I had one such conversation this week on a blog site belonging to a very sincere, no doubt very decent, committed Christian. It is many years since I have pondered the absolutes of Christianity which led me to reject it as a spiritual option - having nearly completed my studies to become a Catholic. This came after joining the Anglican church as a twelve-year-old and studying Hinduism, while living in India, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Jainism and various other religions as part of my spiritual journey.
The end result was that I decided to stick with God and not bother with religion as I tried to explain in the following conversation where I found myself responding to statements and questions and re-articulating, for myself, just why I don't believe in any religion.
This was the original post to which I responded:
I am not so sure a large number of people do have the same views as I do, particularly in the US which is the most religious of all the developed nations and generally of the christian persuasion. I do think that the numbers are growing in terms of people holding similar views to mine but I also believe at this point in time the numbers are small.
This is long but I want to explain my position carefully so you understand why I don't believe, or won't or can't believe as you do. I would also qualify by saying that I believe we are all different and we are all called to walk our own spiritual paths - what is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me.
I believe God values the uniqueness of each and every one of us and wants only to see us manifest our full potential, however that may be done. There is not one right or wrong way of doing this.
I respect your integrity and your faith even as I explain why I find it unacceptable for me.
You said:The first part I agree with you. I’ve always found other people’s spiritual journey to be interesting, and I’ve found I can learn things from their statements. I’ve also always been interested in what other groups believe, and why they are different and what is the same.
Next you make a couple of “I do not, will not, cannot” statements. As long as you realize that this is matter of your own will and not something inherent in God, then there’s not much I can say about this.
This is not so much my own will as my own truth and given that I believe all that exists is inherent in God then this too is inherent in God. My belief is that everything we see in this material world is God made manifest - there is no separation - all is God, therefore all is inherent in God. At least by my reasoning and belief.
You said: You do not wanting to bend your will to God, which unfortunately is the case for many people.
No I do not because I do not believe in a God which would ask or need me to 'bend my will' except in terms of acknowledging that while we may not control what happens to us we do have some control over what we do with what happens to us, and sometimes it is necessary to stop 'doing' and to surrender to 'being.' What I do believe in is a world in which when we surrender to the knowledge that there are greater forces at work in this world we gain access to, or become more a part of, the truth of what we are. In other words we have free will and we are meant to make use of it but we also have to learn that there is a point where we surrender our trust in outcomes to forces beyond ourselves - whether we call those forces God, destiny, fate, angels or whatever.
God as I see - S/HE has no need of anything from us but merely wants to see us living to the fullness of our potential as co-creators in this material world. It is our capacity for free will which makes us able to function as co-creators and therefore to express God more fully in this material world.
You said: But as for the suggestion that there is somehow something amiss when God presents himself in personal pronouns, I must respectfully disagree.
God doesn't present her or himself in personal pronouns - human beings seek to 'create' god as a gender. Before God was a man, in the patriarchal age, the last 5,000 years or so, God was a woman in the matriarchal age. Clearly God is neither male, nor female, nor personal in that sense. If God were to see a need to present her or himself in personal pronouns then that would suggest that God saw a need to discriminate, at that point in time, against one sex in preference for the other. Clearly no God worthy of belief would be so petty.
In truth, if one were to have a God which chose a gender then the logical choice would have to be feminine for it is the feminine which brings forth the masculine in a literal sense and not the other way around. S/He contains He, just as females contain males to bring them to birth. He does not and cannot contain she in any metaphorical or literal sense. In addition, we all start out as females and a male is produced through hormones which change the original female foetus. So, if one were to argue that God had a need for a gender it would have to be female. The fact that it is male suggests this has come from the 'mind' of men and not the mind of God. Given the levels of misogyny which has been at work and which is still at work to lesser degrees in religion throughout the patriarchal age, I would be suspecting men, not God, of a need for personal pronouns.
