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Monday, July 23, 2012

On Religion: God and Me

Across our line of vision, a pair of deer appears in the road.  They stop to watch us coming at them.   We stand still . . . waiting.  We and they hold silent.  Then, effortlessly, they clear the berm, push airborne over the edge of the lake, and disappear across the soybean field into the distance.  The dog looks to me for assurance.  Her raised brows question, “Good to go?” I nod and we move on.  In my head, I say, “Thank you, God, for the dog and the deer this morning.” 
It’s odd that I offer this prayer of gratitude, for in truth, I am not a religious person.  I have a hard time accepting as real, as truth, that of which my reasoning, scientific, research-oriented mind typically needs tangible proof.  And yet, on the rare blue morning when the deer appear, the idea of God seems logical, rational, and absolute.  There can be no doubt, in moments like that, so simple, that something created the deer, the dog, and me.  We are incredibly complicated beings; there can be no way, in my mind, that we just arrived without something working in the process of creation.  Boom and we were here?    
My problem with religion has always been a matter of two things:  the prolific male definition of God (and the results of that: male dominated societies and, in some cases, the exclusion of female clergy) and the way of organized religions to use the prescriptions of their faith to condemn nonbelievers and to justify violence and oppression both of those within their faith and of those outside it.  These beliefs and their adjoining behaviors have been why I have kept religion at arms-length for so long. 
It is ironic that my new-found confidence in my questioning kind of “faithfulness” is due, in large part, to the Vatican, a bastion, in my opinion, of patriarchal and judgmental religious doctrine.  If not for the Vatican’s assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I would not have had the chance to listen to Sister Pat Farrell speak (in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air program last week) on the idea of God as a genderless, but no less magnificent creator who welcomes our wonder and does not rank us according to sex, race, class, or sexuality (etc.).  Her idea of God emphasized a unity, permitted query, and gave women equal value and place in the church. 
This struck home with me.  My heart left the Catholic Church years ago when, despite my great desire to serve the church, I was told I could not be an “Alter Server” because I was a girl.  Now, this was before canon 230, and I was only seven, so who knows where my desire to serve would have gone, but I do recall the emotions that followed my rejection based on sex.  First, I was ashamed for having been born a girl, an emotion no girl should have to wrestle.  Then I became angry – how dare the church reject me for being a girl?  Did not the church teach me that I was special simply because I was female and had the awesome God-granted ability to procreate?  How did all of this hypocritical thinking come together?  I could not make sense of it and I still can’t.  But Sister Farrell’s words last week gave comfort; she helped me understand that I was never alone in my belief that God (not a man) created all of us with the same value – in an image of wonder and that is reason enough to believe that I (like all women) are worthy of being teachers of all faiths and worth being heard.
For over ten years now, I have been talking with my sons about God and teaching them that the wonder of faith is, well, just that, wonder.  That is, faith is both believing and questioning.  In her interview on Fresh Air last week, Sister Farrell also articulated what has been the way of spirituality in my life. She wondered if you can be faithful and still question, can both religious leaders and their followers “raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day?”  To this, her answer, my answer is we should, we must if we want God in our lives.  If we want faithfulness to be a positive guide for the next generation, there must be room for wonder.  
For some, any kind of religious questioning negates faith.  For others, any kind of doubt in science negates reason.  Neither is true. 
I question the popular notions of God and, yet, I am profoundly faithful.  I condemn religious teachings that oppress and persecute and, yet, I am intensely spiritual.  I believe in something larger than myself and yet I seek reason and, sometimes, proof -- like the dog and me walking and the deer crossing.  
Dr. B.


  1. Dr. B

    That was a very down to earth way of placing us as creatures on earth by a higher being. I to feel the same way about God, I know something is out there but I dont know what or who it is. Yes we as humans have placed a male figure on God but do we know what he/she looks like. What I do know is everyday I rise from the sheets and put my feet on the floor and realize that my life has been blessed. I see many of Earths creatures out at the break of dawn and that tells me that we all are here because something created us. I have been on the carriers in the morning and watched the most beautiful sunrises, and I am thankful that im alive.




