By Neale Donald Walsch.
Can you believe what we believe?
My partners in this endeavor…
Here is a quick survey of some of the things many people have been told by their ancestors, by their parents, by their teachers and by other authority figures in their lives, about God’s desire. It may be tough for some of you to get through this survey. Please do it anyway.
Let’s take the most obvious topics first.
Regarding God…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for humans to understand that God is the Supreme Being, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Giver of Life, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Wise Beyond Human Understanding.
God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Unmoved Mover, separate from humanity, but the creator of it in His own image. Separate from life, but the Creator of it, as His gift to humanity.
Most humans have been told that God is a single God, a unified God, the Only God there is. The word Allah means, literally, the God. Some humans have been told that this One God is divided into Three Parts, one of which became human. Some humans have been told that there is more than one God. And some humans have been told that there is no God at all. The majority of humans in the Twenty-First Century believe in a God of some sort.
Most of those who do believe in God have been told that God’s desire is Love and Justice.
To fulfill the first mandate, God has granted each human being ample and repeated opportunity to be reconciled with Him.
To fulfill the second mandate, God, at the end of each human life, sits in Judgment of every human soul, deciding at this Reckoning whether the soul has earned everlasting reward in Heaven or everlasting damnation in Hell.
Most humans have been told that God is a jealous God, God is a vengeful God, God is an angry God who can be filled with wrath and who uses violence directly on human beings—and who invites and even commands human beings to do so on each other.
They’ve also been told that God is a caring God, a compassionate God, a merciful God, a loving God who wants nothing but the best for human beings. All that humans have to do is obey Him.
It’s easy for humans to know how to obey God because God has told humans exactly what to do and what not to do. It’s all there in Sacred Scripture. It can be found also in the words and in the teaching of God’s personal representative on earth.
These are the beliefs of much of humanity.
One result of this teaching: Many human beings are afraid of God. They also love God. So, many humans confuse fear and love, seeing them as connected in some way. Where God is concerned, we love to be afraid (we have made it a virtue to be “God fearing”), and we are afraid not to love (we are commanded to “Love the Lord thy God with all thy mind, all thy heart, and all thy soul”).
Humans fear what God will do to them if they do not obey Him. They have been told He will punish them with everlasting torment. Many human beings therefore rely heavily on their understanding of God’s word and God’s desires and what meets God’s approval when regulating their lives, interpreting situations or events, and making decisions.
When U. S. President George W. Bush was asked if he ever sought the advice of his father, the first President Bush, he replied that he sought counsel from “a higher Father.” When the then new spiritual leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, delivered a speech at Gaza’s Islamic University in March, 2004, he told those assembled that “God declared war” against America, Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Rantisi added, “The war of God continues against them and I can see the victory coming up from the land of Palestine by the hand of Hamas.” Two weeks later Rantisi was dead, killed by an Israeli rocket attack on his car.
Earlier it was said, “Humanity’s ideas about God produce humanity’s ideas about life and about people.”
This is painfully clear. This is painfully obvious.
Regarding God’s word and God’s messenger…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for God’s Word to be recognized as being contained in the Holy Scriptures and Sacred Texts, and for God’s Messenger to be honored and listened to and followed.
There are many Holy Scriptures and Sacred Texts, including the Adi Granth, the Bhagavad-gita, the Book of Mormon, the Hadith, the I Ching, the Kojiki, the Lun-yü, the Mahabharata, the Mathnawi, the New Testament, the Pali Canon, the Qur’an, the Tao-te Ching, the Talmud, the Torah, the Upanishad, the Veda, and the Yoga-sutras, to name a few. Many humans have been told that only one of these texts is the right one. The rest are wrong. If you choose the teachings of the “wrong” one, you’ll go to hell.
