The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

God As Idea, By Eric Anderson

I woke up last night feeling like I was suffocating, because in my dream I was. It began in a church, or an old university lecture hall. Antique. And everyone in attendance was being asked to say little prayers honoring Jesus. Everyone was reciting little prayers that are common among the devout. But when it was my turn, I stood and exclaimed: Jesus was a philosopher who taught that love is the only thing that really matters, and the rich and powerful executed him for it. Then I sat. The crowd was stunned at first, the headmasters, or priests, physically taken aback. But a small smattering of applause began to ripple through the room in agreement. The ripple turned to a roar echoing through the antique hall.

Suddenly, a giant man cloaked in black moved from the corner of my vision and was standing before me. His robe parted at one point to reveal a cloven foot and a boar’s head as he pulled back his hood.The room went silent. Looking down on me, still seated, he bent toward me and slowly said “What … did you say”? I stood to confront him and was overwhelmed by the stinging scent coming from this giant. I found I couldn’t talk, or breath. I gasped and gasped and ran out the room for a drink of water, angry that I’d been silenced. A drinking fountain hung on the wall outside the door and as soon as the water hit my lips, I woke.

I was gasping and coughing.

Composing myself, I turned out the light and sought sleep again but my mind would not stop trying to interpret what was probably the most powerfully vivid dream of my life. I tossed and turned thereafter and could not go back to sleep. I resolved interpreting the dream as my subconscious telling me evil was trying to take my voice. Knowing I’d still be unable to sleep, I sought to free my voice. So I began to write what became, this:

God is not some nebulous deity sitting a throne in the sky looking down upon us in judgment. God is an idea. An idea that exists within us all, but we’re too scared to confront in open self contemplation. So we content ourselves stories. Abstract stories, that can only loosely define the boundaries of our spirit. The trouble is, stories are open to different interpretations and can be corrupted from the original intent.

Take the story of Jesus. Many christians today like to talk about what christianity tells us we should, and should not do. But they seem loathe to actually talk about Jesus. Jesus scares them. He scares them because he was a revolutionary. A revolutionary whose gospel taught that love, is revolutionary. The idea was so powerful that the rich and powerful executed him for it. He was a threat to their coveted and established order. The real Jesus is a threat to christianity’s coveted and established order. Thus, they fear him much like the romans, and the jews feared him. But instead of physical execution, today, the principle thrust of his ideas are crucified.

God, as taught by Jesus was an idea. That idea was love. The idea was communicated to the masses by means of story, or parable. Stories abstractly behoving us to simply practice love among one another. And that if we could do this, there’d be no more need to obey the powerful, or their rules, taxes, profits, debts, wars, and contempt for the unwashed masses. He used the word God, because ideas are so hard to hold fast in our minds. They are fleeting, and nebulous, like God.

As example, witness the story of Ten Commandments and the lessons therein, as viewed from the language of love. We may not remember every commandment, but we remember the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets. But what about the ideas those tablets contained? From the jewish tradition, we’re taught they were inviolable rules that if transgressed, meant perdition. Too literal. But view them through the lens of love, and everything changes.

  1. You shall have no other God before me.”

If god is an idea, and the idea is love, then the revolutionary idea is that God is love. Thus, the translation becomes “You shall have no other idea before love.”

2. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.”

Traditionally translated, this meant don’t do idolatry. But if the idea is love, then it means that the second you try to capture love in an image, you lose it. Love is an action. Love is a verb, that disappears as soon as it’s objectified.

3. “Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain.

In the traditional sense, we take this to mean don’t abuse the name of God. But cast in the active sense, to be vain is to act with vanity. From a gospel of love, to take the idea of love, in vain, is to be totally immersed in self-love. In a word, selfishness. Don’t do it.

4. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” Translated to the language of love means to don’t get so busy in your affairs that you forget the importance of practicing the idea that is love. Take some time and make some space in your life just to focus on the idea, that is love.

5. “Honor thy mother and father.” Translates to the symbolic embodiment of the love a mother and father hold for their children. Honoring that love means acting toward others with the gravity that love holds.

6. “Thou shalt not kill.”

Does this need explanation? Honor love in the forefront of your mind and killing another can never occur.

7. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Outside the love parents feel for their children, is there any greater love than that between husband and wife, wife and husband? Adultery is nothing more than succumbing to lust, when the revolutionary idea tells us to keep love sacrosanct.

8. “Thou shalt not steal.”

Rule? Or idea of love? Love and respect are closely synonymous. Taking from another what what one has no claim, as idea, is the highest form of disrespect.

9. “Thou shall not bear false witness.”

Again, translates closely to not stealing. Disrespect for ones fellow, and more than that disrespect for oneself. We all understand the idea … those that love themselves, and others, have integrity. People with integrity travel in truth. Those without integrity travel in lies.

10. “Don’t covet.” Because, wanting what someone else has is the surest way to hate, not love. The idea is to love one another, not things. Love, again, is an action. To love a thing so much as to put it before the action of love, is self-demeaning.

