Dreaming of America’s Four Gods

America's Four Gods

[D]espite living in the most modernized and technologically advanced country, Americans report one of the world’s highest levels of belief in God. Americans’ faith in God appears constant even as we have come to embrace twenty-first-century technology and the benefits of modern science….

While Americans tend to be religiously devout, we paradoxically tend to know very little about religion, our own or others’. Religion scholar Stephen Prothero has shown that America is composed of “Protestants who can’t name the four Gospels, Catholics who can’t name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can’t name the five books of Moses.” Religious illiteracy increases the odds of misunderstanding and conflict….

[T]he simple fact that nearly 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God undermines any notion that we are engaged in a holy war over the existence of God.

We might, however, be in a war over who God is….

The extent to which we believe God interacts with us and offers us blessings has a profound effect on what we think is right and wrong and what we feel we should do doing with our lives….

Knowing a person’s image of God, therefore, provides us with an opportunity to understand the most intimate moral and introspective conversations they have. Simply put, our picture of God is worth a thousand queries into the substance of our moral and philosophical beliefs…

In asking dozens of questions about God, we have uncovered two that pinpoint the most crucial theological disagreements in America. They are:

  1. To what extent does God interact with the world?
  2. To what extent does God judge the world?

If we know the answers to these broad questions, then we have tremendous insight into your entire worldview. In fact, our responses to these two questions predict the substance of our worldview much better than the color of our skin, the size of our bank account, the political party we belong to, or whether we wear a white Stetson or faded Birkenstocks….

Our image of God is never simply a reflection of the beliefs of our religious community. The traditional method of classifying people as Catholics or Baptists or Jews tells us little of consequence about what they believe.

~ American’s Four Gods
By Paul Froese
& Christopher Bader
“The American story cannot be fully understood without understanding the country’s religious history,” says God in America PBS series executive producer Michael Sullivan.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Emile Durkheim described human beings as “Homo duplex,” or “two-level man.” The lower level is the level of the profane—the level of ordinary consciousness and self-interested pursuits.  The higher level is the level of the sacred at which we lose our petty selves and become simply a part of a larger whole.
Jonathan Haidt author of The Righteous Mind wrote:

I mean that we evolved to see sacredness all around us and to join with others into teams that circle around sacred objects, people and ideas. This is why politics is so tribal. Politics is partly profane, it’s partly about self-interest. But politics is also about sacredness. It’s about joining with others to pursue moral ideals. It’s about the eternal struggle between good and evil, and we all believe we’re on the side of the good.

This perspective also helps explains the persistent undercurrent of dissatisfaction in modern life. Ever since the Enlightenment, modern secular society has emphasized liberty and self-expression. We exult in our freedom, but sometimes we wonder: Is this all there is? What should I do with my life? What’s missing? What’s missing is that we are homo duplex, but only our first-floor, profane longings are being satisfied.

