Re-branding "God"

(excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia)

Pronoia Therapy: "RE-BRANDING GOD"

Experiments and exercises in becoming a bewilderingly enlightened, ecstatically grateful Master of Fiendishly Benevolent Tricks

1. Philosopher Robert Anton Wilson proposed that the single greatest contribution to world peace would come from there being over six billion different religions -- a unique spiritual path for each person on the planet. The Beauty and Truth Lab urges you to get started on doing your part to make this happen. What will your religion be called? What rituals will you perform? Write down your three core tenets.

2. You'll also need a new name for the Creator. "God" and "Goddess" have been so overused and abused that most of us are numb to them. And given the spiritual opportunities that will open up for you as you explore pronoia, you can't afford to have an impaired sensitivity toward the Great Mystery.

Here's an idea to stimulate your search: The Russian word for God is "Bog." The Basques call the Supreme Being "Jingo." To purge your psychic dockets of built-up fixations about deity, you might try singing improvisational prayers to "Jingo Bog."

Here are a few other fresh names to inspire you:
Blooming HaHa
Divine Wow
Sublime Cackler
Chthonic Riddler

3. Since ancient times, China has hosted three religions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Many Chinese people have cobbled together a melange of beliefs gathered from all three. This is different from the Western way, which is to be faithful to one religion or another, never mixing and matching.

But that's changing in certain enclaves in North America, where growing numbers of seekers are adopting the Chinese approach. They borrow elements from a variety of spiritual traditions to create a personalized path. Religious historians call this syncretism.

As you meditate on conjuring up your own unique mode of worship, think of the good parts you'd like to steal from other religions.

4. Most religions designate a special class of people -- priests, rabbis, ayatollahs -- to oversee official communications with the Source. This has led to a prevailing assumption, even among those who don't follow an established faith, that we can't initiate a divine conversation without the aid of a professional class of trained mediators. Among some sects of the ancient gnostics, in contrast, everyone was regarded as a potential prophet who could experience epiphanies worthy of becoming part of the ever-evolving doctrine.

The equivalent today would be if the Bible were regarded as an unfinished text to which every Christian or Jew might be eligible to add new content.

As you create your own spiritual path, experiment with this do-it-yourself approach. What might you do to eliminate the middleman and commune directly with the Source?

5. The chorus of an old Depeche Mode song goes like this: "I don't want to start / any blasphemous rumors / But I think that God's / got a sick sense of humor / And when I die / I expect to find him laughing." I have a grudging respect for these lyrics. In an age when God has been co-opted by intolerant fundamentalists and mirthless sentimentalists, I appreciate any artist who suggests there's more to the Infinite Spirit than the one-dimensional prig described in the Bible or Koran.

On the other hand, Depeche Mode's notion of the Blooming HaHa is also disinformation. It's as much a hostage to pop culture's knee-jerk nihilism as the right-wing bigots' God is to their monumental hatreds. One thing I know for sure about the Supreme Being is that while she does have a complicated sense of humor, it's not cruel or vengeful.

Your assignment: Pray to be granted a healing sample of her comedic genius -- a funny, unexpected miracle that will free you of any tendencies you have to believe the age-old lies about her.

6. Will there be prayer in your new religion? If so, we suggest that you avoid the body language traditionally used by Christians in their worship. The gesture of clasping one's hands together originated long ago as an imitation of being shackled; it was thought to be the proper way to express submission to divine power.

The prayers you make, however, may be imbued as much with reverent exuberance or ecstatic gratitude as somber submissiveness. An example of a more apt gesture is to spread your arms as wide and high as they'll go, as if you're hugging the sky. Any other ideas?

7. What if the Creator is like the poet Rainer Maria Rilke's God: "like a webbing made of a hundred roots, that drink in silence"? What if the Source of All Life inhabits both the dark and the light, heals with strange splendor as much as with sweet insight, is hermaphroditic and omnisexual?

What if the Source loves to give you riddles that push you past the boundaries of your understanding, forcing you to change the ways you think about everything? What if, as Rusty Morrison speculates in Poetry Flash, "the sublime can only be glimpsed by pressing through fear's boundary, beyond one's previous conceptions of the beautiful"?