There are many Messengers, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Confucius, Siddartha Gautama (who has been called The Buddha), Jesus of Nazareth (who has been called The Savior), Muhammad (who has been called The Greatest Prophet), Patanjai (who has been called The Enlightened One), Baha’u’llah (who has been called the Blessed One), Jalal al-Din Rumi, (who has been called the Mystic), Paramahansa Yogananda (who has been called the Master), Joseph Smith (who has been called many things), and others. Many humans have been told that only one of these messengers is the right one. The rest are wrong. If you choose the message of the “wrong” one, you’ll go to hell.
One result of this teaching: Human beings have been trying to figure out which is the right text and who is the right messenger for thousands of years. The followers of certain messengers and the believers in certain texts have sought to convince the rest of the world that the messenger and text of their persuasion is the only one to which people should turn.
On many occasions throughout history these attempts at conversion have turned violent. There has scarcely been a day on this planet when a battle has not been fought or a human being not killed in the name of God, or for God’s Cause.
The Holy Scriptures of all major religions indicate that vanquishing, punishing and killing is something that God Himself has repeatedly done, and so vanquishing, punishing and killing in God’s name and in the name of God’s Messenger is acceptable and, in some circumstances, required.
This is, many of the world’s people believe, God’s desire.
Regarding heaven and hell…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for people to live good lives, and for good people to go to Heaven or Paradise after their deaths, while bad people go to Hell, Gehenna, or Hades. Those in Heaven will live in unending bliss in reunion with God and those in Hell will live with other evildoers who have been damned to eternal torture. Where each individual soul goes will be decided at the Reckoning on Judgment Day.
Some humans have been told that hell is a temporary experience during which sinners are tormented by demons until the debt created by the evil of their lives has been paid, while others have been informed that hell is but a phase in a soul’s journey as it passes through many experiences of reincarnation.
One result of this teaching: Millions of people have structured their entire lives around the struggle to avoid “going to hell” and around the hope of “getting to heaven.” They have done extraordinary and sometimes shocking things to produce this outcome.
The concept of heaven and hell has shaped not only their behavior, but their entire understanding of life itself. It has also shaped human history.
Regarding life…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for life to be a school, a place of learning, a time of testing, a brief and precious opportunity to migrate the soul back to heaven, back to God, whence it came.
Many humans have also been told that it’s when life ends that the real joy begins. All of life should be considered a prelude, a forerunner, a platform upon which is built the soul’s experience of eternity. Life should therefore be led with an eye toward the Afterlife, for what is earned now will be experienced forever.
Most humans also believe that God’s desire is for people to understand that life consists of what people can see, hear, taste, touch and smell—and nothing more.
One result of this teaching: Humans believe that life is not easy, nor is it supposed to be. It’s a constant struggle. In this struggle, anything other than what is perceived by the five senses is considered “supernatural” or “occult” and falls, therefore, into the category of “trafficking with the Devil” and “the work of Satan.”
Humans are struggling to get back to God, and into God’s good graces. They are struggling to get back home. This is what life is about. It’s about the struggle of the soul, living within the body, to get back home, to return to God, from Whom it has been separated.
Most people of religious persuasion focus heavily on Heaven and Hell. Those who believe that “getting to Heaven” is the ultimate Purpose of Life, and who truly and fervently believe that they can guarantee their entrance into Heaven by doing certain things while on earth, will, of course, seek to do those things.
They’ll make sure that their sins are confessed regularly, and that their absolutions are up to date, so that if they die suddenly their soul will be ready for Judgment Day. They’ll fast for hours, days, or weeks at a time, travel on pilgrimages to distant holy places, go to church or temple or mosque or synagogue every week without fail, tithe 10% of their income, eat or not eat certain foods, wear or not wear certain clothing, say or not say certain words, and engage in all manner of rites and rituals.
They’ll obey the rules of their religion, honor the customs of their faith tradition, and follow the instructions of their spiritual leaders in order to demonstrate to God that they are a worthy person, so that a place will be reserved for them in Paradise.
If they are distressed enough and oppressed enough and unhappy enough, some humans will even end their own lives and kill other people—including the totally innocent and the absolutely unsuspecting—for the promise of a reward in heaven.
