The description of God changes through the prism of every human culture, but one profound universal similarity can be discerned among most cultures: God (one or many), holds dominion over the universe, including a tiny subset, Earth. God is an all-knowing entity, most logically explained by being universally imbued everywhere, and holds power over our survival. Beyond this common description, how can this universal entity of God be explained in a way relevant and valuable to humans?
Although God may hold dominion over the universe, most of the universe is, in practical terms, not relevant to human existence. So let's tackle the part of our universal God that is: our planet, of which, in terms of the planet's history, we are a trivial part. Yet, during the geological blink of an eye that entails the entire history of human existence, we now have a significant effect within the envelope of water, air, and energy that we share with most life on this planet. And this is the crux of our current relationship with God.
The Thin Blue Line - our atmosphere -- that allows terrestrial life on Earth, is now being changed and heated by humans. The rippling consequences have even slowed Earth's rotation: enough melted ice has increased the oceanic drag against this atmosphere to slow, slightly but measurably, the planet's spin. Credit Image Science n Analysis Laboratory, NASA
This part of God, our planet, holds important insights into how God interacts with us. It is not simply as a mother, imputed by many cultures. Rather, how we treat God has consequences for how God treats us. Intentions and prayers, entities of human thought, are irrelevant to God. Actions are the coinage of our relationship with God. We act; God reacts with consequences tied to the physical constraints of our planet.
Implicit in this is the recognition that, although humanity comprises an infinitesimal part of God, God is not human: to suggest otherwise would greatly limit our ability to understand God. It would reduce God's existence to a human construct. Indeed, the failure to understand God, expressed as mysteries in many religions through the millennia, may result from our innate but unrealistic yearning to believe that God has human characteristics.
A nonhuman God has implications so profound that many humans would likely refuse to recognize this God. However we may wish it to be so, though, God is not driven by human characteristics, such as emotions, or a human brain. God does not "give" or "take away"; God acts. "A sense of purpose" is irrelevant to God. God's being, quite simply, is.
Yet, many important institutions and behaviors built around a humanistic God are unaffected by a nonhuman God. For example, irrelevant to God or not, prayers make us feel meaningful, hopeful, good, and secure -- and boosting our morale is useful, so long as it does not create unrealistic expectations. We can still sing "God watches over me" and "God holds my hand" with equal warmth, but recognize that God's "guidance" exists as consequences that result from our actions on our planet, our God.
The shock and sadness of loss is also unaffected by this God, even as the question of "Why, oh Lord?" becomes irrelevant. As individuals, we value our lives, family, friends, and lifestyles, and are saddened by loss of any. But our feelings are important and even valuable to us, independent of God, because what they are, and how we respond, affect our individual survival and that of others.
Understanding our planetary God also does not change our basic precepts of useful human ethics. The need to treat one another fairly and the ways to do so, as outlined in major religious texts, such as the Quran, the Bible and others, are unaffected. This is because such ethics describe the web of behavioral rules that maximize human collaboration, the most effective means of ensuring our survival as a species via actions that prevent damaging consequences. (Indeed, this is why economic equality is ultimately connected to healthy economies worldwide: greater equity ensures greater collaboration, which increases chances of survival.) This need fuels the evolution of religions worldwide.
The beliefs of most major religions, often based largely on the interpretation of God's "wishes" via "messages" to specific messengers (eg, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed), are also unaffected. Ultimately, those "messages" are vehicles for marketing and justifying the useful human ethics that maximize collaboration, and thus, endure.
Misinterpreting the messages of those messengers, however, has long been a source of flawed ethics, as illustrated by the conflicts developing among religions over the primacy or description of messengers, the reduction of equality within religions as they evolve, and the cults that reduce equality, collaboration, and survivability ultimately among people.
Now, the misapplication of one ancient religious message threatens our existence. Written when humanity was living well within its resource constraints and even endangered by competition or predation from other species, it is the biblical dictum to "be fruitful and multiply", which, to this day, is still obeyed. An appropriate ethic to ensure human survival then, it is clearly an outdated one now. Continuing to follow it contributes to the deterioration of human survivability and ethics as conflicts result over diminishing resources.
Thus, our useful ethics remain unchanged but converge intimately with this God. We depend on God for survival, and how we interact with God affects our existence: this is the focus of our relationship with God. As defined by the physical limits of this planet, God's provision for our species is finite. How our actions affect that provision does not affect God. God reacts to our changes in concert with the physical laws that describe God's existence on Earth, even as those laws, from the sun to the planet's geological depths, continue to change Earth. Actions comprise the language between God and us. As we overshoot our resources, there will be consequences -- tragic ones for us, not God.
In this light, those of our actions that decrease future survival of our species, and of other life upon which we depend, constitute the gravest sins and flawed ethics of our existence. The "God-given" evolution of our brains and concurrent development of knowledge allow us to understand the inexorable consequences of unbridled growth and consumption, by simply observing the growth and ultimate crash of a population of bacteria as it pollutes and uses up resources within the world of a petri dish.
Ignoring this basic knowledge results in consequences that constitute God's reaction to our sins. By failing to address those consequences (decreasing resources, increasing hunger, pollution, climate change) we ignore their origins: our thoughtless explosion in numbers and consumption of resources.
Stripping away the human characteristics that are often imputed to God can be extremely painful -- but once done, it yields a far more relevant, useful and accurate understanding of God and our interactions. It also clearly delineates how appropriate actions, not intentions, will determine our survival.
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