God and War

God and War

If you happen to be asking: what in God’s name is Will doing in his recent blog entries, I’m highlighting claims in Abdication: God Steps Down for Good that appear to have been overlooked by its readers and commentators, probably because of the “abdication of God” idea featured in its title. A new reader can catch up with this retrospective by starting with the Prompts to Planetary Consciousness essay and reading onward from there. The book is basically a prevent nuclear war/save the planet drama in which God’s habit of backing all sides in perpetual war is taken to be a big problem. That’s the basic point to keep in mind. The book is headlined by Bob Dylan’s song from 1963 With God on Our Side. I am writing from the perspective of an aging man way out in space looking back on the obvious peril we are locking posterity into as we divert ourselves with earthly entertainments, all the while perfecting nuclear weaponry and dumping poisons and garbage on the face of the earth. I’m confessing a lifelong nightmare, yours too perhaps, nuclear war. Everybody already knows what I’m talking about. It’s common knowledge. This is what makes communication so difficult. Everybody may know what I’m saying, but most people don’t want to admit that they know it, or want to hear it on the way to the ballpark, theatre, concert, or restaurant. Diversions from reality are needed. Nuclear nightmares are scary. Most people are hunkered down in some pleasant, fun-filled, comforting mode of survival.

I explained in the last essay why I thought God might be wise to abscond for a while and leave we humans to soberly fend for ourselves. In this essay I inquire how we humans might prevail upon God to forsake the warrior role? How would you go about getting God out of the war business? I don’t know. Probably you don’t know either. Maybe that’s why this question is generally overlooked in reader comments. It’s a ridiculous question, isn’t it? Can the inquirer be serious?

I am serious. It is an important question. Think of it this way: would getting God out of His warrior costume and war game gambits be worth it if that would retard war and decrease the probability of nuclear war? Of course it would. Yet the sophisticated critic will say: “that won’t happen.” I find that kind of response cynical. I might respond: “muse on the question; live with it awhile.” This discussion has already led to one valuable conclusion: a question can be important even if it can’t be immediately answered! Another such question was raised in a previous entry: whether the three monotheisms of Abraham are collectively good enough to ameliorate the planetary crisis of environmental degradation and probable nuclear apocalypse that they have been complicit in bringing about? Both questions are worthy of serious consideration.

Readers are asked in the book (p. 56) to enter “wars of religion” and/or “religious wars” in a search engine and see what they find. Try that out now to see what you discover. How many wars fit the category? how many are going on today? Which warring sides claim that God is on their side? I think you will find troubling the deep involvement of religion and God in war, and concur that it would be of incalculable value to medevac God from the horrific scenes of war.

I decided to propose a clear goal in the book, and proceed toward its attainment as best I could, using far-fetching imagination as a tool.

Proposal 1. Disassociate God from violence and war. Make it clear that God does not participate or take sides in war and plays no part in rewarding or punishing winners and losers. Explain to the public that God is exclusively associated with love and peace. (p. 25)

If you find the proposal acceptable, how would you go about achieving it? In a large sense, that’s the big question of not only this blog entry, but of my whole book. If the goal could be achieved, I’d be deeply happy. I wouldn’t have to write another word of the book.

What do I suggest as implementation steps? Nothing stunning, just respectful practical actions: that individual believers pray, that congregations and assembles of believers convene, that international religions lead, and that the United Nations coordinate the development and passage of dictums, understandings, agreements, covenants, and concordances swearing that God is a loving peacemaker, pacifist, and anti-war advocate, as represented in the proposal and by signed documents. Why couldn’t that be done? Well, it could and it should, because, as everyone knows, we all say we love peace and value God as a peacemaker. I mean: if people universally agree that God is a pacifist, He’s a pacifist. We’re the problem, aren’t we? What do you think?

But bummer, cynic that I am, I couldn’t get the naysayers out of my head whispering that war was necessary, that they (we) were the good guys, that He had a plan, that everything happens for a reason, and that, trust them, God was on their (our) side.

