Friday, December 5, 2014
You Can't Stop God from Reconciling to Anything (An Open Letter to Greta Christina)
One thing saddens me, and it is that we (Believers & Atheists) do not see each other's points-of-view very clearly. We've been arguing for and against the existence of God in our private worlds for a long time now, largely preaching to our own respective choirs. When we actually engage each other the tone is off. I do not know what it is. Probably a lot of Believers are trying to convert You. Probably some Atheists are, too. But I do want to stand for at least one position: our Conversation here is Interesting, and can be productive. Quite independently of whether or not you think the question leads to one conclusion or the other, just in the chat there is substance. Eventually, if we approach this conversation in the right spirit we could stand to learn a lot about ourselves as Humans. We are all, after all, Humans. And it is interesting that we are having an ages-long debate about God's existence. Would prove to be a pretty epic piece of the story of humanity, just that we had debated this concept at all -- either way.
I like hearing about Faith vs. Atheism. I enjoy the back-and-forth. What I don't enjoy is that tone. When one side just assumes that everything which can be said, has been said, and everyone else needs to accept defeat -- it just seems like a counterproductive attitude to bring into the debate. Greta Cristina, in this article, is ready for the question to be decided, based on what I think is a very slim approximation of her opponent's side. She does an excellent job pointing out that Nature is full of deformities, full of cruel riddles and bizarrely designed (if designed) body parts. But she makes a quite common mistake of assuming that opponents cannot possibly have known about this, or considered it, and that therefore there is no theology to answer it. I was once confronted on an online forum with a similar question - if God exists, why anencephaly? It is a heart-wrenching question, on the face of it; there are many questions like it in theological studies, and always these questions provoke our sense of justice about suffering. Surely no good, omnipotent God would allow x, y, and z to happen! But you see, by no means is this where Christian argument has ceased its questioning. This is not an end-point, but a beginning point, where a whole, rich world of the philosophy of suffering begins. It is a felt philosophy, and has provoked many great books, one of which, that I dearly love to recommend, is A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.
In the article I just linked to you from Greta Cristina, she has listed "4 Reasons that 'God Made Evolution Happen' makes no sense." I think I'll take them one at a time, so everybody might want to read her original post too. Ms. Cristina, I'll now switch to direct address format. I am pleased by the way to make your acquaintance. Thanks for making me think and write! Let's begin.
1. "But in evolution, there is no direction."
Ah but, might I suggest, in evolution, there is connection. An overwhelmingly interconnected, biological and chemical mess (I'm giving you that word, there mess). With all the same rush and reverence you might experience if you fell down Alice's rabbit hole, try to look at Nature and deny that the Connection itself is whole and sublime, and something higher than direction itself. God is in the wiring, you see. "Evolution is all about the immediate present and the very near future," I get it. Evolution is all about The Now, in other words. In deeper Christian philosophy, I would say that is also where God is said to be located. Random Chaos? Hey that's right up His alley! One hundred thousand quirks? Yeah, that sounds like His address.
2. "There's not a scrap of evidence for it."
You see, this is what I was talking about earlier. "Without dying in childbirth?" No, God has not obligated himself to such parameters. If you imagine the Web of Life itself, that bio-chemical yet mystical interconnectedness, you will understand that the concerns of a single individual for more or less pain, more or less illness, more or less misfortune, are by no means the deciding factors in "the plan of God" if you can conceive of such a thing existing. For the Web of Life itself is quite lively, and pulsating, and even when the Earth experiences a major extinction event (like it may do soon), life Itself goes on, and on, and on. And I daresay when the Earth herself dies Life may still yet go on. Life Itself, you see, according to the best definitions, is precisely what exists as the core of God. God is the sentience and interconnectedness of all Life. I don't have to be significant to the plan of the Universe for God to exist. In fact, its probably better if I see myself as profoundly insignificant. Rather than looking for a God who behaves as a genie, look for a God with an indomitable will and a profound imagination and a real zest for doing the job erratically and eccentrically, and there's evidence a-plenty.
I mean, the Universe itself doesn't actually exist you know.
3. The Evidence Against
Yes, the vagus nerve likes to take its time and so does the vas deferens, especially if you are a giraffe. I like that bit, but half-assed? You have to admit its all interesting, at least. And we're having this conversation spanning centuries about whether or not God did it. Your criteria was, "God is supposed to care" if an individual is comfortable or happy. Well no, technically God is not supposed to do anything. Stop telling God what to do! I am sorry it is all a bit gory and grotesque at times but as Life continues to go onward and as we are all here for one another knowing that we all are going to die, and some of us suffer, it helps to reach out sometimes, to the Supreme Intelligence which some of us very much feel in the Connection of Everything. And does He answer? Well, see, conditions for Life sure could be a lot worse. I am grateful that they are not. I am grateful for all the persons and places I love, and for their health, and I hope it all continues. My faith is, by and large, concerned with the immediate present and the very near future. Somewhere in the core of me is some DNA which is highly connected to all the other carbon in the Universe, and it is hopefully making split-second decisions to benefit 'me' as my mysterious 'consciousness' experiences myself. To quote Kevin Flynn, "Bio-digital jazz, man." Or maybe that's all scientific language for the justification for prayer. Have you conceived of prayer as participation with God rather than petitioning from God? That would go with equating God less with direction and more with connection. What if words themselves were powerful? What if intents were even more so? What if the Universe could be shown to be malleable in the face of your psychic involvement? The only laboratory in which God has ever consented to prove Himself is in the laboratory of the Human Heart. But billions have found it proved there. Some have not, I know. Most of the New Atheists used to be Christians, and prominent in their churches. But what are the constants in a faith experiment? For many people, there are more constants in a faith experiment than there are constants in life. A bad church can be a pretty bad detriment to a faith experiment, and I think most Christians today acknowledge that there are a lot of bad churches. To really begin a fresh look at the subject with the humble and open heart which is required, my best recommendation is a long time spent alone, in Nature, in silence. This should truly be a central experience for having these sorts of discussions go a step further.
4. Now the real meat. Is God brutal? Calloused? Malignant? Is that who I am arguing for? No, not at all, God does care, but I wish you would allow yourself the bigger picture. Religion teaches that there is a body and there is a physical world, and that there is suffering a-plenty, but that the lives we live out here in pain and misfortune are reversed hereafter. Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man shows how this was reversed for the case of one rich man and one poor man. Lazarus lived his life in squalor and neglect outside the rich man's house. In the afterlife it was the rich man who desperately craved charity and respite while Lazarus had it all. And if you're reeling right now because I just tried to argue that God is not brutal by bringing up the possibility of Hell, then you're not paying close enough attention. The philosophy of hell is also a nice, long rabbit hole to go down sometime when you feel like doing theology, but it requires a lot of heart. I largely see Hell not as something God created and throws us into to punish us, but as something that God is swallowing up and redeeming, barring entry to, ransoming from and emptying and rescuing us from. What I am trying to do is give you the bigger picture. There would also be Heaven to discuss, for example. Or the possibility of multiple incarnations. Does it all even out in the end? Will we look back and say, "That was all worth it?" Well, isn't that where Faith comes in? Because we don't know, do we? I don't, and neither do you. Judgment Day is kind of like the pair of dice we are all waiting to see what number it lands on.
I am sorry that for you religion is so divorced from reality. But I sincerely suggest to you, that you have not yet plumbed religion's depths. Or, for that matter, reality's. And more research is necessary, so let's not can the debate just yet.
KiJjiT the FoX
P.S.: In case you didn't like my answer, here's a much better one.