I would add though that because I believe all happens for a reason and an ultimate good, that we needed a patriarchal age to follow a matriarchal age in order to understand our nature better and to be able to marry the two, a sacred marriage, the hieros gamos, which is now underway and which will take us further and more fully into our spiritual selves.
You said: God is infinitely wise, and we are significantly flawed, and our judgement about what is right is skewed at best.
This kind of God is God made in the image of Man. Any God must be all things. For human beings to be created by God and yet to be somehow not of God and flawed means we are separated. We are not. We are one. We may be flawed and our judgement may be skewed but that is a part of our experience and journey in this material world. Ascribing wisdom to God as a particular and flaws to us as a particular personalises God in a way which does not make sense to me. God either is all or God is not and if God is not all then this is no God who could be the source and expression of this cosmos and everything in it. You cannot be half-pregnant and you cannot be half God - it is all or nothing. God is either everything or there is no God and the latter again, does not make sense to me given the evidence for intelligence and consciousness at work in this world.
You said: Further, outside of what God reveals to us, we know precious little about God. But we know that He is not human, and does not reproduce, so male/female distinctions in God’s being is just not there, at least in human sense. But God, in his wisdom, has chosen to reveal himself in male pronouns, and we either bend our will to accept this or we do not.
I believe we know a great deal about God because God is everything. Observing or experiencing an ant or a rock, we know God; living our lives as human beings we know God; observing a sunset, cloud, storm, tree, river, ocean, cup of tea, vase, shovel, car etc., we know God because everything is God - everything which exists in this material world emanates and is sourced in the cosmic consciousness we call God. At least that is how I see it.
You use the term 'bend our will' again and this is one aspect of all religions which is common and which I can never see as coming from God but only coming from human beings. This is the sort of language people used about the patriarchal age at its worst - when the father was 'god' in the family and wife and children had to bend their will. I happen to believe in a God of love and that the most powerful force at work in the world is Love and there is no place for 'bending wills' where Love is concerned.
You said: As for the concept of whether someone can be or is somehow saved through belief, I’m afraid that this is the only solution. Let me explain.
I do understand the religious beliefs you espouse, or rather, I know them, but they do not make sense to me and so I choose not to hold them but I will respond to what you say.
You said: First, we are separated from God. He is perfectly holy and good, and we are all flawed due to sin.
This teaching has become entrenched in Christianity. I do understand that. But it was not where Christianity began. This is an creation of the human mind which enabled the early church to have greater power and to continue to gain greater power. In some areas of Christianity more enlightened thinking has led to a diminution of this belief and rightly so - for it does not make sense.
Why would a God which is all that is and who is perfectly holy and good create something flawed and evil? More to the point, how could something flawed and evil come out of something holy and good? And, if God is all and the greatest power which exists, then how can anything be separate from God?
You said:We have all done something wrong,
Yes, but it depends on what you mean by wrong. To me wrong is being cruel to others, lacking compassion, being selfish etc., ... it is not about belief. And even there I would say there are no mistakes, merely different turns on the path. Everyone makes mistakes but forgiveness is one of the most powerful of spiritual teachings - if we can forgive ourselves and others then any God can forgive us.
You said: the greatest of which has been to ignore the Father and his son Jesus at some point.
That is theological dogma particular to the christian religion. It has no meaning to Hindus, Moslems, Jews or anyone in fact who is not a fundamentalist Christian and that means the majority of people in the world. It does not make sense that an all powerful God would create a world where only one religion got it right! That is the sort of belief which would come from the minds of men and not the mind of God.
You said: Because of our sin, we are separated from God, which is called spiritual death.
Yes, I do understand the theological dogma but it doesn't make sense to me. God is either everything or God is not and if God is everything then we cannot be separated. There can be no spiritual death because the spirit does not die. We are spiritual beings having a material experience. That is my view anyway and it is one which is validated through the numerous and increasing number of Near Death Experiences. People who undergo NDE's return and whether atheist or evangelist before it happened they invariably drop all religion and commit their lives to living as spiritual beings having been told that all is one and our task in this world is to live with love.
