RETHINKING GOD AND EVIL SPIRITS

The older I get the harder I find it to say what our “ineffable” (unsayable) God is like. A long time ago I dropped the “God is an old man in the sky waiting to punish me if I do wrong” narrative. That god is really Zeus not the God of the Bible. All that the old man image needs is some lightning bolts.

Christians often say that “God is love” and indeed it says that throughout the scriptures. Lately I have been thinking that God is not just love, God is also wisdom, patience, forgiveness, trust, etc. In fact, the Dalai Lama said “My religion is kindness.” God is all virtues.

So, whenever someone is engaging in virtues or “spirits” like gentleness, peacemaking, compassion, justice, fortitude and goodness, God is manifesting through them. God is incarnate (embodied) in them. God is all these good spirits. This liberates God from being restricted to any one church or religion. Anyone engaging in these virtues/spirits, whether they are a believer in God or not, has God working in them, whether they acknowledge God or not.

As a believer, I can therefore comfortably relate to atheists or anyone who exhibits these spirits, basically to “all people of good will.”

On the other hand I am starting to think of evil spirits not as beings in red tights with horns and pitchforks (I never thought of them that way but I did not know how to say what they are either) but rather as spirits of lust, anger, gluttony, pride, deceit, greed, fear and so on. Anyone engaging in these vices has an evil spirit working in them.

God is manifest or incarnate in the world in anyone who has the good spirits/virtues working in them. And evil spirits are manifest/incarnated in anyone who has chosen to let the evil spirits listed above to go to work in them. So devils/evil spirits might manifest themselves as a greedy banker, corrupt politician or lawyer, schoolyard bully, etc. There are indeed evil spirits among us, just as God is among us.

LOVE YOUR TRUE SELF

RECONCILING ANCIENT RELIGION AND MODERN SELF-HELP 

    All world religions would agree with St. Catherine of Sienna who said “Every evil is founded in self-love.” So how do we put ancient religion together with the modern self-help doctrine that you cannot love others if you don’t love yourself?

    When we are born, we are unitive thinkers: we sense our oneness with everything. However, as we develop we learn the word “no” from our parents trying to curtail our behaviour. We start to separate from our parents and others and develop our own identity. We learn we are a boy or girl and a human being not a dog or cat. Later we learn our race, nationality and everything else that separates us from others.

    Developing a sense of identity or ego is natural, healthy, and necessary to function in the world. However, if you think your ego, what separates you from everything, is all you are, it creates individualism, the source of all our problems. The illusion of separation transforms your ego into your false self, and life becomes every one for himself/herself.  

    Separation from others causes all social problems, and separation from nature is the root of all environmental problems. If you are really separate from others and the planet, what happens to them is not your concern. You can misuse them without any consequences. However, what happens to others and nature does impact us.

    I was pondering why, in indigenous paintings, there are fish, bears, and birds inside peoples’ bodies? Suddenly I got it: indigenous people are unitive thinkers – fish, bears, and birds are part of who they are. They and the environment are one.

    This is the solution to our environmental problems: the earth is us and we are the earth. Until we get that, we will continue to abuse the earth we depend on.

    Jesus was also a unitive thinker. He said “God and I are one,” and what we do to the least among us – people who are starving, naked, or homeless – we do to him.

    He also said the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love others as yourself. Perhaps he didn’t mean, as contemporary self-help would have it. “love others by first loving yourself,” but rather “love others because they are yourself.”

    God is everywhere and that includes inside you, in your depths. As Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, frequently said “When you meet your deepest self you meet God.” 

    God is not only love, God is peace, goodness, wisdom, forgiveness, patience, and kindness, and so are you. Your true essence, your true self, is all these things. In this sense you and God are one. This is what being the “imago dei,” the image of God, means. You are not God, God is greater than you, but you and God are one in spirit. 

    That is why it is good to love your true self, your soul, the self that is love, peace, and goodness. When you love your true self, you are loving God within you, and since God is in everything, you are loving everything through God. When you love all the virtues of your true self, you are doing exactly what others and the earth need: people who love peace, goodness, and love.

    It is necessary to develop an ego, but it is also necessary to transcend the ego and realize that you have a larger, truer self. It is not healthy or wise to just love your ego, your false, illusory self. Loving just your ego is the root of all evil as St. Catherine said. She was thinking of love of the false self; contemporary self-help is presumably thinking of love of the true self, which is the foundation of all good.

    What we need now is a civilization built on love of the true self, the soul, our best self, our “better angels,” not one based on love of ego, our “worst demons.” This would solve many of our problems.

    As another holy woman, Mechthild of Magdeburg said:

“The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest or happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.”

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach, and religious educator of adults. www.brucetallman.com. For his weekly reflections on spirituality, see “The Big Picture” at https://brucetallmanblog.wordpress.com

HOW THINGS WORK

HOW GOD, THE UNIVERSE, AND YOUR LIFE WORKS

    Order, disorder, reorder. You can detect this universal pattern on a macro, micro, and personal level.

    If there was only order, there would never be any change, creativity and growth. If there was only disorder, things would be total chaos. 

    The universe goes through periods of order, followed by disorder, and then reorders everything at a new level over vast time periods. There was God (order) before the Big Bang (disorder) and then giant stars eventually formed (reorder). This new order had limited chemical elements, but the giant stars exploded (disorder) and seeded the universe with all the elements of the periodic table in new smaller, more stable stars (reorder). 

    God created natural laws and then let nature obey those laws. Rather than controlling everything, God wanted to see all the creative new things nature would produce on its own: butterflies, jaguars, whales, etc.

