When you accept a picture of the deity assigned to you by another people, you become the spiritual prisoners of that other people. —John Henrik Clarke
The morning is still quiet as I write. The only noise is that of the heater trying to balance the temperature between the West end of the house, which is always warm, and the East end of the house, which is always a bit cool. For the moment, everything is peaceful and I am enjoying that temporary situation as I know it won’t be long before the younger children are awake and anxiously chasing the myth of some rabbit. I could do without the myths associated with today, but in this momentary tranquility, my mind involuntarily yields to thoughts of deity and our roles not only in creating them, but maintaining them as well.
I realize that, for some, challenging the concept of deity encroaches upon sacred territory. People are protective of their gods because to challenge one’s deity is to put the source of one’s faith at risk. Yet, I would argue that if one does not understand their god how can they truly understand matters of worship or devotion to the faith in that god? Dissecting deity is a requirement if one ever expects to hold their faith not as a corporate purchase of a cosmic mythology but as a personal belief system that is foundational to their lives.
Therefore, the first question one must ask is this: Who created your deity? Many would hold that their god(s) were not created, but rather revealed their presence either through some event or in the presumed creation of nature. Yet, before we begin accepting as gospel the stories and legends of past millennia we must realize that the oral tradition in which they were handed down factors prominently in how one’s perception of god takes shape. Even if all the story tellers of old had witnessed the events of which they told, and few did, their representations of those events would still differ dramatically and it is in those differences that our perceptions begin to take shape. We then create an interpretation of our deity based less on the event and more on our interpretation of those story teller’s version of those events. We create our own gods.
Our belief systems are very personal, and so are our deities. Ask a million people who god is and a million different answers ensue. Millions are monotheistic, firmly convinced that a singular deity rules all. This works for us because we, too, view ourselves in some fashion as singular rulers of our own lives, attempting to control the chaotic cosmos of our immediate situation. We can relate to that god because he faces the same struggles we do, just on a larger scale. Still, millions of others view god as a concept, an energy, or a life force rather than an actual being. That concept works as well for those whose inherent view of this life is temporal and regenerative as part of a greater spiritual whole. While we may work within the greater framework of a religious structure, we still create a god that best fits our view of life.
The National Geographic Channel begins a new series tonight that I find timely. The Story of God with Morgan Freeman attempts to take an objective yet personal view of the deities we worship through the quest of one who has portrayed someone else’s version of god but has historically stated that he is not a “man of god,” but rather a “person of faith.” Even in choosing Morgan Freeman to lead this journey, the program’s producers are playing to one of the more common construction elements of deity with an actor whose voice is deep and authoritative. Morgan Freeman’s voice sounds like what we want god’s voice to sound like. Here’s the 30-second version of the trailer for tonight’s show:
Over the course of the series, the program takes a look at the larger umbrella of deity through personal stories. While I cannot imagine that such exploration uncovers anything we didn’t already know, what the stories ultimately show us is exactly what I have posited here from the beginning: our deities are of our own creation, even if we call them by the same name, even if we worship them corporately with thousands of others, our concepts of god are as personal and individual as each of us.
Where does that leave those who don’t believe in a god? I would argue that we all create gods of some form or fashion even if we choose to not refer to them by that name. We place our faith in something. Some construct deities of science and philosophy. Others hold the belief that there is nothing that exists outside one’s self, therefore making themselves the deity. Whatever rules one’s belief system becomes one’s deity.
I would not dare to challenge that anyone’s concept of god is wrong but I am abhorrent of those who would just as soon kill anyone who disagrees with their construct of a violent and wrathful god. That such views exist, again, emphasizes the sometimes severe degree to which we create deity in our own image, to justify our own views of life, and to act as an authoritative bully in manipulating the behavior of others.
Whether or not one is observing a celebration of today, I hope you might take some time and consider this deity you have constructed. Consider how it serves your faith and the ways in which your faith constructs your perception of god.
And may everyone find peace.