LETTING GO OF GOD
DISC TWO; ACT TWO
1. God Is Love
God is love. I mean, can't it be that simple for me? You hear it all the time, "God is love." God is love. God is... a force of love. God is a force of love... in the universe!
When I was in high school, at the Catholic girls school, Mary Cliff, there was this lay teacher who taught P.E. named Ms. Roberts. And she was gorgeous. She walked like an athlete, her head held high. She was tall and blonde and muscular: a goddess in our midst.
One day the nuns had all of us girls in the gym and we were sitting on the floor, listening to a guest musician, who I think may have been a friend of Ms. Roberts. And he was playing his guitar and singing. At the end of his set he began singing this song "Vatican Rag," which is very irreverent and has lyrics like, "Bow your head with great respect and then genuflect, genuflect, genuflect."
Well, the nuns reeled. Sister Mary Howard stood up in the middle of the song and asked him to leave. He stopped, took his guitar and left.
Then I remember us just sitting there in the gym for a while, sort of decompressing, y'know, talkin' about God. And suddenly Mister Mary Howard turned to this Ms. Roberts and asked, "Do you even believe in God?"
I'd never heard anyone ask somebody if they believed in God before. Ms. Roberts stared right into the eyes of Sister Mary Howard and Sister Mary Howard stared right into the eyes of the Ms. Roberts, who, after an eternity said, "I believe in a 'Force of Love' in the universe."
All of us girls nodded in agreement, like, "That sounds good to us, how could anyone argue with that?" Force or love in the universe, sure! And then we all looked back at Sister Mary Howard, whose eyes narrowed like, "That is the wrong answer."
Only two years later, the attitude of my Church towards God being simply "love" had completely changed. Gonzaga Prep, the Catholic boys school, had gone co-ed, and that's where I spent the last two years of high school. Everything seemed to be changing. Folk Masses were slipping into the mainstream. Some of the priests were using chalices made of thick handmade pottery and their vestments were made out of unbleached fabrics, coarsely woven. And instead of the pre-made communion wafers, we all just started breaking a loaf of bread into little pieces. Like Jesus did.
In the spring, Father Fitterer started teaching us Transcendental Meditation. Suddenly there were guitars in Mass and a drum set right up on the altar!
Transubstantiation was never like this before.
In my senior year of high school they had us go on a special retreat, called a "Search." And they took us off to a retreat house and they put these big blankets over the windows so you didn't know what time it was and they didn't let you sleep for two days and of course everyone kept breaking down, crying, and saying, "God is love. God is love."
Only we were actually saying, "Fred is love. Fred is love." Because they asked us to call God "Fred" instead of God, because the name God was too off-putting for a lot of people and Fred felt friendlier. So we were all saying "Fred is love. I am walking on Fred's path."
I remember after the Search, all of us seniors were on the bus going back to school, down these scary, steep, winding, switch-backed roads. And another senior, Larry, who a few years later would leave the Catholic Church to become an evangelical Christian, turned to me with this big beatific grin on this face. He said, "Just think, if our bus got into an accident right now and we were all killed, we would all probably go straight up to heaven!"
And we all nodded, like, "Yeah, our souls are so clean and pure at this moment. How wonderful it would be if we were all killed in a big bus accident right now because we would all fly straight up to Fred!" This was how I danced in high school. I didn't really date in high school.
So, here I was, years later, saying God is love again myself. But what did I mean, exactly? I decided I would think more about this whole idea of God being love. The feeling of love. Did I think there was God behind it? Or in it? There seemed to be a lot of incentive to feel love, just for it's own sake. Without God, would there be no love?
In my confusion I found someone who had thought about this a lot. Someone who made it clear. Now, at this point I knew a little bit of science, but not a lot. And that made me the perfect candidate for ... Deepak Chopra. I read "The Way of the Wizard," "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, the Quantum Alternative To Growing Old," "The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success," and "How To Know God." I basked my way through Deepak Chopra's books. I thought, "I get it. God is energy and intention and the Quantum field or something." Deepak says that by perceiving changelessness, time ceases to exist.
I loved Deepak. I did an interview on "The View," on ABC, and Deepak also happened to be a guest on the same show, and I gushed all over him in the green room, telling him how wonderful he was. I did notice that he seemed older than he looked on his book jacket, and I wondered if his perceived timelessness was working on his own body.
I told him how his books were helping me understand what and who God was, what ultimate reality was and also, I had to just tell him how I appreciated that he had advice about how to create spontaneous wealth and how to lose weight.
Deepak says, "The world is the creation of the observer and the body is information and energy spanning the universe. Consciousness is the ground of all being. It created us and we are part of it."
