Why Can’t we get rid of God?
The more we reject God, the more God insists on staying. Since Nietzsche (1844-1900), many have celebrated the death of God. But today, God laughs back at them, engulfed in the most recalcitrant fundamentalisms. Why can’t we get rid of God?
In the last few months, I have read three books by dissimilar thinkers explaining God’s persistence.
Sam Keen, in his “Apology for Wonder,” Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Denial of Death,” and Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology, in his “Learned Optimism,” agree that no matter how strongly or capriciously we try to evict the Divine or the Transcendent, we cannot.
For Becker, the central issue is fear of death. We long for a connection with the Transcendent to alleviate the dreadful anxiety of our finitude. There is nothing more frightful to us than facing our inevitable end. If we could slightly cling to the everlasting, we could taste the forever! For Keen, our need for the Transcendent emerges from our chaotic world. We crave something objective, a grounding principle, or a Being to alleviate our uncertainty. Seligman, instead, turns to the pain of the modern once sovereign Self. The broken Self has left us lonely and deprived of meaning. We need a larger frame of reference to root our depressed beings. Regardless of their angle, all three agree that pursuing human independence from the Transcendent is illusory and possibly harmful.
Becker explains that this longing for the Transcendent fuels our adoration of sports figures, actors, and the famous. They are our incarnations of the Transcendent. In the mind of too many, they are literally “bigger than life.” Seligman explains that the collapse of the sovereign Self, its brokenness, and loneliness are the reasons for today’s fundamentalism. Something had to fill the void threatening to swallow us alive.
The Right Master
The idea that God liberated the Israelites from Egypt to give them absolute freedom is misguided. God is clear, “now you are enslaved to Me.” Whatever you think about the Biblical God, Pharaoh, the flesh and bone alternative is the relative made absolute. Not a God of liberation. Just one of us idealized to appease our fears and finitude. Ideology incarnated; sad. The question is which one we would choose. The one that sets us free from bondage to engage in a covenant of mutual responsibilities, or the one that alleviates our fears and anxieties through ideologies and radicalism.
Unfortunately, for some, their God may be their career, bank accounts, social status, political parties, or the endless possibilities we use to fill our voids. What is clear to me is that the less we explore our divine choices responsibly, the greater the risk of falling and perpetuating a culture of radicalism and superficiality. You will believe in something. Believe me. You better choose purposely and maturely.
I can’t tell you what to believe. I can instead share with you some of my core principles. My first principle is that my beliefs are constantly fluctuating, tested, confronted, suspected, respected, and hopefully growing. The more something is attached to the finite, the more suspect of not being Transcendent. Common sense not always followed. Thus, I respect individuals for their qualities, values, and accomplishments. But I never, ever idolize anybody. I believe in a Process more than a Being. Still, sometimes, I relate to God as a Being, especially when I feel desperate for immediate help. But in general, God is the power of becoming. It is the process of growth, personal and universal. I try to separate God from ideology, parties, and movements. Though I believe that politics must connect to the moral values I have learned from my beliefs and traditions, I strive for my religion not to become a form of power. I don’t follow any God blindly. God is willing to dialogue and argue, or I move in a different direction. And I also obey. Part of me feels compelled by a covenant of ethics, tradition, peoplehood, and humanity.
If you are suffering, feel broken, lonely, or empty, it may be an opportunity to allow yourself to believe. The search itself may be healing. Remember, we don’t have a choice. We will succumb to an illusion that will ultimately haunt us, or we will fill our void with light.