You said: The only way for us to be reconciled to a holy God would be either 1) do some behavior that would make it up to him,
Hindus believe the same thing. From my perspective this is not only not a teaching of Jesus Christ whom you profess to follow but it is so petty that I simply do not believe it could ever have come from any God worth bothering about. This is the sort of thing the ego says, or demands, not the mind of God.
You said: or 2) have someone else do this for us.
Yes, this is also found in all other patriarchal religions. It's a common theme and a source of empowerment for church, mosque, synagogue and temple. Christianity believes that Jesus 'made things up with God' for us, but the church was quick to find ways of making money out of having priests 'do this for us.' As a belief I find it backward and exploitative, if not downright childish.
You said: It cannot be option 1, for this involves doing something, and doing something is what got us separated from God in the first place……our behaviour is sinful, and sinful behavior can only get us separated from God, not get us reconciled.
This not only does not make sense it is cruel. I have personally experienced the things done by wounded and damaged people - it was not their fault and I know that and can forgive and yet you are telling me that throughout the world, the wounded, the damaged, the ignorant, the mentally defective, the physically damaged (blind, deaf, mute) are sinful and separated from God because they don't believe what you and others believe they should? That God cannot forgive !!! Ridiculous. God is love and within love there is no judgement and no condemnation and no need for forgiveness.
Evil is Live spelled backwards. Having pondered deeply the damage done in dysfunctional families I have come to believe that evil and sin are sourced in ignorance and woundedness - if I can forgive my parents then God can forgive anything.
The God who judges in this way is the God of the Old Testament. Vindictive, petty, childish, arrogant, venal - God made in the image of man. This is God as Father, or even Mother of the worst kind.
You said: But if Jesus paid the price of death for us when he died on the cross, then the price is paid, we have the possibility of accepting Jesus’ payment, or not, and this by trusting Jesus. So belief in the vicarious payment of Jesus in our place is the only way to be reconciled to God.
So everyone else is wrong? The atheist who lives the best of lives and who spreads love, compassion and joy is condemned and the christian who spreads misery, cruelty and pain is saved because he or she 'believes.' Quite simply it is simply silly. It was exactly these sorts of beliefs, along with the misogyny, which caused me to reject religions and to stick with God.
I have studied Christianity, both Anglicanism and Catholicism, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism and they are all awash with misogyny and in essence say similar things - believe what we tell you to believe and you will be in God's good books - you will be saved. I have also studied Wicca, ancient Goddess religions and various other animistic and pantheistic spiritual belief systems which patriarchal religion sought to demonise as pagan, even as they absorbed into their theology beliefs and 'facts' which suited them.
In this magical, mysterious, wonderful world we have billions of people - most of whom do not believe as you do - many of whom follow no religion at all - and yet they live full, loving, valuable lives and your belief system would have them condemned?
I think what I continue to find surprising is how often insightful, intelligent, kind, compassionate, decent people can believe in something so vindictive, unforgiving and destructive.
You said: Our futile works got us separated from God in the first place, and more futile works cannot fix the problem, it only makes it worse.
We were never separated and we cannot be separated. We are God and God is us and all is as it should be. We are in this world to learn to become more conscious - not less - to make up our own minds and to express our spiritual natures in a material world as co-creators with God. That is how I see it.
You said: Will you consider having total trust in Jesus today?
No. Because Jesus, if he ever existed in any historical sense and even if not, is just one of many light-workers who have existed throughout time and what matters is living by the teachings ascribed to him, although they were not original to him, and not simply deciding to 'have total trust.'
And I don't need to put my trust in anything beyond the purposeful, meaningful, sometimes painful, often challenging, fascinating, beautiful progression of my life and my sense of a joyful relationship with a purposeful, meaningful, beautiful consciousness at work in this world - I am sticking with God and have no need for religion.
The trust we need to have is in a God, in whatever form works for us, as the source of all being - cosmic consciousness - all that is - and in knowing that as expressions of God we are, each and every one of us perfect at any given moment.