Deepak believes that we can tap into this big consciousness with our awareness and that it is the source of all creativity, and intention, and synchronicity.
And if you want proof? Well, the exotic field of quantum mechanics proves all of it.
I was really enthralled with how Deepak was using science, the cutting edge science of quantum mechanics. This was so much better than using myths and superstitions to find spirituality, this was using physics and science to find spirituality. I was so intrigued by this quantum mechanics that Deepak refers to over and over again in his books, that I decided to take a class in it.
What I found was that Deepak Chopra is full of shit.
I wanted to go back in time, and instead of gushing at Chopra I wanted to say: "Deepak! What the hell are you doing? There is no Universal consciousness that can be demonstrated with Quantum Mechanics. There is no healing of the body or arresting of the aging process through telepathy. Sure, subatomic waves and particles do behave in perplexing and strange ways to us, especially when we try to measure them, apparently. But that doesn't mean that there are angels and that the "Universe" wants me, in particular, to make more money! I know this, and I took one measly class!
I turned on the TV one day and found Deepak, back on his beloved show, "The View," promoting his new book: "Golfing to Enlightenment." And all the ladies were so thrilled; who knew you could achieve Enlightenment on the links?
I started feeling so angry with the New Age movement: so arrogant, so clueless. Here was the generation that was supposed to be the best educated, the ones that threw off the shackles of superstition and traditional religion, and what did they do? They gravitated towards chakras and crystals and auras and "quantum consciousness." What is the matter with people?
Then I thought, "Oh dear, what is happening to me? I'm becoming so cantankerous. I'm going to become one of those angry retired people who keeps writing letters to the editor!"
And I realized that the class I took didn't just give me a rudimentary understanding of the basics of Quantum Mechanics. I learned something much more disturbing about myself. Which was that I had never really been taught critical thinking skills. I hadn't considered how to evaluate evidence before. I always thought being smart meant that you knew a lot of things, or that you did what the teacher told you to do really well, not that you ha a mechanism for filtering information.
Plus, the real truth was, I was starting to get nervous about my relationship with God. I felt like we were a married couple in trouble, trying to find some common ground. I began to wonder just who I was married to. How defined did it need to be for me?
I mean, the truth was, God worked for me.
William James said, "It doesn't work because it's true, it's true because it works." When I prayed, I felt calmer, more focused; it really changed my state of mind.
But just because the idea of God worked so well for me, it didn't necessarily mean that he existed. I felt suspicious. For the first time, I wondered if God wasn't just my imaginary friend. As they say, "The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike."
God requires faith. Faith does not require evidence, right? But the more I thought about it, my faith was based on evidence. The evidence of how I felt when I prayed. The evidence of everyone believing in God, almost everyone I ever met from the time I was a kid. The evidence of what I had been taught by people I trusted, admired, and who, ultimately had authority over me.
So my faith in God was based on evidence. Well then, how could I not examine that evidence? But how did I examine anything? How did I know what I knew? I had to know!
One day I was thinking about these things while I was wandering around Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, Washington, and I glanced up and saw a book called, "How The Mind Works" by this guy Steven Pinker. And I thought, "Wow. How does the mind work, anyway?"
It turns out: dendrites. And neurons and glial cells and spindle cells. I mean, apparently the nature of consciousness is still mysterious in some respects, but basically we're talking about neurons firing through dendrites, often releasing chemicals in our bodies.
Reading "How the Mind Works" triggered this appetite inside me to understand what we understand. What we really know.
I found that all of our brains are on drugs all of the time. We give ourselves hits: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and vasopressin. The next time all of you laugh, I'll get a hit of adrenaline through my veins, and if you don't when I expect you to, I'll get cortisol instead and I'll feel anxious. I always thought I was a person in my family who escaped addictions, but now I realize that I am up here on this stage right now partly because... I am an addict.
Also, I learned that memory is very, very unreliable. Even when we think we remember for sure. All of our memories are not accurate, video playbacks, but instead, reconstructions. Memories get filtered by our prior prejudices, and mixed up with things that happen later. And that was a very scary thought for me, because my memories make me who I am.
When we think of our "self" as our innermost being, we don't think of it as a body function. My brain creates this idea that my "self" is not it "self." We think of our "self" as something separate, looking out from our eyes, listening through our ears, and pulling the strings that make our body move. The brain is not able to perceive it's own functioning. And this is true for all of us, right from childhood.
When children are told that it's their brain that thinks, they don't think their brain is them. They think their brain is a computing, thinking machine, something that is added to their "self" to help them understand things.
And yet the mind is what the brain does, just like pumping blood is what the heart does.
Reading about the brain opened this door in my interests that I never really knew existed. I was catapulted into a binge of reading. I was voracious. It was like I had been starved for science. As if the Cambrian explosion happened in my brain.
