Thursday, November 12, 2009

God’s a Big Human

Non-believers are often faced with the theist’s complaint as to how we attempt to “humanize” their God-concept, or how we complain their God-concept doesn’t act as we expect it too. They complain we approach the theistic question on the basis God acts like a human—only bigger.

I will attempt to explain why this is so.

As humans we are constantly attempting to figure out the world about us. Why did that tree fall? How can I measure twice, yet the plank is too short? Why do we become sick? Why is traffic stopped and can I get around it? In doing so, we communicate with other humans. We develop language, grammar, and skills to learn information, and figure out the world we live in.

Since we are human, understand human thinking, human emotions, human instincts and human knowledge, it is within that arena we base our communication and attempts to relate our observations. Think of this simple statement:

“My wife’s cat loves me.”

Now, I don’t know the psychology of cats. I don’t know how they obtain knowledge, what emotions they have, or what instincts they contain. We can speculate on such things, based upon observation, but no cat has learned human language in a way it can communicate exactly what it is feeling towards humans.

Look at the first part of the phrase, “My wife’s cat…” I suspect the cat would be stunned to learn it is “owned.” That it is a possession. If a cat is self-aware, it would be repulsed by the notion a human “owns” it. Secondly, how do we designate a certain individual within a household “owns” a cat?

Yet as another human, you understood this statement with no problem. You understood, despite current appearances, at one time the cat was a gift specifically designated for my wife. In my house, my wife has a cat, my son has a dog, my oldest daughter has a cat, and my youngest daughter has guinea pigs. While they all live in the same house, and are all fed by the same person (my wife)—we have broken up ownership amongst various persons.

Now look at the second part: “…cat loves me.” Again, I don’t know how a cat loves. I don’t know what the word means to a cat. I use a human term—“love”—that the other human understands so we can communicate a concept. What we expect from such a statement is that the cat prefers to sit on my lap as compared to my wife’s (it does) that it comes to me for attention (it does) and that it generally prefers, when it allows company, to be in my presence (it does.)

No one hears the statement, “My wife’s cat loves me” and thinks, “You are attempting to humanize the cat” or “You are saying, ‘If I were a cat, I would ____’” No!—we understand the use of the English word “love” is communicating a certain idea where we expect certain actions to align with the word.

We anthropomorphize things all the time:

“My car didn’t want to start.”

We know cars don’t have “wants” or desires. But every one of us (most of us have probably said that very thing) understood the phrase to mean the car was mechanically having difficulty. Does anyone complain, “Your idea regarding vehicles is human-centric”? Of course not!

“The ball wouldn’t go in the goal.”
“My locker door hates me.”
“Traffic was a bitch.”
“The rock refused to budge.”

Each phrase uses a human feeling to convey a concept. Sure, we understand rocks and locker doors do not have feelings or motivations. We utilize these words NOT because the locker door is supposed to understand what we are saying; we use them so the other human can understand the idea.

Now back to the cat example. I say, “My wife’s cat loves me.” But you observe the cat always runs away from me. It hisses at me when I approach. It arches its back. It claws at me if I pick it up. It never purrs with me; never jumps in my lap. This appears to be an incongruity. We have certain expectations from the word “love.” We understand a cat’s emotional base is very different from humans; when a human tells another human something “loves” him—that word “love” presents certain anticipated behaviors. Cars that “love” us are expected to have fewer mechanical problems. Projects that “love” us are expected to be easier than first thought.

And cats that “love” us are not expected to hiss, and claw and run away.

The word “love” is intended, even when applied to non-humans, to portray a communicable idea.

Turning to God…we understand a God is not human. It is different. But in order to discuss this rationally, theists must grasp this seemingly simple fact—non-theists do not have a specific definition for God.

I comprehend to theists, when I say the word “God” a certain mental image pops in their head. A Hindu thinks of multiple Gods with various personalities. A Catholic thinks of a certain Abrahamic version of God. Muslims a different Abrahamic version. Jews yet another Abrahamic version.

The problem I often see, is that this idea is so obvious to the theist, they cannot identify with a God being anything but what they picture in their mind. “Of course God is this” or “God is that” and the notion God could possibly be anything else is as crazy as a thin Santa Claus, or a tall leprechaun.

Yet to non-theists, we do not have a locked-in version of God. Sure, we understand the notion it could be a creator, or that it could have personality, or could exhibit something akin to emotions, or it could be bound by logic. Notice those are all “could’s.” What we are looking for is what actually IS; not what “could” be. So we ask the theist to describe their God-concept.

Because we are human (surprise)…and the theist is human (surprise)…the theist describes their God-concept in…will this be a surprise?...human terms.