  2. Dr. B

    Yesterday in class the topic of "religion as a form of control" was mentioned. To me, your piece seems to reinforce the notion that "somebody" must be in control. Why is it so difficult for humankind to just accept that nothing is in control? Is the thought really that scary to think that through natural processes and chance that your deer and dog came across each other? I believe God is a projection of our desire and need to control our environment. The thought process seems to be "If this house wasn't here before I built it, then I wasn't here before someone built me". I can not buy this argument as a basis for a way of living. Yet, this is the basic foundation for all major religions. For me, "thanking God" for something is as valid as thanking my coffee cup for my tomatoes growing in. Quantifying processess that are not understood as "works of god" is ignorant and discourages investigation of these processess. Personally, I believe it is far more wonderful to think that everything around us has, through the billions of years, come together to form the experiences of living without a guiding hand or "greater consciousness", the randomness of it all is beautiful. I do not feel that I should be thankful, I do not owe anybody anything for the existence of the universe. If the universe did not exist, I would not know it. To be thankful for existence implies that I would miss not existing. I do not believe that there was a conscious choice made to create the reality I live in and that it has existed in one form or another for eternity.
    The use of the word "faith" is another form of control perpetuated by religion. Faith in what, exactly? Am I to believe that a man walked on water based on the accounts of the people he provided for? Accounts which furthered the writer's interests by building his legend; self validating their choice to follow him. Or am I to have faith that a starved, dehydrated Mohammed spoke with god and was not hallucinating? At the very core of religion, basic questions are not answered, and not encouraged to be answered. This discouragement is commonly known as "faith".

    1. Hi Derek,
      It's late and I really want to go to bed, but I had to respond to your post.
      First of all, thank you for your thought-provoking response.
      Now, to begin on what you wrote: there is nothing in my post that mentions "control." I do mention creation, but I do mention control. I do believe (and believing in anything is having faith in something by the way) that most organized religions work for control and under an idea of control and little else. I like the idea and generally subscribe to the idea that nothing is in control -- well, except me of my own life and even then only to a certain degree.
      And, true, thanking "god" is kind of like thanking a cup for holding tomatoes, but it works for me, it feels good to thank whatever put the deer, the dog, and me where we were in that moment -- I was grateful for the moment for whatever (as you wrote)" through the billions of years," came together to form" that moment, "the experiences of living" that moment. I did not in any way feel as though I owed "anybody anything" or that any of us do.
      If that moment did not exist, would I have missed it? Certainly not.
      Like you and the universe, I would not have known it.
      Much of what you write sounds like Jacques Derrida and I like that (is the tree really a tree?). Have you read his work? You should.
      But, know, when you write that you think it is "far better" to believe as you do, 1) you are forming a hierarchy of thought and of belief and 2) your way of viewing things is just as much a system of belief as any religion and I am sure you do not want to be guilty of the very thing you condemn such religions for -- thought policing, belief hierarchy, judgementalism?
      And, once more, your issue with "faith." Believing is faith. And faith is a very personal thing for me. I, like you, do not have faith in a book written by a bunch of guys who got together and decided the words the rest of us should follow, I do not believe in a burning bush, a big boat with paired animals to be saved, or a red sea parting. But, like you, I believe in something . . . and the main crux of our beliefs (yours, mine) is that no one else has the right to decide for us how we view our own existence in the world and that our "questioning or nonbelieving" views are just as valid and valuable as any of those followed by members of organized religions.
      It’s fine just to be here. For that, I'm thankful. And, I’m thankful you are, too.
      So there.
      Dr. B.

