Friday, September 18, 2009

Full of Should

How do you know if something is good or bad?

There are easy answers. Chocolate cake is good. Getting your tooth drilled for a filling is bad. But then again, chocolate cake isn't so good if you're diabetic. And getting your tooth drilled is a blessing compared to having it rot painfully because you have no access to dental care.

In the past I would have said, in theory, that there are some things at the ends of the spectrum that are purely good or purely bad. For example, love is all good, and violence is all bad. Right? Except, even pure love is bad when it's unrequited. If you love someone who doesn't care for you, your suffering is bottomless. And violence has a place in protecting the helpless from bullies. So where do we draw the line?

Is there anything that's all good or all bad?

I don't think so anymore. I've always been a Shades of Grey person, but I held on to the idea that this earthly plane did have some examples of 100% goodness and pure evil. I can't maintain that belief anymore. Everything I look at has two sides to it. For example, even the worst abuses I've suffered in my life have contributed to making me who I am today, and I like who I am. Even though those experiences seemed 100% bad when they were happening, at this point I wouldn't chose to time travel back and undo them.

I've been thinking about this in connection with the beliefs of organized religion. What's really got me hooked is the idea of an idol. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, an idol is

1 : a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly : a false god

Boiling it down to essentials, I understand it to mean that anytime we worship a Thing instead of God him/her/itself, we are worshipping an idol. An obvious example: if I decide my pot scrubber has supernatural powers and I start bowing before it and making sacrifices (burning a few cookies would probably do nicely) to win its favour, I am worshipping an idol.

Speaking more broadly, I have heard it said and I agree that church itself can become an idol. If I believe that I can only access God in a certain building, dressed a certain way and reciting a script in the form of accepted prayers, then I am worshipping an idol just as much as when I was kissing the counter my pot scrubber sits on.

Idolatry tries to limit God. It says "we know how God works, and therefore you have to follow our recipe if you want to get in contact with him". God, by any definition, is not limited. If he wants to get a message to you while you're wandering around your apartment wearing dirty underwear, listening to industrial goth rock, then He will do it.*

*This particular scenario is not one of my personal experiences.

The same people who like to hold forth on the right and proper way to connect with God are often the same people who figure they know what's Right and Wrong. Purely right, and purely wrong, to be clear. And they're more than willing to boss you around in that regard, for your own good, of course.

Much as I appreciate their intentions, I don't buy their theology. Anytime we figure we've got it all nailed down, that we know the rules, that's when we start believing we have some control over God. And we just don't. Not even a little.

The best way to connect with God, in my admittedly limited experience, is to be fully present in This Moment, because that's where He is.

If you're with someone, you can't love them in the past. You can't love them in the future. Saying "I loved you last week" or "I'll get around to loving you by St. Patrick's day" is useless. You can only love them right now, in this very instant. God is one of the someones that applies to.

You also can't be truly intimate with someone if you're always worried about the rules. If you're fearful: What if I said the wrong thing? What if I'm wearing the wrong clothes? Does my breath smell? Some folks approach God like they're going on a terrifying first date. It's really silly, because if you actually really believe that God is omniscient, you'd know that He's not just with you on Sundays at church. He's always there. He sees you at your worst no matter how hard you try to hide.

(On a tangent, it bugs me every time I hear someone end a prayer like they're hanging up the God Phone. "God, I can haz cheezeburger? KTHXBAI!" It's like they believe He stops listening when the official prayer is over. That makes no sense to me.)

Anyway, what's my point? My point is that we can be trapped by rules and formulas. And while there is a place for the majesty of ritual in spiritual life, there is also so much more beyond the rituals. If we are approaching God with a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, we're already doing the wrong thing, by feeling fearful.

That was my best effort at putting a huge, tangled thought ball into a linear format. Did I make any sense?


powdergirl said...

Crap, I was really getting into this and dammit, my kid called for a ride. I'll be back to finish the read : D

wigsf said...

Fried chicken, doughnuts, Ziggy Stardust. These are all good.

And if I write down here what I know to be all bad, well, you can probably guess what that is so I won't bother. You know how I feel.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I think that you are totally in sync with my beliefs. :)

unsigned said...

