By Dr. Sue Rumbaugh
Where IS God – Exactly?
Why Fewer and Fewer People Are Attending Church Today
The Recurring Rhetorical Questions: Can/Should Humanity Transcend Them?
“Call unto me and I will answer thee.”
For eons of time – God has given this promise to humanity and humanity has failed to heed it. Why? Could it perhaps be because we have a difficult time locating God? Or because we find it difficult to believe in a Being we cannot see or locate? Or do we fail to understand the words - “Man know thyself.” If we were to take these words literally, we would conclude that in knowing the self, one would find God. Is God inside of us – are we Fallen Angels? If so why would an all-knowing all-wise God allow us to fall so far and suffer so much?
If we are not Fallen Angels, why are we advised to know ourselves. And WHY would those who are presented as perfect, such as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Sanat Khumara .. say such things as: “The things I do Ye can do also, Yea and even greater things?” How are we supposed to do such things.
In former ages people traveled all over the world to find God – to the remotest of retreats in high mountains, to the Cave of Light in India, and to hidden Shamballa Valleys. Today we can call these up on the Internet and look into these places - even in real time. But we can’t see God residing there – though the beauty of His or Her handiwork still exists in many of these places for those who wish to gaze upon it – remotely.
Indeed, everything these days is beginning to feel REMOTE. We are constructing a world of remote wars, but we can see it with real-time photos right on our iPhones, all the carnage in “living color.”
Wouldn’t one think that this alone would be enough to convince the human “race” to end wars? What does it mean that it isn’t enough? What does this tell us about our “human” culture? Is the LACK of ability to locate God, so deeply embedded in our “humanness” and all of our religions, we must just “fight on?”
Or do we want to stop but don’t know how? Or do we know how but it is just too lonely a stand to make? If we but understood WHAT the problem actually is, perhaps we really could build a just world. There does seem to be a problem with “human” culture – but we just can’t actually locate IT in order to sufficiently FIX it. It always seems to slip away, just beyond our grasp.
Why IS God just beyond our grasp? Why can’t we humans just agree to END WAR? Are we lacking in some fundamental way – as many academicians would have us believe? Is our inability to end war and discord locked into our genes – the result of a long history of our attempts to survive and to produce more offspring than other humans? And what if there is no God –what if God was just a myth invented by every human culture to control the minds of the masses, who were so easily filled with superstition?
Most attempts to address the nature of “God – or Gods” – begin with “What IS God?” By the time that the answer to this question is finished the would-be seeker of knowledge has been told by some (if not by most) that “God is Everywhere.”
But there is a little mentioned problem with this answer. Any right-thinking person in today’s internet savvy world goes to ask a logical question. How does this ‘every-whereness’ include all the imperfection in the world, such as the current atrocities of the Russian government practiced in the name of “Mother Russia.” Is God in the Russian Government also?
Is so, why would God “want” to be there? Why would anyone “want” to be there? And if He or She is there, why is He or She allowing one part of humanity to kill and torture another part of humanity? And why are prayers to end the war not working?
Or do people actually pray anymore? Do we pray AT Unity? Or do we meditate AT Unity and pray at home – or does it matter anymore what we do?
All of these questions surely prey upon the mind of any college graduate in today’s world that is trying to legitimately figure out a personal answer to the God question. And if one does not just “do what one’s parents did with regard to religion,” then one has to take the question up for himself or herself. And the first thing that comes to mind is that there are very different religions all over the world and that each one of them believes itself to be the only righteous path to God. It is easy to see that:
a) they can’t all be right
b) there is no clear “God given answer” to which one is right
c) religions themselves have long fought wars over this question.
If there is a God – would it not seem logical that He or She would make Himself or Herself clearly known and would solve the problem of why there are so many different religions all claiming to be THE PATH?
There used to be people to TELL us what to do (Priests, Ministers, High Monks) but many of them are gone now… and for those of us at Unity in Des Moines, they are certainly gone.