  3. Dr. B

    Nature is an amazing thing and I believe in evolution. I too am not very religious, but I do believe in the human spirit to do the right thing. Yes, it has been a man's world for a very long time. But that is only nature, man being stronger to protect his family. I see this starting to change and more strong women taking over this role.
    I hate to see people use religion to make things right. People have misinterpreted the meaning of the bible to justify their stance on World events, and this is not right. Like the Catholic Church, which is run by men, have taken advantage of their position. This will have to change, and all people will have to be equal. Just my thought on a subject that will take awhile forever one to agree on. I enjoyed your insight.


    1. Hi Richard,
      Thank you for posting a response. Now, I’m curious about your idea that it has been a man’s world because man has been expected to protect the family. You know this is a modern-day assumption only in recent centuries turned into a supposedly “natural way” of things or of being. There have been many cultures throughout time that have 1) worshipped and followed a female deity 2) believed women to be the mysteriously stronger sex 3) given women strong/equal roles in society 3) not set up men as the protectors and providers and women as the reproducers and nurturers. Our readings of all cultures, societies, and mammal groups to be like our own is incredibly masculinist, Eurocentric and anthropomorphic and has been proven time and again in scientific communities to be a kind of faulty science that leads to misguided and uneducated views of the world. See some of the new studies in archeology, anthropology, and neuroscience as these particular fields of study have only recently been populated by women scholars. Their contributions change the views and understandings in significant ways.
      Great stuff.
      Keep posting.
      Dr. B.

  4. The religions, i mean all religions believe in one creator of the universe, because we all know there had to be a perfect designer who put all pieces together to make us as living things and our surroundings. what really bothers me is when we think that the creator (nobody knows physically)is our Father. We always use the terms "Father", "Lord" in place of God. That makes us think that God is a male. My question is how do we know God is not a female?
    The common concept we have on the gender of God makes some religions believe that their leaderships have to be dominated and driven by men. That is where i see the problems in churches today. This attitude should be changed so that all people in this world-not only men-enjoy the freedom they deserve.

    1. Hi P,
      Thanks for the response. First, I just have to ask how do we all know that there “had to be a perfect designer?” I like to think there was/is because of how complicated we are and the entire universe is, but my liking to think that or believe that still leaves room for the possibility that, well, there wasn’t a grand designer or a grand designer. I find that idea equally fascinating!
      Now, you know I agree with you on the issue of the/a “Father” of us all. My principal issue with this has to do with the 1) the exclusion of the female while she holds the responsibility for this in our culture and is held responsible when she fails to fulfill her role in creation 2) the way, as you write, the ascendance of man into the role of God via god as a man. Very astute and, yes, an underlying reason for and cause of the male/female “natural inequality” argument.
      Thanks for posting. Keep ‘em coming.
      Dr. B.

  5. What a great read, Dr. B.

    In my humble opinion, I give credence that God has given me the freedom to choose for myself, what it is I wish to do, in, and with my life. I do not consider myself well-versed with bible scripture. However, I always make an attempt to try and find answers in the bible to questions I have regarding religion.

    I have found many answers. This includes reference of God’s creation of humans, as well as, Him being male. I’m convinced of God’s existence. Although archeologists are here to neither prove, nor disprove bible text, I can’t help to notice the compelling argument they make; and arguments they have already made over the years upon discovering ancient bible related artifacts time and again.

    As time went by, after first learning of God, I posed many questions. I discovered that questioning, in order to find faith, is acceptable. My faith slowly increased. Faith, as I understand it, concerns both believing and trusting in God. So, for me, it is without question that when having faith, there are no more questions.

    Edgar A.

