Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cod's Mysterious Ways

Last weekend we watched "Keeping Mum," a lovely little bit of British kerfluffle (which I realize is not quite the proper use of the word, but I think it works here--see related post), with Maggie Smith, Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Patrick Swayze (yes, he of the flowing hair and dirty dancing--whatever). It is not a great film, but funny and sweet (and dark, of course), rather like an old Pinewood Studio pic. This is not a review of the film--it's too lightweight to bother.

Rowan plays a bumbling, absent-minded vicar in the tiny town of Little Wallop (if I ever get to move to Britain I want to live in Little Barking), rather like the character he played in "Four Weddings,..." also with Kristin Scott-Thomas. The story is rather a dark version of Mary Poppins--Maggie arrives and brings a family together and solves all of their problems (only she does it by bumping off the things that are troubling them). She suggests to the Vicar that he try some humor for a keynote address he has to give called, "God's Mysterious Ways." He inadvertently says "Cod's..." when he's delivering it and gets flustered but manages to recover and say, "Cod may have mysterious ways, but they will have to wait for their own convention." Anyway, I was thinking about that quite a bit all week.

I haven't written about religion here though I've thought about it and started several posts. Many of my friends are atheists (and/or agnostics), but Mirror and his wife are Christians who practice (as opposed to all of my friends who say they are Christian, but don't really do anything with it) and I believe Mirror and his wife to be Christians in the true sense. As for myself, I would like to be Christian. I would like to be something. I like the idea of God, better than the absence of one. I have no trouble believing that something vast and powerful created the universe, and the all forgiving Jesus is a really, really good add on for us wretched humans. What I'm struggling with is the contradictions of the Bible and the question of well, why not Islam, or Hindu, or even Buddhism (which has no God but enlightenment that might as well be an entity).

One thing that I find is that almost every atheist I've ever spoken to is ANGRY. Angry at God for not existing, usually traceable to some failure on God's part to answer a prayer (the death of a loved one, usually--sometimes the suffering in the world in general). And I point out--if he doesn't exist, why are you so angry at him? I have, in fact, met and been friends with one or two people who truly do not believe in any God or power. They have no justifications or reasons AND interestingly, do not try to "convert" others to their lack of religion. They either don't think about it much, or simply believe that science provides or will someday provide the answers and move on. There are times I wish I could not worry about whether there is a point to everything. (I read a post recently at IMDB of all places from someone who asked why atheists were always trying to convert the religious--show proof that there is no God.) The true atheist knows that you can no more disprove God than you can prove him.

Two things that I hear from the angry atheists repeatedly is the question of why there is suffering in the world, and since there is suffering, how can God be considered "Just." This, for some reason has never bothered me as a justification. I fall back on C.S. Lewis's argument, "Til We Have Faces." We are so far beneath God that we can't even begin to discuss what is "just" on the cosmic level. If I had lost a child to leukemia or kidnapping maybe I wouldn't be able to maintain that coolness, but neither have most of the people I'm speaking with--it's just as esoteric to them. I for one do not want a God who's actions are explainable in human terms (which does not stop me from wondering why some great sinners in the Bible are more blessed than others). The Greeks and the Romans had "human" Gods. Shouldn't God, by definition be unexplainable, have his mysterious ways? As to suffering--you (God) wind up the world and make laws that govern it (note that they do not necessarily govern you) and you give these pathetic things free will. And they go and F*!k everything up. In the example above, kidnapping is because of human action, not God's. Leukemia may be due to human action as well and even if it's not, do you say, "Oh, children don't get terrible diseases, but they're aging and their cells are breaking down, but ..." At what age would disease and death be acceptable? Or would everyone live to be 100 and die in their sleep except for those who are shot by other humans or beaten up by other humans, etc. If you accept that death is a part of the world that we live in, then some deaths are going to be unfair, unpleasant and unnatural. Wouldn't it be nice if God put his hand down and stopped children from being raped? Well, yes, but then what would be the point of the world? Is there a point to the world? I tend to think of it as being like a parent with children. A parent can ease many of a child's needs and wants but not all. We presume that a God would be able to fulfill all. However, a parent who does fulfill all of a child's needs and wants all the time does not raise a functioning adult. Sometimes the parent cannot step in and sometimes the parent chooses not to. Lewis always says that God wants us not to be made to choose him, but to freely choose him as an intelligent and "grown-up" being. If God stepped in and saved every child (or every cruelly dying parent, etc.) then, there would certainly be no doubt that he existed and we would all be able to wander about with NO consequences because God would always save everyone. Sounds nice, but it's not free will.

My own fundamental problem is "WHY?" Why bother to have a universe at all? Or, having created free will--since we humans have misused it so cruelly, why not pull the plug? If we were an experiment in a petri dish, we'd have been washed down the sink, long ago. Maybe God's built a better universe next door (or there are better planets elsewhere--like this newly discovered one), and he's just waiting for us to self destruct and he's not even watching anymore. Lewis, in his lesser known science-fiction trilogy, posits world's where The Fall did not occur, original sin is non-existent and no Jesus needed to die for sins. (The humans send missionaries, of course, because they cannot comprehend.)

My other problem, and this is what keeps me up at night, is the problem of choosing the right path. Since I find the Bible unreliable (written by humans, after all) and even careful reading is a little vague, what rules should I follow? Will it be enough to simply be good and to do no harm? Will it be as strict as the Talmud in which case we're all doomed? And if I say, as most people do including my mother, well, I'm going to believe what makes sense to me, and ignore what doesn't then why have a guide at all? If I say, I think homosexuality is a sin (or divorce, or abortion or any number of other things), but I'm not going to do anything about it, then can I call myself a Christian? I'm letting all those sinners go to hell. Conversely, if I do not believe homosexuality, or divorce IS a sin, then where do I go for rules? What if I'm wrong? (For the record, I don't believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. I don't actually believe it talks about it at all. I do know it says that divorce is a sin--that kind of dooms a lot of fundamentalists, now doesn't it?)

And what about prayer in all of this? C.S. Lewis was an atheist from childhood until the age of 39 because he prayed and his mother still died. I am tempted to quote Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius and say, "God always answers prayer. Sometimes he says No." In "Bruce Almighty" Bruce says yes to everyone and since everyone wins the lottery, they all get about 15 cents a piece and nobody's happy. (Wow, C.S. Lewis, Durang and Jim Carey in one paragraph!) I pray for parking spots and try to thank God if I get one. If a loved one were dying (or myself) I would pray and bargain (and be angry and the rest of it). A friend directed a piece that's opening next week called, "Action Jesus," a one woman show (I altered a shirt for it and met the author/star, a very fun lady). This is the blurb:
The whole Jesus thing is very confusing to me.
I find I pray to God for big things and Jesus for parking places, and stuff like that. That's my spiritual life.
I can't wait to see it. I'll let you know how it goes.

And this has rambled on--Cod moves in mysterious ways. Let's just leave it at that for now.

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