We often hear “That the ways of God Passeth All Understanding.” This can be translated as – no one can actually knows God or truly understands God. If this is the case – then perhaps we should simply focus on understanding ourselves – and turn to the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology – the scientific disciplines dedicated to understanding “Man” and to a much lesser extent, “Woman.”
We can do what we want at Unity - where we welcome diversity, including atheists. And we FORGIVE ALL – as God would and we welcome back the prodigal son. We even eat animals which Charles Filmore would not have done, no one did at Unity then. Now it is difficult to get Unity Village on the phone. This diversity is great, and we understand that we should embody it, but well, even Charles Filmore had rules and lots of advice.
Advice that is no longer welcome to some of the diverse parties within our Unity. What should we do? What would God do?
We sing “Let there be PEACE on Earth and let it begin with me.” EVERYONE at Unity WANTS TO SING THIS SONG. In fact, there are a lot of hymns that everyone at Unity would love to sing – but we don’t. There are no more songbooks by our seats, they are on the projector that hides our stained-glass windows. There is no Alter. The songs are all new. Memory of the past songs is being removed. There is no cross. Christ has risen, he is here. Memories of his suffering are being removed.
And now in this time of great, great, great, transition everyone is asking – what are we losing and what are we gaining? And we ask this also of ChatGPT and DaliE? The makers of the AI programs tell us – “we don’t know, we can’t say, we can’t tell what will happen if we turn over our “embodiedness” to AGI (Artificial General Intelligence.) We “built it” but we don’t know exactly how it works or what it will do.
Why not? If humans MADE it, why don’t humans know how it works? The answer is “probabilities,” lots of different constantly changing probabilities. Life is just based on probabilities. There is no real rhyme nor reason to how we talk, or how we produce art, or how we produce music, it is all just conditioned behavior – most of it over which we have very little control. We humans also invented probabilities and Quantum Mechanics which – like AI – is itself built upon probabilities (though probabilities used in a very different way). With Quantum Mechanics we explore the behavior of the very small – so small that there is no seeing the “it” that we explore. We have reductionism taken beyond its logical reality into a world of mathematical forces – and we can only trust that the queen of the scientific disciplines – mathematics, is correct.
But will AI take control of us? We don’t know, it depends on who owns it. Who owns it? Well, we don’t exactly know that either. It is companies competing against each other to see who can make computers do more of the things that people will pay to have them do. It is a bit like asking who owns money laundering, except well, competition is not illegal. Capitalistic competition is ingrained. You might/should make it (ChatGPT) illegal - or so we are advised by those who are developing AI.) How could competition be made illegal? We’re not sure, perhaps you could just slow it dooowwwn? No one actually knows how to do that in any sort of fair way. Meanwhile Microsoft is gobbling up companies producing products such as ChatGPT, and stealing information off of twitter to feed into their giant databases. Can this lead to Peace?
Surely everyone wants PEACE to begin with them. Exactly how do we all do that? Do we chose a political party and vote? So many people are dissatisfied with politics now that they are calling for a GOD government, they want GOD to be President. But we can’t find GOD to put Himself or Herself on the ballot. Some people just want to invent a stand-in candidate for GOD. Or they say - it is Trump.
Does God want there to be peace on Earth and does He or SHE want it to begin with poor, small me? If He or She did want this, it would seem that He or She could just step in and “poof” make it happen. Religious prophets from all nations and all walks of life have always offered prophecies and guidance for how to live life. But GOD GIVES us life -- an embodied experience – he does not lecture us, he sends into the world to learn from experience. And we look to others for their experiences and stories, but it is really only our own that we seem to be able to learn from. Isn’t that ODD? Why would GOD do that?
The answer from the learned scientific disciplines is that all the evidence that they can gather reveals that our views of GOD are all based on “superstitious” behavior. God is not a material entity of any sort and life itself is more or less just an accident. In fact, we are the ONLY beings who seem to create, reflect and think. We were a long shot in terms of probabilities, but it happened – and well now an entire Universe also appeared, and we cannot find the “edge” of the Universe. And consciousness, well it is simply what neurons produce when there are enough of them acting together. Science doesn’t really know what it is, but it does know what it is not. When there is no consciousness – there is no experience. There seems to be – well nothing without consciousness. Hmmm -- maybe God is consciousness?