  6. Hi Edgar,
    Interesting -- but do know that while we have found "bible related artifacts" those items are just that "artifacts" proof of something created by humans at some point in time. This says to me, that the bible was created by humans, which screams intent, self-interest, and self-preservation. So, then, we look to see and must consider not only who created the bible and what their intents, interests, and desires to preserve might have been, but we must also consider the same for those who claim to have found proof of it. See, this is why I have such a hard time with the God as “man” thing. This seems very convenient to me and totally not in keeping with a godly view of women.
    Men have, since the Mongol invasions, oppressed and enslaved women (women were the first slaves) and so it seems too convenient that men were eventually able to create a God that spoke only to them and told them that men were the dominant sex and were to have dominion over women and all other "animals" beneath them. This is highly suspect to me and to a multitude of scholars including archeologists – (who, also, for many, many years excluded women from the profession). You have to be aware of the role of the interpreter in the material being interpreted. When you change the lens of perspective, everything shifts. I can give you a fine example from archeology when we meet in class, if you are interested. Great stuff, thanks for posting. Let me know what you think; post again if you can.
    Dr. B.

  7. There have a lot of good points made in the blogs above and also a few things that I had never considered. For example, the comment from Dr. B about the bible being written by human men and how we are supposed to shape our actions and morals in life on a structure that, I feel, can't be trusted. For the ones who do shape their lives with the Holy Bible say that they know God is a man because that is what it claims in the bible. The context is always him or he.

    I always felt that it can't be helped what house you are born into but usually whatever religion that house serves is the religion that you will grow up learning. With this being the case a lot of parents don't take the time to teach their offspring about other religions and it's usually against regulations for it to be taught in public schools. Now with all of this being the case, how do we know which religion is the correct one? On top of that, like mentioned above, there are scientists who claim that the world was made over millions of years and not by God. Truthfully, I don't know what I believe but I do know it's my duty to find out for the sake of the children I one day intend to have.

    1. Steve,
      Here is what I think: you are correct; often our religion is determined by the religion of family and our family’s experience with religion. My immediate family (mom, dad, brother, sister) left the Catholic church when, after my parents’ divorce, they refused the various dictates required of them to remain active in the church after divorce (a sin). After that, we all had questions -- very serious ones about organized religion and its role in our lives.
      A book created by men, in my humble opinion, is subject to interpretation. I find the bible's whole premise suspect -- created by men who were touched by God to take down his word. Conveniently, h is word said they would have power over women, their lesser-counterparts in life. Who decided that?
      I don't know. It just doesn't work for me, especially when God's word is used as a sword against women and validation for oppressive beliefs and behaviors toward half the populace, also created by said God, but scorned by him as well -- or so they say. What?
      Finally, I have children, and I do not feel that you must determine what you believe prior to having them. One of the greatest joys of parenting for me has been and is discussing religion(s) with my children, sharing our (my husband's and my) way of viewing faith in a higher power --a rather open-ended and personal and kind of awe-struck with wondering questions faith-system. We teach them that there's a right way to live and a wrong way to live and that sometimes the best you can do is strive to live well here and now and the afterlife -- if there is one (which is a good question, too) -- will take care of itself. What matters is now. So they sense our lack of orthodox religion, but they enjoy experiencing faith on their own terms. It is so cool to watch and listen as they grow into themselves and their own ideas. You might consider that way "for the sake of the children" you one day plan to have.
      Just saying.
      Dr. B.

  8. I love your post!! I have a problem sometimes, I don’t know what to believe. I mean I believe in God but do I have to believe an everything a certain religion is telling me. I was raised in a Baptist church but didn't go very frequently and after elementary school, didn’t go at all. My mother is a believer in God but doesn’t really follow the Baptist religion strictly. I later met my husband, which he is Pentecostal and always went to church growing up. I mean his Grandfather is a Bishop and his Father is the Assistant Pastor. While we were dating, I found myself just thrown into the church. I didn’t really mind it that much, until I felt like I would be force to go in the altar call line or shout when I really am not feeling the Spirit that everyone else is. I feel like they watch me to see what the new girl with tattoos, piercings and wearing pants to church while we are all wearing skirts and suits, is going to do. I voice my opinion strongly to my husband and we are going to find a church that fit us and our family. I don’t want to feel like I have to be a certain way or change myself to be a believer. I know I believe in God and I have had a lot of moments in my life to know that there is something greater than us.

