This is a rather existential question pondered by theologians for thousands of years.
The idea of this post came to me as I was doing some research for a book I’m writing about the spiritual lessons we learn from our dogs.
I posted a couple title ideas on my Facebook page and asked my audience which one they liked better:
- G-O-D Spelled Backwards: Spiritual Lessons You Can Learn from Your Dog(s) — Side note: I am aware of other books with this title.
- What Dogs Teach Us About God: Spiritual Lessons from Our Canine Companions
I was surprised by the concern, if not utter contempt over the word “God” in the proposed titles.
To give you a little background on my personal perspective of God, I’m a Christian. However, because my dad’s side of the family is Jewish, I have an unbiased opinion of any particular religion. I spent my summers at the Hebrew Academy in Miami. My mother dragged my sisters and me to the Methodist church on Sundays. I celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, Easter and Passover, Lent and Yom Kippur, New Years and Rosh Hashanah. I’ve sat Shiva and attended Shabbat dinners. I got out of school a lot.
Because I participated in so many different holidays and rituals, I developed a “just be a good person/to each his or her own” attitude towards religion. Who’s to say who’s right? The devil’s in the details, and therein lies the problem.
“There is a war between heaven and hell and the battleground is the hearts of men.” — Dostoevsky
The Atheists in my audience said they were “turned off” by the word “God” in the proposed titles. I explained that the book isn’t about God, per se, but rather it is based on teachings from spiritual leaders such as Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins and a number of others on how we can develop a deeper sense of spirituality, presence and awareness from the lessons we learn from our dogs. They were indeed interested in learning lessons from dogs, just not about God. Totally fine.
Another person noted that the kooks out there might think the backward spelling of “God” meant the book is a sign from the devil. I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a kid in the 80’s when backmasking used on certain vinyl records caused quite the stir. Religious zealots claimed satanic messages could be heard in songs like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin or ‘Revolution 9’ by The Beatles when played backwards, and were believed to draw youngsters to the dark side.
Even though the heteropalindrome in the one title idea is meant to be a play on words, and this is not a book of satanic prose, clearly “God” is a very sensitive and polarizing word no matter how you spell it.
Most atheists seem to be allergic to the word “God”. I liken their response to the word “God” to a vegan when you order a steak in front of them. They are quick to tell you where they stand on the matter.
I often hear my atheist friends say they don’t believe in God because they have religious PTSD, which stems from having to attend Catholic school as a child; or their father was a pastor; or they were dragged to church kicking and screaming every Sunday morning. They were forced into believing something at a very young age that didn’t really resonate with them, or they didn’t understand. Because the sour taste of faith was left in their proverbial mouths, they not only lack the desire to believe in a higher power, they often refuse to explore a deeper sense of spirituality.
Others say there is simply nothing to believe, or they feel “…if by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that governs the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God however, is emotionally unsatisfying. It doesn’t make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.” — Carl Sagan
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” ― Christopher Hitchens
But, is there truly no evidence of God? I look at things like flowers, mountains, the colors in a sunset, and the majesty and wonder of so many things that simply cannot be explained by any physical law, as evidence of God. Non-believers chalk it up to phenomena that science hasn’t been able to fully prove or explain yet.
If you’re on the “science proves there’s no God” train, then I urge you to watch or listen to one of Eben Alexander’s lectures. Not that it will convince you to suddenly drop to your knees and believe, but it might just cause you to consider the idea of something higher and greater than yourself.
In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith.
In concept, God is an all-knowing, all-seeing, omniscient, all-powerful, all-present eternal being. But is God really a “being” per se? Maybe not a physical one, but I personally believe He/She/It does exist in the metaphysical sense.
We often depict God as an oversized judgy white guy with a long white beard and flowing robes who sits in the sky and tallies our every misstep, ready to shoot lightening bolts from His fingertips in condemnation.
In my humble opinion, all of this fire and brimstone talk is the stuff of fairy tales. It is no more real than your mom telling you that your face was going to get stuck in a certain position when you made one at her or one of your siblings. God is not the boogeyman.
You reap what you sew is the doctrine of Karma, the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect).
You eventually have to face up to the consequences of your actions. God doesn’t strike you down for them. We alone are responsible for our own decisions and outcomes, and not some fickle deity waiting to administer His or Her wrath for that little white lie you told at a job interview because you knew you were the best candidate for the job, but you just needed a little extra something to convince the hiring manager. Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me.
