Some of you may know that I’m a 12-stepper. Which particular program is irrelevant; the main is that for some years now, I’ve been following a spiritual program to help me deal with life (on life’s terms), and one that shies away from defining the divine for you, instead encouraging each person to come to a concept of “God” as ze understands it to be.
What I have come to believe recently is that the idea of “God” just doesn’t make sense to me. Basically, that I don’t need to believe that there is an external force for my own good, because I have an internal force to that purpose.
At a meeting last night a woman shared some things about her concept of God, and I realized while I was listening that I could reconcile my burgeoning atheism with the spiritual program that had effectively saved my life*.
As she talked about wanting to be more Higher-Power centered, she mentioned that her HP had her best interests in mind. I thought, “there’s a part of me that has my own best interests in mind; the part that gets guilty-feeling when I act against my own best interests.” Maybe you’d call that a conscience. She was calling it God.
Before I started trying to define God for myself, I took the biblical Christian God, because that was the one I’d been presented as a child. As I got older, and as I started to question the nature of that religion’s beliefs, I found I could get the idea of a Holy Spirit — an invisible force that connected all life with each other**. God the Father, which I understood to be the God of the Old Testament, felt flawed to me, more like the Greek pantheon than any ‘one true God’ that people talked about in church. Jesus of Nazareth was an interesting figure, to be sure, and was really quite radical in his beliefs and treatment of people***. The literalist view of the virgin birth I thought quite unnecessary to hir good message, which essentially boiled down to “peace on earth, and goodwill to all”.
This is where I was when I started to define divinity as I saw it. The Christian God had failed to save me from crappy things in my life (the drive-you-to-thoughts-of-suicide kind) and I couldn’t trust that The Man Upstairs was really all ze was cracked up to be.
The concept of Higher Power I can get behind. I see this as functioning to keep me 1) humble and 2) from trying to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, i.e., not asking for help when I need it. There are many things I put in this place, sometimes the collective wisdom of the group, sometimes nature, since I obviously can’t make it snow, or stop it from snowing, or make grass grow, etc. Sometimes I returned to a more traditional spiritual being and called it God.
I still occasionally talk about not being able to screw up The Plan, meaning that a decision on my part is not going to make a radical difference continuously for the rest of my life and for everyone else around me — basically that I’m not that powerful. I’m only the center of my universe, not everyone else’s.
What that woman at the meeting said helped me realize that I have the guidance I need, because of working this 12-step program to heal from my sick ways of thinking, and that I don’t need to believe that some great cosmic force is Out There to help me. I can help myself. I can listen to what might still be called that “still small voice”, the one Mohandas Gandhi called “the friend inside”, and make the best decision I can for me today. I don’t have to feel like there’s a great Plan for me and everyone else. We’re all just bungling along, trying to live. And what I want to do is live as fully and with as much unconditional joy as I can.
** Yeah, it’s kind of a Star Wars spirituality. The idea worked for me.
*** i.e., that they were people, no matter where they came from, what they looked like, or whether or not they were adult or male.