    Latoya Green

    1. Latoya,

      Your response struck a nerve. Recall our discussion in class last night -- about meeting someone else's standards and the way we are forced by cultural and social expectations to fit into these teeny, tiny often ill-fitting boxes of gender, race, age, class, etc. Well, those ideas fit religion as well. So many organized religions -- those you mentioned fit this model -- force followers to be all of the same kind -- as though the experience of religion or belief or relation with God is or even could be a "one size fits all." It's such a down-right, dirty shame to me that this is the way of most organized religions and why they lose followers.

      I firmly believe (and this is my belief; I don't say it's better or that anyone else should follow it) that my relationship with a higher power is unique and cannot nor should it be determined by others or even influenced by others. I'm not even sure what that higher power is and I think my questioning only adds to my experience -- many think questioning is a sign of a problem with faith. I don't agree.

      As well, I firmly disagree with the idea that I must worship a god/goddess and that I must do so in a specific place and time with other people and all in the same way. That is ludicrous to me. If there is a "god/goddess," the way I worship that being should be up to me. For me, walking and thinking and soaking in the beauty of creation is worship enough. If fills my soul; and isn't that faith?


      Dr. B.

  9. My childhood home was next door to a Baptist Church, in Greenville, South Carolina. I remember the long, relentless, puffing sermons that Reverend Whitehead often delivered. As a child I heard messages like, “The devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false profit live, and shall be tormented day and night forever.” The Reverend’s delivery technique could rival the most frightening horror movie you have ever watched. As a child, I often returned home fearful and distraught, rather than loved and at peace with God. My early experiences in church, cultivate many unanswered questions regarding God, faith, and His purpose for me. As a thirty three year old husband with four children, I found it necessary to seek unanswered questions that I continued to carry. During this expedition, I began to find many answers to questions that evaded me well into my adult life. The difference was that I no longer sought the lectures of a preacher, but the education of a teacher. “It makes a difference.” One of the lessons that I received taught me that faith is a choice, and it is strengthened by devoting the resource of time. When we invest into something tangible or intangible it becomes of personal value. This principle has remained true in all of my relationships including work, friends, and even my marriage. I’m sure that I will always have questions regarding religion (Christianity); my Pastor and I believe that this is healthy. However, I no longer have fear, concern, or bitterness, but a mind filled with peace with my personal relationship with God.


  10. I know in spite of my argumentative paper, many probably believe this was an attempt to bash organized religion. I do have a faith in god, but it is hard to just blindly follow a herd without questioning things that may occur. My biggest problem in organized religion are the ones who are in it. Religion is supposed to be about living a virtuous life and giving the feeling we are not alone. Religion should be used and applied in our moral dilemmas and guiding us to be better people.

    What has happened is we use religion as a means to convey the worst sides of ourselves. We have conservative christians bombing abortion clinics, Islamic extremists killing westerners, protestants and catholics bombing each other, Hindus and Muslims fighting over borders, and everyone trying to persecute the Jews. It is odd how we use religion to justify these actions. A lifestyle that is supposed to be about peace and worship was used as a catalyst for the inquisition, the conquering of nations, and in certain serial killers saying "god told them so."

    I believe faith is a good thing to have, but many of us get so caught up in the masses we don't stop to think logically and to ourselves "is this right?" Instead, we blindly follow the social norms of a specific group and become another number in a mob of influence. If you choose to worship, use what its there for. Live a virtuous life, take care of your family, take care of your fellow brothers and sisters. Have your faith, but have your own mind and be your own person as well.

  11. Hi Shaun,

    I am in complete agreement with your post. Certainly, your thoughts on the subject mirror mine. My problem with religion has always been the use of religion to justify oppression,violence, supremacy, degradation, and objectification. I have always thought that while "freedom of religion" is a good thing, there must be conditions. For instance, you are free to worship as you please as long as the tenets of your faith do not require/support/encourage the oppression of or submission of or violence against (etc.) a group and justifies violence to the point of death if a member of that group steps out of line (i.e. Islamic faith systems and the treatment of women justified by their faith).

