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Restoring the Sense of Wonder

by Harry Willson

Excerpt from Chapter I: The Great Obsession

E. Ogre-Father God

I snorted when I first saw one of those big black billboards that contain a brief message in white lettering, signed, "God." Then a TV morning talk show hostess noted them and thought they were a very good thing, and isn't that anonymous fundamentalist millionaire who's paying for them just wonderful! I found I had to take another look and then I thought some more about what the billboards said and what they really meant. They come from and encourage the great obsession and a restored sense of wonder could free us from that.

[1] "Don't make me come down there!" — God. I can hear the tone of voice of this one. It takes me back sixty years. Very young children, playing too rambunctiously, one crying, in the upstairs bedroom. Adults downstairs, trying to read, or listening to the radio. "Don't make me come up there!" It could be either mother or father, two different memories, two different uses of that same warning tone. So we calmed down, because if either one did come up, there would be serious trouble.

This billboard reduces adult humans to the toddler stage of life, or tries to. It also assumes the three-story cosmos, with heaven above and the earth beneath, which hasn't been anything but mythology since Copernicus. Infantile humans must deal with a God who is menacing, threatening, frightening, trying to frighten, insisting on things being his way, demanding that others do what he wants. I'm thankful that there's no such God.

[2] "I'm making a list; checking it twice." — God. We know where this comes from. We suspected it all along. God is really Santa Claus, the Cosmic Bookkeeper — and his concerns are about "naughty and nice," not honest, not just, not heroic, not compassionate, not courageous. We little kids — there's that again — we're expected to do what he wants, which is "be nice," to get on the right list, so that we can "get stuff." That last bit has a very up-to-date ring to it. But who really believes in Santa Claus? Who needs to take this God seriously?

[3] "What part of thou-shalt-not don't you understand?" — God. This is a rephrasing of something I first heard from my daughter, who was dealing with her four young daughters. "What part of NO don't you understand?" The meaning was clear. "This is not a discussable matter. Argument is futile, and forbidden. I have the authority, the size and the will to enforce my way. Do what I say, or bad things will happen to you."

Again, adult humans are reduced to the role of little children. The commandments may be outmoded, peculiar to a particular patriarchal culture and irrelevant to our own time and place [graven images?]. They may be inherently unfair and arbitrary. It doesn't matter. Do what they say. Does "Thou shalt not kill" include capital punishment and war? Most fundamentalists don't think so. Does "Thou shalt not commit adultery?" include heads of state and other high officials? Forget such quibbling, and obey, the ogre-father says.

[4] "You think it's hot here?" — God. Here we have threats, serious hostility and menace, hellfire, eternal conscious torment, punishment, legalism, loopholes, escape clauses, and the requirement that one believe absurdities. And who does it frighten? Little kids. Little kids only. It becomes abuse, spiritual abuse. Kids need love, and so do we all. If this is a joke, it's not funny. If it's not a joke, it's sick. For God to try to get us to do what he wants, to behave as he expects, he threatens to hurt us, to isolate us forever, to make us really regret it forever and ever with no hope of paying back and being done with it. What kind of God is this? What kind of people believe in this kind of God?

[5] "We need to talk." — God. At first glance this looks like the least offensive of the five examples, but it's the worst of the lot. "We need to talk." There's trouble and we need to talk about it and tend to it. Who says this? Parents whose authority is slipping. Spouses whose trust is giving way. "We need to talk."

Not me. Let me out of here. I was just leaving. I'm going far, far away. I know who's saying this. That same unforgiving, uncomprehending, thoughtless father-figure who insists that everything has to be "my way or else."

I know real fathers like that. "The kids never call." But the father does nothing but berate them when they do. Why should they call? Just to catch more hell. "We need to talk." No, thanks. Keep your threats and your list and your punishments. I grew up.

from FREEDOM FROM GOD Restoring the Sense of Wonder
© 2001, Harry Willson
read more: Introduction

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