Are wars, deception, privilege, human-trafficking, disease, suffering, hunger, poverty, gangs, murders, etc. just things that some humans do and that God says we must accept and forgive as part of the experience of embodiment? Or are these things that we must be taught not to question too deeply?
And if we are not to question some things that really DO at least seem to need answers, might THAT be why church attendance is down most everywhere these days? Might it be that these “Hard questions” actually do need an answer today? And if not now – when do these things get answered and HOW? Or do we come to church for “self-care,” and the answers to such questions – we are leaving to God?
Perhaps – in this age where religion as people once knew it seems to be falling apart and church after church is closing – we need something else? Something that is not so divisive and warmongering as religion has proven to be throughout at least our current known human history? Wouldn’t it be helpful if there were actual answers that one could trust to many questions that our search for God revealed?
We live in an age where most people in the world are now taught to read and write and have access to the internet. And if they can’t read, the software will speak to them in their own language. We live in an age of AI chatbots who have stored all major texts (i.e. all humankind’s total knowledge some say) on the internet into their memory banks. Knowledge about everything IS everywhere these days. And one can locate its “every-whereness” at the touch of a cell phone and bring it right into the palm of one’s own hand. Thus, it is easy to access the sum total of human knowledge, but this has not told people where God IS, unless God is the internet.
Could GOD be like the cell phone signal – could He or She actually be everywhere till we focus on asking for a specific bit of information? Might there be information about God if we live a life seeking God. Is there something in the seeking – by an embodied being – that is required to find God?
Today’s Churches’ give answers that seem lacking to today’s internet educated viewer – one who knows how to play a million avatar games and thus how to be a million different people that are all one – all the him or the her that “is playing the avatar video game?”
It is now perfectly clear that human consciousness has the ability to choose essentially any reality – to cite the philosopher, David Chalmers. This is not what Chalmers would label “a hard problem.”
The hard questions are – how does the brain + consciousness create this reality that is around us. Why do we all experience reality differently? Why do we unconsciously fill in blind spots or hear “words” as distinct in a sound stream -a stream that actually has no silence where one word stops. How do we even begin to hear language if it is processing 7 to 10 or 12 syllables at a time?
But to do something similar with the “every-whereness” of God - something that we do with our avatars is not so easy. Still there are guidebooks or manuals for “how to meet/know God” everywhere these days, even at Walmart, right beside how to learn to use your “operating system.” And they give thousands of different answers.
Here at Unity we learn a new personal answer almost every Sunday. What is a visitor to Unity to do – if they begin to wonder, exactly WHERE is God? Is GOD here at Unity? If they go to the Unity Library, or to the various classes? Is there anyone they can just ask? And even if “Everywhere” is the correct answer, it may not be as helpful to the seeker, as it is to a veteran of Unity who has long walked the path toward self-understanding and enlightenment, who goes to the Class in Miracles, who reads Fillmore’s original works and the Daily Word.
Let me be clear – personally clear – I embrace Unity’s diversity – I am not objecting to anything. My mother read the Daily Word – and kept each one - all her life. My father took us to visit Walter Russell – every year. We were informed he had achieved Cosmic Consciousness, wrote books on “The Secret of Light” and invented a new periodic table, based on Light – which predicted new elements that were then discovered. No one doubted that my father was genius, and no one ever doubted for a second his love for his kids…there were 7 and I was the first born. My mother went to the Presbyterian Church as there was no Unity Church in our town and she watched Mass on TV. My grandmother went to different churches all the time. Both my mother and my grandmother had a strong personal understanding of “Spirit”, and they had no doubts whatsoever – ever - about God.
