Parsing God

Being married to a Girl Scout leads to many benefits beyond just the cookies. Not that cookies are unimportant, of course. Having been a Boy Scout briefly back in the 1970’s, I recall three-finger salutes, rambunctious meetings, and the occasional camping trip complete with the rabbit coming out of the hole, going around the tree and then something else. I’m sure there was a Boy Scout pledge, but I can’t remember it. Like most group activities, Boy Scout meetings served mainly to remind me of my own inferiority, and so my mind does not often enjoy visiting those places. Having attended a few Girl Scout meetings over the years as my daughter was growing up, I heard the Girl Scout promise a few times, and was a little surprised that the phrase, “To serve my God” has remained unaltered, even with the changing face of the population. When I attended an event hosted by the Elks, the civic organization, the presenter began by explaining the rules for who might join. It too, is limited to theists. The reason for such admission requirements has me pondering if there was a time God was an endangered entity in the United States. If not, why insist on this proviso?

I’ve been reading about religion’s role in society. Something that those who seek primarily the deep, personal and experiential aspect of religion may not realize is that religion is a form of social order. Scientific knowledge about God, if God be incorporeal, non-material, and beyond space and time, is impossible. Religions don’t prove God’s existence, but they serve to reinforce the sanction of the sacred for human society. They have an essential role in that drama. By limiting membership to believers organizations such as the Elks are merely asserting their belief in the working of the system. Of course, from the beginning those who do not believe risk little by claiming they do believe.

But what of the doubter, who may be the truest believer of all? Some Girl Scout literature has a footnote, parsing God: “The word ‘God’ can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on one’s spiritual beliefs.” Belief is a form of commitment more than a mental certainty. In the Hebrew Bible belief was not as strong a suit as obedience; and thus it had been for the history of organized religion. Starting perhaps as early as Jeremiah, a shift began to take religion more toward a matter of internal commitment. In the face of utter loss, Jeremiah (or one of his fans) suggested that belief was more important that unthinking obedience. Belief is very subtle but vitally powerful. Lives are staked, and sometimes lost, on it. So while you’re enjoying another cookie, try parsing your belief. Me? I’m still trying to figure out when that rabbit goes back in the hole.