9.12.2012

God As an Artist

People like to assume that because I don't subscribe to the Christian faith (or any faith for that matter), that it also means I don't believe in God. And that if I don't believe in God (or at least their brand of it) then I must also believe there is no higher power. Many assume that I am an atheist or a nihilist. Some might even go so far as to say that I don't have any ethics or morals, because my beliefs aren't grounded in the tenets of some ancient scripture or stone tablet. Some people have told me that I frighten them. Maybe they think I have a disease that's contagious or that I eat fetuses for breakfast. At any rate, I'm more amused by such things than I used to be. It used to hurt, but then I realized that while I couldn't control their words, I could control how they made me feel. It's one of those either laugh or go crazy kind of things, and I'd much rather laugh.

The same people who believe these things, of course, will vehemently defend themselves against religious stereotypes people have made about them. They will be galled that anyone might think of them as ignorant or delusional, and perhaps bigoted, hateful, or narrow-minded. All of these things speak, I guess, to basic human nature. It's an innate characteristic that forces us to put groups of people into easily sorted categories. It's a time-saving thing. It's hard work to evaluate folks on an individual basis. I know a lot of Christians and consider them friends, and I think it's very unfair to brand all of them with the same iron. That is not to say that I haven't done so from time to time, mostly out of frustration and a desire to make them pay for all the times other Christians made me feel freakish or wrong for being the way I am. Other times, I just want to highlight the grave injustices that have been done (or are currently being done) in the name of religion in the hope that we could expand our horizons as a species, but that turns out to be only so much mental masturbation as well. But stereotyping is a dangerous game to play at. Unchecked, it can lead to some very nasty things, like hate groups, segregation laws, and genocide. It also breeds resentment and anger, and that's never fun.

I went to church a lot as a kid. I know most of the scriptures. I had a big book of Bible stories that I loved reading. In fact, I still like a lot of those old parables, like the one about the Lost Coin or the Good Samaritan. I still can recite the name of every book between Genesis and the Revelation without tripping over my tongue (because doing so earned me a lot of candy in Sunday school). I also like a lot of the imagery and art that has come out of spiritual faiths. Obviously these beliefs have moved some people to create some iconic works.

But there was always the doubt. The questions were always there, and no one I asked in church gave me answers that satisfied me. When I was seven or so, I asked my dad why there weren't any dinosaurs in the Bible. I asked him a bunch of other questions too, but my dad, who is also not a religious type, just said that some people have this thing called "faith." They believe something, even if it might not be true or provable. And even then at such a young age, I found a flaw in this reasoning. I demanded logic. It's a trait I see in my own kids, and I could swear that I never implanted it. It's just an inborn skepticism, an ability to ferret out fact from fantasy that I hope they retain, regardless of whether or not they turn to religion.

The truth is, my spirituality is a very long and winding path that will stretch on for the duration of my life. I've passed by a lot of different ideas and notions, taking pieces of them as souvenirs before moving on, and I'm confident that I will continue to make new discoveries the older I get. I do know that I don't much appreciate the idea of an omniscient being who jealously demands my attention and allegiance. I don't much care for a god who would stand idly by as innocents die every day from hunger and earthquakes and floods and disease while some athlete proudly proclaims that this same being helped his team win the game. To me, that's just vulgar.

In the last week, I've received news of two small children I know of (ages 3 and 6) who died of cancer. In a world with an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God, that shouldn't have happened. In a world where such a God exists, a person like me should never have have been born, especially if the only available destination for me after I die would be hell (unless I repented, of course). Both scenarios assume that we humans are nothing more than markers on the board in a celestial asshole's game of Life, or better yet that aberrations like me were created to test the evangelical skills of "His" flock. You can throw all the "Free will/God works in mysterious ways/God's plan" stuff at me that you want, but it will do little to shake my my conviction that this particular deity--the one who lives on in so many forms in so many cultures on this planet--has the moral compass of a narcissistic sociopath. I choose not to believe such a being exists. To me, that would be the truly unthinkable horror, far worse than the idea that we are really alone in this universe, nothing more than an atomic accident.

It's the ultimate egotistical folly to assume that humans are the best this universe has to offer. Obviously we are not. I don't think we humans have yet gained the capability to conceptualize what put us, and the vastness that surrounds us, here. I think the ideas we've had so far are too small. They demonstrate the current limits of our species. Not only that, I think it's arrogant to go with absolutes over doubt. Doubt leaves me so much room for wonderment. It keeps me curious. It keeps me walking that spiritual path. It makes me hopeful that whatever is out there is so much better than the patriarchal overbearing sky lords that we've dreamed up here. If I have to choose between forcing myself to swallow these fables as truths, or putting my chips on doubt at the risk of eternal damnation, I will always choose doubt.


Despite what we see on TV, we're still evolving, and eventually we will come to a place of understanding about our real origins that will (hopefully) content us all. I was born too early to witness such a miracle, but I wish it for those who come after me. In the meantime, I hope they will live to treat people as they'd like to be treated, and to be comfortable in their capacity for mistakes and failure, to be human without the fear of burning for all eternity when they die, because to do otherwise would make for a pretty miserable existence. At least it did in my brief experience with it.

I choose to believe in something more positive and beautiful. I would rather see God as a flighty but brilliant artist gallivanting through the universe with a really big paintbrush, too damn busy to know or even care what we're doing here on this spinning rock. To this being, we're just one of many experiments in form and color, added to an infinite gallery stretching on for trillions and trillions of miles in every direction.

I don't know where this artist is right now or what its motives are, but what I'm sure of is that it left behind a bit of its artistry in each of us, and if we choose to acknowledge it, we can do some pretty astounding things. We can construct amazing buildings and bridges, and make each other laugh. We can rescue people from burning buildings and natural disasters. We can cure diseases, or hold the hands of the suffering so they know they're never alone. We can paint the most beautiful pictures and compose melodies and stories and movies so beautiful that they that make us tremble and cry. We can dance. We can teach and inspire children so that they might grow to one day inspire others. We can rescue animals from the brink of extinction and guard our planet from the destruction of pollution and war. We can care for each other, not because it's politically beneficial to do so, but because it's just the right thing to do. We can take ourselves to the Moon and beyond with machines that span the cosmos, and we can push back against forces of negativity and greed and evil and destruction, because all those good things and more are so much more powerful than the bad.

Those who can do any of those things are the ones who truly understand what it means to believe in "God," with or without religion, with or without a deity or a scripture, because they know that all it boils down to is getting through life without being an insufferable asshole. And in the end, I think that's good enough.