Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, August 06, 2004

Full Disclosure re: God

From time to time I may have need of the phrase: In the Interest of Full Disclosure. Personal data is, I know, the raw meat of blogs--so, too, is the self-referencing of writing a blog, of which I'm currently guilty--but I'm wary of it since, frankly, one can too easily confuse the personal with the interesting. (See "Childish Things" above as Exhibit One.) But who we are affects what we do (are the two really separable?) and so, on occasion, what I say might, in some slight way, be affected by who I am. So, just to make things clear, if I let slip the occasional personal detail, it's not simply a pathetic attempt to make myself appear substantial--you know, as in the way certain people dine out on the same childhood trauma for years: "Yeah, I'm sorry your goldfish died--it reminds me of that time my mother died of cancer when I was three." As if every conversation is a contest and the one with the most misery wins. I mention such details only in furtherance of an argument or in explanation of an attitude.

Anyway--example of trivial personal detail that affects what I may say or do: I am utterly befuddled as to the nature of God. I intuitively believe in Him Her Them It, but as to His Her Their Its nature, I just don't know whether to take a walk or wind my watch. I will say that I think that the only belief system I find dumber than fundamentalism is atheism. The idea that God exists and makes Him- Her- Them- It- self/selves manifest in one and only one way and that there is a corresponding one and only one way to relate to said Supreme Being is just...I mean...are you kidding me? "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me." John 14:6. Well, yeah, sure, but doesn't that mean that we can only come to God through what Christ represents--Love, Mercy, Forgiveness, Gratitude to each other and to God--rather than having to have our head dunked in a metal bowl of water and profess an absolute faith in the divinity of an Irsraeli carpenter? Isn't that the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan--that doing the right thing out of geniune concern for one's fellow man is a hell of a lot more important than praying to God the 'right' way? Note that the Lord's Prayer is pretty darned ecumenical--works if you're Jewish, Christian, Islamic--heck, you could pretty easily graft it on to Buddhism and Hinduism if you wanted. I'm nominally Christian myself. I was raised Episcopalian, which is to say I was brought up in an essentially Godless household--"desultory" would be the word for my religious indoctrination--Christmas was the holiday of Santa Claus and Reindeer and Frosty and--oh yeah, that Baby Jesus guy--with the Wise Men--they were cool! Easter was about coloring eggs and eating enough chocolate to ruin the ham dinner we always at about 3:30 in the afternoon--and what was that about "the harrowing of Hell" and "the Resurrection"? Huh? Don't waste my time, I got Marshmallow Peeps to gobble. But what's bred in the bone, etc., and so I'm instinctively Christian in my spiritual orientation, and since the Episcopal church is the cool one that tolerates gays and lets women be priests and so forth, I'm thinking I'll stick with it, thanks. But this orientation doesn't translate into the conviction that Jewish and Muslim and Taoist people don't get into Heaven, too. I'm pretty sure that good, kind people of every stripe get the big thumbs-up from the Almighty, and the idea that something as vast and beyond the scope of our understanding as God is uni-faceted is just...well, that's just silly. And often scary.

But atheism? Puh-leeze. "There is no God."

"Why not?"

"Because there's no real proof--clearly, the Bible's not real, and the Koran, and the Book of Mormon--it's all just lies. Faith without any proof is just stupidity and fear, and organized religion is just a big money-making scam for power-brokers like the Pope and Oral Roberts. People only believe in God because they're taught to, and I'm not falling for it."

"Fair enough--though lay off the Pope, the poor guy's dying and still he shows up to work every day. That alone merits some slack. But just because all the religions you've examined are inadequate, and many of them are corrupt, how does that prove there's no God?"

"I don't have to prove there's no God--you have to prove there is one."

"Well, existence is a pretty good start. Human consciousness--what are the odds that the universe--that existence itself--would randomly create a part of itself that could look back upon itself, reflect, comprehend, interpret, wonder? Wow, I should really be high to have this conversation."

"But it is all random--Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan said so, and they're smarter than you!"

"Not anymore--they're dead. But I take your point. And in their critiques of blind faith and the dangerous mindsets it creates in dumb or desperate folks, I think they've done a great service to humanity. But Einstein believed in God. So did Newton. Both of them were smarter than Gould and Sagan put together."

"That's just because they were culturally programmed to believe!"

