Becoming Human

Mic’ed up and with cameras recording, the interviewer asked me point blank, “Do you believe in God?” Immediately, numerous responses flooded my mind, but quickly a question formed. As if I were having an out-of-body experience, I heard myself ask, “Which God?” 

There was a short pause and then the conversation continued. It meandered about in numerous directions, while my internal dialogue continued in the background. Eventually the mics and cameras were turned off, small talk ensued and finally warm goodbyes were exchanged. Then, as if nothing significant had occurred, life quickly returned to normal. However, in the background, my internal dialogue continued to ebb and flow. Why had I asked, “Which God?”

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Loaded to the Hilt

When replying with a question, I wasn’t trying to be cheeky or snarky. I was sincerely searching for a context. Which one? Allah? Yahweh? Vishnu? Ganesh? Jesus? Apollo? Ra? The Universe? Ether? And we wouldn’t want to exclude women: Athena? Aphrodite? Sophia? The Holy Spirit?

In that moment, it would have been helpful if the question had been phrased, “Do you believe in my God?” After all, if this conversation had occurred centuries ago with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, he undoubtedly would have asked, “Do you believe in…MY GOD…the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”

Obviously, the topic of “believing in God” is always personalized and often loaded to the hilt with emotion. As it concerns Allah, one has to establish which version is being inquired about. Sunni? Shia? Khumra? And we shouldn’t exclude the marginalized Sufis. Personally, I’m a big fan of their witty and humorous poet, Hafiz.

When it comes to Greek or Norse gods, our modern day society has largely decided to retire them to a mythological status. However, they are experiencing somewhat of a big-screen revival thanks to CGI and millions of contribution$ from Marvel, DC and Warner Brothers. The scads of obscure island gods have yet to claim the same mass fame, largely remaining on small, local stages entertaining gawking tourists. However, I’m hoping Aquaman can open a door for a few of them.

Continental gods, such as those throughout South America, have largely died from starvation, due to a scarcity of young virgins and bleeding hearts. On a small scale, eastern gods have extended their lives by appealing to hippies and hipsters. In India, it seems no amount of deities have proven sufficient enough to provide an upper hand or leg up. And recently, the Judeo-Christian Jehovah has been stumbling a bit, first with the Holocaust and now with ceaseless conflict in the Middle East. However, he did manage to get a win in the 2016 Presidential Election. #MAGA

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Cherry Picking

When it comes to Christianity, many assume the discussion would be obvious and understood. But with a disputed 30+ thousand sects active around the world, it’s proven to be quite the opposite. For those of us who’ve gone on short-term mission trips, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Located within blocks of one another, you’ll often find a dozen, maybe even twenty or more denominations competing for converts. They all read from the same book and practice faith in similar ways. Though rarely, they are on speaking terms. Why? Financial support aside, their ideologies keep them far apart as the east is from the west.

Orthodox? Catholic? Protestant? Baptist? Pentecostal? Charismatic? Methodist? Lutheran? Fundamentalist? Conservative? Liberal? Progressive? Prophetic? Apostolic? Non-denominational? Inter-denominational, Unitarian? Universal? Whew! I’m out of breath and I haven’t even gotten started! Obviously, the divide is massive. Maybe now’s a good time to admit: we’ve been cherry picking sacred texts for a long time, crafting preferred versions of the Divine we either could defend, or stomach for a season.

With such an admission, I know I’m asking a lot. After all, confession is rarely easy. For me, it took a few years of self-searching and decluttering. In the beginning, it seemed heroic to dismiss and ignore all the divine decrees regarding diet, menstruation, fashion dos & don’ts, polygamy, celibacy, justified violence and slavery. As a matter of fact, I was often praised for doing so, and encouraged to continue.

Later, when I was willing to relinquish the pro-misogamy references, I experienced my first serious pushback. But the heat really got turned up when I did the same with anti-LGBTQ references. All I can say about that is, “WOW!” Nonetheless, each experience caused me to dig deeper. Eventually, I could no longer ignore the countless contradictions, both within the Bible and within myself.

beinghuman_us Being Human – One of my all-time favorite series depicting the struggles of a vampire, ghost and werewolf reclaiming their humanity. It portrays the ugliness and beauty of finding love, forgiveness and redemption.

Becoming Human

In the end, I was left holding onto a very thin sliver of what some still considered sufficient for faith. It was largely a collection of metaphors, a bit of sacred poetry and a few words of wisdom. I lovingly held it close for a season, until one day I had an epiphany: My relationship with supernaturalism was over, and I would survive. Heck, I might even thrive! So, with the same veracity of commitment and moral devotion of my religious past, I decided to pursue simply being human and all it entails.