(If that promised reward happens to be 72 black-eyed virgins with whom to spend all of eternity, and if the humans in question happen to be 18 to 30-year-old men with little future and a dust-laden, poverty stricken, injustice-filled present, the chances of their making such an extraordinarily destructive decision will increase tenfold.)
They’ll do this because they believe this is God’s desire.
But is it?
Regarding gender…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for humanity to understand that God is male. The result is that most people who believe in a deity at all hold this to be true. The idea that God is masculine is so pervasive that it’s shocking to the ear to hear God referred to as “She.”
Many humans have also been told that God wants men and women to have particular roles and to be treated in particular ways in life, and that He has specified all of this in Holy Scripture.
One result of this teaching: Males are considered superior to females in nearly all of the world’s cultures. In some of those cultures this manifests as cultural norms that do not allow females to go to school, to hold jobs of authority or responsibility, to leave the home without being in the company of a blood male relative, or to permit any part of their body to be seen in public, requiring them to be covered from head to toe.
A woman’s testimony at Court is worth half of that of a man’s—meaning that it requires two female witnesses to meet the test of adequate proof. A woman’s testimony regarding a husband’s beatings, cruelty, or infidelity will go ignored unless she can produce a corroborating witness, whereas a man can send his wife to death by stoning by simply stating that she committed adultery. His singular assertion is sufficient.
A woman’s share of any inheritance is also accepted as being half of that of her brother. The logic behind this is that a man is financially responsible for his family, while a woman is not.
This is the identical logic that, in other cultures, blocks women from earning the same pay as men for doing the same work. The fact that a man may remain unmarried all his life and wind up not having a family, or that many women become widows, or that women would not and should not have to concede this role to a man if she were treated equally, is, of course, ignored by this logic.
In some male-dominant cultures female’s genitals are mutilated, cut and sewn, in order to deprive them of sexual pleasure and thus reduce the temptation they may feel to engage in sexual encounters other than those demanded by their husbands. In some cases this is seen as a rite of passage rendering female children desirable, suitable, and worthy marriage material.
Other cultural norms reflecting extreme bias against females include the custom of blocking women from becoming clergy in many religions or rising to power and authority in any civil, legal, or business enterprise, or holding any major leadership position in politics or government.
A handful of women in some cultures have overcome these customs (in many cultures they are still not allowed to even try), but always it’s a struggle, always it’s the notable exception, always it’s a steep uphill climb to be accepted in most high profile occupations or powerful or influential roles within the global society.
This difference in the treatment of the genders is, many of the world’s people believe, God’s desire. After all, the Bible says so. And so do the Scriptures of other religions.
Regarding marriage…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for marriage to be an everlasting union between a man and a woman, for better or for worse, for the purpose of propagating the species and maintaining a civil society organized into family units, which supports God’s agenda for humanity.
One result of this teaching: In most religious cultures ending a marriage for whatever reason, including mental or physical cruelty, is deeply discouraged, and one major religion tells its followers that they may never divorce, may never remarry in the church nor receive the church’s sacraments if they do divorce, and may never marry another person who has been divorced.
In many places and cultures marriage rules are established by religion, then become civil law, limiting and constricting the behavior of marriage partners—and those limits remain in place for life. Chief among those limits is what humans call “fidelity.” Human beings living in marriage must remain faithful to each other. That is, they may not have sexual experiences with anyone else for the rest of their lives—not as a matter of personal devotion or sacred agreement, but as a matter of civil law.
This should not be surprising since, as has just been noted, prohibitions against many kinds of private sexual activity have been placed in the common culture by religions. According to their accounts of God’s desire, human beings may not have sex with anyone outside of marriage, with anyone prior to marriage, and, therefore, should they never marry, at no time during their entire lives.
This is the expectation, and humans are told that the breaking of this taboo can lead to severe punishments, from God and from the social environment.
As a result, marriage is entered into by many young people around the world who are neither ready for such a commitment nor sufficiently mature for the responsibilities attached to it, but who are unwilling to endure any longer the prohibition against sexual experience.
