Let me begin by asking that you describe to yourself (and for your own understanding) the spiritual image that comes to mind when you think of God, of Jesus, of the Holy Ghost and – but not least – Mother in Heaven.
Is your image of God the Father defined by the doctrine and theology of your particular religion?
Is your image of Jesus that defined by fundamental Christian theology?
If you pray to Jesus Christ, do you pray to the standard Christian theological definition of the Savior of the World, the Redeemer, the He-Who-Accomplished-the-Atonement?
And how – if you carry such an image – do you perceive Heavenly Mother; the Goddess?
Many ancient pagan religions encouraged prayer to statues. Christianity has a tradition of bowing and praying to statuary images of Jesus, Mary and the Saints. It would be interesting to discover whether we offer prayers to internally imagined anthropomorphic divine images, merely offer mental oblations to the cosmos or carry out something entirely different?
If one had achieved a genuine and spiritually sensed relationship with the higher power – God, if you will, as one had come to understand God – how would you respond to the following portrayals if they did not fit what you already possessed in your experience?
Could you easily accept a new idea of God as a Boss of the Universe no matter how respectfully and reverentially that notion is expressed.
Could you easily accept a new idea that God is a kindly, and benevolently divine version of a Caesar?
Could you easily accept a new idea that God is the male head of a divinely created and eternal Patriarchal Order that relegates every female to a secondary role in a forever of existence?
Based on a relationship with the Divine that you had already achieved, could you easily accept a new idea that the Divine with whom you commune is actually a judgmental and critical god who cannot look upon nor tolerate sin with any degree of allowance?
Could you easily accept a new idea that the higher power with whom you have intimate and personal communion is also the Divine Author of Compassion as the ultimate way of human interaction?
Could you easily accept the idea that the God you have come to know is focused entirely on our loving one another and entirely not focused on our condemnation of anyone?
Could we not propose that just as our lives are the living myths of our own creation, our personal stories are made of all the stuff inside with which we show and tell others who we are?
The adolescent religion of my birth was presented to me as the defined nature of life based on a continuous pattern of spiritual prompting. Mormonism came into being in the world of 19th-century American religious literalism based on experiences that bore in their very existence widely-accepted assumptions as to the perceptive definitions and meanings of spiritual promptings, revelation, as it were.
The Father and Son described by Joseph Smith in his Vision were entirely consistent with the fundamentalist bible-based definitions of who God is. In addition, there is consistency with how that male and patriarchal god communicates to man, not to mention a notion that the Almighty rarely speaks to humans.
However, when God the Father speaks, such communication includes an investiture of authority to those “called” to speak on His Divine behalf and become his middle men to the rest of the mortals.
It is necessary to understand and acknowledge one’s own personal cosmic vision and acknowledge the assumptions upon which definitions and constructions of both reality and the spiritual world are created.
We create them all by ourselves. Others do not create them for us except to the degree that we let someone else’s constructs become our constructs.
In very powerful but subconscious ways, many believers practice their religion with an internal image that they “know” exists. This internal image they have never actually seen exists essentially because believers have accepted the testimonies of others who likewise have never seen it but also “know” it exists as defined in the traditional LDS way of testimony and authority.
In the same fashion, many believers “know” of the reality where the patriarchal god “is,” where Jesus Christ “is,” and where Satan “is” and “works” and “wants to rule.”
For many Christians, that spirit world exists in some other dimension and interacts with our own world in supernatural ways.
This imagined Mormon reality has its conflicts with the imagined reality of other Christians, not to mention other non-Christian religions who define the High Power in their own way.
But let me write specifically to the assumptions most believing Mormons live by.
There is the view of a purely supernatural, all-wise, all-knowing and almighty God who at times intervenes in the affairs of mortals in dramatic or not-so-dramatic ways.
Most believing Mormons easily accept and live according to the idea of an invisible Jesus/God personage who is vitally invested in human life and who directs forces of good against the other supernatural power and source of evil, Satan.
