Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Helicopter God

There is a relatively new term making the rounds in parenting circles (and discussions):  helicopter parent.  This describes a mom or dad who hovers around their child, always watching, whether needed or not, and who swoops in to rescue their child at the first sign of trouble.

While this is apparently a growing phenomena, it is also one that's being (rightly, I believe) criticized.  Firstly, if a parent hovers too closely to their child that child is constantly recieving the message that they aren't to be trusted.  This isn't the intent, of course, but it is the result.  "You need me to be watching over you," is the message that the behavior itself is sending.  "You're not safe/strong/smart/something enough to handle the world on your own."  This is not, as you can imagine, the kind of message we want to be giving our children if we want them to grow up as strong, independent adults.

The second problem with this parental approach is like unto the first -- if the parent always swoops in to save the day whenever there's the slightest problem, the child has no opportunity to learn problem solving skills for her or himself.  They'll always be looking for someone else to do things for them, waiting to be saved from every predicament.

This morning one of my children asked me to help him do something.  Actually, to be more accurate, he asked me to "help" him by doing it for him.  I told him that he could do it himself and made sure that he really did understand how.  And then I let him do it.  When he asked me why I didn't help him I told him that I had, and that now he'd not only done it but also knew he could do it himself and didn't need to wait on me to do it in the future.  This doesn't mean that I never "help" him by doing things for him; I just want to make sure that he learns how much he's capable of doing on his own.

It strikes me that a lot of so-called "religious" folks have the idea of a helicopter God.  This "God" they imagine is always hovering around, always watching, and ready to swoop in at a moment's notice.  Of course, this isn't what people actually experience most of the time, but it's what they seem to expect.  Let's unpack that last line a little bit.

When, as the saying goes, bad things happen to good people lots of folks turn their faces skyward and shout, "Why?!?!?!?"  They wonder why God isn't "answering their prayers" -- by which they mean "fixing this problem in the way I want it to be fixed."  Essentially, people are asking their "God" why God isn't helping them, by which they mean  "doing it for them." 

This is what turns a lot of people off from the very idea of "God," that their experience of living suggests that if there is such a thing as a "God" she/he/it is doing a really lousy job.  Why is there so much suffering in the world?  Why aren't my prayers being answered?

But what if God were more like a parent than we'd like to admit?  This, of course, is all metaphor and analogy because whatever God might be God isn't really like anything we can conceive of.  The inconceivable is just that -- inconceivable.  But still, throughout time and across cultures people have imagined the divine as parent . . . and what if that metaphor has some real truth to it?

Well, then, wouldn't a helicopter God be just as bad as a helicopter parent?  Wouldn't God's children be receiving the message that they aren't to be trusted?  And wouldn't they have a hard time learning how to fix their own problems and clean up their own messes? 

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is remembered as saying, "Which of you [parents], if your child asks for a fish will give a snake instead?  Or if you're asked for an egg, would give a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God do for you?"

If God "is" a parent, then God is the greatest, most perfect parent possible.  And a helicopter parent is just not an example of perfect parenting.

In Gassho,

RevWik Print this post


plaidshoes said...

Really liked this post. Well said.

Robin Edgar said...

"This, of course, is all metaphor and analogy because whatever God might be God isn't really like anything we can conceive of. The inconceivable is just that -- inconceivable."

And just who said that God is inconceivable? God quite obviously is conceivable in that God has in fact been conceived in numerous ways for several millennia, indeed numerous people have described direct personal experience of God of one variety or another, not the least of these persons of inherent worth and dignity being Jesus and other Biblical prophets. . .

And then there is rather more modern figure who claimed to *know* God exists, as opposed to simply believing in God, Carl Gustav Jung. . .

RevWik said...

Hi Robin,

I haven't heard from you in a while.

I don't at all suggest that people don't/can't have experiences of God, nor would I ever say that God doesn't exist. As you certainly know well, when you've had an encounter with the Divine you don't just believe, you know.

Yet the vast majority of the mystics I've ever studied have agreed that God is not, strictly speaking, conceivable -- that God is too large, too great, too loving, too whatever to be limited by our human ability to conceptualize. "The tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao," as Lao Tzu said.

Thomas Aquinas famously said, "Si comprehendis, non es deus" -- if you understand it, it's not God. Yet perhaps "indescribable" would be a better word to have used?

"This, of course, is all metaphor and analogy because whatever God might be God isn't really like anything we can capture in human language. The indescribable is just that -- indescribable."

Muslims have 99 names for Allah, and a 100th which is mystery. Jews sometimes translate the name of God as "the Name that cannot be named."

This has been my experience, as well. What I have encountered is beyond my ability to describe . . . except in metaphor and analogy.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful collection (collections) of thoughts. Thanks for making it a great day! And yes, I love that God is invisible, yet powerful. It's my own paradox. Or perhaps just a pair o' ducks. The Buddha saw beauty in a lake, the reflection of a moonbeam.....So true, everything. Thanks. Second time at this blog. Really neat. Helicopter God. Humourous.....Like a koan over Black Tea in Asia in 1999. Omin. In a world of revisions, a nice real blog is good to have near. Cheers.