Monday, June 04, 2007

There's not much, if any, hard proof of the existence of a God, at least not enough that most people aren't convinced specifically by it. Theories about God's intentions towards our world are formulated in a way that claims our faith will be more useful if tested by the lack of evidence, and encourage lip service by promising superb penalties. Yet none of us can really be sure, and if indeed God designed us then he knows this about us. Since we have no communication from Him, we have little reason to think that He cares so much whether we are certain in our belief. And again, He should and would know that none of us would ever be completely certain.

Yet the houses of worship that focus on these things have the unfortunate policy of insisting that their attendees claim to be certain of His existence. Since no one is certain, this amounts to insisting that we all lie. And that creates an atmosphere wherein people are never sure when they can be honest and when they cannot.

Lies beget more lies, and in this atmosphere, it becomes difficult to distinguish truths from lies told centuries ago, or even from lies told weeks ago. So many lies and misinterpretations sneak their way in among many wise aphorisms that serve to justify the lot. Many of these writings are useful sometimes, so followers may lose sight of the fact that they are utterly untrue in other scenarios, and try to cultivate a habit of blind obedience. This is not a tactic that fits comfortably into the human psyche, and anyone who employs it, or has it wished upon them, will undergo a lot of torment by it.

Now that we can see, not only how our living world functions, but also how our brains and remarkable bodies do, we no longer need religious answers to our unanswered questions. We can see that there exist morals in terms of the probability of good or bad consequences for different sorts of behavior, so we don't need religion for moral guidance. Yet we can make good use of the centuries of moral and psychological tradition that our houses of worship have evolved. But we must end our insistence upon lying that we are certain that God exists.

I know that some religious leaders claim that failure to express certainty will be punished in hell, and even that failure to attempt to convert the uncertain will also be. But because of the way human brains and bodies work, these claims are the cause of endless misery, and even deaths. Surely it can be conceded that it's at least as likely that God would want us to be happy, mentally healthy, and living, and could forego the conceit of endless adoration so that the billions of minds we have could create something truly amazing, which would glorify Him. As we are we can barely hold our societies together.

And if it really is possible to live a moral life, do good unto others, turn the other cheek, give to charity, and still go to hell for faithlessness, then that's civil disobedience, which, as you know, is totally worth doing and makes you feel better than just about anything else. If God is so self-obsessed that He'll punish good people with the utmost severity just because they didn't bow down to Him, then I'm not sure if I'd feel comfortable worshipping Him. And I'm not the only one who's speculated that hell might just be more tolerable than you'd think, or even better than heaven.

This weekend I attended a panel of atheist authors at the Book Expo, which when addressed with a question about agnosticism, offered arguments intended to prove that God can't exist. One said that if God was good, it was impossible that He would let us go through this disgraceful ruckus and not simply reveal Himself. Another said that Ocham's Razor indicated that there was no Creator. But I found both of these utterly unconvincing, and I'm not even invested in thinking that He does exist, I'm merely aware of the flip sides of both of these logical tricks. Because, as I said, I believe that no one, not even these vocal atheists, feels completely certain whether God exists or not, I find denying it just as dubious, if not quite as destructive, as affirming it.

Yet because most of what our religion tells us to do would be good policy anyway, we can do that part of it without bringing God into it more than He already is. As for the sexism, hetero-normativism, human exceptionalism, and other anti-social trappings, we'll just have to do without them and trust in God to know that we're doing the right things.


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