“God” is The Ultimate Concept

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The Buddha

From the Buddhist perspective, concepts are a problem. They can be very useful, but we humans tend to take them as real, when they are just a layer of thought on top of reality that can easily get in the way.

We need to focus on the reality, not the concepts. When we start to focus on the concepts, we make mistakes.

This god guy is the ultimate concept.

People who believe in a god usually think, apparently, that they should try to order their lives according to what the god wants, or what they learn that the god wants. How they find out what the god wants is a whole, separate problem, its own set of concepts. The expectations or preferences of the god are a set of concepts as well, so that is three sets of concepts between believers and reality.

Starting with the Crusades, in which good Christians traveled hundreds of miles on horseback to intrude into a conflict between Muslims and far distant Christians they could have as easily ignored, we have repeatedly seen examples of Christians going out of their way, supposedly at the behest of their god, to impose themselves, usually by force of arms, and their ideas about what their god wants, onto people who have never heard of their god, nor expressed any interest in it.

The effects of this expansion in the name of god have been the most dramatic in the part of the world we are pleased to call “the Americas,” a name the area got from invading Christians, who from the beginning regarded the people they found in this “new” land as inferior and started killing with abandon and enslaving for the purpose of mining gold and silver, all in the name of their god.

The United States of “America,” by many measures the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever seen, is the ultimate expression of Christian expansion. It is not a Christian nation officially. Its constitution prohibits establishment of any official religion and any religious tests for public offices. It is functionally Christian, however. Its original territory all came to be part of the United States as the result of colonization by Christians, including displacement and murder of Natives and the use of Africans and their descendants as slaves, none of which this Christian god apparently objected to.

From a Buddhist perspective, stealing land, killing anyone, and holding other humans as slaves are all obviously immoral and likely to result in unhappiness in the long run. Lots of people in the United States have lived pretty happy lives. Most people, most “white” people in the United States after World War II, don’t have too much to complain about.

In what is perhaps an excellent illustration of the problem the Buddha pointed out, however, some significant number of them are still not happy with the state of their nation. They think they need someone to “make it great again.” Exactly how it is lacking in greatness that it once had is not entirely clear, but that portion of the population is very clear that they see some new deficiency.

The Buddha said that human life is full of disappointments. He was less clear on the ironic corollary that is the problem in the modern United States of humans going out of their way to find disappointment even when they have what are, by any measure, comfortable lives. We might, on this basis, offer a friendly amendment to the Buddha’s prescription for human suffering: humans have a bad habit of looking for disappointments, or reasons to tell themselves that they are or should be disappointed.

Wrapping their reality in a concept and taking the concept as real.

We have a huge problem with this in the United States. This is not a problem any god is going to solve. Apparently the god Christians believe in is omnipotent, which means that this god set the whole system up and causes everything in it to happen. If a god made you, then that god also gave you this propensity to look for disappointment.

God or no god, it seems clear that all humans have the capacity to examine their own minds and reflect on what they find there. The humans who lack this capacity are not much the people complaining, so we do not need to worry about them.

Christians are more likely than anyone else to suffer from the current disappointment with the state of the United States, so apparently Christian belief is not the solution. One might even suspect that it is the source of the problem.

But Buddhists don’t much care about that. What we offer is a concrete, practical method to solve the problem. Meditate and start to notice how we all mostly create our own problems, which are often just concepts that we have wrapped around our perceptions of reality and now think are real.

So, keep meditating and take responsibility for yourself. You’ll be happier in the long run.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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