Righty: God is our creator, our shepherd and our only salvation. We are all sinners, and those who reject God are doomed to everlasting punishment. Therefore we must bring all of humanity into His fold. The Holy Scriptures are the literal word of God, and they contain everything we need to know about life and human conduct. Heaven and hell are actual places; God sees all our sins and will damn our wretched souls unless we bend to His will. Yet He is a loving father who answers our prayers and delivers us from evil. We live in wicked times, and we must stand steadfast against the godless commercialism and decadence that have polluted our culture. We must do whatever is necessary to create a government founded on scriptural principles, so that everyone (and that includes you, Lefty) would be compelled to live by God’s law.
Lefty: The pathetic fools who believe their holy scriptures to the letter are not simply ignorant and deluded; they’re belligerent fanatics who would kill us to save our souls. Save us from what? From the eternal torments promised in their scriptures to all unbelievers. If the scriptures are full of human errors and embellishments, as they obviously are, then nothing in them is believable and the entire faith must collapse like a house of cards. If the scriptures are false, then God is a myth. Surely we’ve progressed far enough over the past few thousand years to abandon those patriarchal Middle Eastern faiths that have existed primarily to perpetuate fairy tales, subjugate their believers and keep them in a state of abject guilt simply for being human. Let’s get real: God is a human fabrication and his devout followers (like Righty) are a menace. Belief in God and the supernatural has no place in an enlightened society, and it must be eradicated before it destroys us.
The New Moderate:
Let’s get this much straight: nobody knows the true nature or will of God. All scriptures mix history, myth, tradition, revelation, dogma, wisdom, fantasy and eloquent guesswork to the extent that it becomes impossible to know the truth. Any of us could write a book and claim that it was divinely inspired.
Because we have no proof of God’s existence, we’re left with faith. We can believe the scriptures if we like, or we can choose not to believe them. We can believe in some parts and reject other parts. But keep this in mind: our beliefs have absolutely no bearing on whether God exists, what form he might take, whether he cares about us as individuals — or whether he is a she. If God exists, he is who he is regardless of what we think he is (or even if we think he isn’t). If God doesn’t exist, no amount of preaching and genuflecting will bring him into being. We humans still believe we have the power to create God in our image or banish him from the universe if he no longer suits our purpose. What colossal arrogance!
Those who live by the literal dictates of holy scripture have equipped themselves with a sturdy moral compass that guides them through the tangled wilderness of earthly existence. Yet they’re also turning their backs on numerous pleasures of this too-transient life, not the least of which is the simple guiltless joy of being human. More seriously, they risk falling into the deadly grip of fanaticism, obsession and even madness. (The New Moderate shudders to think about the number of people who have died in agony at the hands of true believers.) Religious fanatics have done more than anyone else to turn the educated world against religion.
Those who automatically reject God because they reject the scriptures are making a fatal error in logic: they’ve neglected to consider that God might exist independently of the scriptures, in some form unknown to us, the way a novelist is unknown to the characters he has imagined. Forget about the image of God as a bearded Middle Eastern patriarch; he might be an indwelling life force, the source of energy and creativity, the voice of your soul, the inventor of atoms, the invisible moving hand behind the unfolding universe. Or not. But those who succumb to materialism and its enticements are exiling themselves from the infinitely rich life of the spirit. One of the beauties of religion is its aura of unapproachable mystery, the glimmer of light behind a veil of clouds.
If we require a less mysterious God, why not deduce his true nature by observing the universe he created? (I’m surprised that none of the major religions ever considered this approach.) For example, we can see that God must love rats, termites, cockroaches, viruses and people, because he made them so adaptable (and therefore so plentiful). He heaps misery on loners and rewards those who create strong social bonds, so he’s probably something of an extrovert. God has to be fairly enthusiastic about sex, or he wouldn’t have granted it such a prominent place in our life-cycles. He causes the strong to prey on the weak, which would imply that he’s less than kind. But he also makes sure that the weak outbreed their predators, so at least he’s fair and balanced.
All right — these are just whimsical speculations, but they make more sense than many of the outlandish tales we’ve come to accept as holy writ. Why would anyone go to war over rigidly held interpretations of an unknowable divinity? Our continuing attachment to ancient dogmas seems as mysterious as God himself.
Still, we seem to have been implanted with a hunger for divine assistance. God might not answer our prayers like some celestial Santa Claus, but faith in a higher power — even without certainty — can make us feel less alone and miserable during our ride here on Planet Earth. It can boost our immune systems and our longevity, as studies have shown. In the end, how do you lose by giving the supreme deity the benefit of the doubt? Just don’t tell us that he caused your Google stock to triple so you could remodel your kitchen.
Summary: God is who he is (or isn’t) regardless of what we believe about him. All scriptures are factually suspect; we can come to God only by faith.