Leonard Pitts: Talking to God

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Jul 8, 2013

I was standing in line with God, buying tickets to see “Monsters University.” He’s a big Billy Crystal fan.

“So” I said, “have you heard about these religious atheists?”

God gave me a look. “Is this a joke?” He asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s a story that ran in the Washington Post recently about religion in America. It was fascinating. Turns out 12 percent of those who say they don’t believe in you nevertheless pray. Some of them pray to something they call a ‘universal spirit.’ It also said 18 percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their lives.”

“Really?” said God as the line edged forward. “So where’s this coming from?”

“It was from a Pew study that came out in October. For some reason, the study didn’t get much traction, but the Post story has been making noise all over the Internet. People are blogging about it, tweeting about it.”

“I hadn’t heard,” said God. “My Internet’s been down.”

“So anyway,” I said, “about these religious atheists .?.?.”

“What about them?”

“You don’t think it’s weird? They don’t believe in you, but they pray?”

“To this ‘universal spirit’?” said God.

“Yeah.” We edged forward again.

“Why should that bother me?” asked God. “I am a universal spirit.”

“But it’s hypocritical,” I insisted. “The story even talks about atheists who mimic religious practices, who gather in so-called ‘godless congregations’ on Sundays to, I don’t know, meditate and reflect.”

“This annoys you?” God waggled His fingers at a toddler who was staring at Him.

“A little,” I conceded. “Just seems like they’re trying to have it both ways. Heck, some of them throw hissy fits at any passing mention of you. If I write some innocuous line — ‘Lord, have mercy,’ let’s say — suddenly, I’ve got atheists out the wazoo.”

“Sounds painful,” He said.

“I’m just saying: If you believe, believe. If you don’t, don’t. Make up your mind.”

“You think it’s that simple? It’s not. Faith and doubt do not oppose each other. They define each other, like light and shadow.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s deep.”

“I have my moments,” said God.

We got to the window. “Two for Monsters,” I said. God showed his AARP card and got the senior discount.

“Here’s the thing,” said God as we lined up at the snack counter. “I designed you to seek me, to feel a need for me. Some people — that 12 percent you’re so fired up about — maybe they don’t find me in what you call ‘religion.’ Maybe that means they’re missing something. Or maybe religion is.”

“What if they don’t find you at all?”

“Finding is important,” said God. “But seeking is important, too. Seeking teaches patience, opens your mind, shows you your own limitations. That’s where wisdom begins.”

“But come on,” I said, “‘universal spirit?’ Doesn’t that sound cheesy?”

God shrugged. “I’ve been called worse. Besides, have you seen the things some religious people do, supposedly in my name? They blow things up in the name of God. They stone women in the name of God. They fight in the name of God. They hate in the name of God.”

He looked sad.

“I wish, more often, they would hug in the name of God. Serve in the name of God. Heal in the name of God. Make peace in the name of God. I would like that very much.”

We got to the snack counter. I ordered popcorn and a cherry Icee. “He’ll have water,” said God and when I looked at him, He said, “I gave you good, strong teeth. Why do you want to rot them?”

The kid behind the counter handed the water bottle to God, who handed it to me. “Don’t forget to recycle,” He said. “My oceans are not garbage dumps.”

I sighed. “Yes, universal spirit,” I said.

I was standing in line with God, buying tickets to see “Monsters University.” He’s a big Billy Crystal fan.

“So” I said, “have you heard about these religious atheists?”

God gave me a look. “Is this a joke?” He asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s a story that ran in the Washington Post recently about religion in America. It was fascinating. Turns out 12 percent of those who say they don’t believe in you nevertheless pray. Some of them pray to something they call a ‘universal spirit.’ It also said 18 percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their lives.”

“Really?” said God as the line edged forward. “So where’s this coming from?”

“It was from a Pew study that came out in October. For some reason, the study didn’t get much traction, but the Post story has been making noise all over the Internet. People are blogging about it, tweeting about it.”

“I hadn’t heard,” said God. “My Internet’s been down.”

“So anyway,” I said, “about these religious atheists .?.?.”

“What about them?”

“You don’t think it’s weird? They don’t believe in you, but they pray?”