The idea of male supremacy, drawn from the concept of God as male, has a major effect in many marriage scenarios. In some cultures marriage is considered a form of ownership and servitude, with the woman being the owned object—actually paid for with a dowry—and the male being the person served. Even in cultures with less extreme views a wife is expected to be “obedient” to her husband, and to be subservient to him in every way. The man is “the head of the household.”
This is, many people believe, God’s desire.
Regarding sex and sexuality…Many humans have been told that God’s desire is for sexual union to be experienced only with one’s spouse for the purposes of procreation and the expression of love.
One result of this teaching: Millions of people believe that sex may absolutely never be experienced in any way that deliberately prevents conception, and that while sex is wonderful, to experience sex simply for pleasure with no possibility of procreation is against the will of God and, therefore, “unnatural,” immoral, shameful and a giving in to baser instincts.
As with the combining of fear and love in the earlier understanding of God, the combining of pleasure and shame in this construction has produced chronic emotional confusion: wonder, excitement and passion, yet embarrassment, fear and guilt about sexual desires and experiences.
In most cultures the sexual parts of human bodies may not be referred to by name. The words vagina and penis are not to be used in public (except as absolutely necessary in a purely clinical setting), and never with small children. The words wee-wee, pee-pee, or bottom may be used freely. In short, the human culture agrees that the actual names of certain body parts are shameful and embarrassing and are to be avoided whenever possible.
Again, you may believe that the above assertion is a bit of an exaggeration. I assure you it is not. Internationally known columnist Molly Ivins reported in the September/October 2004 issue of Mother Jones magazine that Advocates for Youth, a group working for comprehensive sex education, had its funding for AIDS prevention yanked by the Center for Disease Control, a U.S. government agency, because “young people [in the project’s video] used the correct terminology for male and female anatomy.”
That, said James Wagoner, head of Advocates for Youth, “is absurd. What is the president going to do? Issue an executive order that every man, woman, and child should refer to the penis as a dingaling?”
And, of course, if one cannot speak of certain body parts, one certainly cannot show them. Not even, apparently, to oneself. Yet another exaggeration? I’m sorry to say, no. So puritanical is the viewpoint on all of this in many places that the following letter could actually appear, without anyone blinking an eye, in over 300 newspapers in the United States on September 25, 2004 in an advice column:
Dear Abby: I went to wake up my 14-year-old daughter today and discovered her sleeping in the nude. Apparently she has been doing it for some time.
Normally she is good about getting up and I haven’t needed to enter her roo to awaken her. When I asked her why she does it, she said it’s more comfortable and she sleeps better.
When I told her I was not comfortable with it, she asked me why, and frankly I could not come up with a good reason other than it seemed “wrong,” and fear about what would happen in an earthquake or fire. She questioned how it could be wrong if no one knows—unless they walk into her room without knocking (as I did).
She keeps a long robe next to the bed so she can put it on in case of emergency. (Indeed, she walks around the house in that robe, and I thought she had a nightgown underneath, when in fact she has been naked underneath since Christmas.)
I am still not comfortable with it, but we agreed to abide by your advice. Is it OK for her to sleep in the nude, and why—or why not?
–Worried Mom in San Leandro.
The columnist wrote back that there was “nothing inherently wrong” with sleeping in the nude. “Look at the bright side,” she advised the mother. “It makes for less laundry.”
As this parent’s letter makes clear, many humans feel that certain body parts must be covered and hidden, having been deemed too arousing or too shameful, or both. For those parts not to be covered is incorrect and unacceptable. Indeed, in many places it’s actually illegal, with punishments in civil law for those who fail to obey.
Many people believe that sex experienced in certain ways, even between husband and wife, is “unnatural” and therefore immoral. And again, in many times and places, some experiences, although between consenting adults, have actually been made illegal. Those who wrote such legislation said that they understand that God does not want certain sexual experiences to occur. God sends people to hell for this.
Humans also believe that intensely graphic depictions of sexual activity in photographs, drawings, comic books, video games, television and motion pictures are distasteful, repugnant, disgusting and unacceptable. Intensely graphic depictions of extreme physical violence and killing are, however, entirely acceptable.