So, sadly, I moved on to a backup strategy, a second proposal, in a style as punitive and dictatorial as the worst of the Grand Commander Himself, to whit:

Proposal 2. Depersonalize God. Remove God’s anthropoid form. Explain to the public that God has no contour, shape, stature, gender, age, race, ethnicity, or national identity and is without brain, mind, personality, intent, need, desire, instinct, drive, emotion, attitude, care, concern, consciousness, conscience, speech, locomotion, and action. Dismiss God—with thanks for whatever prior service He may have previously performed for us—from warrior, pacifist, counselor, healer, redeemer and any and all other human statuses and roles that might have been associated with Him in the past. (p. 27-28.)

Sigh! Sigh! I thought to myself in disappointment, it would be better if God abdicated, and I wrote on 138 more pages with a heavy heart.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

May 28, 2015

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Belief in God

Belief in God

In a previous entry (Planetary Crisis: Two Fundamental Assumptions), I explained that Abdication: God Steps Down for Good is fundamentally an anti-war/planet-livability story, a fact that most readers of the book have overlooked due perhaps to the inclusion of the word God in the title. In this followup entry, I explain that God is not abdicating unconditionally either; rather His warrior role and related personal images are sacrificed for the good of Life on Planet Earth. Such a sacrifice is offered in the same spirit as that invoked by God in requiring his son Christ to forsake his life for the good of humanity. God has been made to stand behind and shield the fiercest holy warriors on earth for millennia. God is abdicating the war room in the interest of peace. Think about it: billions of years remain for fine, convivial living on earth, the only place life has been known to exist so far, and we have as a species brought it to the grim state in which it presents itself back to us now. Yet, we keep developing and improving nuclear arsenals and strewing our poisons and garbage across the expanse. And we insist that this fits somehow within God’s plan. Pardon me, I hate to shout, but I’m trying to break through the magnetic shield blinding our eyes to earthy perils and protecting the uses of God from human inspection.

God seemed real from earliest childhood. My parents didn’t have to convince me of this. The existence of God seemed obvious. Even in adulthood, when doubt overtook belief, I found myself opining to any interested auditor that “God was a necessary idea,” unavoidable to the human mind, compelled by the awe-inspiring experience of resplendent nature. The universe is one, an entity, a moving, self-regulating, organic whole. It had to have had a designer-maker. Even now, the universe is emerging into consciousness of itself through evolving human circumspection.

These ideas of God still warm me. I wish they were true. The self-regulating claim about the universe probably is true. I could happily live my days serene with this portrait of divinity if the political use of God had not turned so deadly and apocalyptic. Belief in God has become much too serious a matter to leave to faith. It is a time when only evidence and reason can be allowed to determine what is real.

With the publication of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good, I urge global citizens to forego belief in God for the general good—ours, other species, life itself, and the health of the planet. Part of my concern is the terrible abuse the idea of God has suffered at the hands of religionists who would make of God a holy warrior. A gathering portion of concern is the abuse humans and the planet have suffered by conceiving of God personally in human form, and by authorizing God to tell mortifying, confidence-destroying stories about humanity, and by granting Him supernatural domiciles and territories like purgatory, heaven and hell to superintend. The largest part of my concern is the obvious failure of we humans to take responsibility for the violence and planet degradation we so clearly cause, and which, despite the obvious truth, we continue to insist must be part of God’s plan (“Everything happens for a reason!”). Why should God be stuck with provenance over mass graves and toxic garbage dumps? How did God get into the nuclear development and industrial garbage disposal business?

The point isn’t so much the innocence of childhood ideas as it is the failure of socialization and education to produce sufficiently powerful, thoughtful, responsible adults. Ubiquitous violence and the rapidly declining livability of the planet is the issue, and the urgent need and obligation of adults to take effective remedial action. We can’t afford the luxury of laying either the blame or the responsibility for our global messes on God. There isn’t time. There are stockpiles of nuclear weapons, stores of munitions, armies, militias, terrorists, warships, rockets, planes, toxic chemicals, and fuels. Also, there are self-destructive, doomsday religions.

God has done all the public and global good we have a right to expect. It is up to us from now on. The question isn’t whether we believe in God? The question is whether we believe in ourselves. Do we believe in life? Do we believe in our species? Do we believe we can turn around the destruction of life on Planet Earth?

