“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8
Atheism and secular humanism are growing in our culture. In 2008 a Gallup poll revealed 15% of Americans do not believe in God, claiming they are “non-religious.” This is double the rate in 1990 according to a Pew Foundation study. Among young adults, ages 25 – 30 years old, 25% claim atheism.
In Europe, 48% say they no longer believe in a divine God. Among its youth, age 18 to 30, the rate is 56%. In England alone, 74 percent of the youth say they do not believe in a personal God and most leave the church shortly after finishing high school. 100,000 have recently downloaded and filled out “de-baptismal certificates.”
Why has organized Christianity lost so much credibility in the past century? Former Roman Catholic nun Karen Armstrong has written (The History of God) that although all organized religions contain the basic “Golden Rule” in their teachings, very few live it. They hate each other within and without almost more than those without any religious affiliation.
Atheist dominated areas in the world rank as some of the highest quality places to live. A Cambridge University study has shown that atheist areas have the highest educational standards, the lowest crime rates, the lowest poverty rates and the highest income levels. In the United States, the pattern holds true. The higher the beliefs in a personal God the higher are crime rates, teen age pregnancies, poor educational standards with greater discrimination against women and minorities. (see Doug Anderson’s articles at http://loveatheism.com)
What ought we, who believe, do? Discard our beliefs in God and Divinity along with our Bibles and religious readings? Close the rest of our churches? Who needs or wants them? A few of us left in the dark ages of un-enlightenment?
First let me say that there is no hard proof of what we call God. God is an idea, a word for that which may or may not exist but gives expression to what some of us think of as the Ultimate Reality. The Bible says, “No one has seen God.” (John 1:18) Years ago when some of the early Russian astronauts were out flying around the earth in space ships, one said, “I looked out the window and I could not see any God!” My mother responded, “Well if he had jumped out the window he would have met God immediately!” But again, who knows? How can anyone know?
I have written of how it is even difficult to prove the person Jesus actually lived and walked on earth. Many studies have revealed the shaky evidence for such a person. Such studies or acknowledgements anger people and cause many to lose even more faith in the Christian Church. No wonder people are losing interest. First the outsiders declare it’s “hocus pocus” and now we have religious teachers who seem to be declaring the same thing! So is there any kind of proof to the existence of God?
I believe there is. As one of our readings went this morning, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12) “We also read, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
There’s the answer, isn’t it? If there is a God Who is loving and forgiving, and if we live in a loving and forgiving way ourselves, then we have this experience, this feeling if you please, of love. It then becomes the only real proof to ourselves and others that the idea of God exists and works at all. If there is a God described as Spirit, unseen but Real and our bodies are just temporary manifestations as part of a material earth and universe, then if we remember and live it we ought to have a sense of Divine, God, Eternal Love in ourselves, right?
In one of my favorite spiritual books, “A Course in Miracles,” it continuously teaches that the way to remember and “know” God is to live out the ideals of love and forgiveness in ourselves and others. Spirit is the only thing or entity that is real and that everything we see around us is temporary.
Eastern religions speak often of attachment to that which is mortal and fleeting. Such attachments lead the mind to unhappiness, stress, worry, fear and despair. Liberation is remembering and experiencing in mediation and practice our Higher Selves as Spirit and free, unbounded by time or space.
The Bible says, “No one has ever seen God but it is the Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” (John 1:18 NRSV) Who is the Son? The Son is the True You, our Higher Spiritual Selves. Such is known by accepting it, at least in theory, and remembering, studying and practicing living with its awareness. That’s how It, God is made known to you and to others. Or the text above says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
Further the text goes on to say, “Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God who they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 John 4:20-21 NRSV)
It’s really all pretty simple and uncomplicated. We remember we are not our mortal bodies, except in our minds as levels of communication in this short life on earth. In reality we are Spirit, non-corporeal, eternal as God and the Universe of Non-materiality. In the practice of remembering and forgiving of ourselves and others we sense and feel the Oneness which is eternal peace, even at times quick blissful!
The Dalai Lama said to us last summer in Chicago, “Even a professing atheist can experience the same happiness.” All one needs to do, and the “all” is a big problem, is to not be attached to any mortal thing and treat others as we would want to be ourselves. Or as Jesus said, “Love God (No-thing) with all our heart, and with all your soul, and withyou’re your mind,” and your neighbor as your Self.” (Matthew 23:37-40)
So reason alone does not “prove” the existence of God but practice does. You can read the Bible through hundreds of times, or the Course in Miracles including all its lessons, but if you don’t practice and live it, it profits nothing. It may make you more self-righteous, confused and unhappy! You can travel to the best teachers and gurus of the world, read all of Wayne Dyer’s books, the Dalai Lama’s and whoever’s, but if you don’t do the hard work of remembering and practice, it does no good.
While we were recently in Florida, Rev. Nancy Bassett “dog sat” at our house while we were gone. When we returned I noticed a CD she left on our lamp table called “The Little Way.” It was part of a series of CD’s published by Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr who directs a Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So I played it and even uploaded it to my iPod! (I must return it soon too!) It’s a wonderful talk given at a retreat he led someplace. He talks of the “Imperfection of Spirituality!” God only wants our willingness, our best attempts to learn the way of love and forgiveness. It is the way he describes the early church before creeds, confessions, and strict so-called “perfect” worship orders (rituals) took over in the 4th century. He writes:
“Now do not allow the word ‘mystic’ scare you. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone. In fact, Jesus seems to say that this is the whole point!”
How do you prove God exists? To yourself or to anyone else? By a willingness to understand God as Spirit, as Love, and to forgive yourself for self-hate, your own sins and mistakes, and others around you as well. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” And if you follow this rule or path with devotion to meditation and prayer, you will intuitively “know God” and others around you will catch the idea as well.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Talk given May 6, 2012, at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, 2085 Union Road, West Seneca, NY.