All writing is an act of faith. I come from a long line of dead people and bar-room prophets, all saying the same things. We’re going to hell in a handcart. We’ve had the fall of the Berlin Wall and Francis Fukuyama proposing The End of History. Karen Armstrong posits The Death of God. The time frame is opaque. But in places like Britain it seems more clear-cut, less than fourteen percent of people attend regular worship (Anglican or otherwise) and that number is in free-fall. But in the dis-United States, Armstrong suggests ninety-nine percent still believe in God.
I want you to engage in a thought experiment in which Jerry Falwell (junior) urges a coalition of Christian evangelists and their members to get behind a known racist, misogynist, sex pest, thief and bully-boy of children and the poor who worships money. They get together to praise God and to get him elected as the most powerful man on the planet. Money, is named and shamed, in the Christian bible as a false idol as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians shows. If such a person did exist, even on this side of the Atlantic, his close friends and advisors would also worship money. No such idolaters exist, I just made them up and if they did I’d give those moron’s morons hoofs and long pointy tails and funny hair. I’d quote John Milton’s Paradise Lost and suggest no good acts can exist without the fall of man and being tested. But I’m sure if such monsters did exist they’d be full of Jesus Christ’s love and compassion for others by the end of all things. I’ve not got that long. Not many folk have.
I’ll not take you to the end of time, but to the end of a book few will bother to read and our understanding can only be partial.
Human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation; they will fill the vacuum by creating a new focus of meaning. The idols of fundamentalism are not good substitutes for God, if we are to create a vibrant new faith for the twenty-first century, we should perhaps ponder the history of God for some lessons and warnings.
There were some stories I was familiar with. Some not. I believe the Prophet Muhammad was a prophet in the same way that Jesus, Abraham and Moses were. I like Muhammad’s idea the surrender is a prerequisite for prayer. Humility is the beginning of self-knowledge. In the Roman Catholic faith into which I was born this is expressed in the Canticle of Mary, The Magnificat,
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
Ineffable God is captured in the poetry not of the head, but the heart. Where there is no poetry, there is no God. All the rest are just empty words.
Isaac Luria’s Hebrew God empties himself in order to make space for creation. Writing is a bit like that. Divine sparks flickering into life. Our perception of God is always flawed and we constantly re-make him in our image. Them and Us. I always side with the Them. I’m in the autumn of life and am grateful to have had a life. I don’t know if there’s a god and I don’t care that much. When we die I imagine all our neurons firing off in one last ecstasy of hurrah. I won’t be waiting for my resurrection. For many that would make me an atheist or agnostic. Fundamentalists strip the branches of life bare to whip themselves. God is beyond all that. A History of God is a timely reminder, time is precious. Pay attention. Time is now. Don’t waste it, whatever your faith or doubt. Amen to us all.