Will Callender, Jr. ©

May 20, 2015

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Planetary Crisis: Two Fundamental Assumptions

Planetary Crisis: Two Fundamental Assumptions

The legitimacy of the recently published book, Abdication: God Steps Down for Good rests entirely upon acceptance of two premises. The first asserts that our age is one of immediate planetary crisis due to pollution and climate change, and the threat of nuclear war in the not distant future. The Doomsday Clock is used to measure the immediacy of nuclear peril. “Not distant” is defined arbitrarily as within the next two hundred years, a pittance of time when viewed against the perspective of the origin of earth 4600 million years ago. The concern would be just as legitimate if the standard were 300 or 500 years. The issue is survival of our species and life on the planet.

The second premise is that religion, God, and the three monotheisms of Abraham are deeply complicit in war-making activity and participants in the quiet drumbeat toward nuclear war. Their mortifying view of the fall of man, their certainty of revealed truth, their availability of redemption and escape routes to heaven, their deep ruthless schisms, and their apocalyptic vision of the end of days provide the impetus. The image of terrorist with nuclear weapon in hand is the poster child of religious failure and global peril in our times.

Reject these two premises, and the book loses meaning and credibility. Accept the premises and the central question focused on in the book follows:

Have the three monotheisms stemming from Abraham—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—reached a dead end from which no more generous universal view of humanity can be expected? Will believers in the shared lineage be forever inclined to choose one of the three monotheisms and, within the one chosen, select a sectarian variation as their lens for viewing human nature and its prospects? Have the multiple, divergent storylines of the three religions descended into a morass from which it is necessary that humanity escape in order to rewrite its story from a more promising vantage point, one friendlier to the abilities and potentials of the species? Is that time now? Can humanity ameliorate its deteriorating condition under its existing notions of God? (p. 12)

Neither the book’s central question nor the two underlying premises on which it rests have appeared to date in reader comments and reviews. That is why I am bringing them to the attention of past and future readers at this time. I will be discussing other important, neglected ideas in subsequent blog essays. Hopefully this will deepen reader understanding of the text.

I hope readers will realize that I am not attacking religion unconditionally by raising the question of the possible exhaustion of the Abrahamic monotheisms. My focus is imminent peril to life on earth, and relief from religion’s part in and contribution to that peril.

I know that religions do abundant good for the great majority of their members and for the larger community, society, and world of which they are part. I know too that all three religions have produced and continue to produce magnificent, fine citizens, beacons and exemplars to all humanity, and that religious beliefs are instrumental to this result. I also know that daughters and sons of these great religions have been and are among the most committed and successful ambassadors of peace, and that religious beliefs directly explain their commitment to and passion for this cause. Is it not ironic that religions so often both value peace and cause war?

But all of this good, even when in excess of the bad, may not be good enough to save our species and retain a planet hospitable to life. It is within this larger context that I suggest that humanity must do better still, and reinvent itself.

The more general problem of religion, including of the three monotheisms, are—to repeat and reemphasize—their derogatory assumptions of the nature of man; their division of humans into good (saved) and evil (damned); their supernatural vision of hellish and paradisiacal afterlife; their apocalyptic vision of the end of time; their inflexible certainty of belief; and their insistence that God is on their particular side in conflict and war. Otherwise, I consider religion both good and necessary, and I do not ask believers to forsake their particular faiths, but only practice that faith peacefully. Religion is one of the institutions I attempt in the third section of the book to reimagine and reinvent. More on that in a future blog entry.

To summarize, the book assumes that the economic, technological, and social gains that have brought us to this resplendent yet sobering moment in global civilization, a moment to which the great world religions have made great and indispensable contributions, have nevertheless conflated into an unforeseen and unwanted crisis that cannot be overcome by religious values, beliefs and actions alone. Our species will have to do better. We have to reinvent ourselves.

This explanation is fundamental to understanding the book, even if the reader is unable to concur with its premises. Surprisingly, more than a few readers who reject the premises report significant learning from the book. Apparently, the book is valuable to some people who disagree with me. That is surely a happy circumstance for any author.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

May 14, 2015

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Tom Brady: Everybody Throw a Stone

Tom Brady: Everybody Throw a Stone

Who’s in on this? I see Skip and Stephen A., Dan, Keith too. Wilbon, where’s your sidekick? He’s parking the car. Ruth, you in? Ruth who? Marcus. I’m in. I see coach just walked in the door. Glad to see you Don. Who else? Chris Matthews. Check. Jon Stewart. Check. Shannon, Woody, Marshall, you guys take the drum section. Lupica, Myers, take the horns. Anchor chair guys are going to have to play back up, but jump in on the refrain. Yes, that includes ESPN, FOX, CNN, CBS, and MNBC.