The theist may say something like, “God loves humans.” Now to us non-theists, this is an attempt to depict God, using terminology we understand. We get (we truly, truly do) this is not intended to be EXACTLY like human love. We get (we truly, truly do) the thought communicated is a similarity, and that this God, being a completely different species, would have different emotions, feelings, thinking, etc.

The same way we understand “My cat loves me.”

And once this sentiment is expressed, we start to question it, in light of what we observe. We question “My cat loves me” when we observe the cat claw, hiss and run away. We question the sentiment “God loves me” when the God orders genocide, kidnap, and stealing. These are incongruous with our understanding of what the word “love” means.

I am NOT questioning God; I am questioning the human who claims this is what their God-concept is. Much the same way I don’t question the cat, “Why don’t you love him?” I question the owner, “Why do you say these actions are loving?”

If a believer in the Tanakh God indicated God was petty, jealous, malicious, and very powerful—we non-theists would simply nod our head. These words, even though they are human emotions, conform to what we observe relayed in the Tanakh. It is only once a person tries to say such a God is loving, or merciful do we question how those human terms apply to such a creature.

When you say, “God has X characteristic” where “X” is a human description of an emotion, feeling, thought or concept, we expect this God’s actions to align with our understanding of X characteristic.

It is NOT that we expect God to act like a human; it is that YOU have described God in human terms, and we question inconsistencies with that human term. We do not expect cats to act like humans, but if you describe a cat along human terms, we question inconsistencies with that term.

It is NOT that we say, “If I were God, then I would…” rather we are saying, “You claim your God-concept has X characteristic. I understand humans (including me) exhibit X characteristic by doing certain things. But you claim your God-concept does things contrary to exhibiting X characteristic. How do you line that up?”

The same way we do not say, “If I were a cat, then I would…” rather we are saying, “You claim your cat loves you. I understand how humans act when they love someone. But your cat does not act that way. How do you line that up?”

Is this making any sense?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Teenagers, Questions, and Answers

My teenage daughter is currently attending an Evangelical conservative church. (The current boyfriend is the draw.) She questions some things she’s been hearing and told me the following story:

Yesterday the teenagers were asked to submit questions to a Pastor. (“One of the big guys who knows the answers,” as she puts it. *grin*) She and the boyfriend put together what they thought was a pretty clever question—basically “Why does God allow little kids to die of cancer?”

The ol’ Problem of Suffering.

What my daughter found interesting (and slightly amusing) was how the pastor hemmed and hawed, talked around the question, but then she noted this: He never answered the question! She said the closest thing to an answer was, “I don’t know.”

What struck me was how she picked up on that particular problem and how she was savvy enough to see how he didn’t answer it.

See, there really isn’t a good answer. There isn’t a cutsey little phrase, or snap bumper-stick capsulizing in digestible form a coherent response.

Everything we understand about morals, and charity and doing the right thing includes deep involvement in reducing pain and suffering as much as possible, to the point of elimination if possible. We’ve spent millions of hours and probably trillions of dollars research ways to reduce cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, polio, influenze, small pox, malaria, AIDS, and numerous other diseases.

To claim there is a God who can reduce it, but doesn’t, raises the huge question, “Why?” The fact the Christian cannot answer this very basic fact about God demonstrates why I reiterate any claim about God is unenforceable, because God is unobservable and unverifiable.

If you don’t know enough about your God-concept to explain why such a God wouldn’t cure cancer in a five-year-old, don’t tell me how it writes books, or provides you a parking space, or gave your child the winning shot in the J.V. basketball game.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Gay Marriage fails another Popular vote

Well. There it is. Maine’s election this past Tuesday was yet another instance where gay marriage failed to pass. Every single popular vote on Gay marriage in America has failed. Literally from California to Maine. Including my home state of Michigan.


The obviously correct answer is that Gay marriage is not the popular majority position amongst voters. We must recognize this simple fact. We who support gay marriage need to take the next step and question how we convince enough of the majority to change their position, and we become the majority.

There are quite a number we simply won’t. To them it is a matter of principle. Whether for religious reasons or long-held opinions as to what is “traditional” they will never, ever vote for gay marriage. Yes, there are instances where people can change. But deconversions are the exceptions—not the norms—and getting a swing this large will not come in that manner.

I find it hard to believe (perhaps it is true) the entire majority position is comprised of such individuals. Therefore the only hope is to focus on those who are not entrenched in principle, but still do not desire gay marriage to be allowed.

How do we motive these people? What can we say to open their minds to the possibility of allowing gay marriage even though they personally do not want it?

