by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.
Is there a God? If so, what is God like and how do I relate to this divine power? The recent buzz around the release of the movie The Golden Compass, based upon Philip Pullman’s first book in His Dark Materials trilogy, has prompted people to take a closer look at these questions. Although a children’s adventure tale on the surface, it introduces metaphysical themes, encourages individualism, and explores the importance of grappling with big ideas—of testing and proving them.
But the movie and books have also been accused of being anti-Christian and espousing atheistic beliefs. I was particularly intrigued by the publicized fears that readers or moviegoers would somehow be harmfully influenced, or that children would be falsely educated and begin to question the spiritual ideas that they’d been brought up to know and love. As I left the theater after seeing this movie with my grown daughter, I wasn’t feeling shocked or challenged in my beliefs. But I couldn’t help wondering if this controversy was hinged on a broader misunderstanding on many fronts about God.
Instead of being harmful, questions—even those that doubt the very existence of God—can actually open the way for greater dialogue about the nature of our Creator. The rejection of a narrow concept of God is all too familiar to me. When I became a student of Christian Science, I was presented with a very different view of God, Jesus, and salvation than the one I’d learned in the faith tradition of my youth. Learning that God was not distant but always present, loving me unconditionally, was encouraging. In fact, I’m reminded of Mary Baker Eddy’s statement in Science and Health that “the everlasting I am is not bounded nor compressed within the narrow limits of physical humanity, nor can He be understood aright through mortal concepts. The precise form of God must be of small importance in comparison with the sublime question, What is infinite Mind or divine Love?” (p. 256).
The search for Truth—essentially for an accurate understanding of God—is inherent in all of God’s children. And it appears among individuals from many faiths and philosophies. I’ve learned, in my conversations in the community, that sometimes even when people claim that they’re not interested in the Divine, what they’re often opposed to is authoritarianism and dogmatic approaches to life, which are devoid of true spirituality.
It’s impossible to deny that humanity inevitably seeks its higher purpose through a desire for happiness, justice, and increased spirituality. And it’s natural for creation to be ultimately drawn toward its Creator. This is something to celebrate and defend in our prayers. And it’s a basis upon which to build mutual trust.
But is there something to be said for taking these questions seriously—maybe even protecting ourselves, especially children, from the larger debate? After all, what’s wrong with wanting to shield them from controversy? I think the solution lies in encouraging children and adults alike, not to be afraid of raising questions about the nature of reality and their own relationship to God. In our doing so, they’ll be able to clarify and strengthen the basis for their own beliefs. As a parent, I’ve always encouraged our daughter to question and probe into any and every subject. Sometimes the dialogue at the dinner table, or in the car on the way to her dance classes, wasn’t easy. But these conversations often helped me appreciate her own ability to thrive as an independent thinker—as a reflection of the divine Mind itself. In fact, Mary Baker Eddy dedicated Science and Health to “honest seekers for Truth” (p. xii).
Throughout history, many dangerous thoughts have actually stemmed from the idea that the world is comprised of rival communities of faiths and belief systems. How might the world change if we saw differing viewpoints not as threats but as springboards for further conversation and exploration?
As I’m confronted with news reports of skepticism and disbelief in a higher power, I’ve learned that I don’t need to become preoccupied with the controversy on the surface. Instead, I can choose to see what unites each of us. Adopting a view that’s not influenced by fears or assumptions, but based on our tried and true real-life experiences, will allow each of us to bring more healing and wholeness to our fractured world. From this solid basis, the wrestling and seeking that lead to a better understanding of Truth are welcome.