“To this ‘universal spirit’?” said God.

“Yeah.” We edged forward again.

“Why should that bother me?” asked God. “I am a universal spirit.”

“But it’s hypocritical,” I insisted. “The story even talks about atheists who mimic religious practices, who gather in so-called ‘godless congregations’ on Sundays to, I don’t know, meditate and reflect.”

“This annoys you?” God waggled His fingers at a toddler who was staring at Him.

“A little,” I conceded. “Just seems like they’re trying to have it both ways. Heck, some of them throw hissy fits at any passing mention of you. If I write some innocuous line — ‘Lord, have mercy,’ let’s say — suddenly, I’ve got atheists out the wazoo.”

“Sounds painful,” He said.

“I’m just saying: If you believe, believe. If you don’t, don’t. Make up your mind.”

“You think it’s that simple? It’s not. Faith and doubt do not oppose each other. They define each other, like light and shadow.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s deep.”

“I have my moments,” said God.

We got to the window. “Two for Monsters,” I said. God showed his AARP card and got the senior discount.

“Here’s the thing,” said God as we lined up at the snack counter. “I designed you to seek me, to feel a need for me. Some people — that 12 percent you’re so fired up about — maybe they don’t find me in what you call ‘religion.’ Maybe that means they’re missing something. Or maybe religion is.”

“What if they don’t find you at all?”

“Finding is important,” said God. “But seeking is important, too. Seeking teaches patience, opens your mind, shows you your own limitations. That’s where wisdom begins.”

“But come on,” I said, “‘universal spirit?’ Doesn’t that sound cheesy?”

God shrugged. “I’ve been called worse. Besides, have you seen the things some religious people do, supposedly in my name? They blow things up in the name of God. They stone women in the name of God. They fight in the name of God. They hate in the name of God.”

He looked sad.

“I wish, more often, they would hug in the name of God. Serve in the name of God. Heal in the name of God. Make peace in the name of God. I would like that very much.”

We got to the snack counter. I ordered popcorn and a cherry Icee. “He’ll have water,” said God and when I looked at him, He said, “I gave you good, strong teeth. Why do you want to rot them?”

The kid behind the counter handed the water bottle to God, who handed it to me. “Don’t forget to recycle,” He said. “My oceans are not garbage dumps.”

I sighed. “Yes, universal spirit,” I said.

Comments

Contango

Re: "All are rationalized by man, all are based in reality."

Writing metaphysically here: The "only" tool humankind has developed are metaphors which are several steps removed from reality.

Even science is ultimately based on assumptions and metaphors. We KNOW NOTHING DIRECTLY or with 100% absolute metaphysical certainty.

Quoting Socrates: "I know that I know nothing."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_...

BTW: Outside of the Bible there is NO historical evidence that Jesus even existed.

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

- Seneca

shucks

The Hero Zone--

I'm just wondering -- did you ever go back and read my response to your question about the difference between man and animals?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Sorry I had not but in fairness to our conversation I did and will copy/paste it here.

= = = = = = = = = = =

"I am not sure if you feel that anything I said was sacrilegious as I was advocating people to read various scripture and ask questions and look at the broader picture than what is contained in the stories."
...One question you should probably ask yourself is: "Is this for real?"

"look at the broader picture than what is contained in the stories."
...what broader picture? What's more important than knowing if you're going into the presence of God or into Hell?

Matthew 16:26
New International Version (NIV)

26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Here's the short answer to your animal question:

The primary difference between human beings and animals is that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), while animals are not.

Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/pets...

reply Inappropriate? Alert Us. Dispute Comment Moderation.
4shizzle
SUN, 07/07/2013 - 5:35PM
PS

Ecclesiastes 3:18-21
New Living Translation (NLT)
I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals.
For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die.
So people have no real advantage over the animals.
How meaningless!
Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust.
For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?

= = = = = = = = = =

Admittedly I read each of these and they seem to contradict each other. The first offers a rather straightforward answer but the second submission just went back and stated there is no difference. At least as I read and re-read it. Insight?

In the interest of fairness as I can't expect others to answer questions without being able to supply an answer myself (something I would love to see more of coming out of various leadership positions in society) I will submit my own answer and open it to your critique.

