Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Believe in God

"The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank". - Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook a while back. That and Voltaire's quote "If God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent Him*" got me to thinking. Why do I believe in God?

This blog post is mainly for me, to sort out a few things in print and put it out where it is public. It is not intended as a challenge, nor as proselytizing. Many of the blogs I read (because the writers care about people, about justice, about health care and decent wages, about good education and adequate pensions, about workplace safety) are written by people who are declared Atheist or Agnostic, with one Apatheist. I don’t blame them for their non-belief.

They, by and large, escaped from authoritarian fundamentalist “Christian” organizations. Trust me, I don’t believe in the God these organizations represent either. Theirs is a political God used to enforce positions of power. A God who hates women, people of colour, the poor, the sick, the powerless, the gay. A God who loves war, money, and (mainly) white males. In a bait and switch tactic, billed as a God of love and forgiveness, but delivered as a God of fear and guilt. No thanks.

At least they could escape, sometimes with loss of their family, support system, community, sometimes with nothing more than “phone calls from their mother”. There are other religions where one is lucky to escape with their life. Their God hates women with a passion and everyone else too that doesn’t fully subscribe their very narrow definitions of “Godly”. Again, a political God, used to enforce power positions. No thanks.

Part of the problem of believing in God is that we think too small. We look for some kind of Zeus, a human-like being with super powers. Michelangelo’s God. God is often pictured, though likely unknowingly by the speaker, as an angry old man, peering down through a knothole at the world and pounding his fist in anger if he sees a bare patch of skin or people having a good time. I can't prove God exists in any "scientific" manner and if I could then it really wouldn't be a God I would want to believe in anyhow. Too small.

Being trained in the sciences, I am well aware of the many "natural laws" that govern physics, chemistry, biology, life itself. The whole universe pretty much operates on its own, following all these natural laws. Where there are laws, there must be a law giver. All else can and does follow as a consequence of these laws. I have to admit that as science traced the origins of the current universe back multi-billions of years to the split second at which it began, that on the other side, they would find the only explanation was God. I should have known better. Too small.

Stephen Hawking's latest book, “The Grand Design”, which I haven’t read yet, explains how the Universe came into being without a creative moment as we would understand it. That makes God bigger than Steven Hawking and that takes some doing as Hawking likely has a better grasp of what exactly is infinity than any one. Now we know that the universe is finite, we need a new measure to try to imagine infinity. Trying to get my mind around infinity hurts as it doesn't quite stretch that far.

Eternity is another word that is too big to measure. God is eternal. How long is eternal? Longer than the age of our current universe at any rate. (Apparently Heaven and Hell are supposed to be eternal, too. That scares hell out of me. Not the Heaven and Hell part, the eternal part. I cannot imagine doing anything eternally. I mean, imagine living in Hawaii, waking up and looking out the window “Damn, another nice day” and playing two more rounds of golf. For eternity…)

Most of the reasons I believe in God are pretty simple and selfish. When I am thankful and I so often am, for life in general and some things in particular, I need someone to thank, so I thank God. When I wake up at night and worry about friends and loved ones who are far away or with problems I can’t deal with, I leave them with God. I also thank people and I also help people but “knowing” there is a God, makes things much less complicated and eases my mind.

I like to think there is Someone in charge of the universe, of this earth and of everything in it; that life has a purpose. I am not sure what in charge means, certainly not day to day operation and manipulation but maybe a plan of some kind. Humans evolved to the top of the food chain through the functioning of natural laws over a long period of time. Whether it was preprogrammed into the system or occurred randomly is neither here nor there. I prefer preprogrammed. Others can disagree. Like the existence of God, it cannot be proven either way. One is Who and Why, the other is How.

But the things humans do to each other, (never mind what the earth can do to humans; as I write this, NZ is dealing with results of a 6.3 earthquake in the Christchurch area) it is easy to dismiss God for allowing these things to happen, since God obviously doesn’t love creation. Without the existence of an over all long term (eternal) plan, life would be pretty horrible to contemplate and one wonders why people continue to reproduce, struggle to exist, etc. Other than I guess that is programmed in as well. So I believe there is a plan. And maybe even justice somewhere some time, somehow.