Millions of humans believe that sexual energy and spiritual energy do not mix. They have been told that sexual energy is a “lower chakra” energy, and that sexual activity and spiritual clarity essentially oppose each other. Persons seeking to achieve spiritual mastery are therefore advised against engaging in sexual experiences. Some are actually required to remain abstinent.
This is, many of the world’s people believe, God’s desire.
Regarding homosexuality…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for sex to be experienced between a male and a female only, and for same-gender sexual interaction to be considered an abomination.
One result of this teaching: Humans for whom same-gender sexual attraction feels most natural have been denounced, vilified, condemned, ostracized, isolated, assaulted, and killed by people who believe they are doing God’s will.
The sad account of the killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming offers us a now-famous case in point. Shepard, an openly gay freshman at the University of Wyoming, was dragged out of a bar in Laramie by two young men, driven to a deserted road outside of town, tied to a cow fence and beaten so severely that he lapsed into a coma and died five days later.
His youthful assailants were apprehended and sentenced to life in prison, but the Reverend Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas was not inclined to let the matter rest there. Every year for the five years following Matthew’s brutal beating and death this Christian minister has traveled to Laramie, as well as to Casper, Wyoming, Matthew’s birth place, to “celebrate” his death.
And, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times by reporter David Kelly, on October 12, 2003 Reverend Phelps brought with him to Casper a granite monument engraved with Matthew’s face, followed by these words chiseled in stone:
“Matthew Shepard Entered Hell October 12, 1998 at age 21 In Defiance of God’s Warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’ Leviticus 18:32.”
It was the Reverend Phelps who also attended Matthew Shepard’s funeral and, as the young man’s parents, family, and friends stood in mourning, screamed: “God hates fags!”
With this level of clarity as to the Divine Intention and Desire, entire countries have been forced under power of governmental authority and rule of law to obey God’s Will in this matter.
In some nations the civil penalty for homosexuality is death—burial under a 12-foot concrete wall. In many places civil law has been created making gay marriage illegal. In the United States the president in 2004 personally campaigned to have his understanding of God’s desires regarding prohibition of gay marriage written into his country’s Constitution.
While certain sexual feelings may be very natural to the persons feeling them, they are not God’s desire, many people say, and are therefore, by definition, “unnatural.” A report on October 20, 2003 by Chris Zdeb of CanWest News Service in the Calgary Herald in Edmonton, Canada points to the possibility that the exact opposite may be true.
“Scientists have discovered 54 genes that suggest sexual identity is hard-wired into the brain before birth, and before development of the sex organs,” the journalist reports, and goes on to say:
“The findings released today by a team of University of California, Los Angeles, researchers could mean that sexuality, including homosexuality and transgender sexuality, are not a choice.”
Nevertheless, the clergy of many of the world’s largest religious denominations continue to assert that God condemns such sexual experiences.
“I didn’t write the Bible,” Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria has been quoted in the press as saying. “It’s part of our Christian heritage. It tells us what to do. If the word of God says homosexuality is an abomination, then so be it.”
There you have it. And this gentleman does not stand alone, but echoes was many members of the clergy tell their congregations, declaring that the afterlife consequence of engaging in homosexual activity is everlasting damnation and torture in the fires of hell.
This is, those people believe, God’s desire.
Regarding love…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for love to be conditional. God has made it clear that He loves humans if they do what He wants. If they do not, humans shall know His wrath. They’ll be condemned to everlasting damnation.
Some say that God acts with love when He condemns people to eternal and unending torture. With this explanation they seek to preserve the image and the notion of a loving God.
One result of this teaching: Many people are very confused about the true nature of love. Human beings “get,” at some deeply intuitive level, that the imposing of unending punishment is not a loving thing to do. Yet they are told that such punishment is a demonstration of the purest and highest love. It’s God’s love in action.
