God: I do not think it means what you think it means

March 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm 3 comments

This is the third of a three-part essay about semantics and a quote from The Princess Bride. Read the first part here and the second part here.

So. God. Right. I’ve been having trouble writing this section because I’ve been talking and writing about God for a long, long time. In my parallel existence, I’ve actually been encouraging others to talk and think about God/Goddess/The Universe/The Divine/A Higher Power for quite some time. There are so many angles I could take to discuss this issue. I could talk about my own life and my own arrival at the God of my understanding. I could talk about history. I could talk about organized religion and the ways it works and doesn’t work.

But I think I’ll just give you the short version. In bullet points, even, because people like bullet points. I’ll number them so that it sounds like a logical progression. But you should be forewarned, in case you don’t already know, that God is not a logical thing. Thinking about God, arriving at a concept of God, even deciding to believe in God, is not a logical thing. It is a need that some of us have. Or, apparently, don’t have.

  1. In the United States, most people, whether or not they consider themselves Christian, associate the word “God” with the Lord, the Father, the One True God. This notion of a One True God began with Hebrews’ Elohim, or Yaweh (or, more politely, YWVH). A good number of Christians seem to use the words “God” and “Jesus” interchangeably, but according to most Christian theology (and there are many, many versions of Christian theology, just as there are many, many flavors of Buddhism and Islam and paganism and other religious traditions), Jesus is the son of God, not God himself. Mary is not divine. Special, but not divine. A sort of elevated house slave with some pull with the Massa’. Let’s refer to this God, this semantic meaning of the word, as “God the Father.”
  2. God the Father really loved his “thou shalt nots.” In the older books of the Bible, he used to open up a lot of cans of whoop-ass on people who shalted when they should have shalt-not’ed. Jesus was a bit more kind. He said things like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Of course, he also busted shit up from time to time. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all stem from this original Abrahamic religion. Admittedly, I don’t know as much about Islam as I do about Judaism or Christianity, and I know a hell of a lot more about Christianity than about Islam. But the fundamental message I find in these three faiths is that the body is bad, the pleasures of the flesh are bad, and they need to be controlled. If you don’t control them–sometimes in ways that look really unnatural to me–God hates you. I know a great many people who grew up thinking that God hated them. Because they were homosexual or bisexual or just slutty or addicts or had parents who hit them or maybe just had a different concept of God than the one in the holy books. I was one of those people, for all the reasons listed above. But I also had some wonderful religious experiences in the Franciscan-flavored Catholicism of my childhood.
  3. I tried going without God altogether. Some folks do it very successfully and it seems to work for them. Most of them believe in personal responsibility and ethics and proving their worth and dignity and stuff to their fellow human beings. That didn’t work for me.
  4. When I was 14 years old, Mom dragged me to Alateen, which had this friggin’ awesome concept that has stayed with me ever since: God as we understood him. Alcoholics Anonymous and the related 12-step programs was influenced to a great extent by the Oxford Movement, which promulgated the necessity of a direct connection to and relationship with God. The Oxford people were Christians, so they assumed that you’d be hanging out with God the Father and maybe Jesus a little bit. But cutting out the middleman of the priests and the saints and whatnot. But one of the original members of Alcoholics Anonymous was a staunch agnostic. He was responsible for insisting that Bill Wilson include those four little words in the 12 steps, which are pretty much the core of the AA recovery program. A lot of the literature has this annoying tendency to assume that God is male, and depending on which meetings you attend, some people have an annoying tendency to assume that everyone understands God as the Christian god. I was pretty fed up with the Christian God by the time I went to Alateen. So after learning this mind-blowing concept, one of my first visions of God was of a great sheet of graph paper (this was way before everyone knew what a pixel was). And that each of us, every thing in the world, people and rocks and trees and cats and dogs and giraffes and cars and books and ideas and orgasms, was one of those little moving squares on the sheet of graph paper. And that God was the totality of that graph paper, but since were right there in the middle of the moving squares, we couldn’t really grasp that totality. Just parts of it.
  5. There is a difference between spirituality and religion. I see spirituality as a direct experience of the Divine, of the thing or things that exist beyond the experience of the five senses. I see religion as a group of people with similar experiences of the Divine, and with beliefs about ethics and behavior and responsibility that extend from their experience of the Divine, coming together to celebrate and study and worship and form a cohesive community of faith. One of the etymological interpretations of the word religion comes from religare, “to bind fast.” A religious community is bound together by common belief. I was born into a religion that told me from infancy what my beliefs were. By the time I got to confirmation classes and realized what they expected me to believe (we’re all inherently sinful, women can’t do the same things as men, sex is bad except for procreation), I was pretty fucking pissed. Eventually, I found a religion system that worked better for me. I did a lot of soul-searching and research to find it.
  6. Now, I see the word God as a variable. Maybe instead of God, we should all just call it X. I think everyone should be forced to remember the basic principles of variables and values, and how the two differ. I mean, most of us who attended at least one year of high school (and that’s most of the folks in the U.S.) learned this concept in Algebra I. A variable is like a pot. The value of the variable is what you put into the pot. You can take things out of the pot and put things into the pot. The variable’s value does not change the variable itself. The two are separate. Of course, not all of us were paying attention or remember what we learned umpteen years ago. But it’s an important concept, expressed beautifully by Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In another context, he and Vizzini might have been standing at a blackboard, and he might have been saying to Vizzini, “I don’t think you solved for X correctly.” This is where the mathematical analogy fails, however, because unlike in math (at least the sort of math they teach in Algebra I), where there is always a right and a wrong answer, ALL the values for the variable God are correct.
  7. A few more illustrations of this concept: one is from the Vedas: The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. (Hint to n00bs: click on things that are underlined). Another is of my own invention, or at least if I got it from somewhere else, I no longer remember:

