We Can Be Good Without God;
We Can Be Bad With God
by Wells Behee
There are more than 6 billion people on this earth. I believe that number was passed a year ago. But let's round off the number to the nearest billion---6 billion. That means there are that number of definitions of beliefs about God (a theist), or no God (an atheist), or the "I don't know" people (an agnostic). As I prepared this sermon, I was prepared to discuss God and search for some kind of a common understanding about God. But the more I consider the multitude of beliefs about God, the more perplexed I become. Now I find myself very unprepared. I have learned that the more I learn about God, the less I know. I, also, know that the more a person talks about God, commands others to know about God, fervently instructs what others should believe about God, the less that person really and truly knows about a universal, unconditional, all-compassing, compassionate God, ---- including ministers.
In our Christian culture, everyone is pressured, instructed, and compelled to believe the right dogma about God. As children we are impregnated by our peers with the church doctrines about God. Even the atheist has some sort of an understanding or belief in order to have a position against which to rebel, reject, or deny. An atheist is a nonbeliever of concepts of god which have been imbued into him. I do not believe in the God projected by most of Christianity. That does not make me an atheist. Though others may declare me an atheist, only I can do that, and only to myself.
From the faulty knowledge of God the atheist once learned, he rejects. The rejection is not denying God. It is a certain belief. No person can classify another person's belief about God as theist, atheist, or agnostic without the permission of the believer, even though it is a widely accepted practice, especially by the rabid religious practitioner.
The favorite description of God is to describe God as a father figure. Now that is an easy portrayal. Nearly all of us have lived with a father. We know that good man we loved and who cared and nurtured us. But there are multitudes of people who had fathers who were alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, abusive of their wives and fathers of their own daughter's children. There are fathers who were home tyrants and street angels. There are fathers so commanding that their wives and children lived in constant fear of this man whom they would still defend with all the emotions of love along with fear and hate. And there are the beliefs of father as the loving, kind and gracious man to immortalize after his death. There is the father we dream we wish we had. It is common that there are as many meanings of the Father God as there are people who have fathers, and they are shaped for good or bad by the family experiences. And there are comparable kinds of mothers as there are fathers for the goddess believers. From the rudimentary experiences of family life there is no basis for a common image for the simplest meanings of what or who God is. Among us humans, our experiences of a father god are almost universally the basis for most beliefs about God. It is a beautiful image which is loved, shared, and ennobling. The error is when we command others to hold the same view as our own.
As for myself, I was but a lad during the 1930s depression. My father worked, worked mighty hard from before sunrise and to after sunset. He worked on our 55 acre fruit farm of cherry, peach, pear, apple trees. We had a few cows, 500 or so chickens, and two horses used to pull the old fashioned plow that turned the dirt one furrow at a time as my father patiently weaved his course across the field. He did this evenings, Saturday, and Sunday until the job was done. He worked full time at a stone quarry. Though I never knew my father during the few years I lived with him as he died when I was age 13, I still sensed that he was a good man in a rather general sense. I cannot relate any stories of happy or even unhappy memories. He was just a man in my life. I have an idealized notion of what I think a father should be. When I became a father, I had to start from scratch inventing as I went along, trying to be the best father I imagined a father might be. I wanted to measure up to my dream. When I became a father, I struggled to enact for my children what I thought a father image should be. Mistakes? I certainly had my share.
Wherever the each of the 6 billion people fall on the sliding scale of belief about the father god image or denial of it, I am presenting my 6 billion + 1 belief about God. So I toss my +1, that is my belief about God into the cauldron. To say it quickly God is the flow of creative ENERGY-- the energy of the universe as expressed through all the multitude of laws of nature, what we call science expressed in the laws of gravity, theories of electricity, of physics, of mathematics, etc. But god is MORE which cannot be touched or tested. I believe that god includes the mysterious creative energy which is elusive but is in the presence of life itself which exists in every life form and especially the human being. I believe that God is that flow of energy we feel when someone does a kind deed. It is the flow of energy within us that stirs the depths of our feelings when we see something beautiful-a rose, an astounding painting, a Grecian Urn. It is the flow of energy within us when we are moved and uplifted by our favorite song and by beautiful music. God is the flow of energy in the joy which makes us laugh, and even at times it is flow of energy in sadness which causes us to feel pain and cry. God is that moment when something within us causes a mysterious feeling of connection to our earth, to a beautiful sunset, an awe inspiring view of wondrous scenery, the melody of the song sparrow and the mockingbird, the flash of red of a cardinal or swoosh and swish of the flashy barn swallow, and the silence of a beautiful rainbow in the glorious sunlight and fresh air which follows a noisy thunderstorm. God is that flow of energy that builds within us when we pray for our own needs or the needs of others. God is the flow of creative energy that quickly reshapes and repairs the earth with new growth after forest fires. And God is the flow of energy in the love of two people, the love of a mother cradling her baby in her arms. God is the flow of energy that emanates during our hustle and bustle of a hectic day and the feeling of solitude in times of quietude. God is the flow of energy in the mysteries of life. God is in the flow of energy of a person stirred by the enactment of sacrifice for love, truth, justice, and all the values meaningful to life.
