Sometimes I think of my Roman Catholic mother attending Easter week services, during her all-too-brief years with her children. For one who has moved away from her faith, in my case toward something like pantheism, I wonder how awkward that topic would be if I could talk to her again now…
I recently read James Michener's The Source, a story of the
Hebrew/Jewish people and their ancestral land that is now Israel. This is an
impressive and gripping work of historical fiction, deeply researched,
published in 1965. In one vignette, a Hebrew tribe marches out of the desert
into Canaan, carrying the invisible yet omnipresent Yahweh in their hearts and
minds. Yahweh commands and prescribes customs, laws, and rituals. Although a
fiction, the portrayed Hebrew beliefs resonate with something I've suspected
for a long time, that the myth of Yahweh was of highest importance, even more
so than the truth of Yahweh. For Yahweh was the deified manifestation of the
Hebrew people. Yahweh was their identity, the face of the collective tribe.
I suspect that this is so throughout most of history, that God is less about
theology and more about identity. An ouroboros of God creating man, and man creating
And this is the source of the discomfort when you say you don’t believe in
someone’s God. You are saying you don’t believe in them. Many who stand in
their faith feel this identification, and this is why denying or challenging their
religion is tantamount to denying their existence.
I do not know if supernatural beings exist, but I do believe in religion as
a cultural identity myth. And there’s that poor bastardized word: myth. If ever
there is a great enemy, as some Christians say, what has happened to that word,
becoming synonymous with a falsehood, would be the greatest of his works. For
it robs us of mystery, story, and meaning. Nothing is more real than that,
transcending even veracity.
If humans are indeed hyperprosocial creatures (see Whip it good), a Being
projected into the sky out of the brains and hearts of a group can have
stupendous polarization power. We don’t eat that or we do wear that or we
whatever because the face in the mirror in the sky says so when we look up
moving our lips in unison as we pray. Behavior guided not by rationality but by
identity preservation. Myths are the scripts that each must play out.
The Jews are a remarkable example of this. Anticipating and adapting to
diaspora, the dense hedge of the Talmud and the rabbinical caste preserved and
protected the Jewish identity through centuries of wandering.
This lack of borders may be a reason why
pantheism is not as appealing as some other beliefs. Everything is on the
inside of God, so where can you point to that which is not self? And without these
lines, what is my identity?