Sunday, August 22, 2010

God as Being Itself - Creating Heaven or Hell on Earth

As a result of reading Karen Armstrong's A Case For God, I am coming to envision God more and more, not so much as A Being, but as Being Itself. In my previous post, I examined some of the differences in envisioning God as A Being and envisioning God as Being, and I noted that envisioning God as Being has these three consequences.

  • God cannot be contained, described, or defined, because Being lies beyond the capacity of logical language.
  • Our ideas about God cannot be said to be right or wrong, because seemingly different ideas about God often point to a deeper truth.
  • We experience God, not through correct belief (which cannot be determined anyway), but through the practice of compassion and through ritual.

In this post, I will examine an additional - and very important - consequence of envisioning God as Being:

As particular beings - created in the image and likeness of God, or Being - we participate in Being Itself. This means that we have a vast capacity to create. God, or Being, will not dictate or limit how we use this vast creative capacity. Therefore, we do truly have the capacity to create Heaven or Hell on Earth.

People sometimes use horrific human creations, such as the concentration camps of Hitler's Third Reich, as evidence that there is no God. In the face of such horror, God seems to make no sense. God is said to be all-powerful and all-loving. But if God is all-powerful, then the fact that God did not prevent Hitler's cruelty shows that God is not all-loving, for an all-loving God would most certainly have used God's infinite power to prevent such suffering. If God is all-loving, then the fact that God did not prevent Hitler's cruelty shows that God is not all-powerful, for an all-powerful God would most certainly have shown God's infinite love for Hitler's victims by preventing their excruciating pain. Conclusion: There is no God.

However, if we understand God as Being Itself, I think we can see this differently.

First, I think it is important to understand that Being is vastly creative and that, as particular beings, we share in this vast capacity to create. Second, I think it is important to understand that this vastness encompasses good and evil. We can create vastly for good as well as vastly for evil - as we choose.

Now - why would God, or Being, not limit our capacity to create for evil? Evil is so destructive and causes such terrible suffering. Why wouldn't God, or Being, simply prevent this?

I believe that God, or Being, does not limit our capacity to create for evil because any limitation of our creativity would diminish our creative capacity as a whole. You cannot limit the capacity to create for evil without diminishing the capacity to create period.

Observing the way the world works, I see that God, or Being, is not about limiting but about choosing and expanding. It is clear that we have choice - people can and do choose to act for good, and people can and do choose to act for evil. It is clear that acting expands our capacity to act - the more we exercise a particular capacity, the more we expand that capacity. We expand our creative capacity by using it, and we choose in which direction to use it, for good or for evil. We simply HAVE this capacity - and God, or Being, is not going to limit us.

We really can, if we choose to, create Hell on Earth. We have the vast creative capacity to do so. Hitler and his Gestapo did. Karen Armstrong points out the similarities between our common depiction of Hell and the concentration camps of the Third Reich. People packed like sardines into railroad cars without food, water, or sanitation for their long trip to the equally-packed concentration camp. Brutal and meaningless labor under the all-seeing eyes of the wrathful guards. Extreme deprivation. Cruel and dehumanizing medical experiments. Fiery ovens igniting gas chambers of death. Rageful yelling of overseers and terrified screaming of victims. Hopelessness and despair. Human beings created a heartless machinery that would destroy all misfits (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the physically disabled, the mentally impaired) and support only productive and efficient Aryans.

On the other hand, we really can, if we choose to, create Heaven on Earth. We have the vast creative capacity to do so.

Now - let us consider this question: Why is it that we want God to limit our capacity to create for evil?

I think I know at least part of the answer. First, we see ourselves as separate from each other to a greater extent than is probably true. We see Hitler and his cronies making decisions and acting in ways that caused horrible suffering to others. Second - as we see the individual, Hitler, aided by his individual henchmen, hurting innocent people - we believe that an all-powerful, all-loving, and all-parental God should never allow this.

First, let us consider the question of individuality. I think we have a paradox here, and perhaps a deeper truth that underlies the paradox. On the one hand, Hitler is an individual and is responsible for his choices. So is each of Hitler's henchmen. Each of these individuals did make choices that inflicted terrible suffering on millions of other individuals. On the other hand, Hitler would never have risen to power if the wider society had not permitted it and if the collective mindset had not in some way supported Hitler's ideas. Hitler and his henchmen acted as individuals AND as members of a society that allowed them to do what they did. Both points are true. Perhaps we can say that the fact that Hitler and his henchmen could create what they did points to something that deeply needs to be healed in our collective soul.

Second, let us consider the idea of the all-parental God. Perhaps God isn't the all-encompassing parent we often envision. What if God shares Being with us and expects us to participate actively in Being? What if we are the ones to prevent the cruelty of Hitler and his henchmen? What if we are responsible for the way our creative capacity gets exercised on Earth? What if it is up to us to say and enact a resounding NO to Hitler?

We would like to see God do this or that to limit our capacity for evil, yet we ourselves have the capacity for self-limitation through our choices. We can choose to avoid and to stop evil (creating suffering) and choose to enact good (creating beauty). Observing the way the world works, it seems clear to me that God, or Being, isn't going to do what we have the capacity to do ourselves through our own participation in Being.

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