I married a man whose father was a Presbyterian minister. We were both comparative psychologists and we worked with apes. I liked the way in which apes were essentially always authentic – unless they saw a need to deceive. Which they did very quickly by biting off the end of my finger. Why did they do that? Everyone said I was going to leave after that. I didn’t. I tried to learn the answer. Why did they do that? A year later they crunched my other finger. I am still learning answers to why we have aggression in the world. I do not believe Darwin was correct – for many reasons - because selection of the fittest is no longer a logical answer. But for a long time, biologists were “sitting in church” and it was the only answer of which we could dare speak. That’s when I began to understand that science can be a LOT like church -- and that is because it is formed from the same culture.
I have been wondering why people are dropping out of church and if this is just what must take place in what clearly is a time of great transition everywhere – from climate change to gender dysphoria. The old is falling away and the new will come. There are many things that Unity does to quietly assist the downtrodden.
Last week, as I left Unity, I gave money to a young black man with a sign asking for money. As I did so, I looked into his eyes, and I could see/feel his pain. (That is what bonobos do – they look AT you, but they SEE inside you. Where – along the path – did humanity stop doing this? ) I asked the guy if he was down on his luck at the moment. He said “yes” and seemed amazed that I even looked at him, much less that I actually asked him a question. I told him that I really hoped things would be better – as I looked straight into his eyes and he looked straight back. I said that he should not give up. He paused – looked again straight into my eyes and said – he would try, but I could tell that he was very tired of trying and failing and he was so young.
He wanted help – and he knew that he needed more than money. So many people are down on their luck now. And encouragement that is not “paid for” (as is councilor) can go a long way because the person is not doing this as “a job.” But fixing one person at time, one who has no proper education or reference point in the larger world, can only begin to solve the larger problem. It is like healing a leg while ignoring the body. And there so very many more very well-educated people for whom church is not making sense today.
The beliefs of a former time – demand different answers in the age of quantum mechanics, avatars, space travel, nuclear bombs, unbelievable disparities between the ultra-rich and the unbearably poor in our cities, mega armaments by our government and our citizens, AI, climate change, pills and vaccines for everything, new media that can’t be trusted to do much more that inflame the problems or babble on about them, immigration too large to manage, and much more. Unity is not “discriminating against these well-educated young people who may not know cursive and don’t much like to read - in any way - but are we addressing what they are seeking? Or is it simply the case that humanity must now find – each one us – our own version of God?
In earlier (simpler) times, most people had less education. Questioning was not a major part of life. It was Ok not to question a lot of things. Only a few centuries ago, most people could not read. Thus, if they were asked to take the word of the priest or minister, it was not a problem. Everyone was told they needed to have an “Intercessor” to this God who was everywhere and All Good. The “Intercessor” had only one answer to most questions – “believe” and “have faith.”
These are not “bad” answers, but with the sexual downfall of both the Catholic and the Evangelical ministries – we have many people today who are increasingly unwilling to accept the dictates of someone who is supposed to be “Holy” – asking them to “believe” and to “have faith” that God is everywhere. When all too often the “faith” that was placed in the person who was the intercessor – - - - well human weakness stepped in, and the “faith of innocence” was abused.
It is good we are learning about this but “How did it happen? Why did happen? Why was it covered up? Will just outing the hidden evils of the priesthood right the wrong? If we seek to be ignorant on the issues of WHY, and HOW – these things will either repeat themselves – or GOD will have to step in.
Today, people question not just religion. EVERYTHING is being questioned. Why? Well because “we have a right to do so.” It’s the “IN” game to play today. Drag queens are insisting on equal access to educate children in public libraries and public bathrooms. They are questioning why they should not have equal access to kids? They are observing that Christian communities make them feel uncomfortable.
Tik Tok is alive with people who object to singing the American Nation Anthem. They find it frightening. It impinges on their personal space it makes them uncomfortable. And those insisting on gaining equal access to children in many places are helping children to understand about “spicey” toys and “spicey” play.
Children in the first grade are putting political slogans on their shirts about things they believe to be their rights. And schools are protecting and shielding children from the “ideas of their parents.” Parents are being jailed for crimes their kids committed. The great testing of the “language of rights” is underway. It began with the Civil War – and it moved to “Woke.”
