If you know me, and let’s face it, if you’re reading this you probably do because my audience is pretty small, you probably know it is my nature to question things. Everything. Even things that should seem simple to most people. Wash the counter with soap and water? Why? Is the cleaning solution we use on just about everything else in the entire place not good enough for this job? Will it damage the marble? Is it because the people that sold us the counters said to do it that way? Did they say that because that’s how it’s really supposed to be cleaned or did they say that as an example of how easy it is to clean it?
“Cleans up easy with just soap and water!”
Understand that it isn’t the idea of the soap and water cleaning method I really care about. It is the firm belief that it must be done this way. I’ll do it that way. I mean, whatever, it’s my job and that’s the rule, I just like knowing why something is.
I think the Parable of the Pot Roast applies here:
A recently married man is watching as his wife prepares for them a fine pot roast. Before putting the meat in the pan he notices she first cuts about an inch off of either end of the roast. This puzzles the man.
“Why did you cut the ends off the meat like that?” he asks.
“Because that’s how you cook a pot roast,” she replies.
Now, he’s never heard this before and after pressing her about it he gets her to finally admit that it’s just the way she learned to do it from her mother. The issue passes until one day, at a family gathering, the man remembers the conversation and, his curiosity still unsatisfied, decides to ask his mother-in-law about it.
“She always cuts the ends off of the roast and she told me that she does it that way because you taught her to,” he says.
“Of course, that’s how you cook a pot roast,” she replies.
“I’ve never heard of that before. Where did you learn it?” he asks.
“It’s the proper way to do it. It’s how my mother taught me,” she says.
“Okay, then I guess we’ll go ask her, then.”
As a group the man, his wife, and her mother walk to the family room where his wife’s grandmother is doing her knitting.
“Grandma,” the wife says, “I always cut off the ends of my roast before putting it in the oven because that’s how Mom taught me to do it, and she says she does it because that’s how you taught her to do it.”
Grandma puts down her knitting and looks at her daughter and says, “You still cut the ends off the roast? Why on earth would you do that?”
“Because,” the mother replies, “that’s how you told me to do it!”
Grandma laughs and slaps her knee, “Yes, but I did that because all we had was that dinky little pan during the depression and the roast was too big to fit in it. You had to trim it a bit so it would go in. Sounds like you’ve been wasting meat!”
Now, a parable is just a story used to illustrate a point. The story doesn’t have to be true, it just has to get the point across. In this case the point is that doing something a certain way just because you were told to do it that way doesn’t mean that’s how a thing has to be done and sometimes the status quo exists for no other reason than that no one inside the status quo ever thought to question it. I am the guy that asks the questions, even if they seem trivial. I call it my curiosity complex.
I do this because my curiosity is an unrelenting ravenous beast inside my head that can never be satisfied no matter how much I feed it. This has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the course of my life. Being a child under the power of impatient and ego-driven authority figures with an inflated sense of their own position put me in a situation where this curiosity was more often than not rewarded with anger and even violence. The overall message was clear. Do not question. Obey.
I got the message. I just chose to ignore it. I’m sure this was frustrating for those sending the message, but I think that’s largely because they thought it was the right message. I myself did not. I thought it was the opposite of the right message and I still do. If we don’t question, we don’t get answers. Ignorance is bliss they say, and I guess that might be true for some people, but for me the idea of living a life of ignorance is abhorrent. For all that I complain about the direction my life took after my family moved away from Kentucky in the 1980’s, I also view that move as being essential to delivering me to a place where I could start to question things properly. Even if those questions got me in trouble most of the time.
One thing in my life that it was almost entirely taboo to question was God. The Christian God is assumed to be perfect. Questioning God is a sin. You do not question the Creator. This of course always led me to my second great question that constantly got me into trouble which was “why not?”
The answer to that question as it pertains to God was always pretty much the same: Because man cannot hope to understand the nature of God. You’re just not even supposed to try because apparently it makes God angry. I always took that view poorly. I mean, the God of the Old Testament is a pretty wrathful guy. He’s supposed to be perfect love and all that and perfect love doesn’t have anger. It’s questions like these, and their lack of real answers that eventually led me to turning away from religion as a whole. Without answers to fundamental questions such as these I just couldn’t believe in it. My curiosity was anathema to blind faith, and blind faith was what was being asked of me. This curiosity is such an integral part of me that to deny it was to deny my very being and since my being is, to me, real and tangible and the idea of God that I was sold was not, I set God aside.
Now, this is all a gross oversimplification of a long, arduous, and painful process but this is all already a lot of words for you to read, so I have to cut it down to the bare bones as best I can.
I began to take a different view of the Bible after this. I looked at it not as the perfect Word of God (because it isn’t) but instead as the narrative created by man’s imperfect understanding of the nature of God. It was not Truth. It was an interpretation of Truth. Just a single interpretation put together by men (in this case the Council of Nicea) and sold as truth. It’s probably one of the most successful marketing jobs of all time.
Now, in any decent story, all things serve the narrative and the Bible is, regardless of whatever else, a decent story. There’s some genuinely good stuff in there whether you believe it to be what it is sold as or not. Most of it is recycled from earlier narratives, but that fact doesn’t make the information less valuable. If anything it reinforces the value. Information that remains good across multiple systems is good information. The Golden Rule is a fine example of this. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Good advice.
