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Wes Nisker

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The Solution to Our God Problems

Posted: 09/22/11 05:15 PM ET

"All great truths begin as blasphemies." - George Bernard Shaw

Humanity is now suffering through a deep spiritual crisis accompanied by the usual "holy" wars, and we can assume that a major part of the problem lies with our gods and goddesses. After all, if they created everything then whatever goes wrong is their fault.

I know that "god" is a delicate topic of inquiry, and some people feel very protective of their deity, so as I explore this subject I hope not to insult any true believers. I don't want to become the target of a fatwah or, god forbid, a crusade. I do not want men in iron suits chasing after me.

Let me be clear, I don't think it is wrong or even stupid to believe in god. In fact, I 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, sometimes get jealous and "smiteful," and, of course, they gave us politicians.

On the other hand, just imagine all of the solace and wonder that deities have brought to humans over the course of 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's martyrdom; or the simple Hindu peasant who knows in her heart that the goddess Kali will bless her, if not in this life then the next; or the Sioux buffalo hunter who payed respects to the "great spirit" because that ritual would bring him 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 death.

The only real problem with the gods are some of the humans who believe in them. (But again, who's fault are they?) Displaying a combination of ignorance and arrogance, people keep killing each other in the name of some particular god, or warring over the holy places where a god supposedly walked around or spoke to some prophets. These holy wars have taken place throughout human history, but you would think that by now we would get it. Our science of anthropology now reveals that there have been hundreds of religions, featuring countless gods and goddesses, and that these deities change over time, and that no one tribe or people seems to have a permanent lock on the one true god, and especially not on god's one true name.

Just think, the descendants of a family living near the Mediterranean during the last five millennia might have gone from believing, successively, in Chronos, Zeus, Jupiter, Jehovah, and then later adding Jesus. As with nation states, even among the gods there is occasional regime change.

Indeed, the relativity of the gods was noticed way back in the fifth century B.C. 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, what does he/she/it look like?

A lot of 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 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 respectable deity saying with menace, "Hey buddy, what did you call me?" Why should anybody be bothered if someone calls 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 vanity," sayeth 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, my god has always looked a little Italian. You know, the guy up 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 a graven image of god who is everywhere and has no form. This was a genius idea and saved the Jews a lot of money on statues. Then the Italians inherited the Jewish god and just couldn't resist trying to paint Him.

So how do we deal with our current glut of gods and the tumultuous clashing of true believers? I have a modest suggestion: Let's call all the gods together and hold a "summit meeting." Maybe it 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 Buddha won't touch the stuff; Demeter wants corn for dinner, Jehovah likes lamb; Zoroaster wants candles for a centerpiece, while Tor 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 offer a suggestion. 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, "Ahhh...." So, our first and last breaths would automatically become a prayer. 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, instead of looking up as we pray, toward "our father who art in heaven," we would look down at mother 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 again, a male and female, yin and yang, just as it was in some of those old time religions. "Ah Ma! Ma Ah! Ah-ha Ma!" The possibilities for songs and praises are endless.

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(A version of this piece can be found in Wes's latest book, "Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again!" Website = wesnisker.com)