The God Dilemma

WARNING: Here be dragons! If you are at all religious in the customary Western sense, this may insult or at the very least offend you. Proceed at your own risk if the mere mention of Richard Dawkins doesn’t send you screaming for the exit.

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A few years ago, preeminent atheist Richard Dawkins wrote a book titled The God Delusion in which he systematically savaged all forms of religious belief, both mainstream and unconventional. In her 1984 book, The Secrets of the Tarot: Origins, History and Symbolism,* Barbara Walker meticulously enumerated the barbaric atrocities visited upon pagan unbelievers by ruthless, fanatical “Christian soldiers” in their relentless zeal to establish the patriarchal Church as the “One True Faith” in Western civilization (a goal they achieved through persistent persecution, mainly with the sword and the stake), at least until the rise of Islam. These bloodbaths subvert the vision of a “loving and merciful (albeit just) God” promoted by many orthodox Christian thinkers and writers; apparently God’s benedictions were reserved for the converted, everyone else had to take their lumps. As they say in Maine, “You can’t theyuh from heayuh ” when trying to reconcile these diametrically opposite positions. For my part, I’m a “Spinozan sympathizer,” not to the point of starry-eyed “We Are All One” mysticism but certainly in the theological ballpark. To wit, in my spiritual weltanshauung any “object of deification” could never be an anthropomorphic (or, in fewer syllables, personified) one, regardless of creed. It smacks too much of “ecclesiastical hero-worship” for my taste. After all, they put their (metaphorical) “pants on the same way I do . . .” Oh, wait, they wore robes!

I’ve long held that Christian mythology just doesn’t hold water. If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, why did He (or She or It) have to send a surrogate to experience the pain of corporeal existence? An all-knowing God embodies every kind of awareness, from the most sublime to the most vile, and it doesn’t make sense that <Divine pronoun of choice> would be uninformed about anything whatsoever. If one fully accepts the religious dogma, God invented the sensory apparatus and the ability to feel both physical and mental pain as well as pleasure, and to imply a lack of knowledge about its effects, thus necessitating a fleshly “descent into matter” to experience what it’s like, is to suggest that God is less than perfectly omniscient. (Of course, it could be convincingly asserted that God’s manifestation in physical form – for the same rather specious purpose of “acquiring experience” – occurred at Creation with Adam and Eve and didn’t wait for the emergence of “Christ-consciousness.”)

The notion of “original sin” is equally defective. Gimme a break here – What sin? Eastern theology holds that an individual is born perfect, and any choices made after birth will either burnish that state of excellence or degrade it. I find it simply irrational (not to mention abhorrent) to believe that a blameless infant has some kind of non-karmic debt to pay due to a hypothetical (and probably allegorical) event several millennia ago. Similarly, the idea of “sainthood” as expressing the unalloyed pinnacle of virtue leaves me cold; I suppose, though, that “saint” is easier to remember and say than “paragon” or “exemplar.” The fault – as with the Christian code of ethics – lies not in the concept itself but in the elaboration and embellishment of it. Many canonized pietists were humble monks in life but the posthumous esteem they are accorded by the clergy seems to be extravagant.

When I finally realized that all experience is self-referential (as Aleister Crowley said “Every Man and Woman is a Star”) I stopped looking outside myself for meaning and concentrated on finding it within. When asked if I’m a “man of faith,” I’m tempted to reply tartly “No, I’m a Hermetic Qabalist” – a “man of certainty” in the existence of an invisible ladder of progressively more attenuated states of being, or more poetically, an “Oz-like overworld” of magical potential (technically, the “astral plane” and beyond) whether or not it has a Resident Wizard at the helm (although it could be said there are four at the gateway – “Elemental Kings,” that is).

The macrocosm has to be personally translated into terms comprehensible to our own sense of reality in order for it to be useful in our quest for self-mastery; nobody else can “live it” for us. That which is larger than ourselves doesn’t require faith to embrace it, just the wisdom to recognize it when we see it and react appropriately. (As Bob Dylan sang in Highway 61 Revisited about God’s warning to Abraham, “You can do what you want, Abe, but/The next time you see me comin’, you better run!”). The assumption of a personal deity looks to me like a “band-aid fix” for our own lack of an on-board philosophical or moral compass. The aphorism “Let go and let God” brings to mind the old hippie accusation: “That’s a cop-out, man.” Why not step up to the plate and take your own swing at metaphysical enlightenment rather then just sitting in the stands and waiting passively for the “Celestial Hot-Dog Vendor” (priesthood by any other name) to stroll up and satisfy your hunger for pious “fast food.”

* I never fully appreciated just how much pagan symbolism and ritual practice was pilfered by the early Christian church for its own ends; talk about “cultural appropriation” on a breathtaking scale!

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