Close your eyes and imagine you can sense the presence of this tender, marvelous, difficult, entertaining intelligence.

8. At a candy store one Easter season, I heard a philosophical debate about Jesus-themed confections. "It's just not right to eat a symbol of God," one woman said as she gazed at a chocolate Christ on the cross. A man agreed: "It's sacrilegious. An abomination." An employee overheard and jumped in. "I'll ask my boss to take that stuff off the shelf," she clucked.

I was tempted to say what I was thinking: "Actually, the holiest ritual of Christian worship involves eating Christ's body and drinking his blood." But I held my tongue; I wasn't in the mood for a brouhaha.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you or do you not want to eat a symbolic embodiment of your deity? If you do, what food will you choose?

9. At one point in James Michener's novel Hawaii, a native Hawaiian tells ignorant missionaries, "You cannot speak to the gods with your clothes on." Whereupon he strips and prepares for prayer. Test this theory. Find out if your communion with the Divine Wow improves when you're naked.

10. A few Christian sects now enjoy a new addition to their once-staid church services: holy laughter. Parishioners become so excited while worshiping that they erupt in uncontrollable glee. Some crack up so profoundly that they fall on the floor and flop around like breakdancers. Others repeatedly leap into the air as if on pogo sticks, or wobble and zigzag as if trying to dance while drunk.

Imagine that the holy books of your religion prescribe laughing prayers as a reliable way to know the Divine Wow. Recite one of those laughing prayers.

11. "Believing" in God is like "believing" in the taste of fresh-baked bread without ever having tasted actual fresh-baked bread. But what if you could commune with the Divine Wow through up-close, personal encounters that are as vivid as eating fresh-baked bread? Some people have. You could, too. Formulate the intention to do so.

12. I've got one main religion -- a big-time spiritual obsession -- and 10 other "hobby" religions that I keep going on the side.

To avoid getting set in my ways with my number one, I make it a policy to change its name on a regular basis, as well as to add at least one new principle and one new practice once a month. As of this writing, I'm calling it the Born-Again Pagan Church of Amazed Anarchists. A few weeks ago it was the Magic Order of Educated Rapture, and pretty soon I'm thinking of becoming the Ism-Free Sect of the Love Butter Congregation.

The most recent addition to our ever-growing holy canon is the doctrine espoused by Caroline Myss in her article "In Times Like These" ( "Divine chaos is a course corrector, a way of bringing down the systems that distraction built in order that they can be replaced with systems or structures designed with conscious thought."

As for the latest addition to our ritual practice, we are now deeply committed to learning the spiritual art of spitting into the wind without getting sprayed.

Would you be interested in pursuing this ever-evolving approach?

13. In Judeo-Christian cultures, many people associate the sky with the masculine form of God. According to this bias, the Supreme Father rules us all from on high -- up, away, far from here. But if you were an ancient Egyptian, the sky was the goddess Nuit, her body its very substance. She was a loving mother whose tender touch could be felt with each new breath.

For one day, act as if you and the sky goddess are in constant contact.

14. Neither God nor the gods are dead, but they seem to be disappearing because so few of us are capable of carrying on authentic relationships with them anymore. The materialist delusion rules: Millions believe that nothing's real unless it can be perceived by the senses. Churches and temples are full of ethical people, but many of them have no clue about how to know or feel or converse with the divine intelligences.

What can the deities do, having been banished from our conscious knowing? Jung said they have no recourse but to worm their way into our lives as sickness and pathology. Repressed, they come in the back door.

Which of your maladies or pains might be gods in disguise? How might you get them to take off their masks and begin knocking on the front door?

15. The time: 2003. The place: a New York restaurant. The scenario: A talking carp began shouting at a food preparer who was about to turn it into a meal. The restaurant owner came in to investigate and became a second witness to the event. He determined that the carp was offering religious advice in Hebrew. The New York Times reported the story, and soon a local Hasidic sect was proclaiming the fish's message to be a direct communication from God.

