Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Blessed are the atheists for they shall find God
February 8, 2016
The dogmas of Catholicism, the religion into which I was born, no longer speak to me. The traditions and beliefs of Christianity such as I learned them seem more and more foreign. They are answers. And before the mystery of the world I have more and more questions.
I find sentiments similar to mine in many other people, especially young people, especially women, who don't deny God but who are looking for a spirituality that really feeds the meaning of their lives. And in search of that treasure -- where to place their hearts -- they distance themselves, move away from, review and even reject the learned religion.
What is happening to us? What has happened to me? It's that I've grown, I've read, I've searched. It's that we live in a radically different world from the tribal, rural, pre-modern world in which the rites, dogmas, beliefs, hierarchies, and traditions of my religion were forged. The religious system they taught us speaks of an antiquated concept of the world. We can no longer walk in those "shoes"; they are of no use to me anymore.
Knowing as I do that Christianity in all its versions (Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox...) is a powerful religion but only one among many that exist and have existed on the planet and in history, I can no longer believe that mine is the true religion. It would be as hugely foolish as thinking that my mother tongue, Spanish, is the best among all the languages just because I was born in it, it's what I know and what I speak.
I find the religious assumptions I learned arrogant. Because they are presented as absolute, rigid, infallible, unquestionable, unchangeable, and impenetrable as time goes by. And humility, which has the same root as humanity -- humus, seems to me an essential little way before the mystery of the world that neither science nor any religion has fully managed to fathom.
Knowing as I do the riches contained in the myriad human cultures, the many worlds there are in this world, I can't believe that "THE" revelation of this Ultimate Reality that is God, is in my religion and in the Bible. If I were to believe so, I could not avoid being arrogant. And I wouldn't be able to dialogue as an equal with thousands upon thousands of men and women who don't believe that, who have other sacred books, who go to God by other ways where there are no holy scriptures to venerate and follow.
How to believe in that dogmatic gibberish, amalgamated with a passé philosophy, which states that there are three different persons with a single nature within God and that Jesus is the second person of the three, but with two natures? How to believe what is absurd and what I don't understand if my brain is a masterpiece of Life? How to believe that Mary of Nazareth is the Mother of God if God is Mother? How to believe in the virginity of Mary without adopting what that dogma expresses about rejection of sexuality and women's sexuality? How to accept such a masculinized religion and, therefore, one so separate from that first intuition that sensed God in the feminine on seeing the power of women's bodies that gave life? How do we forget that, through that life experience, God "was born a woman" in the mind of humanity?
How to believe in hell without making God a torturing tyrant like the Pinochets or Somozas? How to believe in original sin that nobody ever committed anywhere, which is only the myth that the Hebrew people used to explain the origin of evil in the world? How to believe that Jesus saved us from that sin if that doctrine is not of Jesus of Nazareth but of Paul of Tarsus? How to believe that God needed Jesus' death to wash away that sin? Jesus the prophet, a propitiatory lamb who appeases divine wrath with his blood? How to believe that Jesus saved us by dying, when what can "save" us from meaninglessness is that he taught us to live? How to believe that I am eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood, thus reducing the Eucharist to a materialist, magical rite evocative of the archaic bloody sacrifices that Jesus rejected?
However, leaving now along my path so many beliefs of the religion I learned, I don't leave Jesus of Nazareth. Because, just as my father, my mother and my sisters and brothers are my emotional references, and just as I think, speak and write in Spanish and that language is my cultural reference, Jesus is my religious and spiritual reference, my ethical reference, the one with whom I am most familiar to test the path that opens me to the mystery of the world.
Today, knowing as I do the boundless majesty of the Universe in which we live, with its billions of galaxies, I can't believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only and final incarnation of that First Energy that is God. Jesus didn't believe that. That dogmatic elaboration, made later in the context of power struggles, would have scandalized Jesus. Today, rather than stating that "I believe Jesus is God," I prefer to tell myself and say, "I want to believe in God as Jesus believed."
And in what God did Jesus, the Brown Man from Nazareth, believe? He taught us that God is a father, also a mother, who is concerned about seeking for us, the shepherd who looks for his sheep, the woman who looks for her drachma, who waits anxiously for us, who always welcomes us, who gets outraged at injustice and at power that exploits and oppresses, who takes the side of the lowly, who doesn't want poor or rich people, who wants no one to have a surplus and none to be in need, who supports the equality and dignity of all, who wants us to be brothers and sisters, who wants us in community, who doesn't want masters or man servants, or women servants either, who always gives us chances, who laughs and celebrates, who throws banquets to which he invites everyone, who is joyful and good, who is an abba, an amma.
All the religions of the world, all of them, are alike in one thing: they all state that they are the true one and boast that their gods are the most powerful. All sustain themselves through beliefs, rites, commandments and mediators. Most of the commandments they impose are prohibitions: what can not be done, what can not be thought, what can not be said ... And the mediators dominating the religions are very varied -- they are holy books, places, times and objects and, above all, they are holy people whom one must believe, obey and reverence.
When one reads the good news of the Gospels, when one grasps their essence, one discovers that Jesus wasn't a religious man. Jesus was a layman in permanent opposition to the pious and holy men of his time, the Pharisees and priests. Jesus didn't propose beliefs but attitudes. We never see him practicing any rite but rather approaching the people. He turned various commandments around, as they were interpreted by the pious of his time. And he respected neither the holy places (he prayed on the mountain) nor the holy times ("The Sabbath is for the people, not the people for the Sabbath").
