God is so perfect he doesn’t have to exist.—Anonymous
All great truths begin as blasphemies.—George Bernard Shaw
I know that “God” is a delicate topic of inquiry, so as I begin to explore this subject let me just say that I do not intend to insult any true believers. I certainly don’t want to become the target of a fatwah or, God forbid, a crusade. Heaven knows, I don’t want men in iron suits chasing after me!
So, let me be clear at the beginning: I don’t think it is wrong or stupid to believe in God. In fact, I personally love the gods and goddesses, every single one of them. (If you love them all, then you’re covered for sure.) And how can you not love the gods? Sure, they started a lot of wars, and sometimes they got jealous and did a lot of “smiting,” and, even worse, they gave us hangnails, regret and politicians.
On the other hand, just imagine all of the solace and wonder that deities have brought to humans over the course of our history—a feeling of being loved, special, blessed, saved. Think of all of those suffering people who wandered the desert, homeless and hungry, but kept on going because they believed they were God’s “chosen people” on their way to a “promised land”; or the early Christians who walked out to face certain death in a lion’s jaws but knew that they were eternally saved by Jesus’ martyrdom; or the simple Hindu peasant who knew in her heart that the goddess Kali would bless her, if not in this life then the next; or the Sioux buffalo hunter who sang to the Great Spirit because it would bring order to the universe and provide him with meat to last the winter. Surely, over the centuries our deities have bestowed upon us a great many blessings: almost enough to make up for tooth decay and death.
The only problem with our deities is some of the humans who believe in them and then go around killing people in the name of some particular god, or warring over the holy places where a god supposedly walked or spoke to some prophets. These so-called holy wars have taken place throughout human history, but you would think that by now we would realize that all our beliefs are just guesswork, and that all the gods and goddesses are temporary; they come and go just like the religions that are built around their worship.
Just think, the descendants of a family living near the Mediterranean through the last few thousand years might have gone from believing in Chronos to believing in Zeus (who later became Jupiter), who was followed by Jehovah, and later Jesus. It seems that even among the gods there is occasional regime change.
Indeed, the relativity of the gods was noticed way back in the fifth century BC by the historian Xenophanes, who wrote, “The Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair.” And your god? Does he/she/it have a face?
Most of us don’t choose a god. It has been confirmed by surveys and research that your family, ethnic group and geographical region will most likely determine which god you will worship. If you are Italian you were probably raised to believe in Jesus, and if you are Japanese you are likely to have Buddha or Jizo in your life. If you happen to have been born in a certain region of southwest Africa, you most likely were brought up to believe in the sky-god of the Herero people. That god is Ndjambi, whose name can only be spoken or written on special occasions. (Hopefully, this was one of them.)
Some people still say they know for sure who God is, and if you don’t believe in their particular god they can promise that when you die you will be placed in a burning-hot cave where nasty, horned creatures will stick pitchforks into you and make you scream in pain, forever and ever. Isn’t it time we got over that vengeful, adolescent horror of a mythology?! Sometimes I can only pray: “May God save us from the people who believe in him.”
And why should anybody care if someone uses a different name for God? I simply can’t imagine any deity saying with menace, “Hey buddy, what did you call me?” Why should you be bothered if someone calls their god “Omega,” “Felix” or “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas?” In fact, I can imagine that someday the heavens will part, and we will all hear a booming voice saying, “Humans! You all got my name wrong!” (Pause.) “And I forgive you.”
There is a chance that God doesn’t even have a name. There’s even a good chance that God isn’t a being, or at least not some human-like being. Do you think we are so good-looking that a god—who could look like anything or nothing—would actually want to look like us? “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher.”
And yet, I would guess that most of you reading this will have a certain picture of God, an image you grew up with. Even though I’m Jewish, the God that I picture in my head looks Italian. You know, the guy up there on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with the long flowing white beard and long hair: God appearing as an aging bohemian.
If you’ll remember, the Jews said we were not supposed to make any graven images because “God” is everywhere and has no particular form. That was a great leap of spiritual imagination, and also saved the Jews a lot of money on statues. You don’t have to put a golden calf on your altar, which could fall off and break. But then the Italians inherited the Jewish god and couldn’t resist trying to paint him.
I have a modest suggestion for how we can deal with humanity’s lingering god problems. First of all, we call all the gods together for a “summit” meeting. Maybe this meeting could be held on Mt. Olympus, or somewhere in the Himalayas, where there are already a lot of gods around who could host the gathering. (There will have to be separate tables: Bacchus needs wine, whereas Allah won’t touch the stuff; Demeter wants corn for dinner, Jehovah likes lamb; Zoroaster wants candles for a centerpiece, while Thor would like an ice sculpture.)
Once we got all the gods together, we would beseech them—all of us beseeching our own particular deity—to do humanity a great big favor and decide on a common name. Since I’m the only one working on this project, I will take the liberty to propose this new name for God.
First of all, if you’ll notice, many of the names we already use for deities end in the syllable “ah.” Jehovah; Allah; Brahma; Tara; Diana; Krishna. So maybe we could get the gods to accept the common nickname “Ah.”
It’s a perfect name. “Ah” is the first sound that most of us make when we are born, “w . . . aaaah!”, and the last sound we make as we die, crying or sighing, “Ah . . .” So our first and last breaths would automatically become a prayer. At last, a phenomenon worthy of the exclamation “Totally ah-some!”
Another possibility is to give our highest deity the name “Ma,” which is the same word in almost all human languages, referring to mother. Then, as we pray, instead of looking up toward “our father who art in heaven,” we would look down at the earth, the womb of all life, the goddess Gaia. (There’s another “ah” for you.)
Maybe we could even use both names, “Ah” and “Ma.” We could divide God into two, a male and female, mother and father, yin and yang, earth and sky, sun and moon. “Ah Ma! Ma Ah! Ah-ha Ma!” The possibilities for songs and praises are endless.