Naming our Golden Calves

Golden bull sclupture on grey glassIt’s ironic isn’t it that the Israelites created a golden calf and not a golden bull. I mean given their belief that their God was a jealous God, one prone to dangerous anger, one wonders at their use of a newborn, still fragile, unknowing of much of the ways of the world, as their symbol of deity.

In any case, the story is fraught with puzzlement. Like much of the Hebrew scripture, God is portrayed as hardly all-knowing and often not all-powerful. He often argues and gives in to human logic (or what passes for it), and he seems to be in need of human hands to accomplish his ends at times.

This is perhaps why some folks think they know God and know what He wants on any given issue.

So Moses argues with God and dissuades Him from destroying the people for their “stiff-neckedness”, something one would have thought God had learned by now. It shows that Moses is the more rational of the two, reminding God that all His work to date would be for naught, and worse yet, he would look pretty weak and puny to non-Hebrews if in the end, he just mashed his sculpture into a ball and started over again.

Literalists of course, ignore all the strange and contradictory conclusions to be drawn here. Historically a lot of them used to (and perhaps still do) tsk, tsk, at the Catholic church for its use of statues of saints, calling it idol worship. One of course often misses the plank in one’s own eye when busy pointing out the planks in other people’s.

There are so many problems with concluding that the Bible is the “word of God” in a literal fashion. Least of which is that none of the fundamentalist crowd will ever answer the questions. They are quick to point out ( having matured no doubt) that they don’t claim that God literally “wrote” the bible, but only that he caused the writers to write down “in their own words” all that he desired humanity to know and nothing he did not want them to know.  Since they have pointed this out, I think it only fair to answer, “well why?”

Why what, you ask? Well, if God “used” people to write “in their own words” my question would be why would he do that? A God who can inhabit a burning bush, cause tablets to magically contain the ten commandments, part waters, create plagues of locusts, bring forth water from a rock, can surely manage to make a book of instruction can’t He? So what is the point of using these intermediaries?

Well, the answer begs the question. It’s just a not very logical way of explaining why God didn’t just start with one, and go through a list of commands. He did it once, so I guess he could make a longer list right? It explains why the Bible doesn’t read very God-like. Rather of course, than just simply state the truth–men (maybe women but we don’t know) wrote it.

My friend, Dr. James McGrath from Butler, said it thusly:

“People spoke it, others wrote it, still others copied it, still others collected the writings together, still others elevated the collection to the level of Scripture, others claimed that collection to be the Word of God, then the words of God. And that doesn’t “settle it.” The Bible tells me so.

So to claim that it does settle it, under the fundamentalist adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”, suggests to me somebody is busy sculpting that calf again.

Churches can become calves too. I’m afraid that given enough time, almost all of them do. The church becomes THE thing. Certainly true of the Roman church, where rules and rules upon rules tell every Catholic what to do and when. They’ve relieved a bit of that, given the falling numbers, but there is still plenty of it. The Roman church formed from a winning of the battle of orthodoxy. But it didn’t go away. It erupted full force during the Reformation. It continues today. Most every church is formed around the belief that only they have the “true” understanding. That human hubris  sounds pretty darn calfish to me.

Then of course there is the infighting within the denomination. Who is a heretic? Who is a real prophet, seer, Guru? What is right teaching, wrong? Churches split nowadays over gay rights even suing each other over the very physical structures. People vie for personal power within the institution. People steal from the coffers in the name of something or other that somehow or other they justify as being “Godly”.  Your preacher “needs” to live in splendor given that he is “sweatin’ for Jesus” and you have no idea how stressful that is with the powers of Satan working so feverishly at every moment.

All that power, so necessary to “rightly lead” is a calf for sure awaiting its gilt covering.

We can get real personal and find that calf growing in our garage with that car that is oh so essential “given my long commute”, or that state of the art entertainment center, because after working so hard for the Lord, I just got to unwind! The calf grows in our relationships as we struggle to be in control, and form our partner into what works for us, draped in a facade of “what is the right way” to be a couple.

We are a stiff-necked people. Until we stop using the poor Israelites to teach a story to OTHERS about their lack of piety, well, we will continue that tradition. It’s all about your own calves. They surround you and me.

Is it time to melt down a few?

Simplify. Quiet down.

Find your real God.

She’s waiting.

Is That Hubris or What?

A few nights ago we watched a movie called “Creation” which focused on the life of Charles Darwin in the years leading up to his epic book. If the portrayal was accurate, Darwin agonized over writing the book, in part because he knew it would be seen by some as a direct challenge to God’s existence.

Darwin himself was unsure of what his findings meant. He was tortured by the possibility that it did indeed mean, as some of his more “enlightened” friends suggested, the “death of God.” This played heavily on his mind since his wife was a firm believer whose sensibilities he had no desire to harm.

Obviously we know that he did write “Origins of Life” and it did set off the firestorm he expected.

What is ironic to me is that as I watched, I once again realized that the atheist and the fundamentalist are but two sides of the same coin.

The atheist says, my senses and mind cannot betray me. The bible is untrue, God is dead. The fundamentalist says, my bible is true, God is true, my senses and mind betray me.

I find both positions utter hubris. Both claim man’s stellar reasoning to be the apex of existence. The atheist does this quite openly, proclaiming that the universe is utterly knowable by the human mind, and indeed all things are knowable. There is thus no need for a supreme being who guides and orchestrates life. We came to be quite naturally, and the “sky is the limit” in so far as the future is concerned.

The fundamentalist hides her hubris. Although giving lip service to a superior being, it is one that is defined by the fundamentalist. It is infamously contained within the pages of a book, and is self-defined by that fundamentalist.

Both agree, that both evolution and God cannot be true. Both, in utter arrogance chose one side or the other because they, in their superior believing minds, believe that their constructs of God are unquestionably right.

Yet there is another way, and a way that I would argue is the way of the true believer. Confronted with Darwin’s findings, this person recognizes that we must be willing to trust in our senses and the abilities of our minds, otherwise life is simply chaos. There is no meaning at all if life is reduced to haphazard occurences that follow no “rules.”

Yet, learning is an ongoing proposition. We learn and adapt. We learn and we change. We learn and we discard, replace, and revise. That is the way of human history.

So no learning is sacrosanct. And the true believer quickly realizes that this must apply to both the bible and her conceptions regarding God. Confronted with the apparent paradox of Darwin and the Bible, she recognizes that she must delve more deeply into the mystery of sacred text. She must learn of its human origin and the circumstances. She must place the book against the ongoing discoveries of history and find the points of mesh and tension.

Most assuredly, the true believer realizes that if God is God, then we are in a process of learning to understand that God, and that perhaps it is not possible to do so fully in life. The Bible becomes then a text of others efforts to understand God and the reflections of their meditations. Those are our guides as we pursue God in our own ways.

The true believer thus concludes that whenever there is an apparent confrontation between God and science, that it is only appearances. It only goes to show us that we still have not uncovered the glory of God in its fullness. For there is nothing in human experience that can be in conflict with God.

Recognizing our own fallible powers of reasoning is the first step in truly beginning to see our Creator. For only by being totally open to all the possibilities, are we available to be guided by God’s grace. The atheist and fundamentalist are never open, they have already tied God up in a nice box with appropriate ribbons and bowsturning the Godhead into either a child’s toy or an individual caricature of their own making.

I always find it so ironic. Those two groups, whose greatest vitriol is reserved for each other, have more in common that all the rest.


%d bloggers like this: