I try to stay away from politics and religion because they tend to be divisive. Sometimes I cannot. There are events that affect us all. They sweep across the world like a fire. Think of the crucifixion of the Christ. Or the death of Muhammad by fever in the year 632. These events are still affecting the world stage today. They have been since they happened. I’d like to say that these two historical figures claiming to be agents of a divine being brought peace into the world but events often disagree. There are multiple competing storylines that fade backwards into human history before the invention of writing. Stories wrapped around history. These affect our psyche in manifold ways.
It is the year 632. The prophet, a self-proclaimed agent of the divine, is dead. He has left no heir apparent. His followers have a difference of opinion about who is to lead the faith. Should it be Mohammad’s companion Abu Bakr or Hussein ibn Ali, Muhammad’s closest living relative? The argument resulted in battles that continue to this day. Ali was killed in one of these battles. He was beheaded. We see this happening still in the name of those who claim god as their own. The new religion split into two distinct sects. They have been fighting ever since, with each other and with anyone who disagrees on the finer points of their version of god.
It is the year 2005. I am a man wearing a uniform in a city not that far from where Ali was beheaded. I am an invader following orders. My days and nights consist primarily of producing war propaganda, hearing bombs going off and worrying about bullets, mortars and rockets falling from the sky and ending me. It is a surreal world full of intense psychic stressors. I live in the palace complex of a deposed dictator. He was a Sunni. I am told we are there to bring freedom to all the Shias he oppressed. I am told we are there to bring prosperity and hope. For some of us this idealistic belief is the driving force. For others the impetus is to bring our society’s values to the backwater country we are in. Still others are there simply because they were told to be. They do not believe in a cause and are simply doing a job.
All around, outside the walls and sometimes inside, people are dying. Horribly. In the name of god and vengeance. Everyone sees god through his or her personal lens and from the context provided by their own past experiences and present circumstances. At the height of my time there, estimates of the death toll in my host city range from 4,000 to 15,000 casualties per week. The air stinks of reprisals, fear and suffering. I feel the bombs going off inside people’s heads and outside the gates. I see the aftermath of the violence. Prepare stories about how we are liberating prisoners from torture chambers. Write about Sunnis being captured by Shias and having their heads poked full of holes using power drills. The Sunnis respond by blowing up open air markets full of Shias. People die for many reasons. Some die for no reason at all. I am entering middle age and at this time and in this place I find myself those around me are struggling to emerge from the events of the middle ages.
I survive 2005 and 2006. So many around me do not. Those who do must of necessity carry away scars that are both physical and mental. One cannot exist in the midst of violence without carrying the echoes of that violence around. The scars of my past contain the many ideas of god within themselves. What is this word? I refuse to capitalize it intentionally because I want to remind my brothers and sisters of humanity of one thing: you do not own this idea any more than I do. Your god or gods are yours to worship as you see fit up to the point where you are forcing those ideas down my throat as car battery acid or into my head at the tip of a power drill.
It is 2015. There are two brothers. Raised to believe in a version of god I do not understand. This god is easily offended. I suspect this god is also weak. This god never speaks except through angry humans who believe that those who disagree with their version of events must be executed in the name of untouchable and intangible ideas that they have in their head. They have rules that include extreme silliness. My god is so important that you may not draw a picture of him. My god is so important that you may not destroy any of his words. They make the holy into the unholy by waging war in the name of something I don’t understand.
What kind of god would need followers like this? Not the kind I can fathom. This could never be the lens through which I see the world. Where all of existence is merely a game of chess pieces played by a being that demands I slaughter others to honor it following esoteric rules made up thousands of years ago and often stolen from the esoteric rules of other gods worshipped by generations past all the way back into the beginning of written language.
There is no one true god. Because each of us has our own version. And this is why we often fight. Over disagreements about what this unseeable, unknowable thing inside us really is. Yes. You understood me. God is inside each of us. Some of us have more than one god inside ourselves. And whether there is only one or there are many they are all the same thing. Because all the atoms and molecules of the universe are connected. All the energy is connected. All the stars send their light across all the universe. It takes a long time to travel that distance.
Which makes me wonder why such tiny beings as ourselves spend so much time and energy fighting about what god is. Wouldn’t it be easier to spend some of these resources exploring everything we cannot see yet. I’d rather do that than to spend all my time living inside books that claim to be the only true explanation of god. Such books often contain wisdom. And wisdom is not a static thing. Like the universe wisdom is a growing, living thing. It does not stand still. It does not use force to control others. It uses patience, tolerance and understanding.
I am student trying to learn. I am a mote that is self-aware. I am a wound that wants to heal.
Maybe all the aberrations I have experienced are there to teach me what god is and what god is not. For myself only. If others want to follow my example or take a piece of it they can choose to do so in freedom and without expectations on my part. Here are words crafted as fragments of my own journey.
I am finding god. God is not a bomb. God is not a bullet. God is not contained inside a book. These things are only tools used to create or destroy. To build or tear down. God is inside you and all around you. God is the fabric of everything. God belongs to everyone. I am not god’s exclusive messenger and neither are you. If you have been given anything worthwhile in this existence it is the choices you make about what you do with all the information available to you. Choose your paths wisely.
God does not act alone. God does not demand. God is not vengeful. God does not become offended and is never offensive. God does not hate. God cannot be drawn.
God is community. God is reasoned debate. God is exploration of the self and of the universe. God is infinite and in everything. God understands love that seems impossible.
Each of us is nothing more than a possibility. Each of us is only here for a few moments. I hope you are finding god in a peaceful, thoughtful way today. If we could all agree to pursue spirituality from this perspective the world would change drastically for the better. I believe it is possible. In the cosmic scheme of things it shouldn’t take more than a few eye blinks. While I wait for those blinks to transpire, god bless you and keep you. May you be inspired in ways that make your journey rich and full of epiphanies, laughter and pleasure. I hope you find your measure of humility, strength and courage. Unto you be granted the qualities of mercy, wisdom and a thirst for knowledge.
I am made of scars and ideas. I am made of love and weakness. I would rather know you than kill you. I am a man who does not believe in anything but the fluidity of existence and the journey. Ideas are not static. Knowledge grows and spawns new wisdom. I am not standing still and neither are you. We are all spinning through space. Together. I try not to lose sight of that.
It is the year 2015. What will you do with this eye blink?