Though many people laugh derisively when they hear this tale, I retain an open mind. The Divine Trickster has appeared to me in equally unusual forms. What about you? Are you crazy enough to listen to the wisdom of a talking carp? If not, what have you got to lose?

16. In Kevin Smith's movie Dogma, pop singer Alanis Morissette played God. Anthony Quinn was Zeus in the TV show Hercules, and comedian George Burns performed the role of God in three movies, always "without makeup," as he bragged. Who would you like to portray God or Goddess in the movie of your life?

17. It came to pass that the Goddess appeared to me in a vision and told me of a rooster who'd soon win a cock fight in rural Maurice, Louisiana. "Bet on Cocky Wizard," she urged, "and you will double your money." "But Shining Lady," I protested, "aren't cock fights cruel and illegal?" And She said unto me, "I will protect you from karmic harm as long as you promise Me that you will donate your earnings to beauty and truth fans who need more money in order to be better servants of pronoia." Obeying Her command, I bet on Cocky Wizard, and just as she predicted, won $30. I gave my winnings to a woman who leads a choir that goes into hospices to sing songs for the dying.

What do you think of my actions? Did I sin, or will my generosity protect me from karmic comeuppance? If you believe the latter, do an analogous experiment.

18. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke urged an aspiring bard to change the way he imagined the Supreme Being. "Why don't you conceive of God as an ally who is coming," Rilke said, "who has been approaching since time began, the one who will someday arrive, the fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? Why not project his birth into the future, and live your life as an excruciating and lyrical moment in the history of a prodigious pregnancy?"

How would your life change if you made this idea your working hypothesis?

19. sought out several supermodels for advice about spirituality. "Buddhists have the best religion," said 6'1", 102-pound Ilize Bergeron. "They don't believe in heaven or hell or God, and they don't pray. Plus, Buddhism is so mysterious that you could probably fool your boss into giving you lots of random days off work for religious holidays. One more thing: It's the trendiest religion out there."

Draw inspiration from Ilize's perspective. Praise the religion or religions you think are best.

20. In The Golden Bough, a historical catalog of magical and religious practices, James Frazer noted that on occasion people have grown exasperated with their god's failure to deliver the desired goods. They may even try to motivate a deity by shaming or abusing him. If the Rain-Bringer has been derelict in his duty, for instance, his statue may be cast out under the hot sun until he shapes up.

A reader sent a letter to the Beauty and Truth Lab about this issue. "After a long stretch of patiently putting up with God's mean-spirited tricks," it read, "I decided I'd had enough. So I fired Him. Now I'm going to create a brand new deity from scratch. Do you have any recommendations on what qualities a truly cool divine being might possess? - The Groggy Awakener"

How would you answer The Groggy Awakener's inquiry?

2I. In some ancient Greek dramas, a god showed up out of nowhere to cause a miraculous twist at a crucial point in the tale. This divine intrusion was referred to as theos ek mechanes, literally "god from a machine," because the symbolic figure of the god was lowered onto the stage by a crane. In modern usage, the term is Latin -- deus ex machina -- and refers to a story in which a sudden event unexpectedly brings about a resolution to a baffling problem.

Write a tale in which you're the beneficiary of such an intervention.

22. A reader named Michael McCarthy wrote to say he plans to start a new religion, the "First Church of the Rude Awakening." It will be based on the principle that having a pleasant life cannot serve as a motivation to seek enlightenment and salvation. McCarthy believes that no one ever bolts up out of bed one morning and says, "I'm so happy, I think I'll go meditate and pray and make myself into a better person for as long as it takes, so I can find God and say thanks."

Disprove this theory. Detonate an epiphany precisely because you're in an excellent mood.

23. In Frederick Buechner's book On the Road with the Archangel, the star is the archangel Raphael. This supernatural helper has a tough gig: gathering the prayers of human beings and delivering them to God. Here's how he describes the range of pleas he hears: "There are prayers of such power that you might say they carry me rather than the other way around. There are prayers so apologetic and shamefaced and half-hearted that they all but melt away in my grasp like sad little flakes of snow. Some prayers are very boring."