The traditionally interpreted ten commandments are a prescription unifying power under a set of rules. Translated to the idea of love, they become a prescription for keeping hate from your heart. But, this translation cannot be taken literally. The lessons must be viewed as a symbolic story that points to an idea. That idea is love and love is an action.

But god is more than just love. Indeed, God, in the multitude of forms, is all of the revolutionary ideas that benefit mankind. Those ideas that hold us together, instead of tearing us apart, are in a word, our divine inheritance. Ideas that pull our minds from hate and division and discord and judgment and instead, focus our attention on quality of life among our brethren. Ideas like beauty, truth, charity, tolerance, justice.

I don’t see many of these qualities among the christian right today. I see their interpretation of the Bible as an attempt to create a jail to enclose ideas they are intolerant of. I see them using Jesus as a symbol of hate. Largely, I see them as people who walk in hate, rather than in love of people they might have some moral qualms with. But, that’s not what Jesus taught. He taught the idea of love. He taught us to live our lives in such a manner that our hearts are totally opposed to the idea of hypocrisy.

We’ve all seen this movie before, this preaching of the gospel of hate and intolerance. We’ve seen the movie where laws are passed to marginalize the weak on the basis of hateful interpretations of divine stories. Those movies don’t end well. We collectively call them nightmares, that fortunately, we’ve historically woken from by remembering that love means action. Hate means rigidity accompanying fear. We cannot fear for long before rigor mortis sets into our minds and souls. Evil will only take my voice in my sleep. I won’t let it happen while awake.


The First Great Environmental Crisis Will Be


Open Thread


  1. Willy

    Gandhi famously said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    I didn’t get what he was implying until later in life, that Christians need to be doing better at being whatever it was that Christ preached they should be. Today in the states Christianity is in steep decline with the overall number of churches being reduced at the rate of at least 4000 a year.

    I’ve tried to explain that one major reason is that overall (with all the good Christlike Christians being noted) outside observers like Gandhi aren’t all that impressed. My logic is thus: I don’t expect somebody who studies baseball stats to be perfect with the baseball stats, just noticeably better with the baseball stats than the average Joe who never studies. The same with people who study math books or claim to be mathematicians. They don’t need to be perfect, just noticeably better than average. Today, there are very large numbers of Christians who are noticeably worse than what Jesus preached in their Bible. They’re like loud and proud mathematicians who can’t do arithmetic.

    For their part, there are many Christians out there who are horrified by the behavior of so many of their conservative and evangelical brethren who claim to be Christians but are so unlike their Christ. They give me a bit of hope.

  2. Trinity

    My experience has been the more someone talks about how Christian they are, the more they brag about how often the preacher comes to dinner, the louder they proclaim their faith in Christ, the less they actually behave as Christ would have them behave.

  3. Soredemos

    Sorry, this feels like an epic exercise in cope. You’re taking something that believers traditionally took essentially literally. Few people took, or take, God to be an abstract ideal. They may be more or less literal in their interpretations, perhaps insist certain parts are metaphor. But ultimately most believers at their core believe that God is a supernatural person that created the universe and wants you to do and not do certain things.

    You can almost sift a philosophy of love out of Jesus, if you also ignore all the ‘kick the Romans out, re-establish the Davidic royal line, and refound the proper Temple’ stuff. But to try and project anything Jesus-y back to the psychopathic storm god of the Old Testament strikes me as absurd.

    The Old Testament narrative is a very straight forward bronze age one of a petty, jealous regional deity and lessons of obedience to said deity. It’s always fascinating to watch people try and conjure up deeper narratives from that source material.