Exactly where “rights” and “responsibilities” meet does not seem to be on the agenda for discussion, although a few colleges are saying that is not OK to ignore “freedom of speech,” no matter which side you are on. Still – it is the case that “Civil Society” as a concept, is under attack. There are those who prefer CHAOS, as that is all they know. While the amount of information flooding young people is increasing at a rate that we cannot comprehend, education (and test scores) is going backward. IQ is going up; skills are going down. Knowledge is going up; Civic Responsibility is going down. Schools are trying to handle every “neurological, behavioral, ethnological, social, racial and gender issue - not a lot of time left to reading, writing and arithmetic.” That’s great in principle, but dealing with these issues is not any better than they were 30 or 40 years ago. It is just the explanations and labels that have changed, along with some of the drugs. “Head-start” teachers can’t handle a classroom of 30 kids without an assistant or two. And few apply for such jobs.
Every other person these days has something that makes them feel “uncomfortable” and/or that causes them to feel that “their space,” is not respected. And instead of carrying-on with a stiff upper lip in the British tradition, they are now adamant that everyone knows their views and experiences and understand their discomforts. This sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Cognitive therapists have lauded the rights of their clients to self-expression. Every human being is born into this world having free-will and every human being – in our country – has a right to free speech. And since Covid, we now have so much “personal space” that we need classes – even here at Unity – to “Interact Authentically,” as adults.
Does this imply that vast arenas of society no longer know how to “Interact Authentically?” Or is it that we are only now realizing that “in the past” (which is mostly imagined as long ago for most) we did not know how to “Interact Authentically?” Would the Quakers, or the Puritans, or the Founding Fathers know what to say (or what to do) - if someone told them that they were not “Interacting Authentically?” Or did “authentic” mean something different then?
What IS actually happening in our current society – a society where change happens almost overnight, and everything is open to question? Could we be experiencing a necessary step in the Evolution of the soul of our Humanness? Could there actually BE a God that does know what He/She is doing even if we “humans” seemingly have no glimpse these days of what is required to obtain purity, belief, faith, or to look beyond diversity - or to consider the meaning of a word like “resurrection?” What is being resurrected?
Church membership has dropped from 73% in the thirties (when Unity Village was flourishing) to 23% today, and many magnificent churches buildings are sold for pittance and turned into something else. Many are now experiencing lack of physical contact as normal. For those who have not explored what it was like to live with the San of South Africa, or the Piraha of Central America, or any remote culture prior to contact with the “modern world” – normal people are in constant physical contact. An example of this can be found in the ethnography – to “Sing with Pigs is Human” – pigs and humans live together in families. Pigs are consumed on a regular basis but NOT the pigs of the family – the pigs of another family. Would that be – just a primitive superstition?
Again, let me be clear – I am NOT here to judge this great transition that is underway – God has ways of doing things that are beyond the veil that gets draw over the human following birth. But before the rise of this rather recent modern material world, people were always in contact. In remote villages in Africa, people depend on one-another and feel uncomfortable not being in physical contact. Their “personal space” is not at all our concept of physical space –their personal space is their “mental space.” All are granted their own personal minds and their own personal thoughts, but they stay in constant communication by touch, sound, and that energy that emanates from the body itself. We do this now through iPhones and iPods. We are instantly in touch with whatever aspect of the world or location of the world, we select. It is no more, or less, remote than the person next door.
All cultures – except those who have now come to value the individuality or personhood, the self-determination of personhood, the freewill of personhood - have always placed value upon interpersonal contact. In the Congo, where there are large village spaces for all, when the villagers arrive in these spaces, they come in groups. They walk holding hands, but this is not sexual attraction, it is the desire for physical contact with their friends and family. And they always stand in physical contact with one another. There is a lot of space around the “in contact group.” This kind of contact has been a basic need for all primate groups for eons of time but certainly not in America today.