Compose a prayer that's so powerful and entertaining that it could thrill an archangel.

24. There is no God. God is dead. God is a drug for people who aren't very smart. God is an illusion sold to dupes by money-hungry religions. God is a right-wing conspiracy. God is an infantile fantasy favored by superstitious cowards who can't face life's existential meaninglessness. APRIL FOOL! The truth is, anyone who says he knows what God is or isn't, doesn't.

Now read Adolfo Quezada's prayer, then confess what you don't know about God. "God of the Wild, you are different from what I expected. I cannot predict you. You are too free to be captured for the sake of my understanding. I can't find you in the sentimentalism of religion. You are everywhere I least expect to find you. You are not the force that saves me from the pain of living; you are the force that brings me life even in the midst of pain."

25. Born in the 14th century, Catherine of Siena was an eccentric religious leader whose power was enhanced by her unusual style. No other woman in the history of the Catholic Church, for instance, has ever asserted that Jesus personally gave her his foreskin to wear as a wedding ring. And no one else has invoked the image of nursing from the breast of Christ, as she frequently did in her writings.

And yet these quirks were in part responsible for her huge following, which in turn provided her with enough political clout to convince Pope Gregory XI to move the papal residence from Avignon back to Rome.

Consider making Catherine of Siena a saint or tulku in your new religion. What other irresistible freaks might you select to be sacred role models?

26. The German word selig can mean "ecstatic," "blessed," or "holy." It implies that profound bliss can be a divine gift; that deep pleasure may generate or come from spiritual inspiration.

The English language doesn't have a term comparable to selig, maybe because our culture regards ecstasy with suspicion. Religious people tend to believe that the blessed are those who are good and kind, certainly not those who are skilled at cultivating rapturous states. People who worship rationality, on the other hand, like intellectuals and scientists, often think of ecstasy as at best an irrelevant state, and at worst a nonproductive or deluded indulgence.

What would you have to do to place yourself in intimate alignment with the values embodied by the word selig?

27. "They say a thing is holy if it makes you hold your tongue," muses a character in John Crowley's fantasy novel Engine Summer, speaking of the difference between his culture and another. "But we say a thing is holy if it makes you laugh."

Is your goofy joy compatible with your yearning for the breakthroughs that make you feel at home in the world? Can your giddiness serve your reverence?

P.S. The English word "silly" comes from the German selig.

28. Once every seven years I undertake a ceremonial journey called "A Pilgrimage to the Sacred Shopping Shrines of North America." It's rooted in the only minimally ironic hypothesis that a sincere seeker can have close encounters with the divine presence anywhere -- even in places that are usually regarded as profane or irrelevant to the spiritual quest.

During one such trip, I enjoyed a three-hour prayer party while trance-dancing with a group of new friends to the accompaniment of 10 African drums under a full moon in the parking lot of an all-night Wal-Mart Supercenter in Louisville.

Another time, I participated in a Platonic Tantric EyeGasm ritual with five yoginis in the cereal section of a Safeway in San Francisco. We gazed into each others' eyes, two-at-a-time, until rapturous blasts of enlightenment erupted.

On a third occasion, while loitering in New York's Neiman Marcus consumer temple, my fellow worshipers and I did Appalachian square dances as we sang Sanskrit hymns from the Rigveda, and taught each other chaotic meditation techniques we'd learned from various fake shamans, and channeled slapstick imitations of dead comedians Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks as if we were entertaining a crowd of bodhisattvas in heaven.

Your assignment: Carry out your own version of a pilgrimage to a sacred shopping shrine.

29. A Serbian beekeeper shares his deep religious fervor with the insects he spends so much time with. Slobodan Jeftic builds beehives shaped like churches because he believes bees have souls, too.

Draw inspiration from his example. Get together with your favorite animals for a rowdy prayer session. Bark or purr or neigh or chirp together. Run around with holy abandon, expressing primal appreciation for the vitality you've been granted. If you're not currently in an intimate relationship with special animals, then take this as an opportunity to elevate and celebrate the consciousness of your own inner creature.