Jonathan Haidt

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
~ Exodus 20:7

God Damn! Jesus F##king Christ! This is what most people think about when one talks about talking the name of the Lord in vain. Yet in many Jewish and Christian traditions, Bible passages can have more than one meaning. For instance, translating from the original Hebrew the name (shem) of God is not simply a word or sound, such as Yahweh, Jehovah or Allah but the name of God is your conviction concerning God or the nature of the universe. More precisely, it’s your embodiment of the divine or sacred.
Shem
In Aramaic and Hebrew, the word shem, which is usually translated as “name,” can also mean light, word, sound, reputation, and atmosphere. The concept that unifies these meanings is vibration: everything that vibrates its way into existence as a seemingly separate being carries its own unique shem. At the same time, all individual name-light vibrations are connected in various ways to the one sacred shem of the divine, which is beyond human words or thoughts. All vibration is part of the whole vibration of the universe. This concept of shem is ancient mysticism, yet it is entirely consistent with the particle-light duality of modern physics.
What do you believe is the true nature of the universe? That is the most important question in the whole world because your beliefs about the true nature of the universe and what you believe is important in life is your god. These beliefs will determine your whole life. From your health down to the farthest place your influence goes, all is determined ultimately by what you truly believe about the nature of the universe.
Everyone believes in something even if you are an atheist or a materialist. For many, their beliefs about the nature of the universe are not fully conscious, but whatever your metaphysical beliefs are, is what you believe about God. Whatever idea of God you really have, that is the name or shem of God for you, and it cannot fail to have its effect. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
Your life is a reflection of your beliefs and values. If you are unhappy or unsatisfied with you life then you must change your beliefs and/or values. For instance, there are quite a few people who seem to believe that proclaiming “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” is an adequate substitution for good character and intelligence; but the facts and conditions of their lives always reflect that this is never the case.
In many poor neighborhoods, you can find some kind of church on almost every street, yet these neighborhoods stay poor. Like television, most of these churches are selling illusions. They are merely telling people what they want of hear. In fact, many of these people simply leave church to go home and watch more television.
In addition, many Christians worship a rather terrible, cruel, suspicious, punitive God, Who is going to save a few people and send the rest to eternal torment. And the facts and conditions of their lives reflect that this is the type of God that they worship. This concept where God will Rapture the “true believers” is a plan of a tyrant. Who could really love such a God? If that is your concept of God, then good luck with that. Perhaps you should be compelled by morality, reason and common sense to become an atheist. But this is not the true God expressed in the Bible. For the Bible in its essence is not a text of restrictive moral codes that if you follow them then God will allow you when you die into some abstract fairytale land called heaven. The Bible is actually an activity, a spiritual process that has the potential to introduce one to transcendence, the ability to know and experience things that are beyond everyday reality. If you have faith and do not doubt… all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.
In our age of overwhelming information, how do we find truth? Our mass media and educational system reinforces that we should be proud of what we know and ashamed of ignorance. Nobody wants to look stupid, ignorant, or crazy. Yet, such pride of knowledge often serves as an effective barrier against moving beyond what we already know, since it makes us ashamed to look beyond the boundaries imposed by our ignorance. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Any person who is prepared to enter with respect into the realm of great and universal ignorance, the secrets of being will eventually unfold, and they will do so in a measure according to her freedom from natural and indoctrinated shame. When faced with strong and often violent social pressures, few people are willing to take such a simple and satisfying course toward self discovery.
Sir Isaac Newton

“Truth is the offspring of silence and unbroken mediation.”

To arrive at any simple truth, requires a great deal of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behavior of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not listening to music. Not watching television. Not thinking. You simply have to hold in your mind what it is you need to know. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, “Truth is the offspring of silence and unbroken mediation.” And yet those with courage enough to travel on such a path to real discovery are not only offered little guidance on how to do so, they are actively discouraged, and have to set about it in secret, meanwhile pretending to be diligently engaged in frantic diversions which seem to conform with the deadening social consensus that are being continually thrust upon them.
This deadening social consensus has turned our contemporary society into a waste land of people living without true aspiration. They merely go through the routine of their lives, doing things that they are told to do. They do not have the courage to do something that they really want to do because they would stand out and seem to be a little crazy.
To this I say to you, do not be afraid to dream. When you dream, there is a different type of logic. You know very well that your dreams are deeper and closer to you than what you see in waking life. They are the very intimate production of your own existence. Yet, they often seem dangerous because they threaten the very fabric of security into which you have built for yourself and your family. But they are also fiendishly fascinating, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self.
When we look into the abyss of the unconscious, we see the destruction of our ego, along with the world that we have built; but on the other side, there is a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life—that is the lure, the promise and terror of that unknown and often unexplored realm of our inner psyche.
When you dream, you and your dream seem to be separate, but of course they really are not. So also you and your God, you seem to be separate but maybe you really are not. Now this God is not the one that you are told to have as your god. I am sure that you have been told by many people who or what you should have as your god. But what is the God that you actually find in your own deep vision. The journey from dream to vision to God, is available to you. Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)
The Kingdom of God is in Your Midst
When we look at each other, we are seeing the past. That is to say, what we see before us has happened. Science, logic and waking consciousness all deal with things that have happened. Science and reason can only predict what will happen if what will happen repeats what has happened. They cannot predict absolute novelty. The creativity of dream consciousness is the present. It is becoming. It is our very becoming. And a person with an intuition on that level can intuit the destiny of nations.
Waking consciousness, science, rational life, perfectly good but don’t try to interpret your dreams in terms of reason. And don’t try to interpret faith in terms of science and logic. Religious imagery is telling you what is becoming. Reason is telling you what has become. The mystery of life is on the level of faith and dreams. So again I say to you, don’t be afraid to dream.
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