What IS best for us and how are we to know? I mean really know in our hearts, not “know” in the sense that “well this is just what everyone does,” or in the sense of “this is the new normal!” I mean in the way that the HEART knows, and it knows that it knows. Kind of like “I AM that I AM.” We all are fundamentally aware that we exist – aren’t we? But actually, we would not be aware that we were going to die unless someone told us – would we? And even then we would not really be aware unless we believed what they said. And just because we saw someone else die, we would not really have to believe that it was going to happen to us –unless we believed what someone else who was alive, said to us.
Did we come here, with our self-awareness, to believe what other people told us was true, or did that just “happen to us,” like wars and disease just happened to us and there is very little we can do. Churches have always addressed such thorny questions in the past. But who among us is addressing them now? Anthony Fauci,? Anthony Bourdain,? our “Inner Self” when we meditate? And if it is our “Inner Self” – why would we even seek a church? Did the Buddha seek a church? A Temple – or a Tree?
If we look this up on Goggle – we find:
“Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple. It is not considered essential to go to a temple to worship with others.” Buddhism itself stems from older Hindu beliefs. And what are the basic tenets of Hinduism?
“Hindu practices include worship, fire rituals, devotion, fasting, chanting, meditation, sacrifice, charity, selfless service, learning and knowledge, recitation and exposition of scriptures , homage to one's ancestors, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages, along with the various practices associated with yoga. Some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions and engage in lifelong monasticism to achieve enlightenment.”
So what IS the role of a “Christian” church - or any church in today’s world? And how shall we raise our children these days? Shall we take them to church after we have gone to college and learned about technology, science, Darwin, and the current drugs for the currently prevalent diseases? Shall we select one faith and teach them to be tolerant of all others. If so, how do we, pray tell, justify the one we select if they should question it? By saying that all the relatives in the familia on the afrenda followed this faith as did their ancestors. This is not working with today’s generation, or with the boy in the Disney movie who just wanted to make music - which his family forbid him to do because his grandfather had been a musician and left his wife. And then there are the Disney dinosaurs that have language and are farmers, and a kid in diapers who comes to live with them. How do we fit this into the scientific understanding of evolutionary history - or does it even matter anymore - in these times when anyone can believe anything? And Disney is everywhere - even in China?
There is no universal way to live in what is now a “totally connected world.” Everyone today – by dent of television, the internet and the simple contrast between the have and the have not nations is everywhere obvious. We all know that wars are unnecessary but that we have them anyway. People support arms manufacturers, and most people still want their own guns. These are often very religious people, that know this is not logical – but yet there seem to be many people who feel that personal weapons will prevent war. These beliefs travel hand-in-hand with the new age talk therapies and healers to whom many now turn for “FAITH,” rather the church.
The real question that goes unanswered is - where should a person place their FAITH in these days of many conflicting choices? And by what standard can they know they are making a correct choice? A standard answer is in “science” - because science seeks objective solutions to all questions about “reality.” Religions seek to promote “their own enlightened humans who spoke the word of God.” Based upon the current interpretation of what these beings advised, there must be more than one God, or that a God that speaks in such mysterious ways that humans can read into His or Her words, justification for almost any of their desires.
If there is one God - why does He or She not speak with one voice? Or does He or She do so but we mortals fail to understand?
And here at Unity we accept “all faiths.” Or so we state. But how many have read the book “To Sing with Pigs is Human?” – it is about a New Guinea culture that kills the wife should the husband die, so that their souls make their proper journey to the “world of ghosts” together? This practice was immediately banned by the “larger colonial culture” once contact with the tribe was achieved. It was not the church or the missionaries that stopped this practice. It was the “Culture” that had within it church and missionaries – a cultural that declared itself “free” of religious proscriptions, and welcoming to all. But to such a culture – who prided itself on “fairness,” there was no concept of being “fair” to a woman by killing her. Though this view was embedded deeply in all the practices of self-determination that were very important to these New Guinea people. “Our culture” – that is, “our modern culture” knew we were right and that THEY were ignorant, wrong and they had to be changed - not us.
