08/31/2012 05:04 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

When Mere Mortals Talk With God

The New York Times on Friday carries an analysis of how certain words and phrases were used by speakers at the Republican National Convention.

There were 95 mentions of "God" in the speeches. Compared to the 299 mentions of "Romney," God came out relatively good, unlike the phrase "middle class" that was mentioned only 13 times.

(The analysis did not include some x-rated, left-to-the-imagination words that Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood exchanged with an empty chair.)

Most of the God mentions were in the context of "God bless you, and God bless America."

As a "believer," I find such mentions of God perfectly OK.

What I do not feel comfortable with is when religious leaders, even politicians, claim that they have a direct line to God.

Such as Reverend Jerry Falwell's infamous claim of knowing God's Will that "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians..." helped September 11 "happen."

Such as Ovadia Yosef, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of the Shas political party in the Israeli parliament, blaming the Katrina tragedy on "the Godlessness of New Orleans, on U.S. support for the Gaza disengagement, and on a general lack of Torah study in the area."

Such as the fatwas and other exhortations for Jihad by Islamic religious leaders -- who also claim to receive their guidance directly from God -- calling for the deaths of infidels and for the annihilation of an entire nation.

Such as the reports -- some denied or "walked back" by the Bush administration -- of divine guidance: that Bush believed that God wanted him to be president; that our war on terrorism was "a crusade;" that he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I also remember from my early history lessons another holy mandate, this one blessed by a Pope, with the Cross as the emblem -- it was called the "Crusades."

More recently I read an article at The Moderate Voice that quoted part of an 1852 speech by Mormon Church Leader Brigham Young, in which Young has some very harsh comments on slavery, "negroes," the mixing of the "chosen" white seed and blood with those of the black race of Cain, etc.

In an eerie and foreboding bit of divination, Young even shared the following revelation [spelling is as it appears in original]:

Therefore I will not consent for one moment to have an african dictate me or any Bren. with regard to Church or State Government. I may vary in my veiwes from others, and they may think I am foolish in the things I have spoken, and think that they know more than I do, but I know I know more than they do. If the Affricans cannot bear rule in the Church of God, what buisness have they to bear rule in the State and Government affairs of this Territory or any others?


Consequently I will not consent for a moment to have the Children of Cain rule me nor my Bren. No, it is not right.

Young claims that he had many revelations on this subject.

Revelations that Young passed on to the faithful as "the true principles and doctrine."

If these pronouncements by Young were indeed intended to be "true principles and doctrine," I must agree with Dr.Clarissa Estés that:

...the grasping to codify and rationalize one person owning another human being by 'copying God' (and it's all a woman's fault it is said) and the rampant making of other humans into less than human if they are Jews or 'affricans' or of the 'islands' or 'indians'... and claiming there are oh just so many of 'them' that they need to be controlled... by Mormons... reads as nothing God-like. Rather it reads like a greedy grasping magnate who wants to dominate rather than lift all others...

Many other so-called prophets, "holy men," religious leaders, politicians and just charlatans claim to have had conversations with God.

Assuming that there is only one God, one Supreme Being (and I do believe that) who is eternal, timeless, constant, merciful and loving (and I do believe that, too), I struggle with the following:

Why would God's Word -- whether passed on to our prophets and leaders in a conversation, in a revelation or via some other means -- be so differently received, interpreted, even corrupted by those privileged to receive His Word, depending on epoch, religion, culture, or geography?

Why would God, in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, exhort Christian leaders to go forth and convert the Muslim infidels even if it meant slaughtering them and in the 20th and 21st centuries command Muslim leaders to go forth and kill the non-believers -- to wage Jihad?

Why would the Word of God, the Word of a Being who is eternal and constant, change so drastically from millennium to millennium, from century to century, even from election to election?

Why would a God who is so merciful and loving and who created, had to deal with and loved people of different skin color, sexual orientation and even the non-believers since day one (OK, since Day 6 or shortly thereafter), tell one prophet that gays are an abomination and must be persecuted, tell another holy man that Jews are Godless and must be eradicated and tell a third religious leader that 'negroes' are inferior, or worse, and must be held in chains?

Some claim that it is the culture at any particular time. But culture should not mitigate hate and prejudice. God's love does not revolve around cultures or civilizations. God is timeless and constant. God has been around a million times longer than our so-called civilization.

Some say that our "prophets" and religious leaders -- those who do not go around promoting the killing, subjugation or persecution of others -- are basically good, moral people who want their followers to do God's will and earnestly believe that they have heard his message. I can accept that.

Some believe that those "conversations" with or revelations by God -- the ones that exalt the nobleness and goodness in people -- are part of one's faith, and genuinely believe that the truly faithful can relate to (their) God on a personal basis. I not only accept that, I respect it.

However, I have difficulty accepting that those who preach hate, intolerance and just plain evil from the pulpit, the Amud, the minbar or from whatever elevated religious or political position they hold, are hearing and relaying the Word of God.

Perhaps Holly Near says it best -- or sings it best -- in her hauntingly beautiful song, "I Ain't Afraid," in which she says she is not afraid of "your" Yahweh, Allah or Jesus but rather of what people do in the name of God.