Get Left With God

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Liberals and progressives have to come back to god. That doesn’t mean we have to stop being atheists. We just have to allow ourselves to use that word, god, to express the source of our passion for justice. We have to admit that the wellspring of our commitment to peace and justice and, yes, love, is mysterious, and the word god is useful for signifying that mystery.

I understand the aversion to the word, having shared that aversion for many years. The word is too closely associated with religious dogma, and worse, with misguided religiosity. Religion has always been susceptible to serving as an instrument of politics rather than as a vessel of spirituality. That’s why there’s such a clear distinction between the mystical and official versions of every religious tradition. In what I’ll call the right-wing resurgence that emerged from the ashes of the Goldwater presidential campaign, god became one of the tools of manipulation. God decreed in the bible whatever the hell they wanted him to decree and the preachers who benefited from laissez-faire capitalism found a new and fertile basis for a confidence scheme were only too eager to serve as propagandists.

God said it was bad to be a homosexual. God said women should stay in the kitchen. God said sex was bad. God said abortion is murder. God said drugs were bad. God said war is OK. God said segregation is OK. God is an old white man. Jesus is a young (handsome) white man. God said if your suffering it’s your own damn fault. God hinted that the only sanctified being is the straight white male. No wonder liberals and progressives wanted to distance themselves from God and expunge him from our vocabulary.

But we threw away the baby with the bathwater. God is a great word. Everybody knows what it means. Never mind that it means something different to everybody. That’s part of its beauty, not to mention its utility. You can invoke god and everybody knows what you’re talking about, even though it percolates down through everybody differently. It’s like in yoga class everybody will express downward dog slightly differently, but they’re all in downward dog.

Liberals and progressives are typically deeply pious people. To what do we attribute our dedication to fairness, our calling to protect the vulnerable, to prevent suffering, how beauty inspires us, our subservience to truth? We name it the unknown mysterious source, the unknowable power of the universe, and by other such poetical and contorted locutions.  Just say god. Get over it. If we start saying it, we can detach it from its association with the old white man.

Are you going to tell Rev. William Barber that god is not real? Get with the program. Get left with god. God give us strength.


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