    God is a diamond, too large for us to see in its totality. Each of us sees one facet of the diamond, but not the diamond as a whole.

    Or, the tapestry, like the moving graph paper mentioned above, but with echoes of the Greek fates.

    Or, God is the top of a mountain, with many paths up the mountain. Silly humans, fighting over which path is the right one to take. They all get there eventually.

  8. The facet of God I usually like to talk to these days is the Great Mother, the Goddess. Sometimes it’s the Universe. But I like a nurturing Goddess image. I love all the names people have made for her over the years: Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Inanna, Kali, Athena, Ameratsu. Sometimes I talk to the All-Father, too, but he’s a more generous sort of fellow than that jealous old God of the Hebrews. I like the Dagda a great deal. Sometimes I like goaty Pan, or the wild Cernunnos or Herne. I am a daughter of Yemaya, the Yoruban goddess of the ocean. The God/dess I worship in all its various forms gave us physical pleasure as a gift. As Doreen Valiante wrote half a century ago, “All acts of love and pleasure are her rituals.”

Entry filed under: childhood awakenings, god, pleasure, semantics, sluts have more fun, spirituality. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

We interrupt this philosophical discussion for more kink Puppy play

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pupshaw  |  March 10, 2008 at 3:53 am

    I love this. I’ve always called myself an agnostic, but I’m down with your notion(s) of God, especially your vision in #4.

    One of the things that bothers me about religion in the US is that it seems to want to have it both ways. As you say, religion involves a shared set of beliefs about the divine; but religion here has become such a cafeteria that people seem to mix and match their own combinations, which are often wildly different, but still call them the same thing. So you have “Catholics” who feel it’s OK to use contraception, and conservative fundamentalists who conveniently ignore what Jesus said about rich and poor, and liberal Protestants who conveniently ignore what the Old Testament said about women and sexuality and cosmology and just about everything else. And a lot of them ignore nearly all of the details except for thinking once a week about God as being this nice sugar-daddy up in the sky.

    It’s not that I mind people having different beliefs; it’s that everyone keeps saying “oh, I’m Christian”, as if they all really believed the same things. So when Gallup takes a poll, they report on how 95% of the population believe in God, and 80% are Christian, even though if you really pinned down what people thought, it would be spread out all across the spectrum.

    It’s as though 80% of the people agreed that chocolate was the best flavor of ice cream, but on further questioning would admit that they count it as chocolate if it has a single chocolate chip in it and is otherwise mint or vanilla, or that they see hazelnut as a kind of chocolate, or that they insist that chocolate really is still their favorite even though they haven’t eaten it since 1983, subsisting instead on fat-free raspberry frozen yogurt.

    Well, that was a digression. But I’ve reached the limits of my coherence right now… =)

  • 2. omnivoresdilemma  |  March 13, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Pupshaw, this is an excellent extension of some of the thoughts I was exploring in the original post. Thank you.

  • 3. More « Omnivore’s Dilemma  |  May 16, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    […] And if I tried to capture everything we did, I think I’d just end up boring you. Who wants a laundry list of places we went or positions we tried? And who wants more lists anyway? That little trick is just getting old and just seems to encourage bad, lazy writing. […]

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