It’s not unusual for human beings to therefore be afraid of love, even as they have been made afraid of God, who is the source of love. They have been taught that God’s love can turn into wrath in a flicker, producing horrifying results.
This packaging of love and fear in human theology has not been without consequences in human behavior.
Earlier it was said, “Humanity’s ideas about God produce humanity’s ideas about life and about people.” This is profoundly true, and thus, many humans are afraid of and attracted to love at the same time.
Often their first thought upon moving into a closer love relationship with another is, “Now what is this person going to want, or need, or expect from me?” That is, after all, the nature of their love relationship with an all-powerful God, and they have no reason to believe it will be any different with a much weaker human being.
There is also the corollary thought that partners in a relationship have a right to expect certain things in exchange for love—that love is a give-and-take, quid pro quo proposition.
These expectations and fears undermine many love relationships at the outset.
Because love and the worst torture imaginable have been linked in the minds of humans as natural activities on the part of God, most humans believe that it’s right and proper to punish other humans for their behaviors—just as God does.
In perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of this, many human beings believe that it’s appropriate to kill human beings as a warning to human beings that it’s inappropriate to kill human beings.
This is, many of the world’s people believe, God’s desire.
Regarding money…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for money to be considered the root of all evil. Money is bad and God is good, and so money and God do not mix.
One result of this teaching: The higher one’s purpose and the greater one’s value to society, the lower one’s income must be. Nurses, teachers, public safety officials and those in similar service professions are not to ask to make much money. Ministers, rabbis and priests are to ask even less. Homemakers and mothers, under this guideline, should have no personal income at all. If they want something for themselves, they may ask their husband for a few dollars, or scrimp pennies from the grocery money.
The message here is: Because “filthy lucre” is bad, because money is intrinsically evil, pay must be in reverse proportion to the value of the function performed. The better the deed, the worse the pay. People should not get lots of money for doing good things. And if they’re doing something really, really, really good, they should want to do it for free.
Humans have created a disconnect between “doing good” and being well compensated. On the other hand, doing things of somewhat less lasting intrinsic value can produce compensation in the millions. So can illegal activity of all kinds. Thus, society’s values discourage noble actions and encourage triviality and illegality. Humanity’s watchword is: The higher the purpose, the lower the reward.
This is, many of the world’s people believe, God’s desire.
Now for a bit of the abstract
How are you doing here? I know this is taking a while, but that’s because, as I said, the influence of the teachings we have all received about God runs deep. It embraces philosophical areas as well as the practical aspects of life.
Even though the following final topics touch upon concepts that we may think we’ll encounter only in the abstract, the fact is that how we think about these abstractions affects—and creates—our concrete moment-to-moment experience.
Regarding free will…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for human beings to have Free Will. Thus, they may determine and decide for themselves which of the Ultimate Outcomes—heaven or hell—they wish to experience after their death. They may do as they choose at any moment, at every juncture. They are not restricted in any way.
Humans have been told that God has granted humanity this Free Will so that humans may freely choose God, freely choose God’s Way, and freely choose to be reunited with God in heaven. In other words, they may freely choose to be good, as opposed to being forced to do so. God wants humans to return to God by choice. No one should be required to do so.
Human beings have also been told that under the doctrine of Free Will, while people may do as they choose, if they do not choose God’s desire they’ll pay for it with continuous torture through all eternity. No element of duress is seen in this. It’s simply the Way Things Are. It’s Justice, at the highest level. It’s God’s Justice, which follows God’s Judgment. It’s important, therefore, to freely choose God’s desire.
One result of this teaching: Humanity’s concept of freedom has been deeply affected and profoundly shaped by its understanding of what God means by “freedom.” Humans have decided that freedom doesn’t have to mean freedom, but can mean simply the ability to select outcomes.
This is better than having no choice at all, and so humans in positions of power have learned to use the word “freedom” to privately describe the process by which they get others to do as they as are told.
People don’t have to do as they are told, of course. But if they do not, there will be a price to pay. That could mean anything from having taxes audited to being thrown in jail for two years without charges being filed and without any explanation other than being labeled a threat to the security of the country. Using this measure, nations call themselves “free.”