    Theologically, this theory is called “deism” which, although appealing, is  problematic because God is reduced to a kind of detached observer of the universe. The opposite problem, if God is too dictatorial, reduces God to ‘tyrantism.” Then destructive volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, and floods become acts of (a cruel) God.

    The same problem occurs at the human level. If God is not involved, God does not care, and if God is too controlling, we become robots. If there is no human freedom, there is no love. The solution is for God to allow us to be free and also for God to be involved in the form of persuasive love. That desire for greater fulfillment all humans have is God’s persuasive love constantly calling us to new levels of integration.

    According to “process theology,” nature as a whole moves inexorably towards greater consciousness and love because God constantly lures it to new levels of fulfillment.

    Most of the time nature is orderly, but some of the time, in obeying its own laws, nature creates disorder. Sometimes forests burn down but new plants and animals emerge. A giant meteor collided with Earth, ending the dinosaurs but allowing mammals such as humans to eventually exist. 

    Religions also go through order, disorder, and reordering. Conservatives can get stuck at the first stage – they want too much order and fear change and creativity. Religious liberals can get trapped in deconstructing religion and not be able to put their faith back together again, so they end up in chaos or virtual atheism. However, there are always people who seek to reorder their religion at a higher level. Examples in Christianity are Thomas Berry, Marcus Borg, and Brian McLaren.

    In your own life you might experience order for a while. You seem to have it all together and then disorder happens through divorce, illness or unemployment. If you are resilient and follow God’s inner calling, you may be able to reorder your life and make sense of it in a new way. 

    Disorder and suffering are caused by the freedom of nature and humans, not by God. God only allows them so new growth may occur. For example, you might learn to appreciate being single or happily remarry, learn better health care or to cope with your disability, or find more fulfilling work. 

    Hopefully, whatever happens, you can reorder your life with more compassion, gratitude and wisdom. This is God’s desire for you as God’s persuasive love calls forth the best that is in you in each new year.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com

3 Big Ideas for May 15, 2019

  1. Teilhard de Chardin was a Christian mystic who believed that love and energy are the foundation of the cosmos. This “love-energy” is the source of the universe’s intelligibility and therefore the basis of knowledge. This leads philosophy out of the impasse of making matter the basis of all empirical knowledge. Philosophers have traditionally made love secondary to knowledge – you have to first know something before you can love it. But for lovers of God like Teilhard, love is the source and goal of all knowledge.
  2. Christian martyrs were willing to die for their faith because they believed “all is one” – everything, including life and death, is under the care of God. Now we have arrived at a similar state by the reverse process: we no longer believe there is a God, all is passing away, and therefore all is meaningless. Without God, all is not one, it is zero. The martyr was willing to die for God, but would the secular non-believer be willing to die for zero? This is important when you are speaking truth to power and fighting injustice.
  3. Almost everything wrong with the world has to do with the way the “It” of institutions can be misaligned, out of control, and disconnect with the “I” and the “We.” The personal is destroyed by the impersonal when corporations, governments, and religious institutions become out of touch with the people they are meant to serve, and only serve themselves. The result is exploitation of others for money or sex, and rape of the planet’s resources on which we all depend. Unitive thinking, the idea that all is one, keeps the “It” of hierarchies connected to the common good, the “We.”

3 Big Ideas for May 1, 2019

  1. The modern worldview is that because our universe is so old and so vast, humans are totally insignificant. A more helpful and meaningful approach is that because of our intelligence and creativity, which it took the universe so long to produce – 13.7 billion years – we can say again, as people did before astrophysics, that humans are not only significant but central to the entire universe.
  2. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian physicist and priest, first postulated that, as in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, there must have been a beginning to the universe. Then George Isamow, an American-Russian physicist, postulated the Big Bang Theory, the current view among scientists. Since scientists have proven that everything is expanding outward, if you go back in time far enough, it must have all begun from a single point. Science has to be materially based, it can’t start with spirit, and therefore Isamow further theorized that the universe came from a tiny particle. However, this idea that all the matter of the universe as we now know it was somehow packed into an infinitely small particle seems absurd and is an untestable hypothesis. As such it is a myth. I am not anti-science, in fact I think science is an incredible tool that reveals even more of God’s glory. But I also believe it is important to understand that science is based on this myth. It is just as logical, in fact I believe more logical, to say that the whole universe came from an Almighty Creator.
  3. Ignatius of Loyola invented the prayer method of inserting yourself imaginatively right into scenes from the Bible. For example, you are in a boat with the disciples in a raging sea. You feel the rocking of the boat, the spray of the waves, and then you see someone walking on the water. You feel the fear of the disciples who didn’t recognize it was Jesus and thought they were seeing a ghost. You feel amazement and relief when Jesus calms the wind and sea and gets into the boat with them. Many people have found that this method of imaginative contemplation leads them beyond “head-knowledge” to “heart-knowledge” of God and emotionally transforms them through a direct experience of God.

3 Big Ideas for April 3, 2019

  1. The reason I am not an atheist: that the universe exists at all, that it obeys laws, that out of those laws come galaxies, stars and planets, that on one planet life and consciousness has evolved (and probably on many others), are all one wonder after another. It requires more gullibility to believe this all just happened by accident than to believe there is a Supreme Omnipotent Intelligence behind it all. Faith in God is not irrational at all.
  2. Contemplation does not free you from conflict, anguish and doubt. Rather it creates serious questions about the whole status quo of everyday injustices we constantly see all around us and accept as if they were unquestionable dogmas. True contemplation leads one to social justice which is the proper distribution of love throughout society.
  3. The Body of Christ is not bound to any one race, nation, tradition, culture or theology but can learn from them all new ways of expressing the truth of the message of Jesus the Christ. Churches can enrich, and be enriched by, many different cultures.