I like to think and that there is something beyond the grave for all life – humans, cows, dogs, trees, flowers. They are all alive, they all have life. When one shuts off a car engine, nothing changes except there is no longer a spark. No electricity flows to the plugs, nor to the controls system. The car is dead. I like to think that life does not stop at the time of death on earth. Not just human life but all life, plant and animal. That the spark which is life came from God and goes back to God. What happens to it there is unknowable.

This is pretty long and rambling so I am going to leave it. I have several short essays, written over the years, of things I believe, things I value, my philosophy of life as it were. Interesting to go back and reread them and see what changes and what does not. And I refuse to think about infinity or eternity, other than Tanya needs infinite patience as I take an eternity to get ready to go when she is ready (and of course vice versa).

*I apologize for using the male pronoun Him in reference to God. That was simply the quote. We need a better pronoun to describe God, who is not a He nor a She. God should be referenced accurately in English as IT (neither male nor female) but some will say that demeans God. Really? Then the fact that we say "he, she, it" in that order would mean that God is also demeaned if referred to as She. The implications of that are quite disgusting.


  1. I see what you were referring to when you said writing is hard work. You put some time and effort in writing this.

    You mentioned studying science. As you know I studied science as well as engineering and what I saw is that laws have a lawgiver and design has a designer.

  2. I think it would always be a struggle to write why one has faith. That's the nature of faith--it's ineffable. It's either there or it isn't. It's not the sort of thing you talk people into or out of. Although it is interesting.

    One of the only religious arguments I've ever gotten into (not counting the ones where I'm talking to Earth-Is-6,000-Years-Old people) was one in front of the local Scientology Centre. The recruiter wanted me to take a personality test and started his spiel with "don't you ever wonder why you're here and what life is all about?" I said, "No." Then he argued with me for minutes because he couldn't accept that.

  3. Your reasoning for not believing in the Gods of organizations lines up right with mine. Too much damage done and too high a possibility for damage in the future.

    It is interesting that you seek to know why you believe in God, yet refuse to think about infinity and eternity. Might it be that when one understands any of the three, they understand all?

    Now that you have thrown a new pigeonhole word at me that may describe my leanings on matters of God, I am once again troubled and concerned that I may have been backing the wrong horse all these years. Apatheist - I looked it up and found Apathetic Agnogticism. Of course my apathy kept me from caring for too long.

    Each of us gather tools that will help with our voyage through this life. In my mind, it is not so important what tools we choose, just that we respect the right to pick our own.

    Nice essay Blog Fodder. Clearly written and yet lets the reader know and even feel some of the turmoil of a man trying to know himself better.

  4. Followed over from Violet's blog.

    That pretty well sums up my thoughts on the matter, written much better then I ever could.

    I also like how you put the "spark of life". The way I see it though, that spark is not only FROM God, but is OF God. So each of us are part of God. Treating people with kindness, striving for equality and justice, being with and learning from people -- for me these are all ways of respecting and "worshiping" the God. Being in a welcoming church community can also be meaningful when it allows you to reach and support other people. But it's not necessary, although I find community of some sort to be so for me.

    Anyway, Thanks.

  5. I thank God because one month ago, four members of my family were in Christchurch, New Zealand - standing in some structures that no longer exist - and now they are safe and sound here.

  6. DC, thanks. It was indeed a great deal of effort. and yes, good point, laws imply a plan or a design, else why the laws?
    Murr, Do the Scientologists and Earth-is-6000-years-old fall in the same group of loonie tunes? All I know about Scientology is Tom Cruise and you can't bad mouth them or you end up in court.
    Mike, thanks, and you can thank Murr for the new pigeon-hole word.
    MD&B, thanks for dropping by. The problem with a "welcoming church community" and why many of us have abandoned it is that they are run by and for the people who brought you the "God" described in my third para and who demand total obedience because they (and ONLY they) speak for God.
    Insub, isn't it nice to have Someone to thank? I imagine you and they will be thankful for a long time for that.