You Colts guys can sit down front. Enjoy. You did the spade work. Going to close the door now. Pretty full up, don’t want to break the fire code. Sure Roger, you can watch. It’s your show. Anything new on concussions to announce? Do do want to preside? No? Okay, I’ll do it.

Everybody ready? On the count of three, pick up the beat of the first stanza of Bob Dylan’s Everybody Must Get Stoned, yup, just as a warm up. We’ve got new lyrics for the real deal. One, two, three. . .

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone

But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned.

Not bad. Let’s bring in the new refrain. Roger, will you pass out the lyrics. You can’t do that? Is there a volunteer? Thanks Coach. Pass this pile over to Don. This will just take a moment.

Everybody have the lyrics? Good. Let’s pick it up with:

They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone,

then onward with gusto,

But please, Tom, don’t pretend you’re so alone
Now ( boom it out) everybody throw a stone.

Throw your right arm and hand out as a baseball pitcher would as you sing that.

Let’s try that again. What? What’s the problem?

I just read the rest of it. It stinks!

What do you mean it stinks?

Read it yourself. It stinks.

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re ratted by the Colts
They’ll stone ya without proving its your fault
They’ll stone ya before you can answer the phone
Then they’ll stone ya before you could atone

But please, Tom, don’t pretend you’re so alone
Now everybody throw a stone

I know it’s not Dylan, but what’s so bad about that?

Everything. It lays blame on the Colts, it let’s Brady off the hook, and it allows him to atone.

Of course he should have to atone. He doctored his balls.

Yes, but why would we want to allow him to atone?

Well, Chris, you’re a Christian, right?
I’m an Eagles fan today.

Show of hands, how many think it stinks? Most of you. Is anything salvageable?

I like the stanza

They’ll stone ya for playing with ya balls
They’ll stone ya for your sneaky buddy in the stall. . .

That’s terrible too.

Any other suggestions?

Ya, stop trying to frame Brady. He’s a great guy.

Who said that? Did you Shannon?

No, Bruschi is in the house. See him over there with the camera?

Camera? No cameras allowed today. Are you here Teddy?

You heard me. Brady wouldn’t do it. I played with him many years, and in three Super Bowls. Every Patriots fan knows that he’s a high character guy. He’s my friend, and I believe him.

Not this time Teddy, you shouldn’t defend him.

Wrong. I’ll tell you this. You classless loud mouths haven’t even waited to hear his side. But you know it as well as I do, they’re is going to be a fourth quarter, and he and the Patriots are going go around, over, and through you. You better be ready. He’s one of the finest people I know.  He’s the best, and he is going to prevail. Save your stones for your own damned funerals.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

May 11, 2015

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good

Taboo Two

Taboo Two

I once witnessed a TV interview with a dying man who was asked if he harbored any regrets. He responded:

Yes, I wish I hadn’t lied to myself so often and suppressed my true thoughts. No one knows me as I really am.

This idea has haunted me ever since. I hide my true thoughts too. Don’t we all do that to some extent? It’s a major reason I decided to write Abdication: God Steps Down for Good. I was 75 and held an uncommon point of view on the world that relatives and friends neither knew or shared. I could leave a false impression of who I really was in the minds of people who knew and loved me. It was time to speak honestly. Falsehoods mislead, not just deceive. Who would care anyway? I’m getting old. What real difference could it make if I broke the taboo of polite religious discourse? Besides, this is me, it has been all along; I hadn’t changed; the prospect of incipient senescence had liberated my courage.

After publishing the book, the non-response of some acquaintances, and the verbal and written response of others, indicated to me that not one but two taboos had been broken, the obvious one, the near blasphemy of inviting a deity to abdicate, and the less obvious but surprisingly powerful one, violations of the norms of aging.

