Thursday, October 19, 2017

Feelings of Doom

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I’ve had casual conversations with friends about “intelligence.” What constitutes intelligence? What are its properties?

Some say it’s having a great memory. Others that it’s the ability to learn. Besides these, the dictionary says intelligence is “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment” or “to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (tests).” I believe it’s all of the above, plus the ability to predict outcomes. 
People who are successful in horse-race gambling have this kind of intelligence, I suspect. They study a horse and jockey and compare them to other horses and jockeys in the race, track conditions, and other relevant factors. But they also have seen a certain jockey-and-horse combo perform in similar situations and against similar competition and based on their experience, they correctly predict this combo will win, place or show.
Other animals have this kind of intelligence, it seems. A crow in a laboratory knows from experience that if she pecks a red button instead of a black or green one, a treat will flow down a chute.
Not Completely Trustworthy
The predictions aren’t completely trustworthy, of course, and like many attributes, this kind of intelligence, if too dominant, can cause misery. That accounts for the fact that lots of people walk around with a permanent sense of doom. Their minds continually ask, “What if?” imagining the worse possible scenarios. They apply the ability to predict to nearly every circumstance, correctly predicting possible outcomes but always choosing the most disastrous.
That, according to the online Anxiety Network, constitutes a “generalized anxiety disorder” that may be helped by professional mental health practitioners. Anxiety is "a chronic sense of uneasiness about a vague future, a gnawing worry about what may or may not happen," according to an online article by anthropology professor Barbara King. That sets it apart from fear, which is temporary and concrete.
But nearly all humans, I believe, are familiar with a kind of anxiety that may not be chronic. Isn’t it common to have feelings about personal “doom?” That my spouse who’s on her way to the supermarket could be involved in a terrible car accident; that my daughter or son, who are flying today, could die in a plane crash; that working in the yard, I could get my foot caught under the lawnmower.
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Then there’s the anxiety that results from “what’s happening in the world:” the consequences of the country’s leadership or lack of it; the unthinkable horror of nuclear war; the seemingly increasing incidences of natural disasters; the perception of an increasing number of mass shootings; the effects of a perceived loss of morality or ethics. In these cases, the ability to predict based on our experience can cause anxiety.
Although these fears may be reasonable, we often exaggerate the risk, usually because we lack sufficient information to properly calculate it.
Take the risk of being a victim of a mass shooting. According to the online Healthline, the lifetime risk of death from a mass shooting is one in 110,154. That compares with a risk of one in 113 for dying in a vehicle crash and one in seven of dying from heart disease or cancer. As for the risk of dying in a terrorist attack, it’s less than being crushed by furniture falling over on you in your own home, according to an article in the Washington Post in 2015. 
A mass shooting may cause anxiety apart from our personal risk, of course. We may worry about how it relates to gun availability or the availability of mental health and addiction treatment. Or we have anxiety in realizing that a human could be so bereft of compassion that he would so easily take the life of so many of his fellow humans.
Do What Can Be Done
Healthy people may worry and if they’re responsible, they will do whatever they can to prevent such disasters. But they will get over it and return to their usual low states of anxiety.
So what does any of this have to do with the search for God? It’s just that anxiety, I believe, is a barrier to a relationship with God and each other. Some may view trust in God as a kind of Pollyanna response to our problems and the problems of our world, but trust results in peace, which is among the rewards that are the “fruits of the spirit” mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Galatians.
I thought of the problem of anxiety resulting from current events when hearing another letter attributed to Paul in last weekend’s liturgy, from the fourth chapter of his letter to the Christians at Philippi, the ancient city that is now part of the Balkan region. This is from The Message translation.
“Don’t fret or worry,” Paul urges his readers. “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for the good, will come and settle you down.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Searching for God in the Midst of Conflict

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I know how nerdy this sounds, but as a child I used to watch ants, particularly the black and red ants that occupied the territory around a big tree in the parking near our front yard.

The black and red ants were obvious enemies, frequently engaging in battles to the death. Though the red ants were about half the size of the black ants, the red ants sometimes got the better of the battles. And sometimes, when the two sides appeared to be at peace, I would try to stir them up by placing a black or red ant among those of the opposite group.

