When it comes to understanding where the idea of God comes from, we live in an age of discovery. In the past, theologians proved to us that God existed because Holy Scripture said so. Today, researchers in fields as varied as anthropology, sociology, evolutionary biology, psychology and neuroscience have looked at the question of God’s existence from different perspectives.
Quite a variety of theories about God-belief have originated from this research. Societies that worship an all-seeing, all-knowing and judgmental God can use such beliefs to promote social cohesion and order. Humans have a propensity to see “agency” in unexplained phenomena like earthquakes and droughts, so a God could become useful in explaining the unknown, including the origin of the universe.
Neurologists have discovered a way to activate parts of the brain to produce a mystical “oneness” with what some perceive to be God. The communal bonds of religious ritual could have provided an evolutionary advantage for hunter-gatherer tribes that required group cooperation for survival.
Many of these theories rely on a “nature” argument — it is in our nature to seek a supernatural explanation for phenomena we don’t understand. None of these theories say we are genetically obligated to believe in God, nor do they take into account any explanations from “nurture.”
I began to wonder if there was an equally persuasive, and perhaps even more compelling argument that God-belief comes from our childhood experiences — the nurturing provided to us by our parents or caretakers. It’s undeniable that we all met God when we were infants. To our infant minds, those figures who cared for us must have appeared as all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing creator figures who came to our aid every time we cried. Is this not the very definition of God, as described by multiple cultures and religions?
I studied any research in the child-development area that might help formulate my theory that nurture is an important source of our longing for God in our adult lives. I found plenty to think about, but because each researcher has their area of specialization, I had to fit the pieces into an overarching theory.
I came up with, or “discovered,” a five-stage process that begins at birth and traverses all the critical child-development stages, ending with the terrible discovery that the God-like figures in our early life are deceiving us. They are not omnipotent, nor immortal. They will die, desert us and leave us to confront our own death alone. This discovery creates a God-shaped hole in our heart that urges us, but does not compel us, to replace the real gods we once knew with an illusory God who will be a steadying presence in our lives, and whom we long to meet in the afterlife.
The first third of Who Cuts God’s Hair describes this model, but the model raises some serious questions: What happens to children who have unhappy or even horrific childhoods? Are they more or less willing to believe in God? Why do some people, in fact an increasing number of people, grow up to have doubts about God’s existence, or conclude he does not exist at all?
The remainder of the book addresses these and many other questions and concludes with the argument that believers, agnostics, atheists and people who just don’t give the matter of God’s existence much thought, all have something fundamental in common. We all are searching for meaning and a cosmic purpose in our lives. Belief in God is a time-honored, workable solution to this search, but so is non-belief, and the world would be a better place if believers and non-believers alike came to respect the validity of each of these approaches.
I am delighted the Independent Publisher’s committee of experts chose to recognize, Who Cuts God’s Hair as one of the four outstanding books published last year in the field of religion and spirituality.
Author Garrett Glass, a 30-year resident of Oak Park, received a 2018 Bronze “IPPY,” Independent Publisher Book Award, in the category of Religion (Eastern/Western) in May in New York City. His book is available for purchase locally at The Looking Glass bookstore, 823 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park.