Humans are the only animals that can tell a story. That is our unique gift/ability/mutation.

shucks

The seeming contradiction has a theological answer which an aside from your question of:
"If you don't mind my asking, what do you believe sets humans apart from the other animals?"

According to the Bible:
We ( humans) have a consciousness that survives eternally after the death of our bodies.

Well first , the primary difference between human beings and animals is that humanity is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), while animals are not.

God became a man and came to Earth to save men -- not animals. (1 timothy 1:15)

We are the only "animal" that Jesus died for.

What does the Book of Nod have to say?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

It says essentially the same thing since it, too, is a story that has been told, written, retold, and rewritten. Literacy and imagination are gifts from God bestowed on us that set us apart from every other creature. While we may differ in opinion on the details (you and I, sure, but think of the billions of people on this planet and the various sects of religions), the essence of it is shared.

To bring the focus on baptism, would you say that is essential to being a Christian? If so, do you believe that the sprinkle I got on my head wasn't enough? Some may argue that I needed to be dunked in a tank of water. Others enjoy baptizing the deceased. Or some still call all that amateur and actually go into a local river - or even fly out to the Jordan River - which is one of my favorite scenes from O Brother Where Art Thou by the by. Did you know that that movie was a retelling of The Odyssey?

That fact aside, which way is correct? Or doesn't it matter as long as the intention is followed?

shucks

It says essentially the same thing since it, too, is a story that has been told, written, retold, and rewritten.
.......................................Quote something from the Book of Nod - written by Jay Stephens.
Literacy and imagination are gifts from God bestowed on us that set us apart from every other creature.
....................................... Now you're getting it.
While we may differ in opinion on the details (you and I, sure, but think of the billions of people on this planet and the various sects of religions), the essence of it is shared.
To bring the focus on baptism, would you say that is essential to being a Christian?
.......................................It's not essential to be saved - it's symbolic.
If so, do you believe that the sprinkle I got on my head wasn't enough?
......................................If you mean saved , then no.
Some may argue that I needed to be dunked in a tank of water.
Others enjoy baptizing the deceased.
Or some still call all that amateur and actually go into a local river - or even fly out to the Jordan River - which is one of my favorite scenes from O Brother Where Art Thou by the by.
Did you know that that movie was a retelling of The Odyssey?
That fact aside, which way is correct?
......................................Immersion
Or doesn't it matter as long as the intention is followed?
...................................It is an act of obedience, a public proclamation of faith in Christ and identification with Him.

thinkagain

Essential to being a Christian can be found in John 3:6-7

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, you must be born again.

Being born of the Spirit at the moment of regeneration is not predicated on water baptism, no matter how much water covered one’s body.

In an act of obedience, I was immersed after my new birth, symbolizing the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to newness of life in Christ Jesus. God accepts the believer on the basis of his faith in Christ.

All who have received the second birth are members of the invisible church, united together in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Some atheists point to the existence of so many religions as proof that either you cannot know God or that God simply does not exist.

We should be of one mind on the essentials of the faith, but beyond that there is what I call secondary doctrine.

I’ve found that there really is no single church that has all known truth and teaches it perfectly.

I grant a great deal of latitude in how Christians should worship in a visible church setting.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

"I’ve found that there really is no single church that has all known truth and teaches it perfectly."

Thank you, I wholeheartedly agree with you here! Regardless of one's faith, the answers are always found elsewhere and are extremely intimate and personal to each practitioner. In fact, other beliefs and religions (or at least sects of the same religion) MUST exist in order to better understand what it is you feel comfortable subscribing to. There is no other way to learn and learning is the ultimate form of worship in ANY faith.

Thanks for the input thinkagain and 4shizzle. These conversations are nice and a lot less hair-pulling than others. I appreciate that and hope you have to.

shucks

"I’ve found that there really is no single church that has all known truth and teaches it perfectly."
.........That statement reinforces the idea that all faiths are the same? Correct?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Is that for me or for thinkagain who I was quoting to offer my own response? If it was for TA I'll defer to his/her opinion.