Motivating people is hard, due to the individuality of humans. Some people are enamored by automobiles, and would be motivated by a chance of owning a rare car. To me, cars are unavoidable means by which we get from Point A to Point B. While I appreciate a Corvette, I wouldn’t spend the money on one. (Yet I am the person who couldn’t live with surround sound, and cannot understand people satisfied with listening to Pirates of the Caribbean through…gasp!...TV speakers.)

Those opposing gay marriage use a powerful motivation—fear. They claim gay marriage will lead to school children being taught a certain way. They claim gay marriage will lead to polygamy. To people marrying pets. To your children becoming gay. They understand the power of threats: “If gay marriage is allowed, then _______” and fill in that blank with something--anything--people could possibly be scared by.

You can’t talk people out of fear. You can’t reason fear away. Ever have a child wake up in the night, terrified about the monster under the bed? You know there is no monster. You can show them how empty it is under the bed. You can argue, point out and explain how there are no such things as monsters. Did your cadre of reason diminish their fear? Not even a bit.

Instead you hold them, let them know it is alright. We fear the unknown. We fear the dark because we cannot see. We fear the interview or introduction because we don’t know the person’s reaction. By reassuring the child that what is known—you—is there, you calm them down.

We are not going to argue these people out of these fears. The only way to reassure them is to generate familiarity with homosexuals. To meet gay couples. To gain understanding into their lifestyle—which unsurprisingly consists of “who is making dinner?” and soccer games, and watching TV, and enjoying a glass of wine.

See…familiarity is fear’s nemesis. Remember how scared you were driving a car the first time? How you carefully checked your mirrors again and again? How you didn’t want to parallel park? After driving for years, you think nothing of it. You hop in the car, turn the key, and your mind isn’t even focused on the automatic driving process.

I admit I am uncertain how to implement this idea—I just know it is the way to counter fear.

Besides reducing the opponents’ motivation of fear, we must equally propose our own motivation—selfless support for a minority.

To make many of the current majority position sit back and truly think, what harm does it do to them to allow gays to marry? Does it really reduce the value of heterosexual marriage? Think long and hard about that.

Britney Spears’ marriage lasted 55 hours. Zsa Zsa Gabor has had 9 husbands. We have a television show where producers interview potential females to marry a bachelor; the courtship taking place before camera crews. There are wedding chapels next to casinos. You can be licensed to practice marriages over the internet.

Every one of those marriages is legal. Allowed. Sanctioned.

This is the institution we are protecting? We find so sacred, no homosexual need apply? In reviewing such examples, I am uncertain how it is possible to tarnish heterosexual marriage any more than it has done to itself!

Does it really diminish your own marriage? Did the fact Britney Spears was only married 55 hours on a lark make no difference, but the fact Bob and Ted (who you will never meet) are married in Portland make your marriage just that little bit less?

Where were you on July 21, 2005? What happened on that day? Did you wake up and (if you were married) all of a sudden feel as if your marriage just didn’t mean as much? As if you and your spouse were just not as meaningful as before? If you were not married, did you wake up to the realization that your eventual heterosexual marriage would be less significant? Less wonderful? Less passionate?

Do you forever remember July 21, 2005 as a day--marked in infamy--when marriage lost its sanctity and become an unholy, impure travesty?

“What happened?” you are thinking, “What terrible tragedy could possibly have occurred to bring this about?” Simple…the day before, on July 20, 2005, Canada legalized same-sex marriage.

That’s right (remember, marriage is NOT an exclusively American idea)—our neighbor to the north allowed gay marriage. And not a single American felt their current or future marriage was reduced in any way.

See the reality is we each find the meaning in marriage through our own marriage. Whether Zsa Zsa picks up another husband, a celebrity marries or the Gosselins divorce does not affect the depth or value I have with my wife. Nor would allowing gay marriage impact my marriage. My wife and I make our own course—we don’t measure our marriage by the marriage of others.

The motivation we need to impart is protection of a minority position. There are less homosexuals than heterosexuals. There always will be. If we voted down hetero/homo lines, the homosexual will always lose. Yet so would males. And African-Americans. And every other minority.

The reason America can be great is NOT that we can implement majority rule. 1000’s of governments before America understood the simple concept of “might makes right.” We can be great because we use majority rule to protect minority positions. We can look beyond “who has the most votes gets the say” to understanding and granting rights to those who will never have the most votes.

This is where we have gone awry. We have become a nation of bipartisanship, where the only important question is who can get the most votes to support ME. We will do anything to get those votes. We have stopped looking out for the little person. To wonder how we can do better. To push and prod to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

America is failing. Not because of the economy, but because we have lost all empathy with minority positions. We want to win, and win at all costs. Voting is no longer a civic duty; it has become a video game where the final question is “Do I have the highest score?”