    I have been wondering what we do when we live in a country that proclaims "no discrimination" and gender equality, but allows just that and other worse behaviors against women, in particular, under the guise of religious freedom. We have a real problem there. How do I explain to my son that women are equal under the law, but there are faith systems in our country that are permitted to see them and treat them as second class citizens, animals, or inhuman. This is hypocrisy to me and of the worst kind.

    I, too, believe the best form of faith is one that does not do any of the above and allows for questioning and wonder. If we know it all, who needs a God?


    Dr. B.

  12. Great post Dr. B....Sorry I am a little late for the show but better late then never! I believe I have the same thought process as you when it comes to faith in God. I have always had a hard time believing in a book that was written by men who also believed the world was flat at the same time. I also feel that a book written by man is worth about as much as the paper it's written on. It's true that I don't have much faith in faith but in my heart I do feel that there is a higher power out there which is making this go in some type of direction.


    1. Hi Chris,

      It's never too late to reply to one of my blog articles! Thank you for posting.

      It's always refreshing to find like minds in the world, especially with so much dogmatic religiosity going around these days.

      I, too, as you know from our class discussions and my blog post, find suspect and doubtful faith systems that base their beliefs on the words and writing of "men," especially when while creating their "words of God" and setting down the "dictates" of said "God" insist upon the exclusion of contributions from the very people "God's" words and dictates will affect the most and the most negatively . . . i.e. women and people of racial makeups outside that of the faith's creators.

      As I have written in other responses, this is my central issue with the believability of the absolute truth of such faith systems It is so easy to say "well, according to God's word, women (people of alternate race) are inferior and under the dominion of men," when you are the very one creating those words and dictates. And those words and dictates rely upon also your definition of women (people of alternate race) as inferior to you (the creator of said faith) without, of course, any contribution from the oppressed group to their own idea of self via their experiences of self and self-definition.

      In addition, as you wrote, tough to believe without questions words of faith created by people for people and by people who have since the creation of those faith systems negated virtually all other beliefs about the world as science has come to their aid and proven so many beliefs otherwise -- i.e. the world is round. Interesting that we can, via science, change our thinking regarding that kind of belief, but not a belief that works to keep the dominating group in power,

      Walking/running has always been a time to consider these ideas, I have found, because somehow your body is in tune with the world in a way it otherwise is not.

      Do you agree?

      Dr. B.

  13. For me its faith vs. religion
    Having grown up in a very religious family required to attend church three times a week. Weds Bible study, Sunday morning Sunday school followed by afternoon services. I have never questioned the existence of God but the ritual and fan fair required by the church in accordance with the Bible. I don’t doubt that the bible is outstanding guide to live by. However I don’t think it was intended to be taken literally. It’s hard for me to believe that any man build and Ark and gather animals of all species and survived for months. Also that any man was swallowed by a whale and transported to his final destination. My faith in God has never waved but the biblical approach is difficult for me to accept. Taken literally the bible promotes one man owning another, killing in the name of God and superiority of man over women.

  14. Hi Benjamin,

    Well put. The bible can be a guide for some, but it suggests some fairly horrific ways of living if we follow it literally, which many do and have been doing for centuries. Hence, we have warfare in the name of religion/the bible, the oppression of women in the name of God's law, dominion over other creatures in the name of that same law. To me, all of this has seemed in contrast with the idea of a higher being as "our" creator. If we were created by a "god," that God, in my humble opinion, would be ashamed of the way we have used his/her/its "words" to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

    Church -- my experience as a young girl was similar to your experience. It quickly moved me to wonder why on a Sunday I should sit in a room to honor my creator when I could be out in the world that creator made.

    Dr. B.