I have expended most of my energy today digging out from the blizzard we had for the past two days. Up to my knees. The drifts on the roof of the DeVille were like glaciers. The two basement windows, including the one to my study are now buried in piles of snow shoveled from the driveway.
So, it should come as no surprise that I am thinking about God.
As a Freemason I think about God a good deal; as a Druid I think of the many facets of the Supreme Being. As a Lutheran growing up, I was taught at first to think of God as a supreme Father. He was not only the father of Jesus our Savior, but was also my divine father. Now that I am a father, that whole idea has a different meaning for me than it had as a boy. It’s not really the best metaphor for the Grand Architect of the Universe. After all, in the past, fathers were given almost unlimited powers of life and death over their wives and children. That fits the idea of a Creator God certainly, but it is a power that has been so often abused by mere mortal men that it becomes awkward. Especially if you are talking about Yehovah in the Torah, the Lord God. He has some real anger management problems, and more than once resorts to terrible punishments when his children are disobedient. That’s like mortal fathers too, but it isn’t the best role model.
Even in Christianity which aims to focus on God as a Loving father, he tries to fix the disobedience of his other children by making his firstborn son a sacrafice. That’s if we follow the theological doctrine that Jesus was the firstborn, even though his human birth came much later than that of Adam. Anyway, Adam had no mother in the myth of Eden, except the clay of the Earth herself. And the priestly writers of the Bible don’t acknowledge Mother Earth as a distinct entity, much less a goddess. Anyway, the whole sacrifice thing seems creepy. It was creepy enough with Isaac. A Father who asks people to use their sons as a blood sacrifice and then changes his mind and says it was all just an obedience test would qualify for a padded cell in our human world. But myths are like that.
The problem is that the believers in the Bible take it as a more or less reliable historical account. There may be a bit of truth in some of the Jewish history. I mean they do refer to Assyrians and Egyptians and Romans who we know independently to have been real. Even some of the individuals mentioned seem to have been real — not just the kings but chaps like poor Pontius Pilate. However, scholars differ widely in how much credence they give to those accounts. They are certainly an attempt to make up a legendary history, but whether they are based on any actual historical records seems doubtful. It would seem that they are about as historically accurate as the Arthurian legends. Plenty of bad male role models in the Arthurian legends too.
So, I was wondering, while shoveling snow from the heavens, where one starts with God. If you don’t just have an unquestioning faith that the Bible is some sort of history, rather than myths and legends, where do you begin?
It seems to me that one must begin as did Descartes, with oneself. I think, therefore I am. But there’s much more to it. I not only think, but I feel, I aspire, I desire and crave. Certainly, I have little trouble accepting “I exist” as an a priori starting point, but to get at God, one has to go a step further and accept the proposition “I am, therefore I am created.” You could say “was” created, but I tend to think that is getting off on the wrong foot. After all, we can’t actually know anything directly about our past. We have no trouble accepting the biology of conception and birth these days. Mom and pop felt sexual desire for each other, mated as animals do and produced offspring. All observable phenomena in the natural world. We don’t exactly understand how the mechanics of cell division ends up propigating “life” but we still mostly believe that the word “life” does refer to something.
But are we just the results of the seemingly random quirks of sexuality? Yes, we are. But one has to wonder if there isn’t just a little bit more to it. If one grows up into a thinking and feeling person with an ounce or two of curiosity, those existentially questions are going to start nagging at your frontal cortex. One say, “Who am I?” and “What am I for?” Human parents encourage and prompt those questions by talking about family genealogy and careers and “making yourself useful.” Now, it may be that “making myself useful to others” is all that some of us need for a purpose in life, but I suspect for most of us that is not satisfying. We want to know if we have a special purpose, beyond just conforming to society and fitting into a niche in the economy of our nation, or the class system. The question arises, when surrounded by the Middle-Eastern religions that came to dominate Europe, the Americas, and so much of the world, the question arises I say: Do I have a purpose?
Maybe it is modern bourgeois sentimentality that teaches us that we are each individuals with the potential “to be whatever we want to be.” I don’t know. For my part, I think I would have done better with my life if someone had just said, “Here you go James, here is the work you are going to do with your talents and here is the girl you are going to marry, and here’s the keys to your car.” Yes, it is a bit like Huxley’s “Brave New World” perhaps, but really, it is pretty much like the Old World too. Children were taught to have the expectation to enter a career chosen by their father, and appropriate to their family’s class. But as populations grew and needs changed within the economy, those continuities broke down. We didn’t need an exponential number of tailors, cobblers, or soldiers. It was more complicated than that. New jobs were created by new technologies and old ones fell by the wayside. So, then it became a good deal harder to say: What is my Purpose in Life.
