Three ways of thinking about God

First Version (I speak from experience)

Heaven is somewhere up above. God and Jesus have thrones, and Jesus’ throne is to the right of God’s throne. Heavenly beings stand before these thrones 24 hours a day for all eternity singing praises to God and Jesus. God and Jesus demand that we praise them, but it only counts if we want to do it. Here’s a list of what you need to do to get into heaven: praise God and Jesus everyday; do good works; get baptized by immersion (today if possible); go to a Church of Christ every Sunday; ask God to forgive you your sins throughout the day so you won’t die with any of them unforgiven. If you want to go to hell, here’s how you can do that. Die while masturbating; play musical instruments in church; become a liberal; get sprinkled rather than immersed; use the wrong number of glasses during communion; let women talk in church (including announcements and Sunday school); get divorced and remarry.

Hell is somewhere below, maybe at the middle of the earth. It’s like a big lake, only instead of being blue with water, it’s red with fire, and people writhe in this fire forever and ever, and during every second of that time, the fire is hurting them a trillion times worse than anything on earth ever hurt anyone. If you’re in heaven, you will be a trillion times happier than anyone on earth ever was, and you can even look down and see the people in hell, and they can look up and see you. Almost everyone you ever knew will be in hell, but heaven will be so wonderful that even the sight of your loved ones writhing in agony won’t diminish your joy.

Second Version (I use my own words to report what I have read and heard)

God is of another dimension, and can’t be captured within the language of this dimension, but Jesus demonstrated what our own lives could be like if we lived in constant communion with God. God can be sensed in the silence between words well spoken, or glimpsed through stories, many of which were first told around Bronze Age campfires. God sometimes shines on us through figures of speech that can only hint at his reality. When we feel love, we feel Gods presence. When we speak truth with wisdom, we give expression to the faintest whisper of God’s voice. When we experience wonder, we inhale the barest fragrance of God’s intelligence. 

God is pure joy. God is pure love. God is everything good rolled into a three-letter word. God is the ground of our being. God is that for which even atheists hunger but have no name. Within God we exist, yet God need not be conceived as all-wise, or all-powerful, or even as a conscious entity. God can simply be defined as the totality of the good that exists within every one of us, or even as the evolutionary potential of our species. We look for God in flowers; we hear God in music; we see God’s eyes looking back at us through the eyes of other people. We all came from God, and we will all return to God. Hell only exists on earth. Heaven is an awakening to universal oneness.

Third version (Again, I speak from experience)

Religion is all made up. Most people know down deep that this is true, which is why they only revere people who heard God’s voice in ancient times, while admitting that modern-day people who hear God are insane. Without God, there would be no holy wars; no genital mutilations; no prosperity gospel; no anti-science bias in education; no tax-exempt churches; no denial of global warming; no blaming sin for hurricanes and school shootings; and no soccer stadiums filled with 10,000 men who have come to watch another man decapitate a woman.

Liberal believers aren’t as bad as other believers because their God only exists as a mile-high stack of harmless metaphors. Unfortunately, their rejection of evidence and reason in matters of faith” still puts them on the side of ignorance and superstition. When the religious right persecutes atheists for trying to keep America from becoming a theocracy, religious liberals support the persecutors by remaining silent. Fortunately, 20% of Americans no longer have any religious affiliation, and their number is growing rapidly. Most of these people still believe in what they call something, but at least they’re not trying to make their beliefs into laws

John Spong (pictured) is a liberal Christian whose writings I have read. His photo is by Scott Griessel. 


middle child said...

Snow, don't know what to say. That's 3 crazy-ass definitions of Christ. Each one contains a small portion of truth. But if that's what you have been told or have learned....I can see your confusion. Don't let others shove their beliefs down your throat. Try to empty your mind from your upbringing. Put away your anger. If you are searching and looking for the Bible, asking God for wisdom and understanding. Peace.

Strayer said...

You laid it out clearly. Thank you.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've been reading some of Spong's stuff recently.

Snowbrush said...

"If you are searching and looking for the Bible, asking God for wisdom and understanding."

Oh, will that do it, do you think? It was reading the Bible that annihilated my belief, at least in the God of the Bible, in the first place, and I was only eleven. I must say that, as to following the Biblical God, whether in spirit or in letter, the fundamentalists and the Catholics with their hard-assed, mean-spirited viciousness, do it best. Christ gave some glimmer of relief from that vision of God, yet he still spoke of dividing the sheep from goats, he had no patience with anyone who didn't believe everything he said three minutes after they met him, and believed that everyone was either for him or against him (as did George W Bush, come to think of it). In other words, what Christ stood for was continued sectarianism of the sort that leads to oppression and war, and that is just what Christianity has given us.

Thank you, Strayer.

Charles, why are you reading Spong, and what do you think of him? I think he's pretty sharp until he gets to the god that he himself believes in, and then the waters become so murky that I find it hard to make heads or tails out of the man.

Phoenix said...