It was great entertainment. We had no TV.

My intervention was what some people would describe as God-like. Though we often want to pin our human failings on God, the God of Christians and Jews is nothing like that. How much, if any, culpability may we assign to God for what’s wrong with us and our world? And how should people searching for God react to conflict?

We See Things Differently
Conflict is, of course, as proper to humans as harmony. We all see things differently, making conflict inevitable and even necessary. Jesus was involved in plenty of conflict. The challenge for people searching for God, including those who wish to follow Jesus, is to engage in conflict while continuing to love. Some adaptation of the old adage, “hate the sin and love the sinner,” applies.

Regarding the ants, anyone who watches nature documentaries as I do knows that the world is full of “natural” conflict: a fish is peacefully swimming in a stream when an eagle swoops down and takes it to its nest where the fish is torn to pieces; the cheetah runs down an antelope and goes for its neck; the purple martin dive bombs a moth in your back yard.

And, of course, we humans are among the greatest of predators. We regularly, and in great numbers, kill and eat other animals.

How is it that a compassionate God included the cruel mechanism of predation in his/her evolutionary creation plan? We don’t know. But as unpopular as it is to make such distinctions today, it seems that God had a different plan for humans than he did for other animals. About the most we can say – as my brother-in-law is fond of saying – is, “It is what it is.” 

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For much of nature, it’s truly a dog-eat-dog world. But that’s how many would describe the world of humans as well. Note the mass shooting on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas. As of this writing, 58 people died and over 500 were wounded, the deadliest mass shooting in American history. I doubt the record will last long, and people searching for God may ask, “How could a good God allow it?”

Mass murder isn’t part of the plan of the God in whom I believe. This madness falls squarely on our shoulders. What have we done to ensure that people with mental illness and addiction receive proper treatment? What have we done to reduce the likelihood that potential mass murderers, or any murderers, get their hands on weapons? How easily do we forgive, treat others justly and take them seriously, and truly love our neighbor?

Mass shootings such as that which occurred in Las Vegas are dwarfed by the other horrible things humans have done to each other. The holocaust in Nazi Germany and the killing fields of Cambodia come to mind. Those “events” took the lives of millions of innocent people.

When it comes to human-made as well as natural disasters, maybe the more relevant question isn’t “How can God allow it?” but “How can we allow it?”

Off the Hook?
Are we off the hook in culpability for disasters such as those occurring recently due to hurricanes, earthquakes and fires? How much is due to human activity and neglect? How many people die because of our lack of rapid response? How well have we taken care of the earth?

Back to mass murders, we have free will, so how can we expect God to allow us our freedom and for God to control our behavior at the same time? How can we be free if we want God to constantly intervene in our lives and our world? Why do we blame God and exonerate ourselves?

So if we don’t expect God to intervene, why pray?

If God can create the world, he/she can intervene, and I believe he/she has done so. How does God decide when and where he/she will intervene? We simply don’t know. We aren’t promised the ability to understand God’s ways. Our challenge is to believe and, as the psalmist says, “cling to him/her in love.”

What we do know is that prayer, including prayer of petition, is a mainstay of the earliest traditions of Judaism and Christianity. And people who pray say it does them a world of good, even when their prayers are apparently not answered. 

I’m among them.    

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Guilt: Kroc and Crosby

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc in the movie, "The Founder" Google Image
In a scene set in the mid-1950s in the movie, The Founder, Ray Kroc tells the McDonald brothers – the real founders of the fast-food giant – that eating at a McDonald’s should be “like going to church;” that nothing beats the beauty of American families sharing the meal of “a great product at a great price.”

Michael Keaton, who played the part of Kroc, dripped insincerity and cynicism. Kroc ended up stealing the business from the brothers, who had started the innovative hamburger shop in San Bernadino, CA. In the process, he identified Christian and heroic values with American capitalism and in real life, Kroc was honored by President Ronald Reagan.

Unlike Kroc, the McDonald brothers’ keen sense of ethics wouldn’t allow them to do virtually anything to “succeed.” Kroc did what he did because, having gained the upper hand legally, he could. The McDonald brothers faded into history, undoubtedly viewed by many as “losers.”

