Finding God in the Quotes

I recently read Finding God in the Waves, a spiritual memoir by Mike McHargue. In Waves McHargue explores the story of his own Christian faith, documenting his journey from good ol' Southern Baptist boy to atheism, all the way back to Christianity again.  The book is peppered with neuroscience, as McHargue attempts to square his spiritual experiences with what we know about the brain. The book is largely divided into three parts: McHargue's upbringing and comfortable evangelicalism, his subsequent (secret) conversion to atheism, and finally, his merging of science and faith, brought on by a mystical experience early in the morning on the beach. Needless to say, I recommend this book for anyone who has struggled to square religion with doubt, science, and what we know empirically about the world. My favorite quotes are below:

On Prayer: "These days, my intercessory prayers are an act of surrender- a way to voice my hopes and my hopelessness, my power and my powerlessness. When I pray for things I hope for, I am searching for ways I can act to make the situation better. When I pray in situations I find hopeless, I am searching for a redemptive perspective".

On the "Angry God": "Sure, the angry God is great for impulse control. If you believe God might punish or smite you, it may motivate you to kick bad habits or develop healthy practices in your life. This is why you so often hear stories of people whose recovery from addiction involved a dramatic conversion to Fundamentalist religion. The angry God demands change, and this often leads people towards a structured life of service. Unfortunately, the angry God is ripe for exploitation".

On a Loving God: "The Loving God is often found in the New Testament of the Bible, in modern spiritualism, and in Eastern religions. The loving God is a gracious deity who forgives and nurtures humanity. This God delights in creation and adores humankind. The Loving God affects the brain in ways that are remarkably different from the angry God. People who focus on God's love develop thicker, richer grey matter in their prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. This development offers them better focus, concentration, compassion, and empathy. They have lower stress levels and lower blood pressure, and it's easier for them to forgive themselves and others."

Humans benefit from a belief in a loving God, not an angry God

On New Atheism: "Saying 'religion is bad' is a lot like saying 'eating is bad'. Eating can be bad, but it depends on what you eat".

On Different Concepts of Sin: "The Eastern Orthodox traditions view sin as less of a crime to be punished and more as a sickness to be healed- I find that view very compelling".

On Sin: "Sin is at least volitional action or inaction that violates human consent or produces human suffering. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and is accelerated by our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. Even if this is all that sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing".

On Jesus: ". . . in contrast to God's mystery, Jesus makes sense. The Christian idea of incarnation- God in the form of a human- makes this 'foreign' God approachable. Jesus gives God a face, a language, stories we can understand. . . it's a God we can know, a God who walks with us, talks with us, and can empathize with our pain".

On the Resurrection: "One day, I will die, and in time my atoms will go back to giving life to something else. Much farther along the arrow of time, our own sun will explode and spread its essence across the sky. Our sun's dust will meet with our stars' remnants and form new stars and planets of their own. The universe itself exists in an eternal pattern of life, death, and resurrection. It seems poetically appropriate that the Source of all would have left his divine signature on the fabric of reality".

On Church: "In my opinion, secular life doesn't provide the kind of ready-made community that church does".

On the Bible: "The Bible seems contradictory because the Bible is contradictory. After all, the Bible is not a single book, with one voice, one perspective, or one unified take on the history of how God has interacted with people. This should be obvious, after all. The Bible is divided into books, first, not chapters. It's more like a library than a book- and, for that matter, the Bible isn't even one single library. The Catholic Bible has 73 books, while the Protestant Bible only has 66. Protestants assemble the Old Testament differently, mainly because Martin Luther stripped six books out in the 16th century. I mention this not to be difficult, but to underscore an important point about the Bible. Countless authors, scribes, editors, councils, and translators have all imparted their perspectives on its text. Every book in it was selected for inclusion by people, and people haven't always agreed about what books should make the cut. There was no single council or person who selected the list, and the process was political, heated, and controversial".

What is the Bible?: ". . .characterizes the Bible not as a single, inerrant text, but a chronicle of an ongoing conversation-even debate- about God. Far from being accidents, the contradictions found in the pages of Scripture are often intentional, reflecting the different motivations and opinions of the Bible's different authors".

Is the Bible art?: "Fundamentally, the Bible isn't science or history. The Bible isn't a legal document. It's art".

On Vincent van Gogh, art, and the Bible: "When I look at Starry Night, I am, through some miracle, given a gift: the gift of seeing the world through another person's eyes. Without a single word, written or spoken, I am presented with what might represent the soul of van Gogh. I can see his hope and his despair, his joy and his grief. I see a world of aching beauty and darkness. Van Gogh's view of the world becomes a lamp that reveals the corners of my heart that I didn't know was there-and all of this happens immediately, even though he died 88 years before I was born.

So ask yourself this:

Is Starry Night infallible?

The question doesn't make sense. Though grammatically sound, it is a query with no meaning. I could just as easily ask, 'how much does a sunset weigh'".

Meditation on God: "Be it Moses' burning bush or Carl Sagan's cosmos, both propel me to a posture of worship: an understanding that I did nothing to get here, on this planet at this time with these people, and yet I get to enjoy it all. Every sunrise, every breakfast at the table with my family, every skinned knee, and every kiss from my wife. Every song, poem, and yes, every loved one I lose is a gift. To share the joys and sorrows of my friends, to see little ones born and old ones die, all tie me to an incredible cycle of unspeakable beauty that I am a part of, and the only possible word I have for all it is this one: God".

(PS: That final quote reminded me of something Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote- that God is something that happens, not a big dude in the sky. Kushner said we're asking the wrong question when we ask 'Where is God?". Instead, we should ask 'When is God?".

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