Now, if all this bit about purpose seems like a digression, let me bring the matter back to God. If we accept the axiom that one who exists was (or is) created by a Creator, then we have a difficult time avoiding the idea that the Creator had some purpose for us. But that is just it. Clearly, in the West, or at any rate in the U. S., we have created a culture that insists upon the idea that each person has a purpose and that our happiness depends in some measure on discovering what that purpose is. Our psyche is culturally constructed to believe we have a purpose, and perhaps it is more than cultural. I cannot make cross-cultural comparisons, but I wonder if indeed humans have developed their imaginations to such an extent that they (we) have this hope and longing imbedded in the very fabric of our being.
There is a kind of soul-longing that some religious persons call the longing for the beloved. It is certain that we have within us a longing to find a lover – to be loved and to love someone else. The desire may be warped because of abuse or bad parents, but it is innate — or so I suspect. And that longing to be loved comes at the deepest level of our minds — it is there in our infant bodies as a instinct. As infants, humans are so completely dependent on the love of another that the desire for that eternal “mother” providing unconditional love and nourishment, that very source of our life — that desire and longing are at the core of the human soul. And I would suggest it is the longing for the loving embrace and breast of a mother that drives so much of our desire to believe we have some purpose. Our creator is, in the first instance, our mother. To the infant mind, mother is everything and without any conscious understanding that we have just emerged from her body, there is some sort of awareness, I am sure.
Freud talked about the devastating psychic effect of birth trauma, but whether it be traumatic or not, our most dramatic experience of birth may be the most startling thing that ever happens to us. The core knowledge of having being born from our mothers, to come from the dark, warm “inside” into a cold, brightly illuminated, outside world — that shapes everything that is built upon it. And, I would speculate, that feeling is the root of our desire for God. Our belief that we must have been created rises from that core experience. Our belief that we are loved by something unaccountably vast which gave birth leads us to think that we must have purpose. We were deliberately created by another agency, other than our own and everything we understand about creation, when we ourselves become creators, suggests that creations always have some purpose.
Now, this way of extrapolating from the infant mind and experience, and from the child’s creative powers also leads one to the conclusion that our purpose in life may be merely amusement. We, after all, do create things for our own amusement. But we sometimes create a thing that turns around and strikes us much more deeply so that we ourselves our transformed. For example, it might be said that somewhere along the line humans created domestic animals. Domestic cats, for example. And look where that took us. Suddenly we have a living creature with a will of its own putting demands upon us and giving us affection.
Take this further. We create relationships with each other. At one time in the tribal past of our ancestors (or even today) we were just handed relationships in our community and family. We didn’t need to create them because they were already created by others. Some relationships are like that. But we still can choose whether we will create from that basic relationship or connection a loving relationship, or one of enmity, or jealousy, or envy, etc. Human imagination creates these moral categories, these fictions based on emotions, and those stories, as we might say, are among our most complicated creations. Certainly, our relationships to other humans, to places, to animals, turn around and shape us, change us — indeed create us. We might start a love affair just for the sexual amusement, but it hardly ever stays like that. Humans are, generally speaking, too complicated to sustain a relationship only for amusement. If the relationship continues, it evolves. Emotions accrue to it. Shared history becomes part of it. Interdependence grows. We may fight that interdependence. We may fight to impose it more strongly on the other person. We may cut them out of our life or out of our conversation.
All these evolutions are creative. We humans created marriage — it is entirely a human idea. Oh, yes, I know, some people attribute the institutions of religion to God, or to several divine beings. In the druid tradition, having no book handed down from God, and having only deities who are often rather naughty and short-tempered, nobody, I think, believes that gods created marriage. Indeed, in the Celtic myths they seemed to suffer from a distinct lack of any standards regarding such a bond. So, as a druid, I am content to see marriage as a human invention. If the gods invented it, that amounts to the same thing because the Celtic deities, the Shining Ones are rather like us. Quite different from the God of the Jews who presented his chosen people with Ten Commandments and then dictated the whole Bible through divine inspiration. Druids quite understand inspiration. It may be the central concept underlying druidry because Imbas (or Awen) is the power of the poet, the bard.
However, that understanding of the creative process of the poet, gives us druids a rather more flexible view of inspiration. It isn’t “law” nor does it necessarily come to the bard from the One Supreme Being. It is a mystery, the mystery at the center of Druidry. And that inspiration is the very thing that gives us, as we become adults, the feeling that we have been “called” to some purpose. For Freemasons, the designation “Grand Architect of the Universe” alludes to that centrality of the creative process, the genius of the creator. That creator is not a distant “father” of a completely other species and order of being. The Creator is each of us, every one of us individually, and all of us cooperating together. That is the source of our feeling of purpose, destiny, or mission: the Creator, as we might say, within.