Most people, except, perhaps, the most stubborn apologists, see the contradiction in all of this. They understand perfectly well that no people are truly free who face the most horrendous outcomes imaginable if they don’t do what they’re told. Only a hypocrite or a fool would call such a choice “free.”
Humans have learned, then, that hypocrisy—especially hypocrisy for the “right” purpose, in the “right” cause—is acceptable on earth as it is in heaven. Much of humanity’s political activity has been informed by this ethic. And elsewhere within the spectrum of human activity as well, in the way many humans communicate with each other, in the way many deal with each other, it has come to be understood that the end justifies the means.
In fact, many humans have now convinced themselves that none of this is hypocrisy at all. It’s simply a matter of interpretation.
And so, in this day and age, freedoms are taken away in the name of Freedom itself. Millions of people gratefully embrace the political rhetoric that says lack of freedom is what guarantees their freedom, and the religious doctrine that says their choices in life are free only if they do as they are told, because this is God’s desire.
Regarding suffering…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for suffering to be used by human beings to better themselves, and to purify their soul. Suffering is good. It earns credits, or points, in God’s mind, especially if it’s endured silently, and maybe even “offered up” to God.
Suffering is a necessary part of human growth and learning and is, more importantly, a means by which people may be redeemed in the eyes of God.
Indeed, one whole religion is built on this belief, asserting that all beings have been saved by the suffering of one being, who died for the sins of the rest. This one being paid the “debt” said to be owed to God for humanity’s weakness and wickedness.
According to this doctrine, God has been hurt by the weakness and wickedness of humanity and, in order to set things straight, someone has to suffer. Otherwise, God and humanity could not be reconciled. Thus, suffering was established as a redemptive experience.
With regard to the suffering of human beings due to “natural” causes, it’s not to be shortened by death under any circumstances that are not also “natural.” The suffering of animals may be mercifully ended before “natural” death, but not the suffering of people. It’s God and God alone who determines when human suffering shall end
One result of this teaching: Human begins have endured unimaginable suffering over extended periods in order to do God’s will and not incur God’s wrath in the Afterlife. Millions of people feel that even if a person is very, very old and is suffering very, very much—lingering on the verge of death but not dying, experiencing interminable pain instead—that person must endure whatever life is bringing them.
Humanity has actually created civil law declaring that people have no right to end their own suffering, nor may they assist another in ending theirs. However anguishing it may be, however otherwise hopeless a life may have become, the suffering must go on.
This is God’s desire.
Regarding morality…many humans have been told that God’s desire is a moral society.
One result of this teaching: Humanity has spent its entire history attempting to define what is moral and what is not. The challenge has been to come up with a standard for society that does not change, all the while the society itself is changing.
To find this “gold standard,” many societies have turned to God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Jehovah, or whatever other name they have used to designate Deity, and have relied on their understanding of God’s desire.
Many centuries ago God’s preferences in this matter were given a powerful label. They were called “natural.” This is because the concept of a Deity first entered the minds of primitive humans as a result of their earliest observations of and contacts with Nature. Here was something bigger than they were, something they could not control, something they could only stand by and watch, hoping for the best.
“Hoping for the best” soon transmuted into what would now be called praying. Whoever and whatever this Deity was, early humans reasoned, it was deeply connected with Nature, and Nature was an expression of It.
And so, humans created gods representing the sun, moon, and stars, the weather, crops, rivers, the land, and nearly everything else, in hopes of getting some control over things—or at least getting some communication going with whoever did have control.
From this connection of God and Nature it was only a short mental hop to consider that all things having to do with deities and gods were “natural,” and all things not having anything to do with deities were “unnatural.”
When human language came into form the words “God” and “Nature” became inextricably linked. Certain conditions, circumstances, and behaviors were then described as “natural” or “unnatural,” depending upon whether they adhered to or violated the current perception of the Will of God.
