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About Your “God”, Jeff…

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how the concept of “god” varies from one religion to another with the focus on Christianity, Judaism, and Taoism.

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THE CRITICS EXCLAIM! “It is absolutely certain that Paul Sunstone will someday come to a rich and full understanding of God.  That is sure to be the day Our Altogether Righteous and Just Lord mercifully condemns Paul Sunstone to being eternally chained to Justin Bieber’s buttocks in the hottest regions of hell. Until that day, his opinions and views of deity cannot possibly rise above the ignorant, thoughtless slime that is his post, ‘About Your Gods’.”  —  Merriweather Sterling, Blogs of the Day, “The Daily Burtie”, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, UK.

Continue reading “About Your “God”, Jeff…”

Abuse, Agape, Alienation, Altruism, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Brotherly Love, Christ, Christianity, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Compassion, Cultural Traits, Culture, Ethics, Fairness, Free Spirit, Goals, God, God(s), Happiness, Human Nature, Idealism, Joe, Learning, Life, Love, Meaning, Memes, Morality, Morals, People, Philos, Physical Abuse, Purpose, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Talents and Skills, Values, Yahweh

There are no Weeds

(About a 10 minute read)

Long ago, the Coffee Shop was a hang out for many mildly disaffected youths.  They were the kids who didn’t fit in too well, who weren’t always doing what was expected of them, who often had talents no one had noticed or encouraged, or who were simply marching to the beat of their own drummer.

Kyle, for instance, was the son of a wealthy father, but he wanted to make his own way in the world.  So he had enlisted in the Army to earn money for college rather than allow his father to pay for his education.  He was passionate about poetry and wanted to teach English.

Melanie was from a much poorer family than Kyle, and her only academic interests were mathematics.  She paid for the community college by working as an erotic dancer.

Catherine was another mathematician, and she worried about her social skills.  She graduated early from high school then stayed in town to mature for a year, rather than head straight to college.

Erin was 15 when she left her parent’s house to sleep on friend’s couches.  She did her homework by streetlight for a while.  Then she met Jim, a year or two older, who convinced her school was for losers, and life lay in studying the Kabbalah.

Jody was a bit older than most, and a prostitute fascinated with the Third Reich and Phoenician glassware.  She’d scored high on the aptitude tests, but drugs, along with being raised in an abusive home, were too much for her, and she left unpursued her dream of becoming an historian.

Luke was raised in North Africa and in British boarding schools before his executive father transferred to Colorado.  He planned to leave town soon to study psychology, for he wanted to heal minds.  In the meantime, he was both too well educated and too brilliant for his high school classes.  So, like many other eccentrics, he found his way to the Coffee Shop.

In the mornings, the Shop was full of business people; by midday it held all ages and walks of life; and by evening it was the kids.  One slow Tuesday night I spent a half hour or 45 minutes carefully counting the crowd.  My count was nearly 200, most of them people I’d met, most of them kids, most of them misfits.

If anyone loved them all, it was Joe. He seemed to have a knack for it.

A month or so after we met, Joe invited me to go with him and a couple to Valley View Hot Springs.  It was the way he phrased the invitation that surprised me.  “We need a chaperon”, he said, “There might be trouble.  You’ve got to say, ‘Yes’.”

I couldn’t tell at first how serious he was about trouble.  Joe was 18 that year, strong, and could handle himself. Besides, he knew Valley View was more peaceful than most any other place in Colorado.  He’d been going there with his family since he was five or six.  What kind of trouble did he anticipate?

The trouble was jealousy, Joe explained.  He’d only recently befriended the couple, and he had not caught on to the guy’s jealousy of him.  Thinking everything was cool, he decided to share with them the most spiritual place he knew of.   The girl was so enthusiastic to go to Valley View that the guy feigned agreement, and so Joe and the couple had made plans.  But in the week between making plans and their realization, Joe was shocked when the girl pointed out to him her boyfriend’s jealousy.  That’s when Joe got the notion my presence might somehow defuse the situation.

In the years I knew him, Joe almost never allowed himself to act on any jealously he himself might feel, and I think that might have been because jealousy excludes folks rather than includes them.  Joe was all about including people.  Looking back, it seems almost inevitable Joe would fail to see the boyfriend’s jealousy until it was pointed out to him.

So, the four of us took a day trip to Valley View.  The couple had brought swimsuits, but the guy strangely refused to join his girlfriend, Joe and I in the hot springs.  Instead, he said he wanted to look for elk among the pines and scrub oak, and wandered off.  I left Joe and the girl talking at one end of the pool, and spent most of the time watching dust devils swirl across the valley below.

It was by no means a bad trip, but I think it was the worse Joe and I ever managed to take to Valley View. It seemed none of us got into the spirit of the place.   We left just as divided as we’d arrived.  A few days later, Joe and I discussed it.  After noting how argumentative the guy became on the trip home, Joe said he felt the girl had spent the afternoon at the pool in some kind of bubble; unresponsive to the beauty all around her; unable to connect with nature; indifferent even to the wind through the ponderosa.  “We might as well have gone to the mall”, he grinned.

