Getting to Know the Wizard: My Dissatisfaction with Religion and Trying to Relate to God
I am not a religious man in the sense of aligning myself to a specific system. I do however hold certain beliefs based on my experiences and observations. More so I believe in empirical truth: that which is true regardless of desire, prejudice or circumstances. I did use to be Christian, for seventeen years in fact. But over time some discrepancies grew so large that the truth they presented me could no longer be ignored. Not if I wanted to be an honest man.
"The alternative wasn't necessarily burn either, but something worse: excommunication"
These truths, truths that ultimately drove me away from the religion in an organized sense, were over the treatment of the touted idea of a ‘relationship with God’. For the uninitiated, Christianity, or at least Western Christianity, promotes itself on the concept that humans are born into sin-moral imperfection, but were made to have a personal interaction with God. Sin separated the race from that and brought upon it a hanging verdict of judgment because of falling short of the perfection of God. Jesus was the Son of God (don’t ask to explain what that is or how, trust me), and his famous death and resurrection restored a path back to that intended relationship. All the rules and traditions we associate with the religion afterwards are supposed to help secure that.
There in lies the issue for me. Despite the word, relationship, it came off more as ‘obey the rules’. The alternative wasn't necessarily burn either, but something worse: excommunication. I am not just speaking of this in the Pope decree-sense either. I mean excommunication from your believing family, church, and church friends because you believed, did, or said something contrary to the faith. The relationship was also incredibly repetitive. Songs, activities, and outings designed to nurture that feeling God’s presence often felt more like being around people. Nice people mind you. Well-meaning people whom would often help you out in a jam, but nothing I didn't feel going to a secular concert or hanging with atheist friends.
As I learned more, my natural curiosity started noticing these things and I came across a book that in an ironic way seem to sum up my growing suspicions. It talked about a legend where a Mayan or Inca priest came to the conclusion that the sun god was not real because he did the same thing day in and day out. There was no deviation, nothing that seem to note any kind of independent will. And yet they continued their centuries’ long rituals to encourage the sun god to continue to bless them and their king, who was supposed to be the son of the sun god (no pun intended). The priest shared his revelation with the king and some others from the court and they agreed with his conclusions, but never changed the religion. The king’s rule rested on his divinity after all and chaos would reign without the order provided by that religion.
This was how I felt about my religion.
Now the typical reaction to this is to become an atheists and conclude God didn't exist and Jesus was just another myth. However that wasn't the case with me. I can’t go into too much detail but there were numerous encounters I had where something at the core of that religion was real...somehow. And being an honest man, I therefore couldn’t in good conscious just write off the beliefs completely.
Neither however could I ignore glaring empirical facts: multiple versions of the Bible written by different people for dubious reasons. Politics corrupting the core beliefs for so long that no one questioned them anymore. The famous cross symbol not being the actual symbol of the faith until many centuries later. Yet all this is still clinical.
The ultimate clincher was finding out how pointless some of the rituals were when I was on the verge of a personal crisis: something they were supposed to protect me from. When I looked for answers to why it failed, much of the blame was laid upon me. I had done something wrong. I had misunderstood something or didn’t really want to avoid the situation anyway. God however was untouchable and unblamable. They preached relationship but practiced the opposite. God might as well have been the wizard hiding behind an image in The Wizard of Oz.
You see in most Christian practices, God is one of three things: either the anti-virus program running in the background of the computer that you don't think about until something goes wrong. The ‘divine’ stamp of approval on an action or mindset that you had already made up your mind on anyway. Or the pick me when you’re upset or depressed during hard times. But these were not living relationships.
I never heard of anyone conversing with God about how the day has been, or telling God a joke, or talking to God in any way other than someone who was above them. A lord or a god obviously, but no relationship. Yet I had these experiences that were contrary to that. I had read about stories where ‘great biblical men’ had openly questioned the divine or defied his commands or even corrected him or changed his mind. Where was that shit?
When I would bring this up among Christian friends they would look at me as if I was crazy and that they never heard of that before. People who believe in relationship, yet not knowing how to personally relate to their God. I would read about other religions and much of them would have the same issue of putting the divine in a cage, but I also came across others that did not. One of them was the Mongol belief about the divine that lived in the sky and could not be caged and that was how they lived as well (savagery aside). Or in Islam where one of the theological reasons they rejected Christian traditions (aside from being Jesus being a prophet) was the idea of God being confined by a promise or in a human body. No one puts God in a corner!
So I given this weight of evidence, I left Christianity behind, but I did not become atheist. There were some core things that I still believed because they were both empirically true and also challenged me. That truth also was not sole property of Christianity and in some way, shape, or form, thread its way throughout other beliefs, circumstances, and even science itself. What it is I cannot name or claim that there is one right way. But there was a sense of true relationship with it and God in following that thread.
Riding the Wind
The divine is treated by people as their bitch. Something that is claimed to have authority over us but most times in practice, is the other way around. Some of this blame does lie with God. To call people to some higher purpose without reinforcing that, or correcting the perversions we make those purposes into, is bound to make people doubt or look elsewhere (I know, be careful what you wish for). However God is not some creature or force to be controlled or caged.
God is the big-ass tiger walking down main street going where it wants, when it wants, and doesn't have to answer a damn thing why its doing that. But this doesn't come from a higher-than-thou attitude, but rather the nature within the beast itself. Its something we feel and interpret when confronted with the size, strength, and grace of the animal, recognizing that it could tear us apart in a moment and at the same time not trying to.
Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in Jesus? Yes. Do I believe that they are exclusive, no. Do I believe the Bible and church are infallible or necessary: no. I can’t explain the classic paradoxes of why the tragedies happen in the world and it appearing that God doesn't care. I cant explain why some people seem to have a stronger connection with God and others don’t. There are still mysteries and unlike the religions I’ve followed or studied, I don't try to explain them either.
That perhaps is humanity’s biggest mistake regarding their experience with spirituality. When we try to explain something, our bias and prejudices get in the way. This is clearly seen with religions that don't start out as part of a ruling, political system but are adopted into one. Traditions that have no basis in original scripture, but being considered scripture because of its long association with it, or it just sounds like it would go along with it anyway.
The mysteries of God have to be answered by God. Not by ‘inspired’ people or ‘infallible’ books, but by God. And that is obviously hard because you maybe waiting a long-ass time for an answer, if ever and I don't know why that choice is made. Human instinct can’t stand this and needs to fill in the blanks for some sense of familiarity. That can be anything from cults of personality, to relics, to intelligence, or science.
© 2018 Jamal Smith