the “God we want” and the “God we have”

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Religion

There’s an old saying that goes something like this:
God created us in his image… and we returned the favor.

Most of the time when we humans contemplate the Divine, we find ourselves mentally conjuring up a glorified projection of ourselves. Oh, this projection is bigger than us, for sure. This projection is omnipotent, and omnipresent, and omniscient.

As Aladdin’s Genie said it so aptly,
Phenomenal cosmic power!…

But, this vision of God sees the world through eyes that are almost identical to our own. The things we like have his celestial stamp of approval, and the things that we detest he desires to smite. This God votes like us, and is judgmental of the same people who we cast judgement upon.

If we’re peaceniks, then so is our God. If we’re live-and-let-live kind of people, then so is he. If illegal immigration so infuriates us that it keeps us up at night, then it does the same to God. If we’re disgusted by Arabs, or homosexuals, or the Teletubbies—then this God is on our side the whole way.

It’s just that this God does it from a higher register. His judgements and condemnations come with fire and brimstone that is ready to be cast from the heavens at any moment.

Some of us will even find ways to see divine cause-and-effect at work in the world. If a hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast, it’s because of sexual immorality. If a disease like AIDS takes off, it’s judgement on the gays. If terrorists hijack planes and crash them into buildings, that’s because of the abortionists. And, if the Supreme Court or Congress passes some legislation that we find abhorrent, then God’s retribution for this will come at any moment.

This understanding of God carries with it no measure of mystery, or unknowability. We don’t have to guess where he stands on a particular issue, because his position is self-evident.

At its best, this concept of God is the one who sits on our shoulder, rides shot-gun with us, and compels us towards what is good and right. At its worst, this concept of god is the impetus for people to strap bombs to their chests.

This isn’t the only way to see God though. God doesn’t always have to always be just a bigger version of ourselves.

American philosopher, John Caputo, says that instead of God being a projection of ourselves, any real God is far more likely to be a projectile sent to smash all of our preconceptions and ideals to smithereens.

I am not saying that God is a “projection” of human perfections on an infinite screen in the sky—as if we empty our real selves into a fiction called “God.” God, what is going on in the name of God, is not a projection but a projectile headed straight at us, a missile upending our narcissistic desires, a visitation that comes without invitation. This Projectile is an endless mystery. An unfathomable depth of which is there far more of that which we-don’t-know-that-we-don’t-know about than that which we-know-we-don’t-know-about.
( Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim. John D. Caputo. Page 125.)

This is the God of whom we sing,
Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

Northern Irish philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins often uses the metaphor of a ship sunken into the sea to get at this. He says that while the sunken ship contains the ocean within it, and the sea contains the ship, the ship only has an infinitesimally small part of the ocean within it, while the sea contains the whole ship.

The ship, resting on the bottom of the ocean is filled and surrounded by the sea, but it can’t even begin to wonder where the limits of the sea are. It can’t find even a faint horizon where the sea stops, and there’s something else.

This, says Peter Rollins, is like us and God. Like the ship, we are filled and surrounded by God, and yet we only have the faintest notion of where God’s boundary is—if there even is a boundary.

I offer all of this, because I’m coming to believe more and more that the first understanding of God—the God of the Projection—is where we end up associating God with power, and might, and glory. Not because we’re filled with those things, but because we so desperately want to be.

And, perhaps even more, we are captivated by the notion that we could cozy up to such a font of power—and that this being with phenomenal cosmic power sees the world, our friends, and our enemies as we do. And, unlike us, this God is willing and able to let loose upon those who so deserve our—I mean HIS—ire.

In the West we’re seeing the phenomenon of the Prosperity Gospel, which is nothing more than the incarnation of religion when it takes God Our Projection to its next logical position: If God is all powerful, and if God loves us, and if God loves the people who love, and hates the people we hate—if we stay on God’s good side, then God will want to give us our every desire.

This God (Who we might more correctly call “Narcissus.”) wants us to be rich, and comfortable, and healthy, and be self-actualized. And, so all we need to do is name it, claim it, and pray for it.

Oh, and call now. We take Visa and MasterCard. Operators are ready.

This complete bastardization of the Christian Faith is spreading like a malignant disease through the Church. It used to just be found on television at two in the morning. Now, it’s gone mainstream. Their books are bestsellers. Their churches are filled to the rafters. And, their theology is popping up like metastases in otherwise mainline, mainstream churches.

If it’s not being preached from the pulpit, it’s at least holding sway from the pews.

It’s spewing from the mouth of guys on the YouTube with crosses on their caps, with titles like “coach” who bold claim that what we need is a more “violent” Christianity.

I’m sorry. But, you can have violence, or you can have Christianity. You cannot have both. You cannot claim that actually pushing your way to the front of the line is something that God wants us to do.

He says that there’s violence in the Bible—and in that he’s right. But, when does that violence ever lead to anything good? And, when did Jesus call for it?

It’s beyond God-as-projection. It’s a religion which turns religion 180 degrees around from a focus on God, completely focusing on us instead.

This Me-First kind of religion is infesting our politics, our national discourse, and our ethics and morals—if we can even call them “ethics and morals” anymore. But, more on that later. If heretics like “Coach” Daubenmire have much of an audience, this the infestation has reached the church.

I don’t claim to know the fullness of God. I’m just a ship, submerged in a sea.

But, I do know a charlatan when I see one.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella