I attended a seminar in Pgh with Mom the other day. The theme was "Radical Abundance: A Theology of Sustainability."
One of the speakers, David Korten, shared an interesting story.
Here is the gist of it, which I found at Tikkun Magazine.
Some years ago I was privileged to share a conference platform with Jesus scholar Marcus Borg. I will never forget his defining statement: "Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your politics." Borg explains that the many scriptural images of God are of two basic types. One is the patriarch with the flowing beard: the God we visualize in human form, the God of Michelangelo's famous painting in the Sistine Chapel, who lives in a distant place we call Heaven. The other image of God is as a spirit manifest in all being.
The patriarch image sets up a hierarchy of righteousness and domination running from those closest to God to those most distant. It leads to a competitive individualistic politics of separation, domination, favor seeking, and wealth accumulation. It is the foundation of the Calvinist belief that the rich and powerful are by definition God's most favored, and that financial success and Earthly power are marks of special righteousness. Within this belief system, the world is whatever God the patriarch wishes it to be, and it is beyond our means to change it for better or worse.
By contrast, the spirit image-by which we recognize the face of God in every human being, animal, insect, and grain of sand-leads to a politics of community, shared purpose, and mutual service. Everything in creation is both manifestation and agent of a great spiritual intelligence seeking to know itself through the creative exploration of its possibilities. Within this belief system, to do harm to another being is to harm oneself. We see ourselves as agents of that creative journey and find our ultimate fulfillment in devoting ourselves to it.
There is a striking difference between the image of God evoked by the language of public discourse and the image of our inner understanding. The God of our public discourse and of most formal religious liturgy is the male patriarch to whom we pledge our faith and obedience in hope of winning favor now and in the afterlife. Because the very word "God" so strongly evokes this image, I generally prefer to discuss matters of faith in the language of spirit or creation. This may well be, in any case, the way most people see things.
Bob Scott, director of the Trinity Institute, recently sent me the results of a national survey he commissioned in his earlier capacity as editor-in-chief of Spirituality and Health magazine. The findings suggest that most people's private beliefs align much more closely with the spirit image of God than the patriarch image.
Eighty-four percent of Americans view God as being "everywhere and in everything," rather than "someone somewhere." Given a list of characteristics and asked to pick the one that describes God best, 71 percent chose "loving." Only 5 percent chose "remote," and only 2 percent chose "judging" or "controlling." I find quite stunning the contrast between what these results reveal of our private images of God and the image evoked by the language of our public discourse and liturgy.
In our lecture, he went on to say that we must work to make our institutions (churches, banks, etc) reflect our private images of God.
Personally, I find that I slide back and forth between both of those images.
Anyway, if you have any thoughts on this, feel free to comment.