At the end of his sermon today, Rev Mark Evens gave the congregants some homework. First, to livestream events from the UU General Assembly in Providence, RI later this week, which I may or may not be doing. Second and third, to answer these questions: Is the world a friendly place? And, what does the word ‘God’ mean to me?
Let’s take those in the other order.
The letters G-o-d in a row signify, first of all, the divine entity worshipped by the Abrahamic faiths. This is their primary signification in my home culture. This meaning isn’t particularly important to me, personally; I don’t believe in that divinity or follow any of those scriptures.
The letters g-o-d, now, denote any named or felt or otherwise identified divine entity, in any religion. I assume an agentive entity, that is, one that can affect the course of events in the world in some way (including influencing people simply by bringing its presence or some information to their attention; if a friend is comforted by the presence of a god, and as a result has the internal strength to accomplish some task, I would say that god has affected the course of events in the world). This meaning also isn’t very important to me personally; I’ve never felt the presence of any divine entity or anything close to that kind of experience, although I’m not going to tell someone their subjective experiences are false or try to explain it away.
For many people, g-o-d constitutes a symbol of that which caused the world to be, whether that’s an active agent, the laws of nature, or something else. ‘God’ may be a pointer to the life energy that suffuses the world, if you believe in that sort of thing. For many people, it evokes an abstract, present sense of the divine.
These people are also likely to say that the world is a friendly place. After all, if God is love, and God is in everything, then love is accessible from wherever you stand, even if it may not seem that way at first glance. Myself, I like Mark’s answer to “Is the world a friendly place?” He said, “the world is a friendly place around me, but it isn’t everywhere.”
The world is indeed a friendly place around me; I have family and friends who care for me deeply, a roof over my head, food in my belly, a computer on my lap, words in my head becoming words on the screen. I have teachers and fellow students and a safety net. I have a remarkable amount of freedom to pursue the things I desire most.
But the world as a whole is not friendly. As Neil deGrasse Tyson said when I saw him speak a couple months ago, Earth is trying to kill us. All the time. Moreover, the universe is trying to kill us. All the time. From supernovas to prions, at nearly any size there’s something that’s deadly to humans. Nature is not friendly. It isn’t malicious, either; it just is; it just happens. We have no control over how friendly nature is. All we can do, for that, is defend ourselves from the harsh parts and try to appreciate the beautiful, cute, and fuzzy parts.
Nature is not our biggest problem, though. We are. Why is the world a friendly place around me? Because the people around me have worked to make it that way. If the world is not a friendly place for, say, a fast-food worker in Florida or a farmer in Ecuador or a beggar in Serbia, it is such largely because of the people who encircle that person’s life, because several someones in several somewheres don’t care to make sure that their employees earn enough to support themselves and their children, or don’t care to make sure they pay their suppliers enough, or don’t care to create programs to feed, clothe, and house the poor.
The world is not a friendly place by default, but we can make it friendly, or at least safe, for those around us, especially if we work together with that as our goal. (Cheesy, but sincere!)