A continuation of an imaginary conversation with Diana Butler-Bass based on her book Grounded.
Me: As you say, Diana, the world of my childhood Christianity was a three-tiered universe. Looking back it feels a bit like believing that the earth is flat:
1. Heaven= God’s home, with all the angels and saints, where we look for divine assistance and guidance.
2. Earth= where we all work out our daily lives, striving to reach the bliss of heaven and fearing banishment to eternal hell. Oh yes, and where Jesus came down to meet us in person.
3. Hell= a burning lake of fire, eternal banishment from God and all that is good; where we will end up if we are not “saved”.
We did not question this view of reality because it was not safe to question. After all, doubt could lead you to an eternity in Hell.
So, Diana, now it is 2020 – where are we now?
Diana: The case could be made that the first years of the twenty-first century could be called the “Age of anxiety” or the “Age of Fear”…
“Where is God?” is one of the most consequential questions of our times.
Conventional theism is at the heart of fundamentalism and depends on the three-tiered universe. But we now live in a theologically flattened world – we have discovered that we are fully capable of creating the terrors of hell right here and no longer need a lake of fire to prove the existence of evil – and we have found that the ranks of saints and angels seem to have thinned and that no deity will be sending miracles to fix the mess we are in.
Is there another option between fundamentalism and a deceased God?
I think so.
If hell has moved in next door to us, perhaps heaven has as well.
Me: If heaven is right here, of our own making, then perhaps God is also right here – within each of us, and within the birds, trees and sun. Perhaps God is the force that gives us all life and love. Perhaps God is the spirit of the universe.
Me: “GOD” has become a heavily-ladened word. It is packed with centuries of baggage. Today, if you were to ask me, “Do you believe in God?”, I wouldn’t know where to start. The question has so many possible meanings. What do you mean by God? The old man on the throne in heaven? The God-man Jesus who walked the earth, died, came back, and then disappeared into heaven? The great judge of the Old Testament? The many gods of Hinduism? Allah the all-powerful and all-knowing? And what do you mean by “believe”? Intellectual assent? An alignment of values? An act of faith without proof? What I would like to be true? What I hope for?
If you were asking about my intellectual assessment of the facts, my most authentic answer would be, “I don’t know.” There is tremendous freedom and relief in that response. After all, it really doesn’t matter what I think. It’s not up to me to figure it all out. Phew!
If you were asking about my gut feelings and my hopes, I would tell you that I believe there is a force for good in the world that energizes everything. It is the Spirit of the Universe. That spirit is the thing that compels me to breathe, and trees to grow, and clouds to form and drop precious water for us. It is the creative force that spurs us on; to get up everyday and build a day. It is the spirit behind music, thought, art, dance and all shapes and forms of creativity. It is the thing that connects all of us, human and the rest of Creation. This is my belief, otherwise known (in light of the afore mentioned, “I don’t know”), as hope. And if I am wrong, so be it. I still chose to live as though it is true. How much do I know for sure? Nothing. And I’m ok with that.
Diana: A change in the conception of God is a cultural event of some magnitude…To relocate God is to reground our lives…
We now are free to customized and personalize our lives. We are making our spiritual lives as well, crafting a new theology. And a God that is far more personal and close at hand than once imagined…God is not above or beyond, but integral to the whole of creation, entwined with the sacred ecology of the universe…
This is a middle-ground revolution, in which millions of people are navigating the space between conventional theism and a secularized world. They are making a path that enfolds the mundane and the sacred, finding a God who is a “gracious mystery, ever greater, ever nearer” through a new awareness of the earth and in the lives of their neighbours.
Me: Thanks Diana. That’s helpful and inspiring. Thank you for writing Grounded.