If Kroc ever felt an ounce of guilt about what he did, it wasn’t presented in the movie.

Crosby, Stills and Nash
Contrast Kroc’s story with that of David Crosby, known in the 1960s and ‘70s as a collaborator with some of the biggest bands of the time and interviewed recently on National Public Radio. He was a founding member of The Byrds and is perhaps most known for his involvement in the folk-rock group, Crosby, Stills and Nash.

His personal life was filled with breakups, addiction and criminal activity. Convicted of several drugs and weapons offenses in 1982, Crosby spent nine months in prison. He was arrested in 1985 for drunken driving, a hit-and-run accident, and possession of a concealed weapon and drug paraphernalia. In 2004, he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, illegal possession of a hunting knife, ammunition and marijuana.

Crosby acknowledged his mistakes and his part in the breakup of the singing groups of which he was a part. The lyrics to a new album, he told an interviewer, are meant to describe the hurt he caused himself and others.

David Crosby
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"I have to cop to it,” he said. “This has been my choice. [I've] got to take responsibility for it. I did lots of harm to myself and to other people. I've gone back to those people …. You go back and you find the people that you hurt and you say, 'Look, I was crazy and I hurt you. And I'm apologizing; I'm sorry.'"

Americans spend millions of dollars a year seeing therapists who promise to help them deal with feelings of guilt, but guilt in itself is a good thing. It’s sort of a self-correcting moral compass that allows us to learn by our mistakes, correct the ones we’ve made and avoid ones we’re about to make.

Somehow, many of us have acquired the idea that we should “have no regrets,” that feeling guilt is a weakness, almost a character flaw. But society, and individually, we would be in deep trouble without a healthy sense of guilt.

“Healthy” is the key word here, of course. We may feel guilt because we’re guilty, but lots of us feel guilt about things we shouldn’t, or we fail to acknowledge the guilt, do what we can to make amends and move on.

We should not, of course, follow the example of politicians and others who express guilt so easily when they’re caught in wrongdoing. We tend to be skeptical about them because we sense that they’re insincere and that they have no plans to change their behavior or make it up to people they have hurt.  

Blaming Religion
Many people blame the religion in which they were raised for their sense of guilt, rejecting the idea of sin. Others believe one of the purposes of religion is to allay our feelings of guilt. But this is another example of how perceptions differ from reality. Faith has to do with our relationship to God and each other and our feelings of guilt have little to do with what may be our guilt before God, the only guilt that really matters.

We who are searching for God should note the Bible and Christian and Jewish traditions that show that God doesn’t want us to beat up on ourselves. In the Christian Bible, there’s not a more compelling image of God than that presented in the parable of the Prodigal Son – the extravagantly forgiving and loving father of a pathetically wayward son.

Individually and as a society, we have a lot for which to seek God’s forgiveness, however. Until recently, the “Agnus Dei” or “Lamb of God” prayer in the Catholic Mass lacked meaning for me. Now, besides thinking of my own faults while praying it, I think of all the ills of the world – the mass murders, the neglect of so many people who need help, the wars and injustice in my country and around the world – all of which I share in collective guilt. 

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Toward a “Hunger Games” Society?

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Thomas More, the lawyer who became England’s chancellor under the infamous Henry VIII and was later declared a saint, wrote a book called “Utopia” in 1516. It was about a fictitious “perfect” island society. The Greek word, utopia, literally means “no place,” perhaps indicating that More was being satirical about the possibility of such a place ever existing.

Today we have a derived word, “dystopia,” which, according to Wikipedia, also comes from the Greek and literally means “not good place.” The term is now used to describe a seemingly endless parade of modern novels, films and dramas about societies, usually in the future, which are characterized by dehumanization and totalitarianism.

Though the name “dystopia” wasn’t used until recently, the genre has been around for some time in modern literature. I remember reading, for instance, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and and George Orwell’s 1984 in my youth.

Possibly most responsible for the explosion of interest in dystopian literature and films in recent years are the novels and film, The Hunger Games. The trilogy of novels, written by American Suzanne Collins, was published in 2008-2010. Collins’ publishers sold 65 million copies in U.S. alone. It was translated into 51 languages.

