Before I emerged from a “spiritual” worldview, I couldn’t imagine there was no spiritual reality. I certainly would never think the most unthinkable thought for a believer: there is no God.
Yet, if we’re wise and just a little courageous, we can at the very least think about it. “Imagine no religion,” as Lennon sang, is one thing. But imagine no deity, no divine, no sacred or spiritual? Too frightening for most people to think about or imagine.
Strangely enough, religion in our day seems to be forcing these unthinkable thoughts. Again and again faith shouts to us: “Believe!”–never hearing so many of us say in a calm and reasonable voice: “We think, we don’t believe, and we sure wouldn’t want what you’re selling.”
Two recent examples. One I’ll just mention and you can watch it if you want here. A group from The Satanic Temple quietly marched in their black robes to the capitol in Olympia, Washington. They were peacefully protesting the legislature denying them the opportunity to say an invocation inside. You see what happens: they are surrounded by loud shouts, prayers and angry faces of Christians. I watch and think what I once would have thought unthinkable: I would stand with those satanists any day before I would ever stand with those believers.
Then, reading this NYT opinion piece by an Italian journalist (God vs. Coronavirus), I was struck by the same irony of church closures in other places as well as the closing of the healing waters of Lourdes: Where is God and what is He doing? Cathedrals close, no mass (except sneaky, secret ones), believers have to stay home. Why? Because there is no protection, no healing, just fear. I seem to remember that prayer is supposed to take care of everything (“Ask anything in My name. . .”).
Fear can be a good thing. Like the feeling of guilt, fear can push us to open our eyes, be at full alert, wake up and maybe admit what we dread to be true: there is no help coming from above, no God to heal or save. It’s literally up to us (protecting, saving, healing, etc).
In my column for this week I quote a lady standing in the rubble of her Tennessee church after a tornado tore through Nashville. She said: “God is good. God saved me. He’s like the conductor on that train and he went around me.” This stretches faith to the outer limits, doesn’t it? No surprise that American religion is primarily a personalized gift card to excuse just about anything as “God’s plan” while ignoring the obvious … that is, the unthinkable: God saved me, and drove the train right over my church, my neighbors, the city.
The Italian journalist in that NYT article suggests that the secular government won’t accept that religious activities are “essential”: “churches are being treated as providers of nonessential services, like movie theaters and concert halls.” Well, of course. And, no surprise, in our current hyper-religious climate, the writer is concerned for “religious freedom.” I wonder if he thinks people need to vaccinate their children. I also wonder what he’s really afraid of. Could it be the unthinkable: if people can’t go to church, have the forgiveness of a priest or participate in mass, would they find out those things really are not essential? If God can’t, or won’t, protect his own “healing waters” (holy water, Lourdes, etc) maybe he can’t, or won’t, actually help his own people in a crisis. And it looks like the train runs over a lot of the faithful.
The journalist ends the piece by telling us that Catholics are holding “clandestine masses” at priest’s homes and some are even slipping over the border into Switzerland to attend mass. Not only is that illegal in the present crisis but seems unethical, maybe even un-Christian, to me.
Maybe this whole mess was unthinkable a few months ago. But now it’s a reality. Responding with spiritualized superstition, justified by “God’s Plan” and “Me and My God” self-righteousness, won’t cut it any longer. In my opinion, it never did.
It’s time to think the unthinkable, don’t you think?