  7. Nicely done!

    For another take on being thankful, this is lovely.

  8. It's not just fundamentalist religions that use their belief system to enforce positions of power. Doesn't every belief system try to enforce a system of power? Even those that appear to promote equality? They ultimately end in inequality because they privilege systems that appear to promote equality and disparage (and thus make unequal) the belief systems that choose inequality.

    Then, there are people who pervert existing belief systems that are based in human equality (e.g. in Christianity, all people are sinners in need of salvation) to reinforce power systems that will give privilege to their particular socioeconomic group (e.g. those who choose to make levels of sin in Christianity that excludes certain groups, such as homosexuals or the 'unworthy' poor, from politic and economic power).

    I suppose this is why I believe in God: because I know that we live in a thoroughly imperfect world and that we are thoroughly imperfect people--but we still have a concept of perfection and justice. It must have come from somewhere.

  9. I would agree that some (most) church communities demand obedience and one way of looking at God. I'm fortunate enough to be part of a community that sees itself as one way, but not the only way. I can question, I can believe differently then the majority, and that's ok. I can even not believe is some of the basic tenants of Christianity. It doesn't shut me out of the community.

    I'm also proud of the fact that our church has opened our doors to the local Muslim congregation, who worships in our church on Friday. Not because we want to convert them, but because they have a need and because in the greater view there really isn't any difference.

  10. PN, nice video though why it was "x-rated" i don't understand.

    Ky, You make a good point that it isn't just organized religion that uses its belief system to enforce positions of power. Political systems the same etc. I liked very much CS Lewis "Mere Christianity" which your rationale for believing in God reminds me of.

  11. MD&B, sounds like a unique community. and sharing a building with Muslims because they need a place to worship is pretty top flight in my books. Both Islam and Christian holy books contain a fair number of statements that need to be, and are, ignored by moderates who believe, as you do, in "Treating people with kindness, striving for equality and justice, being with and learning from people".

  12. Insub: I'm glad your relatives are fine. But, don't you see how thanking an infinitly powerful god who chose to rescue your relatives is insulting to the people who lost friends and family? You have to come up with some pretty intersting rationale to explain away that 'choice'.

    Ky: You have accurately described the conondrum of the 'liberal' (not the political party) attitude compared to the 'conservative'. If group A thinks that everyone should be free to live as they like and group B thinks that only people like themselves can decide how others can live, you have a problem.
    Group B will seek to annihilate group A at all costs, through laws, indoctrination, or violence. If group A wants to live out their ideals, they have to accept that they are putting themselves at risk of group B. There is room for B people to live as they like with the As, but there is no room for As according to the Bs.
    Self-preservation dictates we must have some B tendencies. Empathy allows us to have some A characteristics. That tension will always exist.

    Also, the moral law argument does not necessarily point to a god. Survival depending on cooperation will also provide humans and other animals with a moral code.

    BF: The Abrahamic religions do contain beautiful entreaties to be kind. They also have horrific parts to them. The extremists argue that the moderates are ignoring those parts of the scriptures and 'watering down' god's whole message.

    Both groups conveniently ignore the parts they don't like, but at least the moderates are honest about it.

  13. Anon. How hard is it o either sign your name or think up a nom de plume?

    If you read my post you would understand the question you put to Insubordinate. No rationale is needed at all. Just thanks for how it worked out. Stop thinking small.

    And you are totally correct in your assessment of liberal vs conservative, A vs B.

  14. I am a dog of small brain, and big concepts puzzle me.

    I'll have to think about this. I'll consult with Bear when he comes out of hibernation.

  15. Anon: I cannot buy that the co-operative instinct for survival is enough to explain consciousness of morality. Why, then, does the moral choice repeatedly conflict with the survival instinct?