Provision #588: Probably No God?

Laser Provision

Did that title get your attention? If so then the campaign to put secularist posters on the sides of British buses may achieve its intended result. But I think the posters miss the mark. The problem is not with God; the problem is with parochial ideas of God. That’s what Abraham Lincoln had to say in his Second Inaugural Address (reprinted below). It is also what I understand to be the true nature of here, now, and forever. God is no Judge; God is Understanding.

LifeTrek Provision

On October 21, 2008 the BBC reported on a new media campaign being put together by the British Humanist Society. The idea is to put posters on buses with the following slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

The campaign is being funded by private donations, including a sizable gift by the prominent atheist professor, Richard Dawkins. Commenting on his support of the effort, Dawkins observes: “Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride: automatic tax breaks, unearned respect, and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children. Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side. This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think, and thinking is anathema to religion.”

The response of Christians and other believers has been mixed. Some view the campaign as a danger to the public at large while others view it as a public service since it stimulates important thinking about life and meaning. One representative of the Methodist church, for example, thanked Professor Dawkins for encouraging a “continued interest in God”. If you are reading this Provision and you normally don’t, then it’s probably because of the title. Calling into question the existence of God has a way of getting attention.

That’s been true ever since the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first proclaimed the death of God in 1882. He, of course, did not mean the literal death of God. He meant the metaphorical death of all gods as organizing principles in life. Although the reality of that death has not taken hold, at least not to date, Nietzsche saw metaphysics as being on an inevitable collision course with modernity. Something tells me that Nietzsche did not take into consideration the power of fear to induce faith.

I find it interesting that the message on the side of those buses connects atheism with the absence of worry and the enjoyment of life. I suppose that works if you think of God as a transcendent judge who will shame and blame you for everything wrong you’ve ever done. But that’s never been my understanding of God, who has always been more of a comfort than a critic.

So, for me, the slogan on the side of the buses would be a lot more provocative if it were to say: “There’s probably no Judge. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” That is the framework we come from in coaching, a complete absence of judgment, and that is the reality we see once we set aside the dichotomies which make the world go around. To mention only a few of those dichotomies:

  • Ally / Enemy
  • Love / Hate
  • Here / There
  • Work / Play
  • Strong / Weak
  • Right / Wrong
  • Us / Them
  • Now / Later
  • Up / Down
  • Good / Bad
  • Rich / Poor
  • Bulls / Bears
  • Smart / Dumb
  • Hot / Cold
  • Light / Dark
  • Metaphysical / Physical

There’s really no end to the list of polarities that play into our jeers and fears. They drive just about everything people say and do. But there’s more than one way to look at these experiences. Instead of seeing them in oppositional terms, for example, it’s possible to appreciate them as alternate versions of the same reality. That is certainly the way God views these things, if there is any God at all.

Does God love the ally more than the enemy? The strong more than the weak? The rich more than the poor? The smart more than the dumb? The transcendent more than the imminent? Certainly not.

That recognition was the underlying insight of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered on Saturday, April 4, 1865 in Washington, DC. It was the shortest and also the most memorable of any inaugural address ever given by a US President, before or since. Here is what Lincoln had to say in reflecting on the causes, consequences, and considerations of the war:

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”

“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Apart from two introductory paragraphs, that was the entire Address. Lincoln recognized profoundly that God does not love one side more than the other. Rather, Lincoln saw God as loving both sides equally, hoping against hope that we would exhaust our warring ways and embrace our common ground. In God, there are no sides. There is only understanding of all sides, ever manifesting itself as worthy and true.

It is interesting to read Lincoln’s Address now, as the world goes through yet another traumatic woe. If a price is being paid, if wealth is being sunk, then perhaps yet another invisible hand is at play. I recently read a satirical column, for example, that connected our global financial crisis with the turning on of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. They turned on the particle accelerator generating a microscopic black hole that sucked all the wealth right out of the system. How that’s for a theory!

People love to find someone or something to blame. It’s called scapegoating, and we do it to God just as much as we do it to other people and things. But I stand with Lincoln. There are no simple answers as to who or what is to blame. There are no good guys or bad guys; there are only people who are seeking to meet their needs as best they know how. We can respect each other for that and, if we choose to do so, we can learn to understand the Understanding that what would make life more wonderful for us all.

That’s why I reject atheism as the antidote to worry. God is not the problem. God on our side is the problem. The more we turn God into a tribal leader, the more we’re likely to worry and the less we’re likely to enjoy life. Lincoln saw that truth and articulated it as well as he could: God was that which would not be denied. God is no Judge; God is rather Understanding.

If you want to stop worrying and enjoy your life, then I suggest you abandon parochial notions of God (rather than abandoning God altogether). Once you get an understanding of the Understanding, as with Lincoln, that the universe is unfolding as it should and that life will make it through one way or another, everything gets a whole lot easier. Forget the dichotomies; there is but one place to be: here, now, and forever.

Coaching Inquiries: Is your God too small? How could you expand your understanding of the Understanding to include everyone and everything? What comfort might you find in such an understanding? Who could join you on the path?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Thanks so much for your Provision on melatonin! It was very informative. I am not 40 yet but will be 36 in February. I don’t sleep well and often feel tired so I am going to try it and let you know how it goes. Thanks.

Once again, your Provision on Joy came at a perfect time. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Like so many others, I have been pummeled by this real estate and now financial crisis. So many things hang in the balance for me right now: my house, my livelihood (whatever that means), my income or lack of it, limited jobs, my vitality, sense of worth and yes, even my joy. 

I have been proud that I have dug in my heels, committed to not going “down” without a fight, and have been out there, fighting for work, looking for opportunities, mostly staying positive, trying to recognize the grace in the situation, the doors God may opening or closing, and trying to stay faithful that He will provide, that all will be OK. I’ve even tried to stay on course with physical workouts or hikes and some things I enjoy. 

In the meantime, though, I have not placed enough emphasis on what brings me joy. My duty to me seems to be find work so I can restore financial stability and be financially responsible, no someone else’s or society’s burden. I don’t want to be “bailed out”, so I’m working tirelessly to try to ensure that doesn’t happen. I am left tired, not sleeping well and vulnerable to illness and esteem issues.

In the back of my mind, I have felt the distance from my philanthropic work that naturally seemed like it had to take a back seat. After all, I have to take care of myself before being of use to others. However, that had been a big part of my “joy”, and my ability to be preoccupied with something other than myself or my needs. This work is also part of my dream (or one of them): providing sustainable and affordable homes to Navajo families.

As I tiredly get up this morning, I feel a large deficit of joy. And your Provision has shed some light on that for me. I’ll be more conscious these next few days and weeks of examining my own joy factor and what I am allowing for myself, and how I can bring more of it in to my life and others’ lives, not just when I can do things I want to do, but even in the midst of this most trying time of my life. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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