I should be different, I know.  I had everything going for me, an Anglican schooling,  targeted by the God Squad at University, marriage to a Roman Catholic, a meeting with Mother Theresa in Calcutta;  I was even blessed by the Pope.  

 

It was during the World Congress of Gastroenterology in Rome.  I was walking around the colonnades of  St Peter’s Square, when, to my astonishment, I saw Pope John Paul II standing on a platform in the centre of the arena,  going through the morning’s blessings.   Crackling through the PA system, I heard the heavily accented voice.  ‘Blessed be the Nicaraguans’.   Cheers from the left.   ‘Blessed be the Sisters of Mercy of Rubaga’.  Squeals and screams from the right.   And then – I could hardly believe my ears.  ‘Blessed be the gastroenterologists.’  The lone representative,  I gave a loud cheer.  I wish I’d bought my colonoscope to twirl! 

 

 

And now I live in a cottage at the foot of the spire of the parish church.  I can’t get much closer to God!       

  

So I should be extolling the virtues of Christianity.  I know this is going to sound offensive to a lot of people, but Jesus just doesn’t do it for me.  I mean, the guy’s a loser; all that stuff about turning the other cheek, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and then allowing himself to be killed without lifting a finger.  And this is the man who fed five thousand people on five loaves and two fishes.  So why didn’t he open a restaurant?   Oh, I know he had his moments, like when he tipped over the tables of the money lenders in the temple precincts.  That showed real spirit, but it wasn’t the best way to endear himself with the Scribes and Pharisees, especially when he told them it was his dad’s house anyway.  They were only trying to raise money for the church roof.  But moneylenders!  That’s a bit like Rowan Williams opening up a branch of Barclay’s in St Paul’s Cathedral!  Come to think of it, Dr Williams looks a bit like a Pharisee.     

 

And Buddha?   Well I love the idea of being one with nature, the meditation, the quest for nirvana, but the image isn’t right for today.  To be that fat, he must have had a very unhealthy diet.  And he looks so smug about it all.

 

Maybe the Hindus have got it right – a gallery of superheroes – Kali,  Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Lakshmi, – not always nice, but all colourful characters. 

 

The thing is I cannot believe in the reality of God. In that respect I am like Richard Dawkins; a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  I am not saying that Jesus, Allah and Buddha never existed, but if they did, they weren’t born Gods.  People made Gods out of them by projecting all their aspirations into them.  Over centuries, these iconic figures have been so overlain with layers of projection that it is impossible to disentangle what is myth and what is reality.  At least the Hindu Gods are unequivocal.  We know they are make believe.  I ask you – who would have four legs or a head like an elephant?   

 

No, Gods are inventions; I’m sure of it.  They are  created in the minds of men to make sense of our society and to provide, through narrative, a focus for our aspirations, a moral compass for our actions,  a resolution of our problems,  a reason for our lives.   

 

Governments are ephemeral, their leaders are far too cunning to be trusted.  Gods, on the other hand, embody timeless ideas of honour, trust, charity, hope and forgiveness.  We can have faith in them because we invented them.  So although I cannot believe in the reality of God,  I do strongly support the mythology of Gods.  In that regard, I am a theist.  If we abandon our mythologies, then we are left with a meaningless existence.  

 

So while Richard Dawkins is correct in asserting that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God, he misses the point.  It is like saying that anything we cannot measure cannot exist.  So, by the same token, love does not exist, hope does not exist, beauty does not exist, happiness does not exist.  Dawkins does not grapple with the wider issue and that is the importance of faith – why the Gods that we create are necessary for us.    

 

The problem with our traditional religions, particularly Christianity, is that their narrative seems irrelevant to modern societies.  So few people go to church these days  that Christianity has once again become a minority cult.  This has created a spiritual vacuum. 

 

But that doesn’t mean that we have no Gods.  If the notion of God is defined as a mythological being that embodies our hopes and aspirations, then we have too many Gods.  It’s in human nature to create Gods out of those we admire. Celebrities achieve iconic status.  Princess Diana was worshipped because she, like Jesus, combined the frailty of humanity with courage – we identified with her struggles –  and she, like Jesus, died the death of a martyr, pursued by the photographers she courted and all but ignored by the establishment. 

 

Television has created a pantheon of celebrities.  And because they appear on television, we imbue them with magical qualities, they occupy a special dimension,  a kind of heaven that we all aspire to.    

 

‘They back lit the stage and released a fog of carbon dioxide gas and out of this emerged this dark figure with long hair and that voice. He was just a God to me.’     

 

Our sports heroes achieve God-like status.  We identify with their deeds and feel enlarged by them.  So when Kevin Petersen scores a century against South Africa in his first match as captain, we ignore the fact he was born South African and feel proud of him.  We wanted so much for Tim Henman to be a God …. but alas, he never was.  He was lucky, for the end, we destroy the Gods that we create. 

 

And of course our presidents and leaders must be Gods. We give them so much power, they cannot just be good administrators.  But how let down and angry we feel when they show they are human after all.  Barack Obama is being groomed for apotheosis.  I fear for him when he fails, as he inevitably will.  But let me save that for a future blog.   .     

 

And we all make Gods of those we fall in love with. We entrust them with our fears and insecurities, imbue them with our hopes. This, above all, demonstrates the power of projection.  Love is blind, they say.  It has to be.  We couldn’t bear it any other way.   

 

‘Oh be, oh be a sun to me.  Not some tired, insistent personality.’ 

 

But there is a downside.  The more a person is idealised, the greater the disappointment when the reality sets in.  How dreadful if is when the scales slip from our eyes and we find they are just ordinary after all.       

   

‘You are the not the man I thought you were.  You are just you.’ 

 

So those we make Gods provide meaning to our lives.  But there is another important role for our Gods.  That is to provide a code of ethical and moral principles (commandments) to support the existence of societies.  So we need a collective projection, one or more Gods that embody our social requirements. This need not be the same world wide.  Different cultures will have different ‘Gods’.  The idea that we should have to convert other cultures to our beliefs is nothing but cultural genocide.  Missionaries have done a lot of mischief.      

 

So what do we require of our Gods?  Well, they must be charismatic.  We have to be able to identify with them – to emulate the principles they embody.  They must represent a code of ethical and moral principles, that is relevant to our current day society.  And finally, belief in them must be shared by the whole society. 

 

Have we got any candidates?  

 

 

I have one.  I propose the character created by the actor, Patrick Stewart; Captain Jean Luc Picard, Captain of the Starship Enterprise.  Make it so…..      

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