Making fun of Pat Robertson is like shooting fish in a barrel, I know. But, really, he’s asking for it, isn’t he—what with the Jesus fish lapel pin and the masturbation hate and the God who smites America to punish it for homosexuality and masturbation?
In case you missed it—all the kids were talking about it—Pat spoke at a CBN gathering last week and insisted—insisted!—that he and the believers assembled could convince God to elbow Hurricane Florence away from the seaboard. His prayer, which he uttered holding up a hand in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean, more or less:
“In the name of Jesus, you Hurricane Florence, we speak to you in the name of Jesus, and we command the storm to cease its forward motion and go harmlessly into the Atlantic. Go up north away from land and veer off in the name of Jesus. We declare in the name of the lord that you shall go no farther, you shall do no damage in this area.”
Nonetheless, Florence did reach the North Carolina coast, where it wreaked mayhem reaching biblical proportions.
What am I, anyway?
I bring this up because pastor Pat made me reflect on how my view of God has changed in the past 10 years.
For 26 years—19 to 45—I was a theist, convinced, like Pat, that God would intervene to see that my best interests would always be taken into account as He stage-managed the universe. I wouldn’t always get what I wanted. But I’d always get what I needed, eventually.
Either way, I had hope that I could influence God, either through my prayers or through godly living. That’s theism in a nutshell. God’s eager to help you. All you need to do is ask.
Then I started researching Mormonism to write my first novel. It made me feel so superior. Stupid Mormons. Mormons are even more fun to mock than Pat Robertson, all starched and conflicted as they are. Before I lost my religion—before I realized I was as deluded as the Mormons, that I believed what I believed only because I had been told to believe it—I’d honk my horn whenever we’d pass a pair of Mormon missionaries. Stupid Mormons. When my kids complained, I’d say, “It’s my ministry!”
So I lost my religion.
At first, I fretted that I was on a slippery slope to atheism, which distressed me because, after all, Satan had wedged a charcoal briquette into the chest cavity of atheists where most of us have a feisty love muscle heart. (Just kidding. They’re OK.) Then I realized—no way there isn’t a God. God is the best explanation for why there’s something rather than nothing. We can all agree, can’t we, that there is something?
The question, though, was what kind of God?
A journey through isms
So I began looking into it.
My mom encouraged me to adopt process theology, the idea that God lures creation toward good ends, like a man wooing a woman. (Come upstairs and see my glow-in-the-dark stereo.)
For a while, I thought I was a deist, worshipping a God who cranked up the universe like a clockwork clapping monkey and then stepped away, resisting all temptation to meddle when His beloved creatures were beset by pornography and parking tickets.
That just didn’t seem right—and now I know why. It didn’t match reality.
I was living in a two-story universe.
Everything is natural
I assumed there were two realms, the natural and the supernatural—as the Bible would say, heaven and earth. We were in the first story here in the material universe, and God was above us in the supernatural realm. Our prayers were like us beating a broom handle against the ceiling of our cosmic apartment. This two-story view predates Christianity by thousands of years, as primal as wet dreams. In this view, God is wholly other than the world, much as a sculptor is other than the sculpture he creates.
In this conception, the human being is totally outside of God. The alienation of humans from the Creator is baked into the very concept of God. (Habakkuk 2:20 advises us: “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.”)
The truth, however, is there’s no distinction between reality and ultimate reality. There’s only one story.
That means that God is . . . reality, in all its bone-rattling and beatific fullness. God is not something you have, as in “Do you have God in your life?” any more than you can have the ocean in which you’re floating, wondering if your tour boat will realize you’re not on board. If anything, the ocean has you.
God is pure existence. He’s unavoidable. The answer to the question “Does God exist?” is duh!
Who did the douchebag?
This is either pantheism or panentheism. Either the universe is God or the universe is within God. Either way, there’s no supernatural. Everything is natural. (In a pantheistic/panentheistic worldview, miracles are absurd. It’s saying God could be other than God.) The question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a nonstarter, as it assumes God has our values (suffering is bad).
I’m still working on the details. But I’m pretty sure I’m one or the other of them, pantheist or panentheist.
For me now, theism just seems . . . silly.
The theist view, Pat Robertson’s view, is anthropomorphic. We project ourselves onto God—someone/something that all would agree isn’t human. God intervenes. God’s love muscle smolders with righteous indignation. God listens while you kvetch unremittingly. God helps you find your car keys.
God is the benevolent live-in landlord upstairs. When a douchebag—yes, a douchebag is a real thing—gets snaked up in the plumbing, you just ring him up and he says:
I’ll pencil you in.
When atheists ridicule religion, they’re ridiculing this concept of God—and they’re right to sniff and scoff. This view of God doesn’t correspond to anything in reality, other than our fevered hopes. Reality—God—often gives us things we neither want nor need.
So now I know. I’m a pantheist or a panentheist. I’m not saying it’s for everyone. I’m not going to wear a hair shirt about it or anything. If it doesn’t float your boat, no skin off my nose. (Although, I must say, it seems self-evident that God doesn’t intervene in our daily affairs. I just see no reason God could trot out for killing a child with cancer—which is what theists must struggle to explain. Their response has been to say that God didn’t cause the cancer but only allowed it, which is worth shit to the kid dying of cancer and her parents. What grand design could possibly justify that pain? And don’t get me started about the pornography and parking tickets.) To me, pantheism/panentheism makes the best sense of the data, the ballooning universe full of beauty and black holes swallowing up entire alien civilizations like Cracker Jack.
(Note: I’m not smart enough to come up with all these scandalous ideas on my own, though my brain is prone to scandal. I’ve read a number of helpful heretical writings. I’ve had a lot of free time since I stopped reading the Bible and going to church. The books: God, A Human History by Reza Aslan, The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, The Spirit of Spinoza by Neal Grossman, A Book Forged in Hell by Steven Nadler, and How to Think About God by Mortimer Adler. And Gene Marshall’s paper: What Are We Pointing to with the Word ‘God’?)