Joe had been raised a Christian, but a year or two after the trip he committed himself to it.   His inspiration was the New Testament, rather than the Old; the life of Jesus, rather than the Ten Commandments.  Consequently, his first step was to simplify his life.  He gave away his inessential possessions and moved from his parent’s house to a shack.  Mostly, though, he emulated Jesus and the Disciples in his heart and mind.  It became clear the appeal of Christianity to him was its doctrine of universal love — he was, he told me, indifferent to heaven and hell.  Instead, salvation, for Joe, was to learn how to love the world as Christ had.

His experiment with Christianity lasted a couple of years.  When I asked him why he was no longer a Christian, he told me he still believed in God, and perhaps even that Jesus was Christ, but he could not have faith in them so long as people were sent to hell.

Joe worked at a greenhouse.  One day, Joe spoke of his growing distaste for weeding.  “They may be weeds, Paul, but they didn’t ask to be born where they’re not wanted.  It feels terrible to kill them.”  Some part of me agreed with Joe — at least with his notion that all living things have value — but I still felt weeding in a greenhouse was justified by its necessity.  I thought to myself he’d soon enough see that necessity and reconcile himself to killing weeds.

A day later, however, Joe found a partial solution.  He began transplanting the weeds.  At least he began transplanting the larger ones.  He did it on his own time, after work, because he didn’t think it was fair to charge his boss for the extra time it took.  There was a large, bare mound of soil out back of the greenhouse and he was transplanting the weeds to the far side of it, where — he hoped — they would thrive.

I was a bit taken aback.  On the one hand, it ranked among the craziest things I’d heard of a friend doing in some time.  But on the other hand, looked at a little more rationally, it wasn’t self-destructive, it was harmless to others, and it preserved life.  I didn’t think Joe’s project would last — I thought he’d grow tired of it — but I rather admired him for asserting his good convictions in a world where there sometimes seemed to be too few good convictions.

Two months passed before Joe brought the subject up again.  My first reaction was surprise he was still transplanting weeds.  But then he explained his boss had found him out.  Of course, he expected to be fired.  Yet, after he’d told her everything, she’d only laughed and smiled, and told him he was a good worker, that she loved him, and that she would find other work than weeding for him to do.

Something happened one day to make me see symbolic meaning in Joe’s actions.  It began when Laura called to ask if she could come over and take a shower.  She was a homeless kid who kept a few items of clothing at my place and sometimes dropped by for a shower or a meal.  She was heavily into drugs, and I never invited her to stay too long, because I didn’t want my things to start disappearing.

That evening, I got her fed and her feet massaged, and then sent her off to the shower.  She told me she’d been partying, and that after my place, she wanted to go back and party some more.  It wasn’t long, though, before she’d fallen asleep on the couch.   I thought about her while she slept.

Laura was nineteen, and she hadn’t a regular home since she was thirteen.  She’d never met her father, a man who left before she was born.  At thirteen, she’d gotten into a fight with her mother’s boyfriend.  He swung a chair at her.  A leg caught her in the belly and ripped a seven inch wound.  She ran from the house and never returned.

The wound didn’t get sewn up, and the scar was huge.  I’d run my fingers along it once, and somehow the memory of that furrowed, lumpy scar tissue was still stuck in my fingertips.  When I thought of Laura, I always thought of that scar.  And that’s what I was thinking of when Joe’s words came back to me: “They may be weeds, but they didn’t ask to be born where they’re not wanted.”  It was somewhat like a minor epiphany: Joe would understand the tragedy of Laura better than anyone — if for no other reason than Joe had a knack for a certain kind of love.

There is more than one kind of love in this world.  The kind Joe was most interested in is inclusive.   That kind of love does not seek to jealously wall off a little private garden for itself.  It is neither possessive nor jealous, as was the guy at Valley View.  Nor does it demand to be loved in return — for a love that wants love in return must exclude some from being loved. It was the promise of that inclusive kind of love that attracted Joe to Christianity.  It was the realization that some are excluded from God’s love that caused Joe to lose his faith.

I believe it’s rare for most of us — especially when we are young — to think of love as an excellence.  That is, as a thing one might learn how to do to the best of his or her ability.  Instead, we think of love as something requiring little or no talent, practice, or skill.  We suppose it comes natural to us, and so we spend our time waiting for it without doing much to help it come about.

Every kid at the Coffee Shop had his or her own mix of talents and skills, and many of the kids had an excellence.  Kyle, for instance, was a gifted poet.  Melanie and Catherine excelled at mathematics.  And Luke was a born psychologist.  But I think Joe’s excellence was his ability to love.

Sometime ago, Joe moved up into the mountains, where he met a woman and settled in with her.  He lives up there now, in a small mountain town.


Originally posted November 27, 2008

Allah, Christ, Deity, God, God(s), Krishna, Religion, Shiva, Yahweh

Does God Look Like You?

At the moment, there happens to be an invisible, undetectable squirrel in the tree beyond my window.  Although the squirrel is undetectable, I have been debating all morning whether it resembles a real squirrel or is more of a spirit.