30. A few years ago, astronomers announced the discovery of a shiny red planet-like world orbiting the sun far beyond Pluto. They called it Sedna, a name they said was derived from the Inuit deity that created the Arctic's sea creatures. But the truth about the myth of Sedna is more complicated.

She is the Dark Goddess, embodiment of the wild female potencies that are feared yet sorely needed by cultures in which the masculine perspective dominates. Dwelling on the edge of life and death in her home at the bottom of the sea, Sedna is both a source of fertile abundance and a mysterious prodigy. Shamans from the world above swim down to sing her songs and comb her long black hair. If they win her favor, she gives them the magic necessary to heal their suffering patients.

I suspect the discovery of Sedna is an omen signaling our collective readiness to welcome back the long-repressed influence of the Dark Nurturer. Do you have room for her in your religion?

Here are some further omens, all of which have pronoia embedded in their dark and fertile musings. 1. Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. 2. Spiritual Madness: The Necessity of Meeting God in Darkness, an audio CD by Caroline Myss. 3. The Creative Fire, an audio CD by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. 4. My book The Televisionary Oracle, which can buy or read for free on my site.

31. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, prayer flags are sets of brightly colored sacramental cloths that are inscribed with holy words and images of deities. They're not designed for indoor use in solemn ceremonies, but are hung outside where the wind blows their blessings to the heavens and all over the world.

Interested? Take your spiritual yearnings away from the church and temple and mosque, and beyond all sheltered, temperature-controlled trappings. Build a shrine in the wilderness. Sing a hymn from a mountaintop, shower money on the river goddess, or create your own homemade prayer flags and hang them from a tree.

32. "Women are traps that lay for men everywhere," said Franz Kafka, "in order to drag them into the infinite." If you find Kafka's idea sexist or heterosexist, formulate your own version. One way or another, arrange to get lured or yanked into a bracing experience of boundless possibilities . . . into a delightfully shocking immersion in eternal truth . . . into a whirlwind tour of brain-scrambling beauty. If an amazing man works better, or a thrilling member of an in-between gender, seek that person out. Play hard with the limitless.

33. Thousands of scientists are engaged in research to crack the code of the aging process. Their coming breakthroughs may allow you to live a healthy and vigorous life well into your 90s -- and even beyond.

How can you contribute to this worthy cause? What might you do to promote your longevity? Brainstorm about possible strategies.

And now I drink a toast to your coffin. May it be fashioned of lumber obtained from a hundred-year-old cypress tree whose seed will germinate this year.

34. Let's move on to discuss the possibility that sooner or later, the physical body you inhabit will expire. Your heart will shut down. Blood will no longer course through your veins. The fleshly vehicle you knew as your home for so many years will rot. Is this the ultimate proof, as some people bitterly proclaim, that there is no God and that pronoia is a lie?

I say no. I say that the Creator includes death as an essential part of evolution's master plan. Lifetime after lifetime, our immortal souls take on a series of temporary forms as we help unfold, in our own small ways, the inconceivably complex plot of the divine drama. Each time we die, it's hard and sad to our time-bound egos. But from the perspective of the part of us that has always been and will always be, it's simply part of the epic adventure.

Assume, for argument's sake, that what I've just said is a fact. Describe how different your life would be if you not only believed but perceived the truth that your essential self will never die, but will inhabit many bodies and live many lives on Earth.

35. If you'd like to be a cult member in one of my part-time side-religions, the Flaming Jewel Temple of Living Outside of Time, simply smash a clock or watch with a hammer on the first of February and October every year at exactly 12:22 p.m. your time.

36. In the film Angels in America, the character named Belize describes his vision of heaven. It's not a spotlessly clean gated community where everyone wears white gowns and nothing ever changes. Rather, it's a "big city, overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew, and something new and crooked going up catty-cornered to that. Gusts of gritty wind, and a gray, high sky alive with ravens. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian. Diamond-colored streamers. Voting booths. Dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. All the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers."

Inspired by Belize, vamp and riff on your vision of heaven.