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What God is Not, and Spirituality is Not


Joseph Campbell



When I was in college a member of a black identification Christian group wrote an article for the newspaper. He claimed that the Africans were the true chosen people of the Bible, not the Jews. The article was long, and referenced the bible frequently to put forth this argument.

After reading the article, I laughed. I jokingly said, "That's ridiculous! Everybody knows that God is a German Protestant." I could see that author's group was making God in their own image. I found it amusing.

Over the next week my comments came back to haunt me. I realized that deep down I did perceive my God to be German Protestant. That means, I was sure that the Bible clearly supported all the ideals of German Protestantism, and not the ideals of differing religions. I, like everybody else, was making my God in my own image. God could be neither German, philosophically, as I had believed, nor black, culturally, as the author believed.

From this the process of generalizing started to flow, until it became quite natural. God is not German, Black, Jewish, or anything else, philosophically, culturally, or ethnically. The creator created all of us. God is neither male nor female. The divine must have both aspects. God is not the god of the rich, nor of the poor, nor of the prey, nor of the predator, nor of the victim, nor of the villain. Our creator created all of us. God is not limited to human aspects, as the anthropomorphic religions, like Christianity, see him. Nor is the divine limited to any physical aspect we can imagine. God is not the god of just the collective, or just the individual. All these things must be expressions of the divine, in that they are all part of the creation. In short, God can not be limited by any of the structures by which humans are capable of understanding him.

This epiphany left me in a quandary for over a decade. I clearly knew what God was not. God was not anything that we could imagine. Anything we could image was a projection of ourselves, or our culture onto the divine Anything we could imagine, or worse, put into words, would turn out to be a limitation that we ourselves would place on the Divine. Using words, dogmas, or religious hierarchies amounts to trying to impose on the Divine my own limits, my own morality, my own beliefs, my own culture, and my own rules. And limiting the Divine had to be one of the greatest sins a human could commit. (Jesus seems to have called this "blasphemy against the holy spirit.") So now, I knew what God was not. I knew what methods I could not use to approach the Divine. But I didn't know what methods, if any, could be humanly possible to attain spirituality.

So after more than a decade, I started opening up to some spiritual experiences with no rules, dogma, or even language to describe them. I found that I could experience spirituality. I found that after the experience, one searches for a language to describe it. At that point you realize others have trod this path before. Their language varied: 'filled with the holy spirit,' 'energy flow,' 'chakras,' 'one with the universe,' 'eternal life,' 'upper world journey'- the language varies by culture, but only after the experience has been had do you know what they were trying to express.

And with these experiences, perceptions and morality changes also: "Love your enemies as yourself." "Nobody gets into heaven until we all get into heaven." "Live simply so that others may simply live." "Brothers and sisters." These are not moralistic commands; these are new ways of viewing the connectedness of all life that has been created. These are ways acknowledging the divine in all life - the image of God, as the creator expresses himself through all his creation.