People keep asking me about God. And why I practice religion religiously when I don’t believe in the Deity.
I’ll take another stab at trying to explain… but please keep in mind that the phrase “unresolved issues” figured prominently in my first post, and is the thread that holds all of this together.
I believe that there is something inherent in humankind that makes us strive to be better. That’s why people throughout history have persisted in creating religions. It’s like the Army’s old motto — “be the best that you can be.” For the most part, humans want to cultivate the best aspects of themselves and their civilizations. Of course there are deviations, mainly on an individual basis, but as a whole, we want to be more, better, to rise above ourselves.
Why do we do this, and why are we (probably) the only creatures on Earth that do so? I think it has something to do with being self-aware. We think, therefore we are. But that’s not enough. We want more. We want meaning. Especially when things go wrong, which they inevitably do.
It’s time for me to come clean. Fact is, a few years ago I was presented with one of those challenges that life tends to throw at us. In my case, it was a boatload of breast cancer and a predicted life expectancy of 18-24 months (but not to worry — I’ve already outlived that by over 100 months and am still going strong). At the time, I was pretty grateful for the fact that I already believed in God. I felt strongly that the question “why me” was completely irrelevant — the more important question was, how was I going to live my life, regardless of how long that would be? I decided that being a practicing Jew was a good approach to life, so I stuck with it.
As the years passed, I put a lot of thought into what it meant for me to believe in God. Do I believe in a higher power? A higher purpose? SomeOne I can turn to in bad times and thank in good times? Or is God something that’s already in us? I’ve opted for the “God is within” argument. Not that I don’t appreciate the idea of a God who’s without. Here’s what my friend Carol wrote about her feelings when she returned after traveling the world for 6 years:
“I concluded that I needed to be grateful that everything turned out on the whole quite well. The question, of course, was to whom to be grateful. I decided… I needed something greater than myself to which to be grateful… I think that believing in a grander “being”… helps to keep us humble. I also believe that the ‘G-d” idea is also inside each and everyone. It is perhaps our inner strength that we tap into, when we just have to go on, when we feel we can’t go on. Or that inner strength which guides us in moral decisions, not only in right/ wrong matters, but the decisions to offer help to others and do Tikkun Olam things. I believe that G-d is who/what an individual needs it to be, so that everyone’s G-d does not have to be defined in the same way.” (emphasis mine)
Carol is a pretty cool person, obviously. I love what she said and how she said it.
I also happen to be a Jewel fan, and yes, I’m about to quote song lyrics. Because otherwise I’d have to tell you my favorite story about the rich man who brought challah to the synagogue and the poor man who took it home; the rich man thought God was taking it, the poor man thought God was giving it, and they were both truly disappointed to discover that it was “only” a person at the other end of the exchange, rather than God. But the wise rabbi pointed out to them that they were each the hands of God, one giving and the other taking, and convinced them to continue being the hands of God in each other’s lives.
OK, so now I don’t have to quote Jewel. Well, I can’t resist just a few lines, because this is one of my favorite songs:
…I won’t be made useless
I won’t be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For someone must stand up for what’s right
‘Cause where there’s a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
In the end only kindness matters
We are God’s eyes, God’s hands, God’s mind
We are God’s eyes, God’s hands, God’s heart
We are God’s eyes, God’s hands
We are God’s hands