If it was to me, all faiths attempt to do the same thing but that hardly makes them "the same".

Before entering a church I don't customarily have to hold a ladle of purified water in my spiritually clean right hand, wash my left, then after the spiritually dirty hand has been cleansed hold the ladle in my left hand to cleanse my right. I usually just have to hang my coat or hat up.

shucks

Before entering a church I don't customarily have to hold a ladle of purified water in my spiritually clean right hand, wash my left, then after the spiritually dirty hand has been cleansed hold the ladle in my left hand to cleanse my right. I usually just have to hang my coat or hat up.
.................Interesting. Who does that and what does it mean?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I visited a Shinto shrine while in Japan and as was custom you can cleanse yourself. The left hand in many cultures has gotten a bit of a bad rap due to its minority of people proficient with it and as such, before the advent of toilet paper or other modern niceties it was, let's just say, a "utility" hand instead of the one we used to write, paint, wield a sword, etc.

(Side note, "sinister" is actually a reference to the left hand, "dexter" the right. Even the Westerners knew.)

So anyway you went to the sacred fountain, grabbed the ladle in your right hand, and poured the holy water over your left to literally and metaphorically clean it. Then in your newly-cleaned left hand you held the ladle and poured water over your right. Refreshed and ready, you were on your way. You can also rinse your mouth out with the water from your clean and cupped hand and spit it beside the fountain.

It is suggested, too, to offer a prayer at the sacred object and throw a coin into the donation box. In order to get the kami's (spirits') attention you can clap twice or ring a bell nearby.

I also visited a Buddhist temple. In addition to burning incense (in a similar fashion to Catholics lighting candles) I also had to take my shoes off to enter the inner temple, but you get a lot of that there for other locations too like schools and your own home.

The sermon that day was about respecting your mother. It was nice to hear even though I could only understand about half of it. Unfortunately I wasn't there for New Year as that is the big holiday there (at least one with recognized meaning). A neat difference between American and Japanese cultures is that "usually" Christmas is solemn here while it is festive there and party time for us in the U.S. for New Year's while it is a time for reflection there.

Contango

"They read all the books but they can't find the answers."

- John Mayer, "No Such Thing."

IMO, only a fool believes that all the mysteries and permutations of the universe can be found in one single solitary book like the Bible or ANY "holy" book for that matter.

"Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible.
These three are indefinable, they are one."

- Tao Te Ching

Or: "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma," (Churchill)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D...

Contango

BTW: Jesus in a Hindu sense is an avatar.

Within Hinduism, god has manifested himself in the flesh on Earth hundreds of times (Krishna, et al.) and hundreds of yrs. before the advent of Christianity.

When the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries came to India and explained the incarnation of Jesus, the Indians understood the concept very well.

The Indians merely placed Jesus in their already existing pantheon of avatars.

The Jesuits said: You don't understand, there is only one.

The Indians said: Yes we do. Thank you for the new interesting avatar!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar

------------------

EVERY religion has miracles, holy sites and manifestations of spiritual beings.

To a deist: How can some be true and others false?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

It is humans who exercise their divine gift of storytelling that determines what is true or false to ourselves and others. That is how the Hindus can be so accepting yet find absolute intolerance elsewhere in that religion or others.

If we choose to use the example in the Bible citing that we are created in the image of God, I don't take that literally. In fact if you take things in the Bible (and to be fair many other texts, too) as literal truth you will see it is rife with things that will make your head scratch to say the least. The "image" that we were created in is in the only gift we share with God - the ability to tell and understand stories.

Just as I choose to interpret the days of creation "in the beginning" not as literal 24-hour periods but as epochs of time that each built upon one another to lead us up to the point we are at today, only more recently being able to serve an interestingly non-obviously-evolutionary ability to tell stories. Though in a mockery of the natural process it is interesting to watch as over time mankind has fought and killed not in survival of the fittest, but for survival of the best story.

shucks

The Hero Zone-

I'll reveal to you a little of my spiritual background.

