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Authors portray a different type of God

Meet God the cosmic bellhop: Check in for a short stay with a divine being who will help you with the mortgage and intercede with your boss. You can pray to him when you're broke and praise him when your lottery ticket is a winner.

Or how about God as Little Mary Sunshine: Don't worry, be happy. More friendly than Mr. Rogers, more sunny than Doris Day, the Eternally Smiling One will take care of everything for you.

If you think these descriptions of the divine are a bit silly, then you are on the same wavelength as Rabbi Jack Bemporad and Michael Shevack, authors of the new book Stupid Ways, Smart Ways to Think About God (Triumph Books).

The book was written primarily for people alienated from religion by unrealistic portrayals of God as either too all-promising or too wrathful _ "the Marquis de God" in the terminology of Bemporad and Shevack, an advertising executive.

Going back to the beginning of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, the authors contend that to develop a more helpful way of understanding God, one must remember that God made man in the divine image, not the other way around.

"Bottom line: What it means to be religious is to know one's place in the scheme of things," Bemporad said in an interview.

Mixing humor and theology, Bemporad, director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., calls the book "my little Trojan horse" to people turned off by organized religion.

The problem, he said, is not that people are not religious.

"By nature, people believe too much, if anything," he says. "The real problem is what they're taught is so stupid."

Thus, if people are taught that God will give them anything if they pray hard enough _ God the cosmic bellhop _ people will become disillusioned by the realities of failed dreams in everyday life.

Or if people have an image of "God the macho man," women and others who do not believe in the image of God as "a lean machine, hard-nosed, muscle-bound, pumped with steroids and ready for action" may give up on religion.

In discarding what the authors call "stupid" ways to think about God in the first part of the book, Bemporad said he and Shevack also were telling the religiously unaffiliated that "we reject all the things they reject."

In the second part of the book, they turn their attention to "smart" ways of thinking about God: God as the creator, God as personal and real and everlasting.

"Smart ways of thinking about God should allow us to experience not only God but also the meaning and purpose of our lives, the lives of others and everything that makes up the miracle of existence," Shevack and Bemporad write.

The authors do not claim to have all the answers, but they maintain that if one believes in God, God must have real consequences in the lives of people, from the way they treat their families to whether they cheat on taxes or practice charity toward others.

All it takes for a "free lifetime membership in his spiritual health club" is to stop being so obsessed with ourselves and to look to God, to a place where hope is offered as an alternative to sin.

From the authors' point of view, everyone starts out with a stupid way of thinking about God.

Materialistic people see a materialistic god, and egotistical people see an egotistical god.

But they say that with a little effort and a lot of honesty, people can let go of stupid ways of thinking about God and begin the spiritual journey of glimpsing the true God.

Or, as Shevack and Bemporad begin their search, "Will the real God please stand up?"

David Briggs has reported on religion for the Associated Press since November 1988. Briggs received his master's degree from Yale Divinity School in 1985.

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