Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why does there have to be a god?

Phil from Minnetonka asks, "Why does there have to be a god?" in response to this post.

This is a great question for many reasons. For one, concepts god have incredible historical value so far as the shaping of societies and cultures is concerned. It is almost impossible to talk history without at least mentioning how people have responded to what they believed was god.

Another reason it is important has to do with the extreme diversity that exists in current beliefs about god, including theological, political, philosophical, and cultural (and a whole lot more) perspectives.

I am not fool enough to go about proving anything on this blog (or anywhere else) about god. I am not equipped to prove anything. In fact, I would wager no one is capable of proving god. Any arguments that can be made in favor of god, which there are many, can be countered by other arguments exposing the confounding paradox of evil and pain and a loving god - and the debaters end at a stalemate. Often times arguments over god end up being Rorshock tests, merely measuring what is already there rather than talking people into or out of faith.

However, I would make the same wager in the opposite - no one is capable of disproving god either. The paradoxes and mysteries, the evidence and "proof" of no god often end up making a strawman out of god. These arguments crush the strawman and ignore god altogether. Evolution somehow disproving god is one of my favorite strawman arguments, as if god were enclosed within a little 6000 year box.

What is regrettable (and I am guilty of this critique) for believers and nonbelievers alike is the generally little amount of evidence that is needed in order for one or the other to settle and say, "See, I told you so." Lowering the bar on evidence doesn't help anyone. For the believer, defaulting to "I just believe. It's faith," with no further thought required is tantamount to taking their ball and going home. On the other hand, those who do not believe in god cannot just paint all people of faith as mindless idiots or even some benevolent patronizing such as, "they mean well." That's just as bad as the believer's blind faith.

If there is a god, then there must be a sort of elusiveness about him (I use 'him' for convenience and not to gender god) that defies being boxed in either by people who do not believe, but perhaps even more importantly, for the people who do. It is dangerous for people to believe that they are too familiar with god and begin to assert their power against others in his name. Who couldn't name wrongs done in god's name? And to those who can't name any wrongs, please, open your eyes and see how much death and oppression results in people believing they have a lock on god.

Such "people of faith" present a paradox. People who act counter to god's nature (assuming god's nature is love as most major religions do) in their familiarity with him prove only that they are as far away from god as they think themselves to be close. Not only do these people supply those who do not believe with troops of strawmen to tear down to believe they have disproved god, these false believers in fact are worse off of all people, even the nonbelievers they so pity or despise. At least those who do not believe in god are not dishonesty about their unbelief in god. Honesty against god is better then dishonesty for him.

No, it is too dangerous for god to be known in completeness, at least throughout history until now. So, if there is a god, he is not all that easy to find.

And yet, throughout the ages, people ranging from the simplest to the intellectually elite have claimed to find god. People have martyred themselves, sacrificing everything for god. Incredible institutions that benefit all people were established in god's name. Massive medical, educational, artistic, and scientific advances have been initiated or developed in people's sincere pursuit of loving their neighbors and their god.

And yet, facts are facts. But what lies beyond the facts is everything else. As humans we have the capcity to assign meaning, practically any meaning, to the available facts. We might not have the ability to assign Truth (notice the caps) to the facts, but we cannot help but assign meaning to the facts. I think we all strive toward Truth, but arrive at our individual little truths.

Thus, I would challenge that our beliefs inform the evidence and not the other way around. Belief almost always drives the meaning of proof and not the other way around. Everyone thinks that they start at proof and then arrive at belief. I think we are all to one degree or another seduced into this self-deception. Once a person settles on a belief, the proof is merely a mental exercise.

In the end, I think we're all wrong about god. How could we do any better? And yet, there is no shame in being wrong about god. If there is a god and he is good and compassionate and loving, then some sort of rescue from all of our collected ignorances is in order.

I'll cast my lot with the idea that there is a god and try to live my life with god as I understand him as a compass I'd like to get really good at following. The worst I can do is be a good fool. Not bad for a guy like me.


Phil from Minnetonka said...

Great answer. Thought provoking. Same conclusion as me - except in the end I don't believe there is a god. But we agree on everything else. In the end it is just belief.

What I find refreshing about you, Fajita, is that for you, belief does not end the quest for knowledge and fact. For many it does. Which is very unfortunate.

Keith Brenton said...

One of my favorite moments from the latest movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy isn't even in the movie; it got cut. But it shows up in the extras on the DVD: the Guide's entry on God and the parasitic Babel fish (which ingests undecipherable languages and excretes what has been said in the language - and ear - of its host).

There it is revealed that God created a Babel fish so ultimately useful that it proved His existence, therefore destroying the faith upon which His existence depends - so, while running ever faster on an exercise treadmil, He has just enough time to lament "I hadn't thought of that!" before vanishing in a puff of logic.