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Monday, Nov 26 2012 11:00 PM

MIGUEL NIDEVER: God, other gods and designer gods in an age of moral relativism

By The Bakersfield Californian

I feel constrained to respond to professor Tim Vivian's extremist rhetoric in likening the "absolute" views of the Catholic Bishop of Green Bay to fatwas and "first-degree murder," not to mention his distortion of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's reference to "values that will stand the test of fire" as referring to eternal condemnation in hell. Wow! I wonder if Vivian has considered the possibility that his intolerant views ("Absolutism rears head in religion and inflexible 'patriotism,'" Community Voices, Nov. 14) may have contributed to the attitude of the student he refers to who "hates Catholics"? But it seems to me the real issue here is how we define "God."

For those of us whose concept of God has been informed by Judeo-Christian beliefs, we tend to think that Jehovah, God the Father of the Bible, is the reference point when we hear someone refer to God. However, in reality there is a multitude of gods for humankind to choose from: the God of the Bible, Allah, three different Buddhas, and a plethora of Hindu gods, to mention a few. Here in the United States we have yet another option -- we can make up our own personal god who reflects our views and values; Vivian appears to be in this category.

Natural law teaches us the reality of absolutes -- the laws of gravity, inertia, aerodynamics, thermodynamics and mathematics, to name a few. No matter how offensive and repugnant it may be to one's belief system 2 + 2 = 4, always. Why is it, then, that the concept of absolutes in the realm of the intangible is so offensive to Vivian and others, even to the point that it engenders hatred toward those who believe in absolutes?

I understand that the absolutism of God the Father of the Bible and His earthly incarnation, Jesus Christ, is a stumbling block to many. To adopt the idea that all paths lead to God or that all that is required of us is to believe something sincerely is much more comfortable because it requires nothing from us. From a human viewpoint, it would have been so much easier if Jesus had not said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father but by me." This challenges us to decide: Will we conform our thinking to the biblical Jesus or will we design our own personal god who fits our own idea of how things should be?

For me the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods -- Apollo, Zeus, Artemis, Pluto and Aphrodite, to name some of the more familiar -- is instructive. These gods had sex, numerous affairs, children, and warred with one another. Sound similar to the evening news? These were obviously man-made gods created by man in his own image with human attributes we can understand and identify with. In contrast, we are told that the God of the Bible created us in His image. As the created rather than the creators, is it not then to be expected that this God would frequently be incomprehensible to us? Beware of people and religious systems that have all the answers when it comes to God.

I wonder if it has ever occurred to Vivian that a loving God would establish absolute non-negotiable standards of conduct in order to spare His ultimate creation, humankind, the pain, suffering and dehumanization that results from violating His commandments. Would a loving human father, knowing something about the laws of gravity, inertia and medical science, hand the keys of his car to a son or daughter with no curfew or prohibitions on driving, drinking, sex, etc.?

One aspect of biblical absolutism which Vivian surely won't denigrate is the absolute love and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. Since the beginning and until the end of time, humans have and will debate their concept of God and even kill one another over their differences. But when one experiences God's absolute love and forgiveness, He goes from a philosophical concept to be argued to life experiences that can't be refuted. The love of this God does not condone whatever we do but rather offers us absolute forgiveness as a result of our repentance.

Miguel Nidever of Bakersfield is a former seminarian, missionary to Mexico, and currently a member of Valley Bible Fellowship. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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