Seems to me that since the beginning of time, we've been interested in redemption. In need of a Saviour. Someone to take away our fear. Someone to make our world right. Someone to tell us we are good. Someone to show us the love we each carry inside.
Every culture has ingrained, a strong ideal about god(s). Some make claim to many, some to what they refer to as the one true God.
The problem is that god(s) is/are part of tradition. Traditions change. One does not have to look back in history but a few hundred years and see how Christianity has been molded and shaped to suit European/American culture. Dark day of burning women at the stake for sorcery over failed crops and less than satisfactory weather conditions are well documented and were carried out by great men of God. In modern day, Christianity has become a voice of programs and marketing ploys to bring the world to the feet of Jesus. I'm sure Jesus is mightily thankful for all the help. Also, still among us, we find the just plain crazies who interpret "gospel" to the letter and create their own cult rules from twisted out of context metal. Lets not forget these rules more often than not submit women to their husbands and take away their freewill to choose. Embroiled in guilt and shame, there is no way out, unless of course one can survive not being redeemed.
Yesterday I was scanning the radio and came across a Christian broadcast. "All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give, will you ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live." These are words to a well known hymn, they were not being sung but rather spoken, pleading for the listner to sign a contract with these words. "Can you in good faith, put your name to this, can you give it all to Jesus, can you surrender to him your life and all that you have." ...
My dad is a brilliant theologian. His sermons are deep and meditatively thought out, so simple you wonder why you never thought about it before. Whenever I have opportunity to listen, I'm awed and humbled and tears fall from my eyes. Not because he pleaded, not because he said you would burn in hell, not because he asked you to change a single thing in your life - he's never done any of that. But he found a nugget of gold, of ancient wisdom, that touched your heart, that made you feel all of your humanity, that opened your mind and gave you new eyes to see the world.
Believe it or not, my parents do not attend church, they haven't since my dad left ministry when I was twelve. He's called upon to fill in when regular ministers are away. I've never known him to give the same message twice. There seems to be no end to the sermons he has inside. He and my mom often have deep philosophical discussions about scriptures. They have no ego, no agenda, no position in the hierarchy.
I used to have difficulty reconciling my own lack of belief to their fortress of faith.
I know the lingo, the arguments, the call. For awhile I had guilt. Fear that not believing was a mistake. What if I burn in hell? It can't be possible that so many people are wrong about this redemption?
Now I see the entire thing differently. More like an exercise in psychology. They get you when you're young, they scare the crap out of you, they feed you to the gills with this stuff, isolate you, manipulate you - I mean religion in general here. (My parents never did any of this to me. They never took me to church past the age of 12.) And why do they do it? Because we all need a Saviour, we all need to be redeemed. They are doing the work of God, the most important work they know to do.
But here is the thing. You need saving because you think you need saving. Do you know what are you being saved from, anyway? The shadow that goes bump in the night? Is it all motivated by eternal damnation?
We ask god(s) for things in our lives. We turn our burdens over to him to bear. We negotiate our future to his service if only he will give us this one thing. I suspect he doesn't give a god damn. If he does exists - the universe is big and I am dust in the wind.
This, however, is not to say that the exercise of letting go doesn't make a difference. Perhaps it allows some to live in the present more fully without carrying the weight of this or that. Perhaps it helps some people to be good, knowing that they will be judged. I feel strongly that if god(s) meets your needs in any of these ways, then perhaps in you, the ideal of god has been fulfilled. You can call it God, even if it isn't, especially if that helps.
I'm close to labeling myself an a-theist. I have some disdain for organized religion. I have no bitterness. So many are just living the unconscious motions, certain their reward is in heaven. For them, I almost hope that they are right and I am wrong... but I don't think so.
I notice that a lot of atheist (at least those with weblogs) seem to be out for blood (oh the irony). There was a time in my life that I thought I knew God. I trusted he would keep me as the apple of his eye. It is all psychology. I can not disprove God, nor do I want to. If your belief helps you to live at peace in the world, then it is indeed a great gift. For my parents, I am certain that it is just that! Their lives often impart this gift to me, indirectly showering me with blessing of goodness and wisdom that see beyond a text to an esoteric plane.
My goal is consciousness. My experience in church is only now about enlightenment, as I can see it for what it is and was and where it has brought me. My intellect will not allow my rolling over and surrendering all to Jesus. My guess is that the enlightened Jesus would not want to be God to me but would rather me find the spirit within that is able to discern and choose wisely in the world.