What norms of aging? The same ones that apply to everyone; ones not particular to me. Let me state the case directly without embarrassment or complaint, because really, most of this is well meaning and pleasant. As one hits the late sixties to early seventies, securely or uneasily ensconced in comfortable retirement, one finds that younger people presume a linear, progressive, disengagement from the world, and loss of relevance. Influence wanes in making collective decisions. Shortly thereafter the ability to make good personal decisions is thrown into question. Parallel to this process of loss of influence and power, encouragement is given to assume the role of valued family icon, the embodiment of virtuous qualities and ancestral wisdom, assets that nevertheless won’t be regularly called upon and shouldn’t be volunteered. The main obligation is to admire, support, and assist grandchildren—a great benefice, solace and delight—and to take pressure off one’s hard working and over-extended children. You’re a monument now, a family totem. The predictable infirmities and confinements of motion enhance the effect. One should be in one’s place, ready to receive the caresses and blessings of family and other friendly pilgrims on special occasions and holidays

Such enshrinement includes expectations of consistency and predictability. One definitely is not to deviate sharply, change philosophical course, and write a serious provocative book. By this time one is thought too old to make a significant contribution to society, an expectation that has passed from yours to succeeding generations. Enjoy your retirement, steady as you go, is the vanilla advice.

Older people attain progressive familiarity with the strange phenomena of invisibility. People talk to others in your presence, look through and around you, walk silently past, unseeing, as if you’re invisible, not there. You understand by then that the actions and wisdom for which you are affectionately renowned are best identified by grieving survivors. A late claim to new wisdom, a published book, is surprising and makes people uneasy. A well done life review and series of scrapbooks would be preferable.

The effects of these two taboos, working in tandem, are predictable: pre-publication aversion to the book’s title and its implications, inclination not to purchase, silence regarding its existence, resistance to reading it, and most interesting, opaque and dissociated readings and summations. Think of these taboos as anchors dragging the book back out of the reach of its readers, or, another metaphor I like better, as a magnetic shield around the reader-earth diverting the solar flare book away from its audience, but not completely, still allowing random words, sentences, paragraphs, and images to get through, register on retina screens and up the nerve chains to the brain, thus producing dissociated thoughts and surprising summations of its contents.

I feel I should admit two points at this juncture. Perhaps, alas, this whole story is totally wrong, and Abdication is just a poor, insipid book. Second, regarding the abundance of dissociated, random readings, I must confess that students, in forty-five years of teaching, never learned most of what I was teaching, but nevertheless granted gold star ratings to me for the acquisition of precious side-bar lessons that, according to them, informed and enriched their lives. One student related the most vital lesson she learned from me:

I stopped smoking because you couldn’t.

Why should it be any different in reading my book. Maybe I’m like Chance (Chauncey) the Gardener in Peter Sellers’ wonderful and wise movie Being There whose vacuous homilies

Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

were deeply meaningful to his rich and powerful auditors and handlers, so much so as to elevate him to advisor to President of the United States. Overlook that last part, please. The point is that student responses to my side-bar comments, affectionately called “Willisms” by some, often asserted the attainment of deeper meaning and wisdom than I had been aware of in their production.

The only new direction I have decided to take on the basis of this humorous pack of facts—the detritus of taboo violation— is to write blog essays on particular ideas in the book that have not thus far drawn attention in the comments of readers. I see the book as a sketchbook full of dubious, quasi-rational ideas, all circling around a clear central theme. I conclude little and close few possibilities. The book is fundamentally a personal document, a thought festival of sorts. I think of it more as a sculpture than a set of essays, although it is that. The book has four parts: a haunting, terrorizing dream; an apologetic slap at monotheists coupled with plaudits to philosophers, humanists, agnostics, atheists, and a songwriter; a simplistic reinvention of humankind; and an octet of studies that transport the readers to the open future. I find it light, and a breath of fresh air. Few readers have noted the theme, the dream, the four part structure, and the possibility of reinventing ourselves, nor has anyone commented on any of the studies.

These silences provide me with a nice opportunity to discuss these matters one at a time in the blog. That is what two of the last three blog essays have begun, and which future ones will continue.

If any of this sounds like disappointment; it is not. I have been thrilled that so many people like the book, have learned something from it, and have generously commented on its meaning to them. I am particularly grateful to the readers who have written reviews of the book. I look forward to introducing particular ideas from the book to blog readers. Old age is a remaining opportunity to seize freedom. Ageism bears sweet as well as bitter fruit. Invisibility has its blessings.

Will Callender, Jr. ©

May 8, 2015

Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good