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Do We Need a New God?

The Creation of Adam, painting.

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“We need a new understanding of God that allows us to leave behind the zero-sum and xenophobic narratives of country, kin, culture, and parental bias and embrace the diversity of humanity within the greater unity of God.”

The Bible tells us that God doesn’t change (Psalm 102:27 and Malachi 3:6). Maybe so, but our ideas of God do change. In the Hebrew Bible it is clear that Abraham’s understanding of God was not the same as Moses’ understanding, and Isaiah’s understanding was different from both of them. And this says nothing of the understanding of ancient Hebrew women whose insights are lost to us in the fog of patriarchy and misogyny. 

Stepping outside of Hebrew Scripture we can see no less clearly that the Bhagavad Gita’s understanding of Krishna isn’t the same as the Holy Qur’an’s understanding of Allah or Saint Paul’s understanding of God in the New Testament. But again, this doesn’t mean God changes, but only that humanity’s ideas of God are diverse and mutable.

We are living in a time of just such mutability. For more and more people around the globe our ideas of God are changing, and while no one theology is emerging as THE understanding for our time, the direction of change is toward a God who is unaligned with tribe, nation, politics, party and patriarchy, and who instead speaks for an old-new principle of universal justice and compassion.

When the first century rabbi Hillel taught that the message of the entire Torah is “What is hateful to you do not to others,” and when Jesus said the two most important commandments are love God and love your neighbor, and when His Holiness the Dalai Lama tells us his religion is kindness, and when Archbishop Desmond Tutu promotes Ubuntu, the humanistic African philosophy based on the teaching umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (loosely meaning “I am I only in relation to you,” or “we are all in this together”) they are espousing the same universal ethic.

We have heard this ethic preached for centuries and yet we still treat one another in ways totally incompatible with how we would like to be treated. Why? While there are many reasons (I have written an entire book on the subject, The Golden Rule and the Games People Play) the one that concerns me here is this: our Gods demand it. While every religion has its version of the Golden Rule, the Gods of each find ways for the people to violate that rule. That’s why religious people—in the name of their God—so often do unto others what they would rather others not do to them. (For more, read Rabbi Rami’s story, “No More Warrior Gods”.)

We need a new understanding of God that allows us to leave behind the zero-sum and xenophobic narratives of country, kin, culture, and parental bias (as Genesis 12:1 puts it) and embrace the diversity of humanity within the greater unity of God that we might be a blessing to all the families of the earth—all of them, human and otherwise (Genesis 12:3).

Where will we find this understanding of God? In the insights and teachings of our great mystics who lift the language of the parochial into the realm of the perennial and universal.  

My teacher, Eknath Easwaran, taught that reading the mystics of the world’s religions should be part of everyone’s daily spiritual practice. I couldn’t agree more. Here are three resources with which to start: Easwaran’s Words to Live By, Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, and my own anthologies Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent and The World Wisdom Bible. Read these books with an open mind and watch as they open your heart and hand as well.

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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