and website posts. I would have liked to believe he was looking for wisdom and enlightenment, but he also confessed that he had insomnia, and thought that a marathon reading of my essays would cure that, quickly.

   Sarcasm and irony aside, I think there are two basic points of discussion in my friend's paragraph, and I don't think the first has much to do with the second. First, I admit to believing in some intelligent force behind our world and the larger Universe (a.k.a. "God"). I don't know exactly what my friend believes on the subject, but it involves a mixture of chance (but logical) happenings, followed by evolution and adaptation (i.e., no supernatural force required). I came by my belief long before I knew much of anything about "religion." I hiked and watched birds in the Bay Area  hills, backpacked and climbed peaks in the High Sierra, and intuitively felt that all those amazing sights and sounds were more than just the products of geological, chemical, and biological forces.  My bird study on my own as a kid, then college science training, and later on-the-job observation  all just reinforced my belief that there was more going on than just natural selection and survival-of-the-fittest. I have no trouble seeing evolution and adaptation at work, but no one has ever convinced me that the amazing complexity of the human body evolved merely in response to survival needs, or that the marvelous diversity of animals and plants, with their seemingly endless combinations of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes developed just so each species could develop and live successfully  in the seemingly endless habitats that were developing and changing at the same time as the individual organisms. I know the idea of "intelligent design" has been corrupted and ridiculed, but that doesn't mean that there aren't abundant signs that a larger "intelligence" might be at work in the world we live in.

   My friend has had the same basic science training that I had, and - from what I've been able to discern from some 50 years of friendship - our lives developed along pretty comparable lines. He sees the same world I see, through relatively similar eyes, yet doesn't need "God" to enhance his understanding or appreciation. Okay. I can't "prove" God; he can't "prove" a cataclysmic beginning to the Universe. We're both stuck with variations of the same question: who made God, or where did the elements come from that combined to create the Universe? Is it "turtles all the way down," or "physical and chemical reactions all the way down?"

   The point, I think, is that our belief or non-belief in a "supreme being" has almost nothing to do with how we view the world around us, or of how we feel about - or react to - issues that arise. I'll get back to what I feel probably does explain our "agreement on almost everything," but I first want to address the other big topic embedded in the opening paragraph: religion.

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   I think my friend thinks that, because I "believe in God," I am religious. I'm not. Even when I was strongly involved in organized church activities (and I haven't been inside any church for about 40 years, now), I think I spent most of my time trying to help people reconcile their "religion" with real life. I know I was sometimes obnoxiously eager to talk about what I considered the opportunity for anyone to have a personal relationship with God, but I'm sure I never tried to get anyone to embrace a particular religion, live by certain rules and regulations, or join a church. I don't believe in it. I never joined a church, and never followed church doctrine or dicta if such seemed wrong - or wrong for me. For many years, I did consider myself a Christian, but that was when I thought that Christianity was built around the teachings of Jesus. Now, I see Christians proving daily that one has little to do with the other.

   Religion is about Control. Initially, there may be good intentions involved, rules made to "protect" the believers. Hey, is it so bad to "tweak" a sentence out of a religious book so that it says something just a little different than was originally meant - if you're doing it "for the good of the people?" Of course, if your particular group tweaked it just a little differently than another group (who were also acting "for the good of the people"), then we have a potential dilemma. But for the "religion," it is an easily solved problem: what was formerly an interpretation or a suggestion just becomes "law." The next step is easier: forget about what "God" said, and just make your own rules. As was so skillfully portrayed in Richard Adams' book "Shardik," the Great Bear (aka God), who was initially revered and feared, became a pawn, captured and made to say (actually, "interpreted as saying") just what the power seekers (aka "the Church") want him to say. God, who was the master, becomes the slave, and the people are brought under the control of Religion.

   A little over the top, you say? I don't think so. The only way that religions, and denominations, and cults can come into being is for each to remake "God" into their own particular image. The only way they can stay relevant and keep their converts in line is by gradually taking "God" out of the equation, and creating their own "Religion."

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   Well, that's what I think, anyway. And that brings me back to my friend's question: if I believe in a supreme being and he doesn't, "why aren’t we attacking each other?" We aren't, because it's Religion that attacks Religion, not "God" attacking "God." I'm prepared to say that, at some level, my belief in some "controlling" (or at least "establishing") force may influence how I react to a particular circumstance. Still, in the bigger picture, "God" is pretty much irrelevant. I suspect my friend and I think alike on so many issues because of our similar education, training, and life experiences. I suspect we think alike because, even if we often lean in a particular direction in our beliefs (e.g., neither one of us would ever be mistaken for a Conservative Republican), neither of us has let our intellect be captured and subdued by any dogma or set of "pat answers." We are still both able to think for ourselves, and when we have a belief or opinion that is similar to that of some other person or entity, we believe it because WE believe it - not because it is some group's doctrine.


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