God is the Great Whatever. God is “un-getable” — we just can’t “get” the idea of God like we get algebra or something. Yeah.
I like this lady’s use of words. And yeah also to her plan to talk about our partnerships with God, not argue about what we have decided He/She/It is like. Her new discussion sounds worth joining. — +Katia
CAN WE TALK ABOUT FAITH, NOT RELIGION?
By Martha Woodroof
April 30, 2010
I am a person of faith who is not religious. By this I mean that while I live in partnership with God, the great Whatever, I claim no knowledge of God’s relatives, nature and modus operandi. I believe that everything about God beyond the simple fact of Its existence and availability is beyond my understanding and so beyond the scope of my words. I make no claim to wisdom of any kind about God, only to experience with God.
That’s why I decided to start Faith Unboxed , which I hope will be an unconventional online conversation about living one’s faith rather than practicing (or preaching) one’s religion. I’d much rather talk about how we experience God than argue about what we have decided about God, wouldn’t you?
As I’m not a pundit, a preacher, or a scholar, deciding to host such a faith-centric conversation about the great Whatever leaves me wide open to charges of uppityness. What’s the deal here, lady? You think you get God and the rest of us don’t? Not exactly: What I think is that a) God is intrinsically un-getable; and b) most of our current conversation about God and God’s doings ignores this, conflating practicing one’s religion and living one’s faith.
God, the great Whatever, is ubiquitous in American thinking, society, politics, literature, architecture, conversation — even, through quarterback Tim Tebow’s facial paint in college football. I would wager heavily that none of us escapes growing up without a kissing concept of the great Whatever–some idea implanted in our brains by our elders about what we’re supposed to believe or not believe about God’s presence, doings, relatives, etc. As adults, we may decide to accept those ideas, modify them, rebel against them, or turn our backs on the whole confusing mishmash. But we have all most likely decided something about God.
What we don’t often do as adults — whether because we lack inclination or courage or imagination — is to acknowledge that God, in order to be God, exists completely detached from any human conception of God. The great Whatever is only what the great Whatever is, not what our parents, pundits, preachers or priests say It is. Or for that matter, what they say It isn’t.
So . . . with all due respect, it seems to me desperately wasteful, arrogant and cowardly for us humans to argue so much about religion — i.e. our human-sized conceptions of God’s aforementioned relatives, nature and modus operandi. Missing from most of these battles is any recognition that if God is, God is also beyond our comprehension. We can never know about God in the same way we know about chickens or algebra or documented history; elaborate and compelling religious stories explaining God and God’s family are still stories. Insisting that these stories are true, or even integral parts of our relationship with God, seems to me to confuse the value of accepting what humans have said about God with the value of living in partnership with God.
Arguing about God is, of course, much less troublesome and anxiety-provoking than taking on the demands and responsibilities of a partnership with the Almighty. Indeed, the challenges of any organized religion (or those other God-in-a-box concepts, atheism and agnosticism) begin to seem like effortless glides on greased grooves when compared to the challenges of living one’s faith. Perhaps that’s why there’s been a great deal of public wrangling about the fine points of religion and very little useful public exploration of what it means to live and work together — in this world at this time — as persons of faith.
I hope this online conversation starts such an exploration. I challenge you to join me in thinking beyond everything we’ve come to accept about the great Whatever through habit, upbringing, learned ritual and doctrine. I challenge us, instead, to explore afresh the meaning and responsibilities of faith, of living in active partnership with God, both as an individual and in community. And I challenge us to do this exploration fearlessly, with uncensored curiosity and open-mindedness.
To give our conversation structure, over the next 12 months, I’ll post a dozen questions (one each month) along with my own short (for the most part) answers. My hope is that you will post your own answers and then respond to each others’ posts. Civility and respect are the only criteria for participation. This means no talk of burning in hell or scholarly howls of derision.
Join me here at On Faith the first Sunday of each month for a look at the question. Join me every day at Faith Unboxed for the discussion. Is it possible to have an open, useful and civil online conversation about faith, not religion? We shall see.
Martha Woodroof freelances for NPR and writes, reports, and blogs for public radio station WMRA in Virginia.