A person may not escape the consequences of his (or her) actions, but he will suffer only if he himself has made the conditions ripe for his suffering.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” — Haruki Murakami
Those who believe in God want Him/Her/It to be just like them, to look like them, be the same gender, wear the same shoe size. Whether we call it God, Allah, Buddha, Infinite Intelligence, Source Energy, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we put a label on God because it makes us feel safe. It provides a definition and gives us a sense of certainty, especially if we make God in our own image of ourselves.
As Eckhart Tolle so eloquently stated in ‘A New Earth’:
“Man made God into his own image. The eternal, the infinite, and unnameable was reduced to a mental idol that you had to believe in and worship as ‘my God’ or ‘our God.”
We make feeble attempts to define God and who or what God is. We even apply rules on how to worship God. We have followed a hierarchy of authority, which has told us how to behave and how to worship. We were made to believe the path to God is this way, or that way. All you have to do is follow the rules. My beliefs are right, yours are wrong. It’s my way to God or the highway to hell.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say: “I’m spiritual but not religious”. But, how does one reconcile the two?
Religion sets forth the beliefs and rituals, which you attach to how you worship your higher power of choice. These rituals and beliefs can either open the door to a higher consciousness and spirituality, or close it.
Those who are spiritual and not religious don’t identify with a particular religion in practice, but they do believe in a higher power, a greater consciousness, and a deeper meaning in life.
People also freak out at the name Jesus - the ultimate symbol the Christian faith. However, Jesus did not to start Christianity or the Christian faith. It began in the 1st century AD after His death.
Jesus came to show us a higher consciousness, grace, truth, and explain the way to a higher power within ourselves. Jesus is a representation of unconditional love and the highest form of consciousness, presence, and awareness - much like our canine companions. Enshrined in the New Testament is a much deeper meaning than the church has given it or interprets it. It’s not just about the story of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and triumphant resurrection. There’s far more to it than that.
Even though I identify as a Christian, I pray, and follow many of the teachings of the New Testament, to me God is more of an energy than a character put forth to personify a particular religion or faith. I guess that makes me somewhat of a Pantheist — the belief that God is equal to the universe, its physical matter, and the forces that govern , which can be found in the ancient books of Hinduism, in the works of many Greek philosophers, and in later works of philosophy and religion over the centuries.
Revelations 22:13 states: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” This has often been interpreted as God being eternal, like energy. Energy is all pervasive as is “God”. There isn’t a place on earth where energy doesn’t exist. If you know how to harness a certain energy, you can create (or destroy) anything, which leads to the “God within” theory: God is within us through our spiritual path and acceptance of an inner transcendental possibility, we truly can gain all we need to embrace our divine nature.”
Christian thinkers reject pantheism because they believe it makes God too impersonal. It doesn’t allow for any difference between creation and creator, and it doesn’t seem to allow for humans to make meaningful moral choices.
But, the thinking mind, personal experiences, and things we’ve learned along the way determine our choices and decisions, not the Bible. If you follow the concept of “let your conscious be your guide” then you have a deeper consciousness and awareness that religion doesn’t necessarily have to dictate or determine. This is the consciousness that Jesus came to show us.
So, if you’re still grappling with faith, religion or spirituality, just remember that you are your own best authority. As you grow to know, love, and accept yourself, you discover how to live a more deeper spiritual life.
There are many paths, which lead to spiritual freedom and peace. With over 6 billion people on the planet, there is no ‘one way’. You have a rich array of gems from which to draw illumination (enlightenment) and string together a spiritual necklace of you own.
Listen within for your own definition of spirituality and God. Notice to where that deeper longing is leading. That is your compass on your search.
As mentioned above: Let your conscious be your guide. You know the difference between right and wrong. You don’t need a preacher, monk or Rabbi to tell you that. Not that I would discourage you from seeking their guidance as it applies to studying and learning about a deeper meaning in life and higher power; you just don’t need to practice self-flagellation at the pulpit to get it. The best way to redemption is in your own mind.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
At the end of the day, you don’t have to believe in “a” god to be a good human. Just do the right thing. Forgive. Tell the truth. Be kind. Get a dog.