My Universalist faith takes me away from some physical god image and leads me to the values of life, nature, and science into my CENTER (God).
(I have asked Ty to assist in the following skit)
I respond to the following story of a man who felt free to make his own choices and to live freely.
Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing. If I were any better, I would be twins!
He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation. Seeing this style really made me curious. So one day I went up to Jerry and asked him, " I don't get it! You can't be a positive, up person all the time. How do you do it?"
Each morning I wake up and say to myself, 'Jerry you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood.' Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.
"Yeah right, it's not that easy," I protested.
Yes it is. Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. The bottom line: 'It's your choice how you live life. The more you make positive choices, the easier it becomes.
I reflected on what Jerry said. Soon thereafter, I left the restaurant industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.
Several years later, I heard that Jerry did something you are never supposed to do in the restaurant business. He left the back door open one morning and was held up at gunpoint by three armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combination. The robbers panicked and shot him. Luckily, Jerry was found relatively quickly and rushed to the local trauma center. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Jerry was released from the hospital with fragments of the bullets still in his body.
I saw Jerry about six months after the accident. Hi, Jerry, How are you?" If I were any better, I'd be twins. Wanna see my scars?"
"I would rather not. But I would like to know what went through your mind as the robbery took place."
"The first thing that went through my mind was that I should have locked the back door. Then as I lay on the floor, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live, or I could choose to die. I chose to live."
"Weren't you scared; did you lose consciousness?"
"The paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to live. But when they wheeled me into the emergency room and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read, "He's a dead man." I knew I needed to take action."
"What did you do?
"Well there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me. She asked if I was allergic to anything.
"Yes, The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, 'Bullets!' Over their laughter, I told them, "I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.' "
Jerry lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.
This was a man who was good without piety, From the roots of conventional religion, it seems he was a good man without God.
Indeed, Jerry was a man of god, but a different god than that God which is constantly foisted upon us in traditional religion, not the doctrinal static and fixed god of history and religion, Jerry's God was a god of dynamic energy.
Jerry was good without the God----that is the traditional God.
Now we come to the second portion of my sermon. "We can be bad with God. This can be disposed of very quickly. All we have to do is look at the White House, observe Jerry Falwell, note how TV preacher Pat Robertson, in an apparent effort to promote a Supreme Court that approves his religion-political agenda, is urging his nationwide audience to pray for a change in the make-up of the high court. Robertson is seeking divine help in restructuring the nation's top court. To achieve that goal, the religious broadcaster has been sponsoring a 21-day "prayer offensive."
Robertson e-mailed an "Urgent call for prayer" letter to Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) viewers, exhorting them to pray for the retirement of several of the high court's justices. He noted that one "justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, expressed anger at Robertson's plea.
"There is something ghoulish about praying for the removal of some of the Supreme Court's justices while noting their age and health problems," Lynn said. "This shows how desperate Robertson and his Religious Right allies are to remake the high court. "Robertson and his friends want a Supreme Court that enforces the Religious Right's version of biblical law," continued Lynn. "They despise court rulings that uphold individual liberty and freedom of conscience."
According to Robertson's letter, the Supreme Court has done great damage to America. Robertson's letter then asked his viewers if they would "join with me and many others in crying out to our Lord to change the Court?"
Robertson followed his plea for prayer with his observations about the health and age of three of the current justices.
"Would it not be possible," Robertson asked, "for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire? With their retirement or death and appointment of conservative judges, a massive change in federal jurisprudence can take place."
Lynn added that Robertson's latest tactic is part of his long-standing obsession to bring the Supreme Court into line with his religious beliefs. Not long after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Robertson and fellow TV preacher Jerry Falwell asserted that the federal courts and supporters of church-state separation had angered God, thereby prompting the tragedies of 9/11.
We see all about us leaders in high office and ardent Christians being bad with their traditional views of God. In closing, when last I spoke from this pulpit three weeks ago, I ended my sermon with this thought. Universalism, it's just like the sun's rays. Universalism, being a religion which originated in a belief in a somewhat traditional view of God but stressed that God is LOVE, not an image of physical shape. This God, this creative flow of energy, reaches all the people of the earth regardless of their religion, fame or insignificance. Do you have to believe in the sun for it to shine on you? How do you receive sunlight? Even on an overcast day, the solar rays reach the planet, and you will see them and feel them and receive them. You have no choice or vote on the matter. From its 1st century beginnings when the earliest church fathers advocated universalism, universalism, by its very nature, has been as inclusive and non-discriminatory as the light and warmth of the s-u-n. You don't have to do anything or believe anything, reason anything. You can be born blind, but the sunlight will still shine on everyone, every single person, and everyone of us. This is a wonderful world with or without God.
It depends on you.
Be confident and comfortable in whatever you believe however non-conformist you may be. Indeed, your belief is your own, however persistently others may try to shape you.
My message is a simple one. Be who you are, and what you are, for whatever you believe, you are O.K.