God

I considered, at first, that I could write for a long time with a heading like this. But I don’t have to.

I’ve tried saying “I don’t believe in God” out loud a few times, and it doesn’t seem to take. Certainly I didn’t fare very well when I tried to actively disbelieve in the existence of God–I may never survive another stunt like that. However, I’ve tried saying “I believe in God” out loud as well, lately, and it doesn’t take either. So I’m not sure that I really believe the words that are coming out of my mouth when I say either of those things.

It is not just that I am unsure whether there is a God, but that I am unsure what we are even talking about. This being noted, perhaps I am some kind of an ignostic.

Who, or what, is God?

The $64,000 question is not whether there is a God. It is whether we can know God, and moreover, whether there is anything we can do about it. I have almost total doubt and disbelief when it comes to those things.

I have no problem believing generally in God. The world is elaborate, vast, complex, and full of sentient beings who have conscious experiences. Most importantly, it exists. That has often been enough for me. If there is no mind at the bottom of the universe, how is it that the universe produces all these little minds? That would seem to suggest that we got more in the effect than we had in the cause (an argument put forth by apologist Peter Kreeft that I always found somewhat compelling). And in any case, there has to be some explanation for what all this stuff is. But when you start to dig a little deeper, it becomes more tenuous.

Do we suppose that God is a being that is conscious of himself in the same way that we are conscious of ourselves? That is almost impossible by definition. Many people seem to talk about God as if he is a “big person,” someone who gets angry, makes decisions, thinks about things–but this is impossible. It is impossible because all the human characteristics that we ascribe to God arise from limitations that God is not supposed to posses. I almost do not feel the need to explicate my position on this; I think it is clear that if there is a God, this God is so totally beyond our comprehension that we have no business engaging in this infantile behaviour of bargaining with him, guessing his will (“aw, God was just trying to tell me to stay behind for the rest of summer camp!”), and so forth. No such “big person” God can exist; it is just not possible for such a God with those characteristics to be the same God who created the very universe in which such behaviour manifests itself.

Before I go too far down this road, however, I must reiterate that I do not believe this is the real question. The real question is whether the God of one of the world’s major religions is the God who made the world. And here I think we get into trouble.

If we forget, for a moment, that I see all these serious, insurmountable issues with Christianity, we nonetheless have this problem: God either has revealed himself through a religion, he has hidden himself altogether, or he does not exist at all. My logic is as follows:

– Hiding yourself altogether is kind of the same thing as not existing.

– It seems hard to believe that God would create the world and then hide himself. But we know that if God exists, he has hidden himself from everyone at some time, because there was a long period of time where no humans believed in any of the current religions. So if there is a God, we are dealing with a God who does not particularly care that the world know about him. There’s no way around this at all. It is impossible for a God to exist who wants most people to know who he is.

– Not only does God not care whether most people know about him, but he does not communicate with people who try to find him. I know this because I prayed for my whole life, and I just saw the back of my eyelids, and nothing happened at all; not even with my amazing ability to weave past events into a coherent narrative. I still pray a bit sometimes (what about it? Who are you going to send, the doublethink police?), and nothing continues to happen (which is why I don’t do it very often). So maybe God talks to you, but he doesn’t talk to me and he doesn’t talk to most people.

– If God exists, he hid himself from most people who ever lived, and then he doesn’t remotely communicate with, or give any direction to, most of the people who believe in him (even if the biggest religion, Christianity, is true). He forces them to make post-hoc rationalizations about everything and invent stories to explain why he’s behaving this way. What exactly does one do about that?

The Christian God purposefully expresses his intention to blind people and prevent them from seeing him. I think if that’s the way it’s going to be, we should really just give up. When people tell you to keep on seeking, they don’t often mention that if God’s hand is over your eyes, there’s no getting it off.

But enough of these snide remarks. My point is simply this: I want to believe in God, generally speaking. In fact I am quite inclined to think there must be a God, when I look around me. But as soon as I start to add anything to that–ascribing characteristics to him, or wondering what I should do about it–there is an almost impenetrable dead end. No God that I can invent, in my mind, fits with this world that I see around me, when I look at it closely.

For this reason, I see no reason to argue too much about the general “existence of God,” because as impressive as the universe is, we must have some idea of what we are talking about in order to argue about it. Believers often try to blindside unbelievers by pointing out reasons to “believe in God,” when the only important question is “which God?” (when I was in school, there was an annual musical comedy show called “Skule Nite” put on by the engineers–one of the skits began like this, with a questioner stating belief in God, and a person coming on stage and asking: “Which God?” at which point the curtains swung open and a big song began about shopping for a God to believe in, at the “God Mart”).

If one is to speak strictly, I could be called all sorts of things other than agnostic.

I am a theist in the sense that I believe in something. I am agnostic in the sense that, for any given something, I do not know if that something is there. And I am an atheist in the sense that no matter what may be out there, none of it has any discernible involvement with me.

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3 Responses to “God”

  1. wabasso Says:

    I think that’s how I’ve been using the term agnostic. I thought that’s what it meant. I assume that most people just see agnosticism as wishy-washy, and that’s good enough for me. Anyone is welcome to inquire further.

    I can see why running these thought experiments and not being able to get anywhere can be frustrating. That being said, it sounds like we’re quickly approaching equilibrium in our religious beliefs (through different means, no doubt). So why doesn’t it bug me that the concept of God is completely nebulous, yet it bugs you?

    For myself I’ll say that there are a lot of things I don’t understand. Usually it is because I haven’t had the time, motivation, or capacity to pursue understanding of a given topic or notion. Since there are so many things I know nothing about, God is just one more increment to an infinite list.

    Also I agree it certainly seems to have no effect on our lives which God we believe in. It is hard to care about something that just doesn’t interact with the universe.

    (I revised the last paragraph a couple of times and I’m still not happy with it. The notion of God has an effect on the universe, but that’s not what I mean. I enjoyed believing in Harry Potter, but that’s not what I mean. God is just…ineffectual.)

  2. I have gotten some places. But that’s another discussion.

    I’ve had the time and inclination to delve into certain things–this is obviously among them. And that’s when the impenetrable confusion (and silence) becomes troublesome to me. Nobody is troubled by the confusion and senselessness of something that they haven’t troubled themselves over.

    A caveat regarding the apparent lack of God in the universe – I didn’t mean to suggest that believing in God is ineffectual. Certainly I don’t think that.

  3. I didn’t mean to suggest it was ineffectual to have the belief either, and I know you didn’t. I mean that any God I can imagine, using the logic in your post, doesn’t physically do anything. So it doesn’t bother me whether God exists or not, and it doesn’t bother me that I don’t know.

    I can see how this is one of many items that presents a challenge to someone who has bothered to think about it deeply. Definitely a discussion for another time!

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