Sunday, July 23, 2006

Led by the hand of who?

I can understand why some people cling to the belief in a god, especially a personal god, that is one who directs and controls and protects and even punishes.

I will illustrate with a story. I was attempting to get some service one day while ordering lunch. Suddenly I’m being ignored and the entire establishment goes briefly silent followed by murmuring. My dinning companion leans over to explain what happened because I was facing the opposite direction. He said: “Nelson Mandela just walked in.”

I turned and sure enough Mandela was a few feet to my left. I basically blinked and then resumed ordering my lunch. Apparently the rest of the people didn’t respond similarly. They all stopped eating and stared. Every other person was on their cell phone excitedly telling someone on the other end about this event. I was just happy to get my food and continue with the conversation I was having.

Admittedly it was a small crowd of about 70 people that afternoon. But totally unexpectedly it happened a second time. What were the chances? Except this time I was at a concert with Diana Ross. Once again Mandela walks in. But this time he makes his entrance up on the balcony while Ross is in the middle of a number. The entire place erupts with people pointing. Ross stopped singing and turned around to see what was going on since this time he was behind her. Of course she invited him on stage and he, like all politicians, was not about to say no to free publicity.

We were in the 10th row so we should have had a good view. Except for some reason everyone in the first nine rows were standing on their chairs to get a better view. I sat patiently waiting for the uproar to die down and the concert to resume.

Now consider the concept of a personal god compared to a celebrity. By definition the creator of the universe is a far more awesome concept than any human you can name. If people go bonkers over Mandela then expect a similar thing if they convince themselves that they have a direct line to the All Mighty.

And what is great about this invisible friend in the sky is that one can experience the emotional highs of being in the presence of a celebrity anytime you want. Humans can induce happiness on themselves if they want. They can self-generate depression or ecstasy. They can convince themselves they are ill or that they are experiencing pure joy.

So if they convince themselves there is some deity in direct communication with them they will “feel” his presence. Because they believe they will experience this very strongly. But consider what else they can do.

They can take any decision in life, no matter how mundane, and turn it into an experience with the Almighty. And they do. They may have desires to enter a certain profession. But with any decision there are trade offs. But for the believer it only takes a bit of self persuasion and they can believe that their occupation was picked for them by God himself. They talk about “God leading” them in certain directions.

Now the leadership of this god is really no different from the events all the rest of us experience. Opportunities open up, you find them interesting. You consider them and you make a choice. But imagine the thrill if you can believe that this god is actually directing you personally.

You see this all the time. Christian X has a dozen or so flights he can take to a specific destination. He picks one just as everyone else does who is making the same trip. But if the plane crashes he discovers that “God led him” to pick the flight he picked otherwise he would be dead. If he drives down one road instead of another and either has something good happen as a result, or avoids having something bad happen, he again attributes this to the directions of the deity taking a personal interest in him.

But all of us go through such things. It was only a couple of years ago that I was sitting at home and said to myself that for Christmas I wanted to go someplace special. I was going to take myself and a friend on a holiday of some sort. I spent a couple of hours seeing what wonderful holiday I could find. To be honest I had two main destinations in mind. I wanted to go to either Phuket or Fiji that week. I wanted a warm sunny beach. But buying tickets only a few days in advance can be difficult. In fact it proved impossible. So after discussing options with a travel consultant I booked two tickets to Sydney, which was plenty sunny for me. We got a lovely hotel room overlooking Darling Harbour and set in to enjoy our trip.

We settled in on Christmas Day and then spent Boxing Day (Dec. 26th) keeping busy. We started on a cruise of Sydney Harbour which lasted for hours as we stayed out to watch the beginning of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, one of the most famous such contests in the world. We toured the Sydney Zoo which was interesting but not as fun as being on safari. And after dinner at Darling Harbour we returned exhausted to the hotel room only to discover that a few hours earlier the town of Phuket, our original destination, had been destroyed by a tsunami. And the flight we took was from Thai Air and the fellow passengers with us that day were flying on to Thailand.

It occurred to me that we had been lucky. I had left the tickets long enough to miss out getting a beach resort in Phuket. Perhaps a few days earlier I could have still managed it. But luckily for me nothing was available at any price. It was not so lucky for the thousands of others who had their lives uprooted or destroyed that day. Whatever resort we would have been in was destroyed by the tsunami.

I do not, however, delude myself into thinking that some deity saved this old atheist. Sometimes we luck out and sometimes we don’t. I didn’t feel a god had saved me anymore than I felt he murdered all those other people for no apparent reason.

But the Christian engages in such magical thinking. Everything in life reveals the hand of their god. There smallest decision is now part of God’s plan. He directs them. When a car spinning out of control misses them they attribute the miss to his direction. When it hits and kills someone they love it is God “calling them home”. They sleep feeling safe that there are simply no unexplainable events in existence. There are no mysteries only the will of God. But imagine the sense of importance this gives. It was “God” who turned you into a clerk, petrol attendant or travel agent. There is a belief that each of them are in direct communication with the Creator who is guiding them personally through life. What euphoria that delusion must bring.


Post a Comment

<< Home


Web Counters Religion Blog Top Sites