That which is “unnatural” has, in turn, come to be described as “immoral”—since it’s not of God, and cannot, therefore, be God’s desire. The circle thus completes itself. Anything that is not considered “natural” is considered “immoral.” That includes all “unnatural” abilities, powers, behaviors—and even thoughts.
The idea that God’s desire is what is natural, and that what is natural is what is moral, has not been a perfect measure, but it has been the best that humanity has been able to do in the search for an unchanging standard.
It’s for this reason that humanity has been loath to change its ideas about God’s desire. Changing those ideas changes the gold standard of human behavior.
Behavior is the currency of human interaction. Beliefs about God’s desire gives value to the behavioral choices of humans, just as gold gives value to the pieces of paper called money.
Thus, in most human societies it’s not an individual’s actual experience, but the society’s definition of it, that determines its morality. This is the case with homosexuality.
It’s also the case with a great many other behaviors, such as prostitution, premarital sex, depictions of explicit sexual activity, the use of peyote, marijuana, and other plants and stimulants, or even the experience of ecstasy not induced by any outside stimulant.
For instance, if one says one has had an ecstatic experience of God, but if the experience does not fall within what humanity currently defines as “natural,” it’s considered immoral and to be warned against and, if it’s continued, to be condemned, and, if it’s still continued, to be punished.
In previous times it was often punishable by torture or death. More than one saint claiming and describing such ecstasies has been martyred in humanity’s long history, using such guidelines.
Those saints were killed because the people killing them were convinced that they were doing God’s desire.
Regarding death…many humans have been told that God’s desire is for their wonderful life to eventually end, at which time their opportunity to learn and to grow is over and the time to be rewarded or punished for how they have lived begins.
One result of this teaching: Many humans consider that death is a terrible thing, and something to be feared. It’s the End of the Line, the Final Curtain Call, the Closing Bell. Nearly all of the imageries surrounding death are negative, fearful, or sad, not positive, uplifting, or joyful. These imageries pervade our society. A street that goes nowhere is a Dead End. A person who is badly mistaken is Dead Wrong. The spirit who comes to retrieve your soul is The Grim Reaper.
Most people do not want to even talk about death, much less experience it. No one wants to experience it before he or she has to. People cling to life, sometimes desperately. The survival instinct is the strongest human instinct of all. Our common culture supports survival as the ultimate goal. Even people who want to die are not allowed to.
On the other side of death, many people feel certain, is the Final Judgment. If you have not been good, it’s at this point that you’ll go to hell. Your payment for all of your sins in this way is God’s desire.
Humanity’s list of God’s desires is very long and covers many other areas of human experience not discussed here. As I’ve noted, that list forms the basis of innumerable civil laws, cultural traditions, social mores, and familial customs that touch all human beings.
So what do you think about what you’re read here? With allowances for a few exceptions in wording here and there, or a slight difference in interpretation, is this basically what you remember being taught about what desires, seeks, and requires from humanity?
POINTS I HOPE YOU WILL REMEMBER…
* Separating God’s desires into categories, we see with frightening clarity the stories we have created, and that billions of people continue to live by.
* Humanity’s list of these desires and requirements of God is endless, yet in today’s world very little of what we’ve placed on that list serves humanity.
ACTION I HOPE YOU WILL TAKE…
* Educate yourself. Go to a priest, a rabbi, an ulama, a minister and ask if would help you understand their faith by going through the categories presented here and sharing with you their understanding of God’s desire as it relates to the various topics on this list.
* Share this list with as many friends as you can, and ask them the same thing you asked the clergy. Find out what others around you believe about God’s demands, desires, and declarations.
* Bring this list to your Seven Questions Discussion Group and go over it item by item, so that everyone in the group can know what human beings have been telling each other regarding these issues. It is important to understand the nature of the problem before seeking to solve it.
9 Nov 2015.
© Neale Donald Walsch.
The Storm Before the Calm: Book 1 in the Conversations with Humanity Series – by Neale Donald Walsch. Paperback published 1 October 2011, Emnin Books, Oregon, USA; ISBN-13: 978-1401936921