Project Conversion

Project Conversion


God on Trial

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I feel blasphemous just writing the title of this post, but it is June after all and this month we are occupying the fringe of religious thought.

God on trial though…asking–no, demanding–the all-powerful, all-mighty creator of the universe to stand for questioning? Who would think of such a thing?

Most of us do every day, actually.

Every time you doubt, question, or lose faith in the divine, a trial begins. “Oh God, why did you let my newborn baby die?” Or “How could a loving god allow that storm to destroy this town?” And the classic, “If God is good and all-powerful, how does he allow suffering to exist?”

These, my friends, are a court summons. My experience with Project Conversion is full of such calls to stand trial. As a Hindu in January, I asked how God could present himself as open-minded Shiva or Krishna to the Hindus and yet the very specific god of Abraham to the Hebrews. In February, as a Baha’i, I challenged God to show mercy to those suffering persecution in Iran. When March came along, God withstood my query as to why he might set apart the “Good Religion” for only one culture on earth. As a Jew, I pondered how God could allow the devastation of the Holocaust. In May, as a Buddhist, I let go of God altogether and I often wondered why he never made an attempt to ask me back home.

One objection I often hear is that because God is our creator, we don’t have a right to question him. When we question the divine, we challenge his very sovereign. My response to this is, did not the founders of every faith today at some point seek out God and question both him and the status quo of their day?

Questions bring forth a crucible of change often required for progress. If we didn’t challenge our understanding of the world and ourselves, we’d never grow. Such questioning of God then, in my opinion, is healthy; a lesson I took to heart from Judaism.

But what if we go deeper. Much of the conflict, strife and suffering in the world is rooted in religious differences. People have fought over religion for thousands of years, and even though the individual wars fade, the fundamental questions remain and resurface as the spectre of a new generation.

I would love to travel back in time to the establishment of the first and only religion, and then witness the first schism of faith. What would the first rebellion look like, the first disagreement over the nature of the divine? I can imagine the hot tempers, the insults, the reason, the fury of doubt. There’s often one thing missing in these great debates though:

God has never (as far as I know) shown up to settle the issue.

When my kids get into a deadlocked argument (which usually initiates a fist fight), I typically intervene. That isn’t to say that I don’t allow them to try to work things out, but sometimes they just aren’t capable, and rather than let them hurt themselves, I will provide mediation.

Nations have slaughtered one another over who/what God is. Families tear apart because no one can agree on what holidays to celebrate. People fall in love only to be disappointed because each follows a non-compatible faith.

Why doesn’t God mediate? There is the argument for free will, however I would bring up that my kids have free will and yet I step in for their safety and well-being. I wonder, if humanity ever unanimously came together and summoned God to stand trial–to set the record straight once and for all–not through some prophet or an exclusive “vision” to one person, but for all to see and hear…I wonder if he’d come to field our questions.

The reality is that, even if we knew we had that sort of power, humanity could never unite to bring about the trial. We also have the issue of faith over free will. Some might argue that once God shows up, we are no longer free to believe in him. I would respond that is isn’t hurting God much by knowing that we exist, however we are expected to base our  lives on a hunch that he in fact does and in our infinitely weaker capacity, we are chastised when we don’t show the proper faith.

I digress. The point here is that we’ve all put God on trial at some point. For many of us, the jury has convicted him and we no longer believe. Others have apologized to wrongly accused him in the first place. Many still have a hung jury. Because I have no spiritual guidepost this month, I honestly don’t know what to think. My mind is free to wonder and to question everything I’ve believed for the past five months.

So the question turns to you. When was the last time you put God on trial? What were the charges? What was the verdict?



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abowen

posted January 1, 2012 at 11:48 am


Nick,

Sorry about that. I’ll dig around and see if I can’t locate it.



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Nick

posted December 31, 2011 at 5:25 pm


Huh…looks like the older comment sections got butchered in the transition to beliefnet. You commented: “Thank you Nick. The fact that you brought my own words to bear for this post is humbling.” I was trying to find my comment to review that selection, but apparently it got lost in the cloud. Oh well..