Jesus was a spiritual man and an ethical teacher. He didn't want to found any religion and, therefore, he isn't responsible for any of the dogmas built from power upon the passionate memory of those who knew him. Jesus proposed an ethic of human relations. He inspired a spiritual and social movement of men and women who, in seeking God, would seek justice and build his dream, the Reign of God, that he conceived as a utopia opposed to the reality of oppression and injustice that he had to experience in his country and time.
When nobody is holy, everyone becomes holy. When no object is sacred, all objects deserve to be cared for. When no time is sacred, all the days that are given to me to live become sacred. When no place is holy, I see in all of Nature God's holy temple. Jesus also taught us that.
The irreverence, provocativeness, grace, humor, boldness and novelty of the spirituality of Jesus of Nazareth have been imprisoned for centuries in Christological dogma. That dogma makes us prisoners of single-mindedness; it shuts us in a cage. It doesn't let us fly because it doesn't let us ask questions, suspect, doubt...The bars of that prison provoke fear. Fear of disobeying the authoritative word of those who "know God," the hierarchies of religion. Fear of being punished for thinking and for saying what we think.
Today, knowing that I live "circling one star in the bunch, in a common area of an ordinary galaxy, grouped with other equally bland ones in an ordinary cluster," as a prestigious physicist describes this "cosmic neighborhood" that is Earth, I can't stop feeling that the certainties and rules of religion organized by a hierarchical bureaucracy that moreover has betrayed Jesus' message in so many things, are petulant and sclerotic, irrelevant for my life.
I find myself closer to the Life that Jesus advocated and dignified in that religiousness, in that spirituality that is reverence and awe before the mystery of the world. I find more spiritual meaning in the "cosmic religiousness" that Einstein the Jew was talking about when he said that "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."
Einstein recognizes that this experience of the mysterious "cradle of art and science has also generated religion." But he adds, "True religiousness is knowing of that Existence that is impenetrable for us, to know that there are manifestations of the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty" that are never totally accessible to us. He concludes, "The mystery of the eternity of life is enough for me, with the feeling and awareness of the prodigious construction of what exists."
I don't know if this formulation is enough for me, but I know it's significant to me because it opens me up to new questions. And religion, the religious system in which I was educated, didn't open me. It closed me by filling me with fixed, pre-established answers, many of them threatening, anguishing, engendering fear, guilt and unhappiness. It's time to humanize ourselves. And the religious system, forcing us to think about God in one single manner, imposing strict moral rules lacking in compassion on us, and forcing us into routine rigid worship and rituals, dehumanizes us.
Do I believe in God? What is faith? "He is love," an illiterate peasant in the Dominican Republic answered many years ago when I asked him. I've never forgotten it. I felt it was an explanation as simple as it was profound. If God exists, He is the one who always moves me towards love, towards others, be they persons, animals, trees...This movement, this impulse is to share, to empathize, to care for, to take responsibility, to put myself in the water kept at the bottom of this well of all that is living. Friendship is the joy of never being able to touch the bottom of that well. That is love: a bottomless well from which we can drink. That must be God. In the love I have for those I love I feel God.
If God exists, he is beauty. The extravagance of nature's beauty, the stars of the sky, dogs' eyes, the shape of leaves, the flight of birds, colors and their nuances, the sea, all this immeasurable and surprising list of beauties, all alike, all different, all related, this beauty that I can neither encompass nor understand, that dazzles my eyes and my mind, that science reveals and explains to us, I feel has God's "signature". At the bottom of all the beauty that I see in all that exists, I feel God.
If God exists, He is joy. At the fiesta, in music and dancing, in the indefinable forms that joy takes when it is deep, in words, in company, in celebration, in achievements, in creative effort, and especially in the laughter and smiles of the people, I feel that God is closer than ever.
If God exists, He is also justice. He is the justice that the history I know and in which I live, has never guaranteed to good people. That it didn't guarantee to that poor illiterate peasant who defined faith as "love" to me. But God is always beyond all love, all beauty, all joy, always unreachable, unnameable, unfathomable, always beyond my idea of God, beyond my own desire and nostalgia.
Maimonides, the great Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, wrote a theological-philosophical treatise with this intriguing title: "Guide for the Perplexed." He says, "Describing God through negatives is the only way to describe Him in appropriate language."
I don't find one shred of this perplexity in the religious system in which I was born. And it is with these "bricks" of thought and feeling, with this thinking and feeling, with which I've been tentatively building a spirituality, convinced, as the poet Leon Felipe used to say, that no one goes to God by the same path I do. Spirituality is a personal journey; religion is a collective corset. A "heavy yoke," in Jesus' words.
In his book The Wave is the Sea, the Benedictine monk Willigis Jäger comments, "A wise person said, 'Religion is a trick of the genes.'" Jäger takes this statement very seriously. And he explains, "When the human species reached the adequate evolutionary level to ask questions about its origin, its future and the meaning of its existence, it developed the ability to respond to those questions. The result of this process is religion, which for millennia has magnificently carried out its task and still does so today. Religion is part of human evolution. And if today we are reaching a point where its answers no longer satisfy us, it is an indication that evolution has taken a step forward and a new ability to understand ourselves as human beings is emerging in humankind."