Personally, I don’t see how my inquiry into the undetectable squirrel in my yard is any different from the dialog I recently witnessed between two believers.  One was accusing the other of lacking a sophisticated view of god because the other thought god looked like a human.  “There’s a difference between a physical body and a spiritual body”, he said, “God is a spirit.  Do you really think He looks like you?”

It’s beyond me how you can posit an indivisible, undetectable squirrel, and then argue over what it looks like.  But what am I missing?

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Why Was Sodom Destroyed?

Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

Ezekiel 16:46-50

The strongest argument for the existence of Yahweh just might be that He is necessary to explain why America is on the cusp of destruction today.  It was only a dozen years ago, folks were talking about the New American Century — as if it were inevitable.  But it seems that it sorely pisses off Yahweh when a rich, prideful nation refuses to aid the poor and needy.

“Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

Quick! Hide the underclass!  Ah, too late!

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“They Find in Religion an Aggressor”

Please Note: This is a post by guest author, S.W. Atwell.  The views and opinions expressed in her post are entirely her own.  If you would like to post as a guest author on this blog, please contact me at the email address posted on my contact page.

— Paul Sunstone

I’m writing this blog piece in response to some of Paul Sunstone’s musings about people who blog about leaving the religion in which they grew up.  According to Sunstone, some people lose their childhood religion because of an intellectual disagreement with doctrine.  “Typically, their doubts began to mount until one day some point in particular became the straw that broke the back of their faith.”  Others found their religion personally repressing, even destructive to the development of their selves.  “They find in religion an Aggressor.

I cannot resist blogging about my loss of faith, not the least because Sunstone feels that loss-of-religion blog pieces usually “outclass” religious blogs.  How can I resist an invitation to be “classy.”  Oh, yes, and Sunstone finds it especially “moving” when the reason for leaving one’s religion was the discovery that it was working against them personally.  So, now I simply have to blog about my little faith crash.  I want to move my readers and do so with at least a little class.

When I was seven, my moderately observant Jewish parents placed me in a school for Hasidic girls.  Hasids are the “old style” European Orthodox Jews, easily identified by their clothes.  The men wore dark suits, long beards, sidelocks and black fedoras.  The women dressed in long, dark-colored skirts and never rolled their sleeves higher than the elbow.  Once they married, my classmates covered their heads with wigs or kerchiefs.

I liked the school well enough at first.  I did not even mind learning that I was not observing Jewish ritual “correctly.”  Learning to follow the customs better did not seem all that different to me from learning to read better in the second grade than I had in the first.  Where I got stuck, however, was on this God (usually referred to as “Ha-shem” or “the name”, because Orthodox Jews avoid saying God’s name) who knew everything that was going to happen and could do anything about it that he chose.  As a child getting crunched under a heavy load of disapproval from parents and teachers, I could not understand why he did not intercede on my behalf before I screwed up.  How about making it easier for me to learn to spell?  Or putting a thought in my mind that would stop my big mouth before I insulted my big sister?  Or even prompting the adults to be a little bit kinder when I made mistakes?  How could an all-powerful God make it so easy to sin even when you didn’t really mean to.  The story of Lot’s wife was simply terrifying.  What small child has never peeked through her fingers when told to cover her eyes?  Unkind adults and an uncaring God make for a bad psychic combination in the minds of the young.  I still remember one little girl who was scolded by her teacher for making mistakes at math.  She waited until recess to whisper her greatest fear to her best friend, “Ha-shem must really hate me,” she wept, “and I don’t know why.”

There is not much of a line between god and parent in the mind of a small child.  The parent can get the child to believe in god, or not.  The parent can get the child to believe anything, or not.  Sometimes, there is not much of a line between god and the parent in the mind of the parent.  My own mother was a religious fanatic.  She was sure she knew what god was thinking.  It was, of course, whatever she was thinking.  God’s desires were her own.  One of her desires was to quelch my growth into any sort of person who thought for herself.  She had this right, because it was what God wanted.  While I did not grasp all this until I was in my thirties, I certainly felt unable to live in some sense by the time I was twelve.  My breath would nearly stop at times against her unyielding wall.

This was also the point in my life when I became really aware of the most faith-testing circumstance faced by modern Jews, the Holocaust.  I asked my mother why God had not prevented it.  She responded, smugly, that God always had a reason for allowing bad things to happen and that the Holocaust had paved the way for the modern State of Israel.  In that moment, I decided not to believe in God.  Either he did not exist, because such bumbling could hardly be credited to the Omnipotent One, or he was not all-powerful.  If he couldn’t prevent babies from being gassed, he did not deserve to have people believe in him.

That last was a primitive reaction, but there was something even more primitive going on.  There were three people in the room that day, my mother, God and me.  My mother wanted to tell me the most terrible things so I would know I was never safe with anyone other than her.  God was her weapon.  If I accepted what she was saying, I would somehow no longer exist.  In short, one of us in that room had to die.  I was too stubborn to be the one, and I was too frightened of my mother to make her be the one.  Only God could die that day.

It would make quite a headline, wouldn’t it?  “Jew Kills God.” Now, where have I heard that before?

© S.W. Atwell (2011)