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seeker

posted October 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm


Putting God on trial. That’s why I’m here listening to you.



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Anonymous

posted June 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm


There is a certain degree of grace and maturity when one surrenders to the unknown. We are so tempted to give such things names: God, chaos, infinity, etc. Religion indeed runs into trouble when trying to answer these questions, only to produce an oddly shaped conclusion based on faith. This is why I hold that religion and science aren’t the best of bedfellows.



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Anonymous

posted June 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm


There is a certain degree of grace and maturity when one surrenders to the unknown. We are so tempted to give such things names: God, chaos, infinity, etc. Religion indeed runs into trouble when trying to answer these questions, only to produce an oddly shaped conclusion based on faith. This is why I hold that religion and science aren’t the best of bedfellows.



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Anonymous

posted June 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm


Thank you Nick. The fact that you brought my own words to bear for this post is humbling. Thank you for taking the time to follow this journey.



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Anonymous

posted June 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm


Thank you Nick. The fact that you brought my own words to bear for this post is humbling. Thank you for taking the time to follow this journey.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm


Agreement with God seems to cast oneself, as a natural extension, as a representative of that power.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm


Agreement with God seems to cast oneself, as a natural extension, as a representative of that power.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm


Your last sentence is golden.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm


Your last sentence is golden.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm


The real trouble here is when we ask ourselves if these questions can even be answered. I think, for some theists at least, this is when the ceoncept of faith becomes the most powerful. The idea is to accept what we don’t understand and peace of mind comes from that acceptance. For some though, that simply doesn’t cut it.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm


The real trouble here is when we ask ourselves if these questions can even be answered. I think, for some theists at least, this is when the ceoncept of faith becomes the most powerful. The idea is to accept what we don’t understand and peace of mind comes from that acceptance. For some though, that simply doesn’t cut it.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm


It’s a pretty interesting switch, isn’t it, in how to absorb the events of our lives.



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Anonymous

posted June 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm


It’s a pretty interesting switch, isn’t it, in how to absorb the events of our lives.



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Niki

posted June 17, 2011 at 8:50 am


I’ll dive in and attempt to weigh in on a subject that theologians and holy people have wrestled with for centuries. I think approaching this subject from personal experience is the best way forward, otherwise we’re just repeating, and probably less well, the arguments of theologians.

I have repeatedly put God on trial in my life. The usual outcome was that I realized that my conception of God was too narrow, too anthropomorphic. For many years I was a believing Christian and I’m now somewhere on the pagan scale. I think the Divinity was call God is not a singular human-like being (and I don’t mean in form, but also in temperment, psychology, interactions, etc). God is not the deeply personal, interventionist being we take It (note: not he! not she!) to be. I think this is where Jesus comes in – the personal God we can relate to. This is where the Blessed Virgin Mary steps in. Where the Gods and Goddesses of various pagan faiths come in. Where animistic forces of nature are needed. We do need something intimate to relate to. But GOD, the Big G, I think it does let us fight and do horrible things, because we are responsible for our own actions.

But back to personal experience. I’ve had a few intense periods of doubt and some bouts of clinical depression. In those times I felt abandoned by God. But what I walked away with was that it doesn’t matter if I FEEL God’s presence – God is still present. Babies still get born (a profound miracle in my eyes). Weeds still burst through the concrete. Hope and strength and love still occur in the most amazing of moments. And from these times of dark doubt I have learned to see that God shows up in the least expected of places, that tiny seemingly insignificant moments can contain powerful presence.

Maybe God is like the sun – easier to see when we’re not looking directly at it.



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Niki

posted June 17, 2011 at 8:50 am


I’ll dive in and attempt to weigh in on a subject that theologians and holy people have wrestled with for centuries. I think approaching this subject from personal experience is the best way forward, otherwise we’re just repeating, and probably less well, the arguments of theologians.