  4. Mark Level

    Another very solid contribution from Eric, thank you. I will however disagree with taking the 10 Commandments seriously, even thru a very genuine lens of Yeshua al Nosri’s teachings. I’d prefer to use Rabbi Yeshua’s civil name, since I kind of dispute the whole mixing of Greek teachings about “Christos” & gaining holiness by being smeared with Chrism, whether on the head or feet, as that “loose” woman allegedly did, according to the Canon, after the raising of the dead Lazarus. I don’t believe Lazarus was raised from the dead, any more than I believe the nonsense about the Star in the sky bringing Magi with rich gifts for the manger, of course . . . A couple years back I finished reading Reza Aslan’s “Zealot,” an outstanding piece of scholarship with a first-rate bibliography that only deals with secular aspects of “Jesus” which can be largely verified from early sources. I highly recommend it to those interested!! Anyway, as to your specific piece, I do not agree with your interpretations of the 7th & 8th commandments in particular. Adultery and lust are part of healthy living, I would instead subscribe to William Blake’s “Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” Also, regarding theft, a starving person has every biological right and imperative to steal to survive. (Now this is not to be simplistic and say 2 wrongs make a right, it’s just to recognize humans are animals and follow animal instincts correctly, if not overly repressed or brainwashed.) And let’s note that we live in a society entirely (& quite openly) based on theft from both Nature and from weaker humans. Aslan’s book nicely covers the thefts of the Priestly Caste in the 2nd (“Solomon’s”) temple, a vast abbatoir where money changers allowed the rich to sacrifice bulls’ burning meat to YHVH or Adonai, while the poor could buy and sacrifice doves or smaller game, which is specifically why Yeshua (according to accounts) knocked over the money-changers’ tables and additionally freed some small captive animals. (Yes, to support your thesis, that is an act of “love.”) As to the sociology of religion, having participated in various groups over time, forced Catholicism as a child (a hateful and ridiculous dogma, which even as a child I knew was basically insane and formally rejected at age 17), later on thru pagan practices and study and some involvement with Fringe (higher degree, Greek, Egyptian & Asian-influenced) Masonry, also thru “outer” level involvement with Unitarian-Universalist groups in my 20s and again recently in my early 60s, I have noted some consistency viz group religious practice. We can start simple, as John Lennon so succinctly noted, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” As you note, the huge majority of Christians evidently know little or nothing of Jesus’ teachings (it does take work to sort thru what is genuine and what is BS priest-craft), to most of the Christians I’ve ever had contact with it seems that just calling themselves that gives them a “Get out of Jail/Purgatory/Hell” card, & the additional benefit of knowing Jesus somehow forgave THEM, and they get to judge everyone else’s failings & shortcomings. When I studied Thelema, Rabelais’ (& later Crowley’s) “Do What thou wilt,” Love is the Law, love under will” I found most practitioners to be incredibly weak-willed, & perhaps no more nor less capable of sentimental, ordinary forms of love than everyone else. Anyway, having taught sociology at the high school level over 3 years, the personal observation that I reached during that time was that most people “subscribe” (in the literal sense of that word) to “beliefs” to paper over psychological or social personal failings that they are unable to address or overcome via more adult means. If it makes you feel better, it’s probably not “God”. (Even the word is ridiculous in many senses.) We only grow thru struggle, being forced OUT of our own comfort zones, etc. The great Mystics (& I will include Yeshua in that number due to statements like “It’s not what a man puts into his mouth that makes him unclean but what comes out of it”) all know that unless you are being discomfited and struggling you are a complacent sheep. Again, to close with a bit of Rock’n Roll wisdom, as Mr. Dylan noted, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” Evidently dying is a lot easier for most than struggling to be born, thus we live in a world without Spirit or Gnosis for most. So being an animal has a downside as well as many upsides, I think I do agree that Sloth is a sin (You only live once), but most just wander in the valley of shadows blindly, so One-Eyed Wo/men are the most likely to be spiritually awake.

  5. Eric Anderson

    I stumbled across — and have been working my way through — this gem. Which is probably the source of the nightmare (which I never have) and my brain got fixated on the subject. It’s an interesting peak into the mind of how our “founding father’s” approached the question. Jefferson has always been a fascinating individual to me.

  6. mago

    But, but, but has no one yet mentioned that god is dog spelled backwards?

    I do love my canine friends.

  7. Ché Pasa

    “God” is Nothing. There. Solved it for you. 😉

    I always appreciate Eric’s contributions on this site. Tony’s and Mandos’s too, not to mention Ian’s of course.

    There’s a world to explore in the Commandments, but there are many, many more than just The Ten brought down by Moses from The Mountain. It seems our Xtian sisters and brethren too often choose to revel and romp in those Other Commandments, finding endless ways to interfere with the lives of Non-Believers — and Believers, too, when they’re feeling righteous. The Ten From the Mountain? Enh. Depends, doesn’t it, on who you are, and what status you’ve achieved. I understand Jesus opposed that way of thinking and “Believing” and said so. Thus to the cross with him, eh?

  8. Soredemos

    @Eric Anderson

    I’m not sure how much profit there is in extrapolating anything about the founders from Jefferson.

  9. GlassHammer

    It might be more accurate to say the Christian right wants to re-create the Christendom of the 16-17th century where a more cohesive culture of believers existed. (I know folks say the right aims for the 1950s but it’s really shooting for something far older.)

    But… the Christian right forgets that a.) such a culture existed only under the heavy handed guidance of the Catholic Church (an institution most Protestants dislike and refuse to re-create), b.) it was tied to an agrarian village culture that no longer exists (this was the class consciousness creating structure of its time), and c.) it was shattered by the reformation (the thing Protestants derive their identity from) into Reginonal sects that went to war with each other over unreasonable interpretations of Scripture. (this war never stopped because the Christian sects dislike one another almost as much as they dislike non-believers)

  10. Willy

    When more folks learned to read, more folks got to learn about stuff like Martin Luther’s influence on Nazism and the sacking of Christian Constantinople by other Christians and that Moslems really spruced up the place after they took over. Now everybody reads and may even have the internet. It seems all Christianity’s got left in the face of all that secular challenge is to either behave more Christlike or go full Christofascist retard.

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