Making God in our (racist) Image

My initial understanding of racism arrived deus ex machina when I was 14 standing in the back of a empty country church in Iowa. Years were still to pass before I met anyone whose ancestors weren’t northern European.

While I didn’t know any blacks, Latinos, or Asians, I knew “my people” well – good people, farming people. I was a keen observer from an early age. I knew “my people” were insecure about how people outside of the Midwest saw them. Farmers, bumpkins, clodhoppers, country folk.

The tenet that we were “made in God’s image” was spoken often from the pulpit and it was reassuring. Yes, humility might be praised and promoted – we could take pride in how humble we were – but knowing we were made in God’s image was a private pass in our back pocket if life went from humbling to humiliating. It was an assurance of value. We had affinity with the Almighty.

UnknownAlongside the push-pull between humility and God-heritage was the question of the nature of God. Our black earth, hogs, corn, and cows inclined us to believe in God as embodied, as a being with our senses but over-sized, while the vast formless sky revealed infinity. The trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit tried to meld these concepts, but anyone looking at the symbol can see it is too complex – this is part of this which is not part of that. It is contrived. Truth has to be more elegant. But that’s looking at it from now.

Creación_de_Adán_(Miguel_Ángel)Looking at it from then, my people assumed Michelangelo got it right regarding God the Father. White, male, mighty. And we knew the Holy Spirit from the miracles of nature around us and by the feeling inside when we were being saved. Salvation was pure spirit, a visitation of light.

And Jesus, well, . . . Jesus made the whole thing human. We could relate to Jesus. He was a shepherd, which is a kind of farmer. And a carpenter, and a fisherman. Jesus was an all-around capable amazing guy. He would have made a great neighbor.

But we weren’t told we were created in Jesus’ image. We were told we were created in God’s image, and God, we understood, was the Father – a Father who played favorites, kept score, and wanted allegiance; and He watched us. “His eye is on the sparrow” was not entirely reassuring. He held all the power, as in “. . the Power, and the Glory forever and ever. Amen.” Good thing we were in the same family – white and Christian.

He had to be white. We were made in His image and we were white. This special standing elevated us from backbreaking labor. If other races were equally loved by God, then we were no longer special – and we needed special.

At age 14 I melded the psychological premise of “I feel better about myself if I think less of you” to the priority of believing you are created in the image of a God that favors you, and that it did not allow for people who did not look like you to be equally favored by God. Standing alone in the back of that church, I understood that prejudice attached itself to the belief that you were in a special relationship to God.

While I could not have said it at that time, what this means is that instead of being made in God’s image, we made God in our image and we made Him racist.

Christians don’t have a monopoly on claiming special status as God’s chosen people. It is a self-serving fault line of extremists of the three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Extremists use it now and have used it historically in the name of (so-called holy and definitely unholy) wars, forced conversions, justification of violence, the Inquisition, genocide, prejudice, ghettoes, the Crusades, pogroms, expulsions, and occupation of other people’s land and property.

Terrorists of these three religions believe they are God’s, Allah’s, Yahweh’s favored children. They believe they are superior, privileged, and – having kinship with their racist and vengeful God – can act with impunity. They are on a mission of the highest calling.

It is, of course, only a small minority of people of any religion who become fanatics, and what I am saying is, we all know, only a sliver of the multiply causes of evil enacted in the world. But among those causes, we must examine the ideological seeds that are planted in people.

Speaking only for Christians: If we had been taught that we were created in the image of Jesus who loved and forgave and didn’t suffer pomposity perhaps life on our communal planet might have turned out differently.

Or if we had been taught that we were created out of the Holy Spirit, perhaps more of us would have felt and found the light inside us. That flame has no ethnicity, no favored people, it burns from love.

But many of us, instead of finding our light, judged ourselves as inferior, sought – and created – an all-power father, and gave ourselves permission to harm and kill “lesser people” in his name.

It is a cyclical internal process that becomes institutionalized and fills our world with horrors. Syria, Gaza, Ferguson, torture, drones, Guantanamo, rape, injustice, police brutality, destruction of the planet, child abuse, slavery, prejudice. This list goes on, and it breaks our hearts.

It is revealing, isn’t it, that human hearts break from the harm we do to each other? Is this how the Holy Spirit makes itself known to us? Is this how we wash away false gods?