I have repeatedly put God on trial in my life. The usual outcome was that I realized that my conception of God was too narrow, too anthropomorphic. For many years I was a believing Christian and I’m now somewhere on the pagan scale. I think the Divinity was call God is not a singular human-like being (and I don’t mean in form, but also in temperment, psychology, interactions, etc). God is not the deeply personal, interventionist being we take It (note: not he! not she!) to be. I think this is where Jesus comes in – the personal God we can relate to. This is where the Blessed Virgin Mary steps in. Where the Gods and Goddesses of various pagan faiths come in. Where animistic forces of nature are needed. We do need something intimate to relate to. But GOD, the Big G, I think it does let us fight and do horrible things, because we are responsible for our own actions.

But back to personal experience. I’ve had a few intense periods of doubt and some bouts of clinical depression. In those times I felt abandoned by God. But what I walked away with was that it doesn’t matter if I FEEL God’s presence – God is still present. Babies still get born (a profound miracle in my eyes). Weeds still burst through the concrete. Hope and strength and love still occur in the most amazing of moments. And from these times of dark doubt I have learned to see that God shows up in the least expected of places, that tiny seemingly insignificant moments can contain powerful presence.

Maybe God is like the sun – easier to see when we’re not looking directly at it.



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Editor B

posted June 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm


I agree this seems to be a recurring problem for certain theists. For me, it was not a moral critique but something that felt even more basic. Logic? Necessity? Plausibility? Truth? I did not put God on trial, but the idea of God. The proceedings were protracted and agonizing, but I thought it was pretty much over many years ago. Now I find my conviction was quite narrow and technical, if I can extend your legal metaphor. If God is not omnipotent and omniscient, if God is not the creator and sustainer, if God is not transcendent — what then?

I ask rhetorically, natch.



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Editor B

posted June 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm


I agree this seems to be a recurring problem for certain theists. For me, it was not a moral critique but something that felt even more basic. Logic? Necessity? Plausibility? Truth? I did not put God on trial, but the idea of God. The proceedings were protracted and agonizing, but I thought it was pretty much over many years ago. Now I find my conviction was quite narrow and technical, if I can extend your legal metaphor. If God is not omnipotent and omniscient, if God is not the creator and sustainer, if God is not transcendent — what then?

I ask rhetorically, natch.



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Joan Anderson

posted June 16, 2011 at 6:55 pm


I don’t think I’ve actually put God on trial but I have periodically asked questions. The most important ones are of the general type: God what am I supposed to do?. Sometimes they are for a specific situation and sometimes for general guidance. I suspect that at least most people have questions like this from time to time.



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Joan Anderson

posted June 16, 2011 at 6:55 pm


I don’t think I’ve actually put God on trial but I have periodically asked questions. The most important ones are of the general type: God what am I supposed to do?. Sometimes they are for a specific situation and sometimes for general guidance. I suspect that at least most people have questions like this from time to time.



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Holly June Graves

posted June 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm


As I’ve grown into being a Buddhist I’ve slowly become comfortable with no longer having to ask “why?”.  Things are as they are, for whatever reason: the wheel of samsara goes round and round.  Such a relief not to have to constantly perform the mental gymnastics necessary to try to figure out why a supposedly benevolent divine creator allows suffering, or why we can never feel close to such a being.  When I believed in a god I had times where bad things happened, and I questioned why these things happened, just like most believers.  I think that this questioning helped me become disenchanted with all the god concepts I had come across, and finally allowed me to investigate the teachings of the Buddha with an open mind.  Now I no longer ask “why?’ but rather “what are my reactions to this, and how can I look at it in a more skillful way?”.



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Holly June Graves

posted June 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm


As I’ve grown into being a Buddhist I’ve slowly become comfortable with no longer having to ask “why?”.  Things are as they are, for whatever reason: the wheel of samsara goes round and round.  Such a relief not to have to constantly perform the mental gymnastics necessary to try to figure out why a supposedly benevolent divine creator allows suffering, or why we can never feel close to such a being.  When I believed in a god I had times where bad things happened, and I questioned why these things happened, just like most believers.  I think that this questioning helped me become disenchanted with all the god concepts I had come across, and finally allowed me to investigate the teachings of the Buddha with an open mind.  Now I no longer ask “why?’ but rather “what are my reactions to this, and how can I look at it in a more skillful way?”.



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