The self-righteous are “everywhere,” - Yea even unto the Heavens where God Him or Herself Reins. Is this what “God is everywhere,” means? Or is it just a rhetorical question?
IS everyone really accepted at Unity or are some not equally accepted? Would we accept an indigenous culture that did not want its children to go to school – noting what our culture did to American Indian children by the thousands? Or are we “better now” than they were then, even though today we find that murder rates for women in many Indian communities are 10 time higher than in the rest of our nonhomogeneous culture?
The human Heart surely has no less need for God than it did in the thirties, forties, fifty, etc. The human soul, which IS eternal, has no less need for God than it did when the churches were full, everyone paid their dues and respected the minister or priest. And back then Unity Village in Kansas City Missouri was growing by leaps and bounds.
The Genie jumped out of the lamp. It has become now not only OK to ask questions, it is OK to challenge any and every traditional culturally accepted tenant of behavior. It is even expected. Humanity has entered into age where every standard political and social norm is open to revision.
Be it Buddhism, Hinduism, those who follow Allah, those who followed Joseph Smith to Utah, those who keep the Holy Spirit strong without by weekly including rattle snakes in their meetings, etc. etc. etc. ALL have begun to grow in this country - a country founded on “Religious Freedom.” Indeed, we are the ONLY country whose Founding Fathers, fought a war to be able to have Religious Freedom.
Why was that so important to a group of people who then turned around and denied the American Indians their rights to their own cultures and their religions?
And – as Deb Jennings softy reminds us every week – “Please use whatever name you have for God as we enter into mediation.” Our planet has grown increasingly small in the wake of constant internet access. It is not surprising that the different belief systems of humanity are now having trouble finding Common Ground. We Americans seem to be trying to choose the path of radical acceptance of “the other”…but hatred still breaks out in mass shootings.
And then we fall into arguing over who should have guns and what kind of guns they can have.
At church people don’t much discuss issues like “Why do we ‘have” a culture in which so many people feel they need a gun? Why we constantly create culture in which people feel they must have a gun?
Did you ever read an article about that? I have not. There are always articles about the different views of those who feel guns are essential and those who feel cause needless problems. When I was given a BB gun and “allowed to shoot birds” with it, I did wonder about hurting the bird though I was only six. That was in the early 50’s. No one else then seemed to wonder about that – so I stopped asking also. That’s partly how culture works in ways that go unnoticed till someone asks why are we doing this? Why do we engage in cultures that create these same problems over and over?
Does God “WANT” us to have guns? If he is everywhere, why doesn’t he stop shootings? In the meantime, we tell people to “believe” and “have faith”- if they don’t already, we attach it to some practice or some ritual, a chant, a song, communion, a pig feast, etc. And then the “feeling” of that ritual will arise when it is practiced, and everyone will KNOW the feeling and KNOW what it means. Such is the power of ritual, be it a football game or a pig feast.
Because being embodied is actually about how we feel about things. And if we are around others who feel the presence of God, we do too…even if it is in a service where people handle rattlesnakes to experience the feeling of the Holy Spirit. And IF the feeling of spirit is sufficiently strong - well the snake seems to perceive it as well because it is also embodied, and it does not bite. This is demonstrated weekly over and over - till sometimes the snake bites and all know the spiritual feeling was not sufficiently evoked.
Nor do the cobras bite when they are “charmed” by the snake handlers in India. I did not believe in these kinds of things very much until I travelled to the Heart of the Congo -- a very different completely remote culture. People saved me from pythons striking me many times - as they could see the green snake in the green vegetation, and I could not. Or the yellow one in a huge bunch of bananas, and I could not. And when I fell and sprained by ankle and it became 3 times its size, they put it in a pail of water and told me to sit up all night and believe in the things they said (I could not understand their language - but they said I would be able to walk the next morning.) I did not believe, but they were correct. How does that happen? I almost died each day there -- if it were not for a villager here or there - just stepping in and saving me from a threat I did not see.