And I liked it. It was challenging. And unlike every other knowledge quest, this one got better the closer you looked. For the first time, knowing too much didn't ruin it.
I always thought science was a set of immutable answers revealed by nature and when I would read, as a lay person, about how, say a planet was not a planet anymore or gravity is not like we thought, I thought it was a failing of science, another sign at how unsure science was.
But I realized these examples were not signs of weakness; they were signs of strength. That the method was working, constantly filtering new and better information. I had it backwards when I was younger. It's the scientists who are good at dealing with uncertainty.
I was dating a guy who was a big believer in Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is an idea that the world is so complex, and especially the conscious, thinking, feeling human being, who is so complicated, that it couldn't' have happened by chance. Someone or something even smarter had to have a hand in creating us. And that someone or something is God. The watch requires a watchmaker.
One morning my Intelligent Designer boyfriend and I woke up and he glanced at the books on the table next to my side of the bed, which were becoming increasingly more biological rather than religious. Then we gazed into each other's eyes, deeper than ever before. Ah....
He said, "It's the human eye you know, that's the proof that there must have been a designer. You can't have half an eye. Half an eye is no good at all. You either have an eye so you can see or you don't. How could you possibly evolve an eye?"
"Yes," I said, "That's probably true. An eye, an eye is very complex, After all, it's the window of the soul."
So I began to read about eyes. I learned a lot more than I ever dreamed about eyes. It turns out that from an evolutionary perspective, the human eye is perfectly explainable. What began as a patch of skin, more sensitive to light than other skin offers some advantage, those that have it, live. Those that don't, do not.
So, half an eye is pretty valuable, about half as valuable.
Now if an intelligent designer, or God, designed our eyes, well, he would not get such a good grade. Because he put the blood vessels and the nerves that carry the visual information to the brain on top of our retina. Imagine! That's like putting the wiring of a video camera on top of the lens.
And where the blood vessels and nerves go through the retina into our brain, it causes this blind spot that we have to compensate for by basically hallucinating. That's bad. Bad, bad, bad.
Not the best design for an eye. AND it doesn't even have to be that way!
Octopus and squid have eyes that evolved separately from us and they don't have those annoying features. The wonderful biologist, Massimo Pigliucci, wrote, "that the only possible conclusions to this evidence are that God didn't design the eye, or he's pretty sloppy and not worthy of our unconditional admiration, or God likes squids a lot better than humans."
Intelligent design gets everything backwards. It's like saying that our hands are miraculous because they fit so perfectly into our gloves, "Look, at that! Four fingers and a thumb! That can't have been an accident!'
My old cat Rita lumbered onto my lap while I was reading about eyes. She was about fifteen years old then and she had gotten too tired and bothered to go through an entire "meow." She started just going, "meeeeagh."
We looked each other in the eye. Instead of noticing the differences, I noticed the similarities. We inherited our eyes from our common ancestor who probably lived around 100 million years ago. We both have our eyes forward on our skull, because we are hunters. Except, well, Rita wasn't much of a hunter. And frankly, I realized, neither was I. Not if I was dating a guy who was so into Intelligent Design. Rita meowed at me like, "Oh, who needs to hunt when I have domestic help?"
Then, I started reading about all about these experiments on the function of the temporal lobes. These doctors figured out how to stimulate, electromagnetically, the right temporal lobe. People who wore this helmet experienced a sense of transcendent understanding, an overwhelming peace and connectedness, and sometimes the presence of God. Or, of, Aliens. This was often accompanied by a white light. Everyone has certain right temporal lobe sensitivity, and we're all susceptible to these experiences.
So, this could have been what was happening to me when I had my "Heal me, Heal me" experience. Of course that doesn't mean that God just doesn't use this physical way to allow us to experience Him, or Her, or Whoever. But that sure was interesting.
I learned that because our brain is in some deep, fundamental ways, unaware of itself, hallucinations like I had, or like that people have of angels or ghosts, or out-of-body or near death experiences are perceived as real encounters or actual events. And so most people, including me, instinctively think of the mind as something separate from the body. Even though there is no evidence that they are separate.
It turns out we are organic beings, in essence, our minds living and dying along with our bodies, and sometimes even before our bodies, as it takes just one visit with a person with Alzheimer's to realize. So, my common sense view of the world can be very mistaken. My instincts tell me one thing: like that the earth is flat because it seems to be while I'm walking around on it. But the earth isn't flat. As the facts show us.
1 suddenly realized that there were implications to everything that I was learning. My assumption about God's role in our lives was getting squeezed. I didn't think He intervened in our lives, I didn't think He was necessary for us to evolve. I tried not to think of the implications.
But it was impossible not to.