Our Subjective God

by Vince

Paula Kirby went from being a devout Christian to an Atheist. She makes some interesting conclusions on God and how the masses have viewed the divine over the ages.

One of the things that had struck me during my Christian years was just how many different Christianities there are.  Not just the vast number of different sects and denominations (over 38,000 by one reckoning), but the huge amount of difference between individual Christians of the same sect or denomination, too.  The beliefs and attitudes of an evangelical, biblical, literalist Christian compared with a liberal Christian are so wildly different that we might almost be dealing with two completely different religions.

No matter what religion you believe in, you have to view God in a subjective lens:

Like every other Christian I have ever known, I had clear ideas about the kind of God I believed in and, on the basis of those ideas, I accepted certain bits of Christian dogma while utterly rejecting others.  Again, let me stress: this is par for the course.  In practice faith is always a pick-and-mix affair: believers emphasise those bits that sit comfortably with them, whilst mostly ignoring those bits that do not, or concocting elaborate interpretations to allow them to pretend they do not mean what they actually say.  So this was the question I faced up to in 2003: What was there to suggest that the version of Christianity I believed in was actually real? Was there any better evidence for the version I accepted than there was for the versions I did not?

The Bible could not help me. Both kinds of Christian – the ultra-conservative and the ultra-liberal – find abundant support for their views in the Bible provided they cherry-pick enough (and, of course, they do just that, filing the bits that don’t suit their case under the convenient headings of “Metaphor” or “Mystery”).

I myself tend to stray away from overemphasizing sin, heaven, and the like when I talk about God, my religious beliefs, and even when I am reading the Bible. Sure, the daily lectionary has me reading portions of the Bible that mention sin and heaven. I try to read up on the Greek and Hebrew, which usually have their original translation as vastness instead of heaven.

This has fostered some inner-thoughts as I have had several discussions with friends lately on the topic of same-sex marriage / homosexuality and how those two are seen or should be treated by the Bible and government. Plethora of verses are mentioned to denounce the two and I have up to this point said that they talk about pederastery, not what we know today as homosexuality. Re-reading these texts has me constantly asking questions. I try to focus on the context of the letters and laws in the Bible and keep them under the umbrellas of love, compassion, and justice. One other important topic that has played into that discussion is defining the role of marriage. Is it meant for pro-creation (child bearing) or as a covenant between two individuals? Attending a wedding can answer that question very clearly. Weddings usually mention nothing about sex or bearing children but forming a lasting relationship with your partner. If these marriage ceremonies are merely man-made, why then are they not changing in form and substance towards emphasizing “what the Bible says” about marriage?

I finish my reflection with this quote from Kirby:

This is why subjective experience cannot tell us anything about God.  Knowing what kind of god someone believes in tells us a great deal about that person – but nothing whatsoever about the truth or otherwise of the existence of any god at all.

Kirby is partially correct. Our experiences of God can tell some but not all of who God is. Looking back over time, we can see the many views of God and the roles the divine has played in people’s lives. They, just like ours, are merely reflections from a mirror, not the full picture.

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