When one almost dies every single day and there is “no way home” till the plane comes back in several months -- one takes a new perspective on life and upon people that are said to be indigent, poor, backward, uneducated and “animistic.” Do we do that for these people when they come to America? Do we let them go on their way while watching out for them without bothering them and step in just when they need help?
When the first African pygmy came to America, he was put on display at the Saint Louis World fair, as an intermediate species, between ape and human. His exhibit was not heated as he was said to be impervious to cold.
We have a wonderful world in America. We are free and brave and strong but we can lose our remaining churches and our remaining spirituality overnight, as we turn to computers for solutions they cannot possibly have because they are not embodied and cannot sense, perceive, feel, live, or experience the Sacred Fire as Mighty Helios blazes his Rays of Sun Light down upon our bodies.
It was a humbling experience to go from a first world country to the Heart of Africa where they had only heard of white people but never met one. Where homes were of mud bricks, with thatched roofs to keep the rain off the bricks and where it rained everyday on those homes. And where the ground in front of each house was only dirt. But the dirt was swept every single day in the whole of the village so that the “dirt looked clean.” And I learned that people did not really die when the “passed away” - they went to another form, but they still needed food and clothing. And they would stay in the form till no one in the village remembered them anymore. And where the job of older women was to carry extremely heavy vessels filled with water up the long slippery slopes from the village stream each day. And they did not mind doing this at all. They felt honored that there was something of import that they could do to help their relatives. It was a very hard job, especially for older women. And where people believed that no one ever died unless they held a bad or harmful thought about someone else in the village. So, the people who lived the longest were very highly revered because they had thought only good thoughts about others for such a very long time even in spite of great hardships.
I was - shall we say - overthrown. I had read a lot of true well written anthropological ethnographies, though none had been written about the area I was in. I was not prepared for the daily life and elegance of some of the poorest people in the world. I was not prepared for their grace. I was not prepared for tolerance of - and participation in the Christianity that had been imposed upon them, while still believing firmly in their own cultural and spiritual ways of life. They simply took what seemed to be the truest and best of both and moved on. Their acceptance of me just as a person - though very different from them, was profound. The only group that has accepted me just as I was with such grace - even though I was different from - had been bonobos. And the bonobos shared this same remote forest with these same human beings. And both said that they used to share a language and the forest until humans invented fire. The bonobos learned how to make fire but did not want to settle down in villages to keep their fires going and thus have to plant crops. They wanted to travel the forest and find what the forest offered them from God’s Hand each day and so they did.
So I think often about similarities and differences, both among cultures and among religions. And I think about science and what scientists call superstitious behavior (as in religious beliefs that have no basis in reality). And I think about what reality IS, when we can put on a headset and be transported into another world where we are represented in any kind of body we chose - and I wonder why people want to do that - to experience such “video games” when the “real world” is so filled with such amazing experiences each day that if one really contemplates them - one cannot but stand in awe of how it is that the world has actually even come into existence.
The answers from science are somewhat comforting as they seem to be ‘real’ or so one is told. But the longer one is a serious student of science the more one sees each set of “true” scientific theories” melt away and something replaces each one. We are now on the verge of a great paradigmatic shift in physics. It will then change all the life sciences and the social sciences as we know them today. And astronomy is on the verge of a revolution due to the James Webb telescope. But without science there would be no James Webb telescope…but it is also this telescope that is displaying the Handiwork of Creation with elegance that speaks to everyone.
Still, the people of Inyondje village in the Congo already had all that - as their cultural heritage. It came from their union with the church of the forest where the canopy is one never-ending stained-glass window overhead - with colored sunlight rays shafting through everywhere. And God is on display everywhere one looks.
Their church was with them wherever they were - as was also true for the bonobos who remained in the forest and answered the drumming of the villagers with their own drumming - on the buttresses of huge trees. I asked, “what are the bonobos saying to you?” And they replied, “the bonobos are saying - “We are the Lords of the Forest.” And as a scientist - that seemed true.