Sunday, June 22, 2008

Signs from god

I have hesitated to write about this, because I do not want to cause offense to someone close to me. Nevertheless, if my father and I disagreed about politics or about food or cars, I think that I would have no problem. Religion is kind of a touchy subject, largely in part because it is so very personal, from the reasons for belief down to the interpretation and implementation of its commandments and actions. Criticism of someone's personal beliefs can be tantamount to an ad hominem attack; I think most religous people feel that sting, but few realize the reason why. I want to be clear that I am not criticizing my father as a person, but I am calling some of his reasoning into question.

He told me that he plans to go into the Episcopalian ministry, study to become a priest, perhaps acquire his own parish. Very quaint, and, I might add, a lifelong dream of his (although perhaps not the Episcopalian part, which I view as Christianity Lite). Although I can think of a thousand other livelihoods that are more worthwhile, and while I have come to regard theology as a completely made-up field, I am glad that he is happy.

His plan involves selling his house, which I see as a practical move, and a necessary first or second step to put his plan into action. But he said that he will take the selling of his house as a sign from god that this is the correct course of action. And here is where I have a problem. It is a bit of bad reasoning that must have just slipped right past him, because I think of him as very intelligent and reasonable. If we pretend, for a minute, that there is a god (and these days a minute is all I can manage to pretend) then what makes someone think that they can just dictate what God's sign is going to be? Maybe God wants him to have to foreclose on his house. Maybe God wants him to start a new church where he lives. But since my dad has already decided what he wants to do, and since he sees the sale of the house as a necessary step, he has dictated to God what he thinks the sign should be. No matter how legitimate or 'righteous' the motivation, how dare he tell God what to do?

Obviously he did not imagine that he was telling God what to do, but in essence, I think that is exactly what happened. And since God is not in the business of making his will (or even his existence) known, then it falls to us to interpret what that might be, and we base our interpretations on the only things we know for sure, which are our own desires and needs.

And that ends my supposition that god exists at all. I can't see that he does. So what my dad does with his life is his own business. He is making his decisions based on what he imagines his god must want, and he sets up markers along the way to validate his decision. Obviously he will eventually sell the house, so it makes perfect sense to use that near-inevitability as an affirmation of his decision.

This is clearly not limited to my father. This is something that nearly all - if not every - Christian and religious person does on a daily and hourly basis. Imagine how much different things would be if people did not use naturally-occurring events as signs of god's approval. It would be a much different world.

1 comment:

jljarvis said...

By the way, the other day I saw a van with your name on it in large letters across the side. It told me to think of you :)