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church system of thought.
I went to the Catholic grade school for 8 yrs , went to Mass 6 times a week (during school season) , and was an altar boy.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

That does help put some things in context! Thank you for that, to show off a little spiritual ankle myself I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church (Grace, actually, here in Sandusky). When I was in my teens I knew better than everyone else and was an atheist. In college I became an agnostic having been exposed to way too many ideas from too broad an area to be simply coincidence among the religions. After college I continued to explore what is out there and am something more than an agnostic. A deist perhaps? I don't do so well with labels.

But, I have my own opinion of God, Creation, and all the other aspects that come with believing in something greater than myself. It has been a fun journey.

Also, from all my time doing it, I can still probably recite the Nicene Creed off the top of my head despite my rather fair-weather attendance at Grace as of late.

Contango

Re: "I don't do so well with labels."

I prefer to be referred to as an: I-don't-give-a-d*mnist. :)

"Recovering Catholic" myself.

Remember: God is always watching, so give him a good show.

freethinker1

Like God, the Bible was invented/written by man. I've read a lot about this particular subject - certainly more than any Christians I know. The first 4 books of the New Testament were written between 70-200 years after the death of Jesus and contain no first-hand, or even second-hand testimony, and contain a LOT of contradictory testimony. Furthermore, they were not written by anyone named Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. So, Contango brings up a good point: even the Bible, the one source for the supposed existence of Jesus, is rather flawed, in that regard.

Contango's comment "Science is based on assumptions and metaphors" is not only incorrect, it shows a common misassumption people make when discussing science. The word "theory" has an entirely different definition within the world of science. Gravity is a theory. Planets orbiting is a theory. Evolution is a theory, but only an idiot would say/think that they aren't real and evidence-based. In the non-science world, a theory refers to "something unproven".

Everything we have learned through science is the result of exhaustive study, and the resultant consensus by thousands of scientific experts - the so-called Scientific Method. There will always be a few outliers, such as the 3% of scientists who don't believe global warming is real. In that particular example, we know that more than 12,000 research papers by scientific experts who cite evidence of global warming trumps the few dissenting scientists who were bought off by the Heritage Foundation and Big Oil.

If mankind were to start all over, we would invent new and different gods, but we would arrive at the exact same results as far as science is concerned.

meowmix

Was typing my below comment while yours was being posted freethinker..I'm totally with you on this...

Contango

Re: Science is based on assumptions and metaphors - "incorrect."

Nope.

From a quick Google search:

http://undsci.berkeley.edu/artic...

YOU are in fact using metaphors (letters, words and concepts) in order to describe other metaphors.

Metaphors within metaphors. Many get lost and confuse metaphors for reality - it ain't.

Nothing is as it seems, nor is it otherwise - Zen koan.

shucks

"Nothing is as it seems, nor is it otherwise - Zen koan."

...Remember that.

meowmix

Thing of it is, not one person who penned the bible actually ever witnessed any of the miracles nor met the Big JC himself. Sorry, but I'm of the opinion that Christianity was invented to unite the various cultures within the Roman empire under a new religion that could be ruled from Rome--aka-- the most wicked of all, the Roman Catholic church.

nonconformist

It's funny no one ever cites Paganism as one of the "religions" of which Christianity has evolved from. Really, if more people would actually educate themselves instead of depending on the writings of one book (written by man), they may do themselves a favor.

shucks

"Thing of it is, not one person who penned the bible actually ever witnessed any of the miracles nor met the Big JC himself."

...Are you absolutely sure of that? After all, you weren't there.

meowmix

You and I are ordinarily on the same page 4shizzle but I've yet to read anything, even by religious scholars who would dispute what I've typed. That's even why the NT was "The Gospel According to.......(insert name here) :}

shucks

Yes,you and I are usually are on the same page.

Would you please give me the names of some of those religious scholars who have influenced your thinking? : )

shucks

PS

meow -

You believe the words of men who WEREN'T there -
but don't believe the words of men who WERE there.

( sounds choppy, I know)

Contango

@ THZ:

Re: "O Brother Where Art Thou"

Another good book/movie: "The Razor's Edge"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038...

The remake with Bill Murray is 'interesting,' and worth a watch, but IMO loses 'something' in the telling of the story.

Those that know do not say, those that say do not know.

- Lao Tzu

shucks

ridiculous

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