So now let’s look at the narrative. Old Testament God. What an asshole. There’s not an atheist alive who will not gleefully tell you of all the horrible things Old Testament God did people. Cursing all humanity for the disobedience in the Garden, telling Abraham to kill Isaac, the slaughter of children during the Exodus, that time he sent a bear to kill some kids for making fun of Elisha’s bald heald, the list goes on really. If God is our father and he loves us, why does he mistreat us so? It’s a valid question, I think. One I asked myself many times. If you really look at it from a parent/child dynamic, God seems to be an abusive authoritarian who demands strict obedience.
Much like the people in authority over me when I was a child.
So I ask myself, if God is perfect why all of this obvious imperfection? A parent that demands love at the cost of a child’s sense of safety and security is not a good parent. I don’t think anyone will argue with me on this. Removed from his godhood, God is not a very good dad. Plain and simple.
Why was I treated the way I was when I was young? Well, I think a large part of it had to do with a certain level of that sort of thing being considered normal by the people who were doing it, because that’s mostly how it was for them when they were in my shoes. They were, in a way, just trimming off the ends of the roast because that’s how they were taught to do it.
A second reason, and the one we’re going to focus on here because it’s most relevant to the conversation is that they didn’t understand me. They had imperfect knowledge of a strange child that did not fit into their conventional views of what children should be. Because they had no experience with this thing that I was, they reacted to it in the only way they knew how. This was all done as a misguided attempt to somehow “fix” me, though I didn’t need fixing. I just needed them to understand my experience as a consciousness separate from themselves.
Applying this idea to the question of God we see clearly from the narrative that God had the same problem. God was not human. He did not understand us. This fact is made clear time and again. We kept doing things that God thought we shouldn’t be doing. He even killed us and started over from scratch because of it with the Great Flood and it was the motivating factor in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
From this we can only take that God is not perfect. He just thinks he is. That’s okay. From his perspective, he was. He was always God, as far as we know. We don’t know the nature of God’s existence because we don’t share the experience (at least not on this level of reality) that God is having. Here’s the thing though: the opposite is also true. This is something that you can’t ever really talk about inside of Faith because it’s considered taboo. As We are imperfect in our understanding of Him, He is also imperfect in His understanding of Us. We can barely understand each other when it comes down to it.
I also think God admits this himself.
Not directly of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother typing all this out. It’s not an overtly obvious admission but I think it is summed up pretty succinctly by John 3:16, which almost everyone is at least passingly familiar with. In case you aren’t though, it states:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Which is of course not entirely what happened. I think most people buy into the idea that the Son, Jesus Christ, was God incarnate. That is to say that God stepped down from his place in heaven and, for a time, became one of us. My view of this narrative is that He did this for a reason. It’s actually the reason everyone says it is, so he could “forgive” us, but it ignores everything I’ve said above. He did it because it was the only way he could begin to understand us. God, in a fit of frustration, finally understood that He didn’t understand. All the behavior that We kept exhibiting that He saw as bad just kept coming back, no matter what He did. He couldn’t figure out why so He did the only thing He could think of. He separated out His Self from His godhood and came down to look around.
We don’t know what happened during a good portion of the life of Jesus. The narrative doesn’t include that so we can only speculate. There are some that believe he went off to distant places where great thinkers and contemplaters resided and learned their wisdom. This makes a certain amount of sense. This is where the parts of Jesus’ message that are just old systems rehashed come in.
That time was also probably a tribulation for him. Being a teenager isn’t always easy and even young adulthood can suck a lot. So we don’t see him again till he’s thirty-three years old and seems wise beyond reckoning. Enlightened. He was also pretty vague on actually being the “Son of God” and most often referred to himself as the Son of Man. Which I think was his way of saying “I’m just a dude, like you. Not any better, not any worse. Everything that I am, you can also be too.”
He says a lot of that sort of thing, actually. Believers have a tendency to get caught up on his “sacrifice” and turn the whole thing into a kind of weird death cult. This expresses itself through constant elevation of the crucifix as a symbol of the man. Which I always found interesting, but is a different thing than what I’m talking about.
God’s forgiveness of mankind comes from the fact that once he came down and walked a mile in our shoes, he finally understood where we were coming from. So full of anxiety and fear for our very survival, cut off from each other in the loneliest way imaginable. Only able to perceive the entirety of creation through our limited senses and without knowledge of the reality of what lies beyond that which waits for all of us at the end of our journey, Death.
Now, it can be argued that since Jesus knew he was God, knew what would occur once he died, he didn’t really get the full experience. I think that’s fair. He came as close as he could though and chose for himself a particularly gruesome end to try to make up for it and spent the whole narrative trying to reassure people that what he knew about what lies beyond the veil was true. That it would be okay. That it’s not as scary as all that so we need to just calm down and love each other and get where we’re going with as little strife and pain as possible.
So Jesus Christ is simply God’s admission that he wasn’t a good parent and His way of trying to be a better one. This view is really the only way I can make sense of it all. Perhaps it’s colored by my life experiences and I’m just projecting, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case. It honestly explains what seems to be a sudden shift in God’s attitude towards mankind that I see get brought up by many skeptics.
I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything though. This mostly just me thinking out loud.