National Commentary

God is Not a Mental Construct

nfbentonpicNow that I have undertaken in the recent past couple of months to review and comment on the unhappy history and influence of powerful elites who have used a fundamentalist deviation of the Christian religion to destabilize and menace one of the more enlightened communities in the U.S., I feel compelled to reveal some of my own core values and tenants of faith informing my effort.

To review, my recent columns referred to the 25-year campaign by what has become known as the radically free market-driven “Family,” or “The Fellowship,” to infest one of America’s oldest and most esteemed churches, The Falls Church in Northern Virginia, and to insinuate a thirst for schism into the congregation of that church as a national model for undermining mainstream Protestantism, more generally. Thankfully, they failed.

OK, I am moved now to set apart from my own beliefs those elements in the theology of that undertaking that I, and I believe the best currents of the Christian tradition from the beginning of the church, hold to be profoundly false.

Of course, I can’t pronounce my views as anything other than my own, and only as food for thought for my readers. However, mine were developed over the course of my lifetime that has included my four years of post-graduate study at a Berkeley, Calif., seminary affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the Pacific School of Religion, loosely associated with the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union and its enriching cross-cultivating scholarship with seminaries of all the major Protestant denominations.

I graduated with honors, and led a youth ministry all my years there. Upon graduation, and directly associated with the many benefits of my seminary studies, I became deeply involved with the anti-Vietnam War and pro-civil rights movements of that day, and in particular the teachings and admonitions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I aligned with the best elements of those efforts for justice, peace and equality, seeing them fully aligned with the Christian tradition and its admonitions. In this process, I felt called to extend this surge for justice and peace to my personal honesty and integrity, as well. Therefore, I took what at that time was a genuinely radical and risky step. I identified myself as gay and sought to extend the social struggle for justice to the rights and self-esteem of homosexuals, as well.

In all this, the civil rights and anti-war movements soon found themselves swept up in a tsunami of counter-cultural hedonistic excess orchestrated by powerful enemies of social justice, and that included the gay movement. I resisted that but soon realized how outgunned I was. So I opted for a socialist path, but found that contaminated, as well, by cultish pressures from demagogues.

In the case of the “Family” takeover of The Falls Church, I’d already studied the history and theologies of religious schisms, of reactionaries against social justice, including anti-gay sentiments, and the behaviors and flaws of demagogues masquerading as “the only way to truth.” Thus, I was able to perceive all these as being in play at The Falls Church.

Christianity, as with other faith traditions, is about tapping into the substantial reality of God. God is not a construct, except to demagogues. God to them is a mental toy used to manipulate followers.

Truth lies in God’s substantiality, not in a construct like elevating an ancient book above God. As a construct, the “word of God” gives license to any demagogue to twist meanings and elicit desired outcomes. For example, it has been used in this way to justify slavery and condemn interracial marriage.

No, Christianity teaches that God and God’s intent for mankind was revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The “word of God,” as early church fathers fashioned bulwarks against heresies, was Jesus of Nazareth, the Logos, the “Word” of the Gospel of John, the second person of the Trinity.

For Christianity, the “word of God” is not a book. It is Jesus, his life, his teachings and his sacrifice for others. The demagogue insists that his or her own interpretations of a book constitutes ultimate truth, instead.