Released in 2012
The film adaptation, starring Jennifer Lawrence, was released in 2012. A huge box-office success, it grossed over $694 million worldwide compared to expenses of $78 million.

Its story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in the nation of Panem, which is divided into 12 districts. A boy and a girl, aged 12 to 18, from each district must take part in games – sort of futuristic Olympics – requiring them to fight to the death until there is only one survivor.

The Capital of Panem, says Wikipedia, “is populated by citizens who, like the ancient Romans, have sold their civic responsibility and capacity for self-government in return for ‘bread and circuses.’" Besides providing amusement for residents of the Capital, the games are a punishment for the districts’ failed rebellion.

The winner’s district gets extra food and other provisions, which may account for the title, The Hunger Games. “Despite the bloodthirsty nature of the games, the people of the Capitol (sic) are shown to be vulnerable to sentimentality and melodrama,” Wikipedia says, becoming emotionally invested in the competitors, “a fact ultimately manipulated by the story’s heroes.”

One thing all these modern dystopia books and films have in common is a description of a society without God. Indeed, in some of them, it’s a crime to mention God, anything “spiritual,” or anything preceding the history of the current era.

Matt Malone, SJ
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Those of you who remember your high school or college literature classes may recall that readers of science fiction or other fiction are asked to engage in “suspension of disbelief.” In other words, if enough of a story is of human interest or has some truth, we should ignore its implausibility.

Thing is, narratives such as those in The Hunger Games are becoming more and more plausible. Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America magazine, describes what he believes is the current state of politics in America.

He sees Americans as viewing ourselves not living in a “fallen world,” such as that described in the Bible and by traditional religion, but an “imperfect society,” where religious belief is, at best, marginalized.

“…In an imperfect society, one closed off to the transcendent, there are no goals beyond human flourishing. The political stakes grow higher and higher as our politics becomes a battle for control of the means of our self-perfection, a dangerous zero-sum game that is equal parts cynical realism and tragic fantasy.”

Evolving for Years
This kind of society, in my view, has been evolving for years, through Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, and Malone believes it is evident in a recent quote from President Trump. “When we open our hearts to patriotism,” the president is quoted as saying, “there is no room for prejudice….”

The role the president assigns to patriotism, Malone contends, was formerly assigned to “the grace of God.”

Some may see this as nitpicking the president’s words, but considering the whole of recent history, it’s not hard to believe that the society described in The Hunger Games is not that implausible.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Joy in Flashes of Insight

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The next time you swat a fly, you may want to reflect on the fact that you’re cutting shorter an already short lifespan – an average of just four weeks.

But it’s not the shortest of average animal lifespans. That distinction goes to the mayfly, whose average life lasts only 24 hours. There are 2,500 species of mayflies, however, and some of them last only a few hours, according to an online nature site.

The prize for the longest animal lifespan goes to the famous Galápagos Island tortoise, which lives an average of 150 years.

The average lifespan of humans is about half that. According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy of a human being was 71.4 years in 2015, the most recent year for which data were available. 

A Drop in the Bucket
When you compare 71.4 years to the estimated 200,000 years modern humans have existed, it is a drop in the bucket, and even more insignificant when you consider that the ancestors of humans walked the earth for an estimated six million years.

If you divide 200,000 by the average age of 71.4, it comes out to 2,801 generations. But that number would be much higher if you consider that previous generations lived much shorter lives.

So what’s my point in all this?

Just that considering all the generations that have gone before us makes our lifetimes seem especially short. True, our perception of the time allotted to us varies over our lifetimes. If we have an unhappy or unhealthy youth, time may seem to go as slow as that of a Galapagos tortoise. But for most of us, looking into the future as young people, our lifetimes may seem almost endless. Older people, of course, have a heightened sensation of the rapid passage of time.

Francis Collins
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In perspective, our time on this earth is but a breath. It’s an example of how perception differs from reality. And that’s one of the problems in trying to get people to consider the transcendent. We are so encased in this life, in what we can see and touch, in our projects, our jobs, our families, we have little time or inclination to consider anything beyond them.

In our most reflective moments, it may occur to us to ask what life is about, to probe its meaning. But aren’t those fleeting, instinctive questions much more important than the time we allot them?