"But weren't Gould and Sagan? It's not as if Christianity or Judaism aren't still part of mainstream culture--or did you miss last year's Christmas parade?"

"Knock off the sarcasm, I'm serious."

"I know--and the way your face turns red is just hilarious."

"Bite me. The point is, look at the state of the world--at the cruelty and inhumanity--at the Holocaust and Cambodia and Bosnia and the Sudan. At AIDS and Ebola and cancer and Parkinson's and ALS. At rape and murder and 9/11. How can you possibly believe in a just and loving God?"

"I didn't say I did. But let's take 9/11--that's sure to ruffle a few feathers. What if, say, you knew--for certain--that every single person who died that day (except for the highjackers, the evil f--kers)--every single one--was now in Paradise, existing in a state of total bliss, and that they would be reunited with their friends and family in that afterlife, and that they would all spend eternity transmutated into perfect love? Wouldn't that, I don't know, take the sting off of things?"

"But what about the pain and suffering here and now?"

"How does 60+ years of misery stack up against uncountable millenia of absolute joy?"

"But there's no proof of this afterlife!!!"

"You're doing that red face again--God, you're cute. But you're right. It's entirely possible that those people died--that all people die--for nothing. In fact, it's quite likely that you're right. Freud makes a good case for humanity's infantile need to create religious faith out of whole cloth in Civilization and its Discontents. (Buy it--read it: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0393301583/qid=1091903768/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/102-5349585-5250505?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 ) But I'm just saying there may be a reason for this suffering we can't fathom. Remember that what looks like suffering to us doesn't equal suffering to God--read Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy (Another cheap plug for the good folks at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0140447806/qid=1091904035/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-5349585-5250505?v=glance&s=books ) ."

"But still--there's no proof, dammit! And why should any suffering be necessary? Why were we created to suffer at all--and don't hand me that noise about the snake and the apple!"

"Can't answer that--and again, it's a strong point. But tell me this--can you account for everything?"

"What do you mean?"

"Everything. Every aspect of existence. Physical, metaphysical, emotional, intellectual--everything that exists on any level of existence, including everything from atomic sub-particles to the universe as a whole. Can you do that?"

"Of course not."

"Then how can you claim with complete and total certainty that there can't be some kind of controlling intelligence behind it all? Maybe not the God of the Bible--maybe not the God of any human's faith or imagination--but some kind of God--some kind of creative force that, as part of that creation, shaped a consciousness in humanity to seek that force out and make contact with it. I reiterate--I really should be stoned for this discussion."

"Why would God do this?"

"I dunno--maybe He's lonely and wants someone to talk to."

"No, uh-uh. No God. Period. I just don't believe it."


"I just don't."


"I. Just. Don't."


"Because when I was seven years old I prayed to God for a Stretch Armstrong and I never got one, OK?!?!?!?!?"

"Well, then, you're stupid, aren't you?"

And, with a slamming of the door, the atheist leaves the room.

I don't pretend to have answered all of the straw-man atheist's objections to the existence of God. (Sagan actually does a really good job on arguing his side of it in The Demon Haunted World : http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345409469/qid=1091904893/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/102-5349585-5250505 ) I'd even be willing to concede--and I do--that evidence does tend to be on the side of No God. But to claim with certainty that something doesn't exist in any form anywhere on any level of existence--um, that's giving humanity's ability to perceive and verify all aspects of that existence a disturbingly awful lot of credit, isn't it? And all we've got is the five senses and a brain that apparently really likes professional sports and movies with explosions in them. Atheists thinks that we're the top rung of existence. Call me a misanthrope, but I just can't go along with that. I'm not talking about Religion--I'm not talking about the efficacy of prayer or life after death or whether the dead will rise from their graves on an unspecified date in the future (you might want to make your plans for that day flexible, if it happens--you know, maybe you don't go to the salon to get your roots tinted just then, is all I'm saying.) I'm not talking, in short, about Religion. I'm just talking about the existence of God. And it seems to me that existence itself is the believer's trump card. For existence to be 'random,' randomness must exist. Randomness can't exist without order, since every condition necessarily includes its opposite. Order cannot be random--since order exists only in its recognition or creation. Since order pre-dated humanity, some form of intelligence existed to create or recognize it--probably both. Given the scale of that order (the universe), we might as well call that intelligence 'God.' Or so it seems to me. Man, I really really REALLY should be stoned to have this discussion.


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