Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How Should Man Relate To God?

My little sister tells me this anecdote: When she was very young, someone asked her whether or not she worshipped God. Having picked up that—colloquially— “worship” is inappropriate, i.e. Betty ‘worships’ New Kids on the Block etc, she told this questioner that, ‘I love God, but I don’t worship him.’

It was a funny anecdote when she told it to us a few years ago, because in our culture worship is typically the only acceptable way for man to relate to God. My sister’s anecdote works on that level: An innocent child raised in a lukewarm religious environment hears all of the prohibitions on worshipping things, and thus applies that prohibition to the one place where it’s acceptable.

The anecdote was funny then, but as I look back on it, it seems absolutely prescient.

Being that there is no empirical evidence to support divine authorship of any of our religious texts*, how should we humans position ourselves in relation to a possible God? Religion as a whole has not provided anything but flowery diversions to support its claims about the nature of God, so, the impetus for proof being on the claimant, we can feel comfortable about telling Religion to come back and talk to us when you’ve got something a little more substantial.

But God is a different thing than religion. Why is worship our natural response to God? Maybe that’s not what he wants. He made us with these questioning and capable intellects. Maybe he wants something else. Maybe he doesn’t want anything. He certainly hasn’t made any unambiguous requests. I’ve heard many skeptics say something like, ‘If there’s ever evidence, I’ll be the biggest churchgoer there is.’

But why would discovery of the existence of God lead you to worship? We’re still thinking within the boundaries established by revealed religion, which is dubious at best. Worship and submission are useful to bind communities together, and to bolster the leadership of the community that employs it. God, being a greater intelligence and beyond our current grasp, is probably not threatened by our independence, and—from the apparent lack of intervention in this world—may not even be interested in binding our communities. If God exists, he’s established a universe that works by its own materialistic laws, without his direct aid. This is a wonderful accomplishment, and is the hallmark of someone somewhat aloof from the situation. I had a manager once that told me his work principle was to do his job so effectively ** that he would become redundant. This also appears to be God’s work principle, and he has succeeded at it smashingly.

So, in respect for this skilled craftsman who prefers his privacy, I am going to honor his possible invention in this fashion: I won’t kneel and contemplate intentionally obfuscating mysteries, or tithe to a church (although I’ll tip generously at restaurants), or preach the questionable virtue of blind faith to my children. Instead, I will attempt to live this life with all of my attention. I will be contemplative. I will be considerate of my fellow creatures. I will examine evidence, and not shut off my mind to contrary information. I will also prefer ambiguity to falsehood. A prayerful*** and awake life is the only fitting tribute I can imagine to a creator so skilled as to leave no trace of himself in his creation.

If I can leave this world having made it only a modicum better, having left the landscape of my relationships relatively undefiled, I will have been successful in emulating the model left by the one that [may have] pushed over the first domino.

If there was an intelligent first cause, it covered its tracks. The best way to give this cause due props may be to pass over consideration of it altogether, and to live as fully in this world as we can; as if it were the only and best one we could ever hope for.

Joe Henry performs 'God Only Knows', from his CD Civilians

*Science of course (as a verb), is the only method by which we can make any good-faith claims at all about the nature of things.
**Our job was to troubleshoot the system to make production more seamless.
*** “Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.”-Simon Weil


Christian Thompson said...

Fantastic Spencer!

You just introduced me to Simon Well as well... er, as Well. ^_*

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks Christian!

Willie Y said...

When I was a kid it seemed to me that everyone went to church, everyone that is, except my grandfather. That's what you did on Sunday. The difference back then was that the church and religion was a kind of a hidden force that manifested itself in kindness, and a communal gathering's that helped the parishioner's, the community, and the down trodden. It was a kindness and caring about people that was not said out loud, but was just there. I don't think you need the church and religion to care and help people. I think that it is inherent in most of mankind. At least I hope so.

By the way great post Spencer.

GbiZ said...

Dude, this is an awesome argument.

Spencer Troxell said...

GbiZ, Willie & Phil (who commented via facebook): Thanks for reading, and thanks for the nice words. I appreciate it.

Dear anonymous from the previous post,

What do you think? I'm uncomfortable when there is no dissent.

Oscar said...

An interesting discussion, enjoyed by your peers. Sometimes though, you just know, no evidence, no thought. You have a moment, sometimes from fear, sometimes from a moment of deep satisfaction of a particular moment in time. Then you feel the love that was given to you. You relate it back to so many moments before, when you were guided to the good in your life. You also remember those times when you turned your back and walked away. One thing is certain at that moment, a devine presence, something greater than anything you know. You then send a prayer. Maybe in the form of a wish, or a just a slight desire, barely recognized. You then have related to God.

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Oscar. Good to hear from you again.

GbiZ said...

The problem with what Oscar said is it doesn't answer any questions. It sounds like a description of love at first sight. 'You just know.' But you don't actually KNOW, you feel. Youre right to say that science is the only way to say things about this world. It doesnt mean there isnt a God Oscar, it just means you dont know either wway. You may feel or suspect things, but id ask you to ask yourself why you might believe these things. Suspicions and wishing are one thing. Knowing is another. Its

Spencer Troxell said...

Is knowing better than feeling? I don't know, but I'm inclined to go with knowing, because feelings are mercurial things. "Better to be the poor servant of a poor master and endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner." Says Homer, and I tend to agree. If I submit myself to only my wishes and feelings, if I'm willing to create falsehoods in order to have comfort and easy meaning, then am I really living? Even if it's scary, I would rather know the truth.

I'm not saying there is no God. I'm saying religious doctrine is an unlikely place to learn about that specific being. The God that is depicted in religion reminds me of the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave. If there is a God, I would like to engage with him on an authentic level. I've decided upon the method described in this post. Ultimately, it's not even engagement with God that is my real concern. I'm interested in engaging in this life without a fog of ideology between myself and it. Since I've ceased the constant muttering and anxiety encouraged by religion, I've been much more personally effective, more comfortable, and more available to those around me. I am a being in this environment, which turns out to be an interactive landscape.

Thanks for all of the comments everyone. As a side note, when I went to google to get the exact Homer quote I used above, I typed in 'Homer quotes', and guess what the first result was? Homer Simpson.

Signs and wonders.

Lodo Grdzak said...

I have no doubt that tipping generously at restaurants brings you closer to God.

Spencer Troxell said...

It definitely makes it easier to get a good table upon repeat visits.