I am then prompted to ask about those practicing and believing Christians who do not have to see the supernatural Jesus/God as a personage who exists “somewhere else” outside the sphere of mortal perception and who communicates spiritually from a distance through the Holy Spirit.
Taking a cue from Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is within you,” they have a sense of God being omnipresent. They have a sense of on-going constancy in which the Holy Spirit is an uninterrupted and steady influence toward good works and compassion.
Mormons are encouraged with relentless consistency to accept the notion of spiritual warfare, with evoked images of the spirit world as some sort of zone of conflict in which Satan and God operate simultaneously for and against human life.
Those who do so seem almost oblivious to their willing mental action of making Satan a god who like the Father is everywhere, omnipresent and forever asserting his contrary will. Satan becomes the direct opposite and yet needful counter to the goodness and righteous-requiring Commander-God; a supernatural reality who tempts mortals to both “sins” of commission and of omission.
Does it not seem that most believing Mormons have difficulty with the psychology of evil and the idea that Satan does not have to be supernatural to function more as a conceptual part evil’s existence? Satan represents among other things the natural mortal tendency to self-focused, self-interested acts that disregard the good of anyone else. In this regard concepts of laziness, selfishness, arrogance and intolerance, for example, represent tendencies that can easily be related to evil and its impact on actions.
It seems hard for most believing Mormons to see evil as not something we are tempted to do by a supernatural Satan, but a more negatively aggressive temptation in life that serves as a kind of resistance or counter force against our intention or tendency to behave in an independent manner – acting in a ways that reflect the highest good of all concerned.
Mormonism is unapologetically a performance-based legalistic relation. As such it must come down on the side of biblical literalists who do regard God as the Boss of the Universe. Mormonism requires that its members live according to the will of a Divine who commands humans to behavior based purely on obedience and morality.
Yet other Christians live comfortably with an imagined reality of a non-judgmental God who fully encourages positive human behavior as a consequence of total agency; a God who will not condemn mortals for not believing the right things and not participating to worthiness-defined degrees.
Many of us, as Dr. Marcus Borg has written, have never gotten away from our pre-critical naiveté that still forms our internal Imaginative spiritual reality.
Many literalists won’t admit it but they tend subconsciously to imagine that Moses looked like Charlton Heston’s movie character;
that the good versus evil portrayals in Exodus portrayed by Edward G. Robinson, Debra Padgett and Yul Brynner were what it was really like
… that 600,000 Israelites walked away from Egypt on a grand camp-out trek.
Our internal imaginative interpretation of reality is always up, always running. The curtains of our internal stage are always pulled back as we “look and see.”
Most of our internal religious constructs are inherited. What well-meaning but spiritually immature Christians have tended to do is hide behind the more simple acceptance of their own myths
Which include a God who does not prompt as much as speaks almost entirely and exclusively through scriptures …
a god more interested in obedience than experience …
… a God limited to rewards or punishments as He presides over a conflict with Satan,
Human spirituality in this century is no longer even the simplistic 19th century evangelizing fundamentalism of the American frontier.
Modern spirituality is best blended with common sense and ethics rather than organized religion driven by hundreds of years of theological guesswork that becomes more and more obviously flawed and inadequate.
What is called for is spirituality that functions as part of and not a background to a reality that is defined daily by human interaction, curiosity, discovery and challenge.
Contemporary Mormonism is one example of the Old Time Religion that does not work – principally because all those old assumptions that were never valid are now seriously impeding social movement toward social justice and genuine compassionate concern for each other.
The old imperial and monarchical imaginary heaven peopled by an emperor pretending to be a king no longer describes the spiritual reality of which more and more human beings are becoming conscious.
It’s time to stop climbing and clamoring all over that medieval statue of Jesus and instead looking in the direction in which Jesus was always pointing … the compassionate god whose kingdom has always thrived and pulsed within ourselves … as he said.