Wouldn't benevolent God be more likely to be like your mother or grandmother, than like most of our fathers? It's not that I am an avowed atheist, not yet. Put it down to my being shy in public washrooms, or that I'm scared by neo-conservatives. Far more worrisome than either of these qualms, what I suppose most preserves faith as a means of hope, is the fear I'll die too soon, die before completing the books I feel no one else would produce as well as I might. So every day I definitely find time to pray. Over the decades belief may have waned, but a more ample than mustard seed-size reserve survives intact.
It's the most religious people who have put the faith of so many of us to the severest tests. There are devout Muslims who are dead certain, killing thousands, those they contend to be "corrupting infidels, vermin who deserve to die", will secure for them a place in paradise. Many Israeli Jews feel similarly justified. Their special relation to God is supposed to absolve the siege and murder of Palestinians, something ironically believed to assure a divine inheritance of an earthly paradise. His Holiness Pope Benedict shows the same sort of religious-based prejudices, favoring upholding immortal ideals over eliminating lowly human suffering. Not only are Roman Catholic Africans more important to the pontiff than other Africans, but he is also more concerned with the saving of African souls, than with the lives of living Africans. Nothing else explains the Holy Father's recent false inference; that condom use, rather than helping to protect people, actually increases the incidence of Aids infection!
Once, still a child, I was precociously, defensively, self-righteous. Unsatisfied with either the African Methodist Episcopal, Colored Methodist Episcopal, Baptist or Pentecostal churches that had sustained my forbears, I sought the one "true religion." Meeting Jews for the first time in the seventh grade, a reverence for history might have convinced me to convert. But, just as Jewish exclusiveness was off-putting, so was priestly intervention between God and "His" creation amongst the heretical sect of Jews, called Catholics.
Boasting an ancient lineage and an impressive ritual, the elite Episcopal Church was discovered one summer during vacation bible school, via a tiny all-black parish. St. Philip's was originally established in 1901, to prevent the gentry of Akron, Ohio from having to worship with their imitative servants. The incense, the music, the flowers, the upstanding lawyers, doctors, matrons and their children who were fellow congregants, all ought to have made it a superlative choice. Then, one day, on missionary Sunday, we just happened to sing a missionary-hymn.
At first singing, but with growing disbelief and then only reading on, of "going off to deepest, darkest Africa, to convert the heathen horde," temporarily stricken, that morning I experienced a moment of epiphany. I didn't want to go to Africa, not even for Jesus' sake; I didn't want to have any African come here either, not in order to convert me! Only thinking this was it fully apparent that I might well have relations living across the ocean still? They might worship as our common enslaved ancestors did centuries back. Reasoning this way, I recognized for the first time, how much Islam and Christianity, most religion really, remains a most profound manifestation of human conquest, subjugation and imperial power.
Far beyond instances of people who believe differently being demeaned, dominated or demonized, what most inspires doubting is the diminution of God by "His" staunchest adherents. To hear many born-again Christians or Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists explain "Him", what a petty, vain and petulant little deity their supreme being must be! How easily swayed some imagine "Him". By such trivial ruses of flattery or obsequious gestures is it said to be possible to win "His" favor? Can this really be true?
Is God really placated by the hocus pocus of the waving of hands or some fevered incantation? Is great, good, and all-knowing God not dead, but merely stupid instead?
Notwithstanding the strong streak of selfishness inculcated in babes in arms, by the time we've become school kids most feel fairly comfortable with the idea of Karl Marx's reasonable sounding manifesto, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." From youth a host of biblical quotes attributed to Christ helped to persuade me that this outlook seemed like the correct principle around which to shape one's life.
Timothy 6:9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Matthew 6: 9 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to him, If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
Matthew 22:21 Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.
Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25 and Luke 18:24-25. I tell you the truth; it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Along with the eye of the needle analogy, extending hope even for salvation of the affluent, Jesus is supposed to have elaborated his stricture, observing "by man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Perhaps but it still seems unfairly problematic, that the rich who already enjoy so much, while many needlessly suffer or starve, would be bestowed eternal blessings as well? Given the black experience in the US then, how paradoxical that so many African American Christians happily espouse prosperity-theology. Maintaining that God wants to make all of "His" true believers rich, that material wealth is only a sign of "His" love for us, they prefer to overlook a somewhat contradictory reality. For, according to many sources, right-wing like the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education and other more objective authorities statistical data reveals a bleak picture indeed, one that could certainly benefit from a greater measure of prosperity.
37% - All American children born to un-married women
65% -Black children who grow up in households with un-married parents. 70%-Black single parent households.
35% - Percentage of black single-headed households living in poverty compared to 8 percent of black married households in poverty.
47%-Black males who graduate from high school, as opposed to 75% of white males in 2005-2006.
791,600 - Black men jailed or imprisoned in 2000, versus 603,032 enrolled in college or university, where twice as many black women as men earn college degrees.
280,000 - The number of abortions annually among African Americans, approximately 35 percent of the abortion total. Only around half who had abortions also used contraceptives.
50% - Blacks who account for new Aids cases in the US.
$11,800 - The median net worth of all black households in year 2004 while $118,300 was the median net worth for whites that year.
45,000 - The number of black churches in the US.
4,500 - The number of black churches in the US that teach an evangelical and conservative worldview.
Education stats for blacks are especially grim, as our remaining a largely unprepared group suggests certain dire future consequences for the nation. They also indicate real dilemmas for the here-and-now. Ignorance, being uninformed, makes people susceptible to all sorts of deceptive intelligence they might otherwise easily see through. A few days ago for instance, my second eldest sister sent me the most absurd chain-email.
the message raged, while speculating about the ability to recover ill-defined shale-oil deposits in the West and in Canada. Surely they would have already long ago been developed, if only technology existed to make recovery profitable?
"The Bakken is the largest domestic oil discovery since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, and has the potential to eliminate all American dependence on foreign oil..."
This rant continued.
"The Lord does bless our country - but we are too stupid - read revelations and it talks about such stupid things as plenty of resources but cannot use them because of environmentalist and others..."
My poor misled sister, I thought. She works for a major investment firm, and has an undergraduate degree from the University of Akron, as I do! A wonderful wife and exemplary mother, she touched my heart a couple of years ago by getting her husband to agree to their adopting the young son of a cousin involved with drugs. Kind, thoughtful and a regular church-goer, she disappointed me terribly with this new "drill baby drill" irresponsibility. Astounded that even she couldn't better distinguish between fact and naive feel-good wishful thinking, I let her have it, replying with regrettably irreverent harshness,
This is utter crap! But even if it were true, if you and your children are unable to breath or have water to drink because of pollution and environmental degradation, or fish to eat because of oil spills or runoff, what good is all the oil or coal in the world then? How is it that people who call themselves Christians don't even use the brain that God has given them? There is no black or white in the world, no all good, or all bad, there are no perfect people or easy answers. We are called to be stewards of the world. Its resources are finite. Don't you appreciate what it means when Christ laments,
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Matthew: 16-26
It was with some trepidation that I opened her gladdening reply, which read:
Dear brother, thank you for helping me to think.