I definitely subscribe to the second version of how to think about God. God is simply the expression of good in ours and others lives (is my opinion), and it's made me happy to think of God as loving instead of punishing or vindictive.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays, Snow.

Elephant's Child said...

Some of our politicians are perfectly able to deny global warming. Sadly, I don't think that a fondness for 'snuff movies' or by extension for viewing decapitation as entertainment is limited to the religious. Despite those small quibbles, I still fall firmly into Camp Number Three. It may be that because I was brought up without religion I have escaped the ambivalence that many people seem to struggle with.

The Bipolar Diva said...


The Bipolar Diva said...

I think Middle Child said it perfectly.

angela said...

You know I'd really rather be in hell with the sinners, the bunch up in heaven sound really boring.

Snowbrush said...

"it's made me happy to think of God as loving instead of punishing or vindictive."

I like the way you put that.

'"You know I'd really rather be in hell with the sinners, the bunch up in heaven sound really boring."

When you grow up with that version of God, you tend to want really bad, not so much to get to heaven (which really doesn't sound like fun), but to avoid hell (which most definitely sounds miserable even to a small child). Any church that sends its smallest members home so terrified that they hide under the bed is, in effect, a child abuse co-operative, and that's what I grew up in.

"Some of our politicians are perfectly able to deny global warming."

Are any of them not openly religious? I ask this because I believe that the guys who say that global warming isn't happening are invariably the evolution-deniers, the school prayer supporters, the warlovers, and etc. The religious right and the religious right speak as one.

"...I don't think that a fondness for 'snuff movies' or by extension for viewing decapitation as entertainment is limited to the religious."

Me either, but I was referring to the death penalty as it is given for religious sins, and to the devoutly religious nations that consider the witnessing of such events to constitute religious instruction. Religion--at its worse--can rise to the level of pathology that will always and everywhere exist among individuals, and it will enshrine that pathology as the Word of God. When that happens the whole nation is just screwed, and I think that defines much of the Middle East, and when I hear our own Christian fundamentalist, evangelical, and Catholic candidates and clergymen talk, they sound like they want to take America down a similar road based upon their unfathomable assumption that a theocracy will work out just fine in America because, gosh-darn, we're all Christians instead of heathens. I think that, at bottom, they simply want to hold their boots atop people's throats.

Snowbrush said...

Middle Child: "If you are searching and looking for the Bible, asking God for wisdom and understanding."

Me: "Oh, will that do it, do you think?"

That was tactless, and I apologize. When I hear people praise the Bible, I'm confounded as to what it is that they like about it. I can see some good in the Bible, what with its often interesting stories, it's ancient and often unusual ways of looking at the world, and the occasional uplifting sentiment. However, the actions that are attributed to God in the Bible are often appallingly evil, and I can even find a great deal about Jesus that troubles me. So, as for viewing the Bible as a source of wisdom, beauty, comfort, inspiration, I believe that its failures far outweigh its virtues.

rhymeswithplague said...

"The religious right and the religious right speak as one."

Say what?

Snowbrush said...

Me: "The religious right and the religious right speak as one."

Rhymes: "Say what?"

It's true, you must admit, although I meant one of those rights to be the political right.

klahanie said...

Hey Snowbrush,

Personally, I relate to the third version. Religion is a convenient crutch and people have been known to use their religious views to justify hypocritical actions towards others.

Perhaps, mankind invented religion because he could not get his head around the concept that there wasn't actually an all seeing, all knowing entity to watch over and apparently would protect us. I think religion is based on fear. And cynically, based on a money making scheme to target those who need to believe. Yes indeed, a ticket to heaven for only a thousand US dollars.

Having expressed that, I think there maybe a possibility that all things are a formation of a god aura. All things, whether it be a chair, a dog, a cat, or even a human, has a form of awareness.

Before I ramble on any further, I shall now travel to another dimension.

As per usual, your articles are emotive. I'm sorry if my reply makes little sense. My last two brain cells are having a heck of a struggle....


lotta joy said...

I am ecstatic to see two of my blogging friends here: Klahanie and Stephen. Great minds think alike and great minds find their way to you, Snow.

My sister once asked her minister how she could possibly be happy in heaven if some of her family members weren't there.

His precise and knowledgeable answer was: "Because in heaven, God erases all memory you have of your family members who are in hell."

Gee. God is not only kind enough to wipe out our memories of our loved ones writhing in the lake of fire, but he seems to allow a lot of earthly bound ministers to know EXACTLY what the afterlife is.

Elephant's Child said...

You are right - our climate change deniers are also god botherers. I hadn't made the connection. Fortunately, a lot of our politicians are not religious, and quite a number are out there atheists.

Snowbrush said...

"a lot of our politicians are not religious, and quite a number are out there atheists."

The last time openly atheistic elected officials were counted in the US, only five were found, and three of them were local officials, so when I hear about how different it is in Australia, I sure do envy Australians, because you know that the only reason for denying atheists public office is bigotry. Surely, they couldn't do any worse than is already being done with "God's guidance."