Many say that the question of life’s meaning is itself meaningless, that life has no “meaning,” that it’s just something we live. They say we are like our animal cousins and like them, should take life as it comes, with no reflection, no aspirations, no hope beyond what is apparent.

But isn’t it more human to take a special joy in the flashes of insight about the transcendent we may have and long to know more?

In his book, “The Language of God,” Francis Collins, a world-renown scientist who heads the Human Genome Project, addresses the common notion that belief in God and the transcendent is just wishful thinking, as if that somehow disqualifies it as real.

He cites Sigmund Freud, who argued that wishes for God stem from “early childhood experiences,” the childish wish for a “daddy” who solves all our problems.

That’s not a good argument against God and religion, however, writes Collins, because that’s not the God described in the Bible or the God who is the object of faith of most of the world’s religions. That God is loving and kind but one who also expects us to take responsibility for our lives and those of others. In other words, a God who requires accountability.

Lost the Ability?
But isn’t it possible that this longing for God we sometimes feel, if even for an instant, accurately reflects who we are or who we are meant to be and that we have lost the ability to follow through?

Collins quotes the author and poet Annie Dillard in lamenting humans’ rejection of the author of life, the renunciation of the search for meaning.

“It is difficult to undo our own damage and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave,” Dillard writes. “It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it. We are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise?

“…And yet it could be that wherever there is motion there is noise, as when a whale breaches and smacks the water, and wherever there is stillness there is the small, still voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song and dance, the show we drove from town….”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness?

Pope Francis shows his black eye after colliding with a railing on the popemobile in Colombia
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Hurricanes devastate Texas, Georgia and Florida. An earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale causes 90 deaths and widespread damage and homelessness in Mexico. North Korea continues to launch dangerous missiles, bringing the world closer to nuclear devastation.

In the midst of a lot of bad news but mostly unobserved by American media, Pope Francis last week paid a long-planned visit to Colombia where millions of people turned out to see him. In a type of visit that has become ritual, the Pope celebrated outdoor masses, held heart-to-heart – sometimes chiding - talks with the clergy, visited orphanages, kissed children and donned native costumes and various headwear.

Some people, even believers, may be tempted to be cynical about these visits. They cost the host countries – many of whom are poor – millions. They disrupt traffic and the lives of countless commuters. Some people see them as simply exalting Catholicism, or nothing more than an exhibition of a personal cult of the Pope. In any case, people may ask, what real difference have the words of Popes made in the world.

Words Matter

But words matter, and Francis’ message has been simple and consistent: Work for acceptance of others, allow your most noble instincts to dominate, acknowledge God. Who could argue with this advice? Who can say that the visits aren’t a force for good at a time when it is desperately needed?

That’s especially true for a country like Colombia. Speaking from experience, I can say that there are no more friendly, kind, smart and inventive people than Colombians. Their country is beautiful and they have so much going for them.

But Colombia has had more than its share of misery. Colombian drug mafias have killed thousands and interrupted the lives of thousands more in their pursuit of polluted profit. Two major insurgencies, known by the acronyms FARC and ELN, kidnapped and killed thousands more and left millions homeless in a civil war dating to the 1950s. Right-wing paramilitary groups formed to oppose them, and they were responsible for even more death and destruction. 

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Colombia, with a population of nearly 50 million, is not a financially rich country and over the years it has been racked by economic problems. Nonetheless, it has maintained its vibrant democracy through it all, continuing to steadfastly seek innovative solutions to its problems.

Colombians are also famously religious, and that was evident in the recent papal visit. Before millions of wildly enthusiastic admirers, Francis encouraged, rebuked and complimented people wherever he went. He consistently challenged them to go beyond themselves and to never surrender their joy and hope.

He has been tireless in these trips in urging his fellow Catholics to be inclusive and non-judgmental. Is this merely a proselytizing ploy? I don’t think so. He wants Catholics, and all religious people, to be more authentic.

He has urged Catholics to be more human, to focus on the essentials in their faith, pointing out that being religious doesn’t mean simply complying with religious norms but in acceptance of others.

“The Church is not a customs agency” whose goal is deciding who is, and who isn’t, allowed to enter and with what baggage, he told one crowd. “The Lord isn’t selective; he doesn’t exclude anyone.”

