People’s perceptions of God are limited by their own abilities and knowledge, which in turn, are limited by their experience and surroundings. Innate intellectual ability, culture, education, health, and temperament all determine how events and objects are perceived. Whatever framework we have for perceiving and understanding events and objects will limit our understanding of God to what fits within that framework. If we have been taught to think of God as an old man with a white beard, with expectations of us according to those delineated in the Bible, for example, then it is likely we shall perceive God solely within those parameters, unless we have had persuasive experiences that lead us to different ideas.
Some believe they have the only way to the truth and to God, so with limited ability to empathize, and limited knowledge of others, they attempt to convert people to their way of thinking and living. They may use their religious beliefs to provide an excuse to exert power over others and even commit violence against others who may believe differently, or maybe only seem to. Often, it takes very little difference to incite sufficient fear and mistrust to bring about persecution and violence; examples of this can be found throughout history. For people like this, God is very limited and life is very circumscribed. Those who do not conform should be punished or ostracized and their beliefs and way of life stamped out. Often fear is at the heart of this sort of behavior, the fear that results when people are confronted with something that is too different and provides too great a challenge to their comfortable and accepted way of believing and living. When the idea of God is left in the hands of small people such as this, it ultimately loses power and betrays the needs of the very people defending it. They are left with a limited God who cannot provide all the answers. It is then that they cling most tenaciously to blind faith, and their rigidity and fear increase, leading them to resort to violence as they have nothing else at their disposal with which to defend themselves against a threat that to them appears ultimate. History is repeating itself, and many instances of this can be found by perusing the news every day. This unfortunate theological limitation will bring us all to the brink of destruction if not beyond, unless enough thoughtful people step in and turn the tide.
What is required is a deeper, more complex idea of God that could include paradox and uncertainty. Unfortunately, this type of thinking is rare. If the majority of people have a small image of God, how can it be changed? How can a larger, more nuanced image be grasped by those with limited interest or ability? As society has evolved, so has thought and world view. People have progressed from simple technology and social organization to our current state of complex post-industrial society over many millennia. This slow, natural process comes about through the leadership of those who can see further and understand more, whose ideas and techniques take hold in small increments over a long period of time. People tend to resist change as it is frightening and disruptive, but it will be adopted if it shows a genuine improvement over the ways of the past. At present, many people are beset with problems that prevent them from having the intellectual and emotional flexibility to entertain new modes of thought, much less to change their lives. Now especially, they want a simple, kindly God who will just help them survive. Nevertheless, a deeper and more lasting peace can be had by those who are able and willing to take the plunge into a larger, less obviously comforting idea of God, one that is reached through contemplation.
Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.