Yahweh Needed a Wife

[If I speak, thus, with multitudes of certainty, know it is the influence of the movie “Noah.” Forgive me.]

So, out of the Vast Incomprehensibility Yahweh appeared, and He created light and He saw that it was good. Then water, land, and mountains He created, followed by creatures of many kinds. On the sixth day of this Mighty Work He created humankind, first a man. Then out of man’s lowliest spare rib, a woman, for man’s companionship.

On the seventh day, He rested. A little too soon.

Yahweh should have created a wife for Himself, someone to teach the kids manners and how to live in relationships and manage anger and greed. By Himself, He was just a Ten Commandments sort of guy.

Perhaps He thought Eve was only there to clean up apple cores.

His social management plan was an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and “dominion over the earth.” And when we, His unmothered creations, were bad, i.e. we didn’t praise Him enough, we were smited (smote?) with divine retribution: fire and brimstone (bye, bye, Sodom and Gomorrah), plagues, famines, locusts, slavery, and 40 days and 40 nights of water.

And when, after the flood all the new people were working well together and building a really high tower, He looked down, got worried they were getting too close, and waved His hands or something to change their one language into many and started the whole “you’re different than I am” thing. This is a man who needed a woman.

He routinely abandoned his children to silence for hundreds of years and then would come back and ask them to sacrifice their first born to Him. Alternatively, He would cover them in boils or have them swallowed by a whale to test their allegiance. How petulant is this?

The movie “Noah,” viewed in NYC’s largest IMAX theater (water, water everywhere!), showed an Old Testament god sorely lacking humor. His way or no way, the irony being that the humans, excepting Noah and family, mimicked Him, the truest form of flattery. Vengeful. Wanting tribute and complete obedience. Willing to murder.

With a wife, Yahweh might have had teenagers and learned that you love despite being ridiculed. You give a little, you take away the car keys, you gives curfews, but you don’t wipe out. You would have thought He could have had an ounce of humanity in Him.

But then haven’t we always made God in our own image? Confession time. Yes, it is.

Didn’t we start the whole hate and anger business, the favored status and bigotry calamity (“chosen people” and all that)? Isn’t Yahweh in any religion our largest projection?

Ever notice how humor is never projected onto the Old Testament God as a quality? Onto the Goddess, yes. One of my favorite mystics always asked, “Isn’t the Goddess a hoot?” All the synchronicity stuff, and the wry results of getting what you want.

Goddesses are, by and large, credited with being nimble, smart, subtle, and compassionate. But we took our worse qualities and projected them to create an Old Testament-like God and then we use “His” decrees and actions as excuses for us to behave badly in the world. Being judgmental for starters. Followed by being rigid, inflexible, and lacking nuance.

We absolutely needed the Son of God. I personally believe there was an amazing human being (or two, or a man and woman) who lived a couple thousand years ago, and I believe He/They shook up the status quo and probably got themselves murdered for it. (Talk about the father killing the upstart son!)

We need the Son of God because we need a focus of worship for our good qualities. (Yes, you can read that sentence twice if you wish.).

We also need the embracing mother of the Son of God. She has had a softening influence, even as her status is still not equal to that of the men.

We need the New Testament of forgiveness and tending the poor, and turning the other cheek, because those qualities are in us too. And if I had to guess, I would say this “savior” had at least one mighty mystical experience that transformed his daily mundanity into enlightenment beyond the physical, time and space, and that made everything clear and manageable, even death. And he saw It was love. Vengeance had no place in it.

I believe He, and others including Buddha & Co., grasped that Yahweh of the Old Testament was a straw man made out of humans’ craving to know where we come from, where we are going, and what we are to do in-between – an Uber being that transformed our fears into all-mighty power, our insecurities into commandments, and our confusion into management skills. No matter how bad they are, we like to think someone is in charge.

Even now we make movies based on myths, and “Noah” does nothing if not deal in myths, complete with lava-covered angels fighting, as huge Transformers, the evil people trying to get on the ark before the deluge. Murder and mayhem.

We make such movies because we are afraid of what’s happening in our world and we want to picture ourselves as God’s favored children, the ones who will survive.

How strange that we want lives of beauty and joy but still worship at the alters of war, violence, and fear. Because Yahweh needed a wife, Noah needed an ark, and we need to be very careful about our actions. Are we acting in line with our inner Old Testament God or our core being of New Testament love? Are we vengeance or truth and light?