On his last stop in the beautiful but agonizingly poor coastal city of Cartagena, the Pope referred to the city’s favorite saint, Peter Claver, a 17th century Spanish Jesuit who devoted his adult life to helping and ministering to slaves. Cartagena was the staging city for the Spanish conquest of South America and a major slave-trading market.

One Last Word

“Dear brothers and sisters,” said Francis, “I would like to leave you with one last word. Let us not be content with ‘taking the first step,’” to which the Pope had referred earlier in his visit. “Instead, let us continue our journey anew each day, going forth to encounter others and to encourage concord and fraternity.

“We cannot just stand still. In this very place, on 8 September 1654, Saint Peter Claver died after forty years of voluntary slavery, of tireless work on behalf of the poor. He did not stand still. His first step was followed by many others. His example draws us out of ourselves to encounter our neighbors.

“Colombia, your brothers and sisters need you. Go out to meet them. Bring them the embrace of peace, free of all violence. Be slaves of peace, forever. Slaves of Peace Forever.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Intimacy with God?

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Along with Jefferson and Franklin, Thomas Paine was one of the brains behind the American Revolution.

Born in England, he arrived in America just in time to join the fight for American freedom. He also was among those early Americans who believed in Deism. Though never referring to it by that name, Paine was heavily influenced by Deists in Europe, especially France, and his beliefs reflect theirs. His ideas have had widespread influence on Americans.

According to Wikipedia, Deism, derived from the Latin “Deus” or “God,” is a philosophical position that holds that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator but that creator doesn’t intervene in the world. It also rejects the Bible as a source of religious knowledge.

The Clockmaker

Among the most widespread metaphors for this God is that of the clockmaker who creates the earth, winding it up like a clock then letting it tick on its own. 

“Thomas Paine,” according to Wikipedia, “concluded a speech shortly after the French Revolution with: ‘... everything we behold carries in itself the internal evidence that it did not make itself. This includes trees, plants, humans and other animals. This conclusion carries us ... to the belief of a first cause eternally existing ... this first cause, man calls God."

The idea of a First Cause dates at least from Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican priest and theologian who lived in the 13th century. He wrote that everything is either a cause or effect and God is the First Cause, who is uncaused.

Many people searching for God can relate to that argument, perhaps, but it doesn’t do much for many of us. If only a theoretical God exists, who cares? What does it have to do with me and my life?

Thomas Paine
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I suspect that many people who have rejected God and/or religion believe vaguely in that sort of God and have decided that it’s impossible to know much more than that. Missing is the God revealed in the Bible and the church’s tradition.

We who want more than a theoretical God can relate more to the author of the Psalms who wrote, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. … My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘“Where is your God?’”

1    That God has “numbered each of the hairs of our heads,” according to the Christian Bible. That God, for some strange, unknown reason, wants intimacy with us.
3    The dictionary defines “intimacy” as “close familiarity or friendship.” Examples are the relationships between a husband and wife and parents and children.

Many people, including many Christians who profess to being “Bible-believing,” actually have major problems with the Bible, to say nothing of the millions who believe it may be interesting historical literature but never a guide for life, especially modern life.

They see as naïve, for instance, Jesus’ exhortations to “turn the other cheek” or to practice the generosity of the Good Samaritan. A man I overheard put it this way: “Religion’s OK as long as you don’t take it seriously.”

Unnecessary Human Misery?

In my view, it’s precisely the failure to take it seriously that puts off so many people who are searching for God. It amounts to saying one thing and doing another, a practice that few people see as a sign of integrity. I believe that failure to acknowledge and act on the human need for God also results in much unnecessary human misery.

The Bible’s 72 “books,” making it more like a library than a single book, was written roughly in the period 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, so no, it’s not a “modern” book. But reading it shows clearly how little humans have changed, from the prophets’ resistance to the roles God had asked of them to the impulsiveness of the apostle Peter to the abandonment of Jesus by all the apostles.

We really haven’t changed much and that, in my opinion, is what makes the Bible so valuable even today. It still has the power to change us, to melt our hearts, to show us right and wrong paths and help us become intimate with God.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,” writes the author of the first letter of John in the Christian Bible, “that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”