Is God Dead?

A few years ago, when I was in Zambia, a reporter there was patient enough to divulge a well known secret to me: The previous president, Levy Mwanawasa, whose death had been broadcast four months before I had arrived, had actually been dead a while before that. “He was dead before he was dead, if you know what I mean . . .”

I didn’t, but he was kind and went on to explain that the ruling party couldn’t get itself together to hold an election that would turn out to its advantage in the required number of days without postponing acknowledgement that the president had ceased to be.

So lately I’ve been wondering if the same thing happened to God. These things happen: arrangements must be made, instability can ensue, interests must be managed. So while I admit I haven’t looked very hard, having been to churches just five times or so in the last three years, I can’t help suspect that something is up. People talk about the spiritual and sacred, not just in politics and policy, but in houses of worship and on solemn occasions. Yet evidence that the spiritual and sacred as inspirations to hold common actions to their highest standards — hasn’t been seen in public lately.

I haven’t taken the concept of a god at literal face value to begin with, I must admit. Having been raised in an fundamentalist atheistic household, I was trained to suspect that when people talk of “God” they add embellishments that perhaps are more in their interests than somebody else’s. Conversely I noticed some seemed driven to be unduly hard on themselves, driven to sacrifices and stoicism that seemed perversely unnecessary. And some did glorious wonderful things in his/her name.

So, in spite of my upbringing, I came to the conclusion as a child that God, or, as I called the ghostly omnipresent entity I imagined to be lurking in the air, “Shomick,” exists in each one of us, causing the actions that give life, cause death, guide destinies. I continue to believe that, but with adulthood came to acknowledge the redundancy, as well. After all, why not simply accept, and shoulder our individual responsibility to behave morally and in the spirit of connectedness with other. So I came to understand the difference between those standards we are willing to hold ourselves to, and those we consider sacred, and how handy it is to have the backup of a sense of sacred duty.

So I go to church now and then to see how the spiritual and sacred thing is going there, having been thoroughly trashed in the public square with transvaginal ultrasounds, homophobic adulterers on the downlow and the general floccinaucinihilipilification of human rights that make up the political issues of the day.

And in houses of worship I have seen narrow self-interest, vulgar sexism, intolerance, and humor used as a careless weapon against people who are different, challenged, other. I hear good words, sometimes arranged in an inspiring order, and harmonious music too. But is that all there is? I’m told President Mwanawasa released statements even after his breath stopped. Is faith, like President Mwanawasa, supporting too many jobs to suspend the ruse?

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