Tuesday, September 5, 2006

What Do Your Actions Say to the World About God

In his article Roland Merullo points a few of the contradictions that trouble many people about organized religions. plk

Of God, and men
By Roland Merullo September 5, 2006

I AM WRITING a book about God. Big subject. I feel qualified to write a book about God because . . . well, I feel as qualified as the next person, let me just say that.

I have friends who don't believe in God, and don't believe in an afterlife, and, strangely enough, they are some of the best people I know. There are others in my circle of acquaintances who believe in God with a certainty that any TV weatherman would envy -- and they don't always seem like the kindest and most compassionate types. Which leads me to what may seem an obvious conclusion: Belief in God is no guarantee of good behavior.

In fact, over the millennia, belief in God has been the foundation for some absolutely awful behavior. This pattern continues in the present era: We know of at least 19 people who believed that crashing airplanes into buildings and killing innocent children and adults would be looked upon favorably by God. ``There is no God but God!" they shouted in their last seconds. But what they were actually saying was, ``There is no God except our God, and if you think otherwise, God hates you, and God's hatred gives us permission to kill you."


Christians believe that Jesus is God. Muslims put their faith in the Prophet Mohammed. Hindus believe in many lifetimes and many gods. Jews are pretty certain about who is G_d and who isn't. And Buddhists don't like to use the word. Native Americans see the Great Spirit in everything from a dusty mountaintop to a deer, and atheists don't see God anywhere -- not in the full moon rising on a summer night, not in the new life coming forth from a woman's body, not in the petal of a lily or the fury of the open sea. On the tiny Pacific island where I lived for a while, people were taking no chances: They went to church on Sunday as the missionaries told them they should, and they held on to the old ways, too, seeing spirits in the palm trees and tides.

What are we to make of this? How are we to reach a consensus? How are we to understand those confident, modern-day American ``Christians," who foment hatred, divisiveness, and even war in the name of the Prince of Peace, the Great Forgiver, the Great Open-Minded One who hung out with former prostitutes and forgave adulteresses and let people hurt him without hurting back?

I like to listen to such people on the radio, at least in short bursts. Driving home from Florida last winter, I tuned in to what was billed as a Bible program, in Georgia, and the host was talking about ``Biblical corporal punishment," a.k.a. spanking, and a caller asked if God wanted him to spank his 15 -year-old daughter, since she was acting up. Yes, the host said, he thought it would be appropriate. I have a problem with that. Somehow it is hard for me to imagine the Creator cheering over the sight of a dad with his teenage daughter across his lap.

On another road trip, this one through the wilds of Indiana, I heard a Catholic talk show hostess berating those who do not welcome children into their lives. I was listening more or less quietly until she said, in a sarcastic and not very Christian tone: ``These couples who have their two token children . . ." -- at which point I started yelling at the radio: ``They are not token!"

This God stuff is what makes the world go 'round, I guess. I like the answer a Zen monk gave when asked what happens after death: ``I don't know." And I like the Dalai Lama's comment: ``My religion is kindness." So maybe that makes me a Buddhist. But Buddha insisted he was not God, and not to be worshiped. So where does that leave the earnest seeker? Writing a book to figure it out, maybe, or trying to find humor in the craziness of it, or just hoping to be half-decent in a world full of murderous God-worshipers, real saints, and sinless nonbelievers.

© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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