It wasn’t long until I discovered, my humanistic endeavor was considered by many as heretical and foolhardy. In some faith circles, simply being human is actually tantamount to committing a crime. Nonetheless, I’m undeterred. After all, everybody is a heretic to somebody. In my defense, I like to point to the fact that most religions share a similar narrative: at one time or another, many of the gods (including “God”) pursued the same thing—becoming human.


Postscript

I’m not so naive to think that this article will answer all my critics, or for that matter please every one of my supporters. What about NDE’s? The afterlife? Eternal punishment & reward? OI VEH! For now, I suggest we stay on point with what it means to be human. Personally, I feel this topic is far from being exhausted. Here’s a few links to get things started:

Ze Frank: Are You Human?

Daniel Wendler: What Being Autistic Taught Me About Being Human

Erwin Raphael McManus: What Makes Us Uniquely Human?

Sonia Sanchez: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

Bob McDonald: What If Everything You Know Is Wrong?

 

What If There Was A New Earth?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a promo for the 2011 sci-fi movie, Another Earth.  It immediately intrigued me because it promised to be a deeply moving, emotional sci-fi film about two earths, employing none of the usual sci-fi garb such as aliens and UFOs… interesting!  I searched and found it on VUDU, placed it in my wish-list, and finally found time to watch it late last night with my wife, whom I had successfully convinced to join me for the sake of “research.”  Convincing her wasn’t a chore; she was intrigued too.

Another Me?

Even though the movie has been out for four years, I want to be careful not to give away an spoilers, so I’ll be brief with the synopsis.  The storyline centers on a young lady whose life is filled with promise and possibility untea_anotherearthil something tragic happens, drastically altering the course of her life.  At the moment of this tragedy a second earth (Earth Two) appears in the sky and she, along with all the residents of Earth One, are captivated by this new reality.  Furthermore, they are challenged with the suspicion that there might be “another me” out there living a similar life but differently due to opposite actions, choices, and events.

This movie was made on an extremely low-budget.  The actors even did their own makeup, and the director created the Earth Two scenes on his personal computer.  However, you’d never know it.  The cinematography is great, and the depth of characters and storyline are superb.  Brit Marling did an excellent job playing the leading role of Rhoda.  She also was the co-writer of the movie script.  I’m sure you’ll recognize her from her many screen roles, namely in I Origins, and her role as Liz Garvey in the TV series Babylon.

Meeting Yourself

I was immediately drawn into Rhoda’s internal struggles and the new choices she labored to make in the light of Earth Two just over head.  The director Mike Cahill explains that Earth Two is “kind of this externalization of the interior world of Rhoda.  She could have dealt with those ideas of the confrontation of the self just by looking in the mirror, but I felt like there was something [more] powerful about really externalizing it,” by creating a situation where there really is another version of us all.  Co-writer Marling elaborated further by saying the image of another Earth provokes a primal reaction, “we all feel something [deeply] about looking back at the Earth.”  Definitely, this movie is a “feeling” movie, very personal, introspective, and surprising… especially the ending!

Ultimately, the movie is successful with taking a very high, external concept and internalizing it in order to explore the inner world of who we are, and what it means to be a human.  Rhoda has a strong desire to become an astronaut and explore this other Earth, but ultimately her greatest desire is realized—the exploration and discovery of herself.  For me, what makes this movie so deeply emotional is the use of the doppelgänger.

A doppelgänger is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and in some traditions as a harbinger of bad luck.

In pop culture, when you meet your doppelgänger, “you see each other, and then one of them has to die, and so it turns into an action adventure movie in which one of them has to kill the other,” says Marling.  Another Earth “was never going to be a movie about an Invasion of the Body Snatchers style” confrontation, she adds.another_earth-1

Another Earth deliberately turns the usual idea of doppelgänger on its head.  Says Cahill:  “For me, I pushed completely the opposite [idea].  I think we, as humans, have this desperate yearning to connect, and we are so alone, no matter how many people we know, our close friends or whatever, we are ultimately alone.  And I think there’s a yearning to not be alone.  So, to confront someone who has your shared history and all your secrets… I think there would be the greatest amount of empathy.”

Don’t Watch It Alone

In short, this movie highlights forgiveness, hope, and our common need for redemption.  I love high concepts, and I especially love when they are employed in a pop culture medium that captures our imaginations while invoking a deep sense of wonderment and awareness.  This movie certainly did all of this and more for me.  If you’re in the mood to be entertained and challenged, watch Another Earth.  And I would advise not watching it alone.  Watch it with someone you love, someone you’ve dreamed with, and been forgiven by.  The impact will be greater.