One of the best posts you've written so far. Thanks for posting. Excellent writing.

Scarlet said...

There is no love in fear, so I believe in being bold w/ God (He knows us anyway), and He will listen.

I also understand how you feel about good v. evil because working in Family Law, you start feeling a certain way about a new client and by the end of the case, you see him differently. You can't judge before you get all the facts...and in reality, God is the only one who has ALL the facts. We have to be careful with people and not jump to conclusions.

Great post, my friend!

Sparkling Red said...

Powdergirl: I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you've had a chance to finish reading. :-)

wigsf: I know what your definition of pure evil is. I won't curse my own blog by writing the full name, but it rhymes with Pickle Sack.

Ron: Cool! :-)

Unsigned: Thank you!

Scarlet: Thanks! I have a similar experience when I compare my first impressions of a person to what I can pick up from them if I pay attention. For example, I had judged a co-worker to be very crabby. Then I finally figured out that she's a highly sensitive person, and she gets snappy not because she has a bad temper, but because she gets overwhelmed by too much sensory stimulus when the office is busy. Now I see her in a whole different light.

Karen said...

Very thought interesting. You always make me think.

I think new born babies - who belong to anyone other than me - are all good.

powdergirl said...

I agree that love is in and of the moment, every moment.

You made me laugh with the reference to 'first date' with God. I've said before that I'm raised religiously, but not a practicing anything. I've heard friends with no church in their background address God exactly like that. I find it endearing, and those who have pursued religion get comfortable pretty quick, you know, 3rd or 4th date comfortable.
You did untangle your thought ball, loud and clear.

You're a talented philosopher.

LL Cool Joe said...

Interesting a couple of weeks ago I was listening to a sermon and our minister says that it is right to fear God. Doesn't mean we don't love him but he is to be feared.

If you accept him into your life then he is of course always with us, because his Holy Spirt lives within us. Which of course means that we can pray to him at any time, in anyway.

I fear God. People try to make him into this cutie, bland figure. He's not. He hates sin, not the sinner, and will judge our wrong doings.

Wow, I'm a Bible Basher after all! I better go and listen to some Goth music now. I've had my boxers on for about 4 days too, so is that ok? ;)

G said...


Makes absolute sense.

Well, most of it.

I'll have to come back for a more thorough read.

DarcsFalcon said...

Just wanted to wish you a happy birthday hon. Hope it's a great one!

Sparkling Red said...

Karen: Thanks! I like to be thought-provoking.
Newborn babies are certainly all good in and of themselves. I guess it depends whether or not you want to take into account the stress that caring for an infant creates. Apparently most divorces take place in the first year of a child's life, because of the stress on the parents. Not because the baby is bad, but the conditions created by the baby can be bad.

Powdergirl: Thank you! That is high praise indeed.
I have a friend who is currently setting a good example for me by constantly surfing on the cusp of now in all her life dealings. She is also the most openly loving person I know. I believe she accomplishes this by being so present in each moment. She's my role model.

LL Cool Joe: I think I get what you're saying about fearing God. It's true that some images of God make him as bland and harmless as Jell-o, and that can't be right. I'd have to think it over more, but maybe the issue I have is with people relating to God as if he's an angry dad, in an immature way. We are all children of God, but once we're adults we need to behave as grown children. So there's a certain type of fear that is proper, respectful awe of God's power, and then there's a cringing fear that makes people run to hide behind rules. Or maybe it's just the response of reacting to the fear with legalism that's incorrect, and the fear itself is OK. I'll have to ponder it.

G: I hope you do. I'd love to get your feedback.

DarcsFalcon: Thanks! It was a lovely birthday. :-)

Jenski said...

Wow - did you have reread this a few times before posting? I agree with what you wrote. It probably manifests as me identifying as being spiritual, not necessarily "religious". My feeling about the words is that spiritual has a sense of being everywhere or being a part of you, and religious feels like it identifies the traditions of a belief. It might just be semantics, but I have to define it somehow! Because I was raised Christian, I associate that spirituality with Christianity and am fascinated and find truths in my admittedly limited knowledge of other religions.