Tuesday, November 27, 2007

God Stuff

God fits very awkwardly into my life. I suppose this may be attributable in the minds of some to my failure to fully surrender , or some other such religious nomenclature. Whatever the reason for this awkwardness, God is a constant source of discomfort for me, and in spite of myself, I have not been able to ditch him. I hear people talk about how hard faith is: this is a novel concept for me. While it is hard for me to take certain aspects of different scriptures on faith, and others I accept with nuance, I have always found myself believing there is a God, and however unfathomable the mind of God is, my belief remains, although the particulars of the belief are absent. I think that is where I think the discomfort arises. There are so many different ways of expressing God out there, and all seem dependant upon the makeup of the person doing the expressing. I can't claim any special revelation. When I hear something about God that makes sense, I say to myself, 'that sounds right.' and bring it along with me.

If God created us, surely there is some built-in God recognizing device, either in our soul or our bodies, because the perception of God is assuredly not a rational endeavor*. My emotions are unreliable, and all over the place. My reason has nowhere to go when it comes to God. The only thing I can see that would bind me to one holy book or the other is the fear of hell, or promise of heaven, and motivations in that direction strike me as cynical. No Pascal's wager for me.

There is a thing inside me that tells me what is right, and what is wrong. Most of the time I can apply reason to these things to discover why they are right and wrong, but it is always a case of me working backwards from my conclusion to get the answer. There is no fooling this device, and even when I come up with good rationales for bad behavior, this little device knows what I am full of. I think it's from this place that my belief arises.

I have read all of the current slew of so-called 'neo-atheist books', by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, and Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens's book was the most fun to read, Sam Harris's was the most convincing. His [Harris's] strongest argument, in my opinion, was that allowing yourself to believe things without evidence leads you to a place where you can commit violence without reason. I concede this point, although it does nothing to disprove the existence of God. Hitchens's best argument was that religion offers so much neurosis to children, and leads to unnecessary time wasted as we grow up reconciling with or battling the demons created by our feelings of sinfulness. I concede this point as well and feel no inclination to stand up for religion in any sense. My politics are generally secularist-conservative-libertarian, and I think dogmatic thinking is lazy. I try to challenge it whenever I find it in myself, although I sometimes fail. I had to modify my acceptance of Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA principle (however noble an attempt at reconciliation I thought it was) because I do not believe, along with Peter Singer, that morality should be the exclusive property of the religious alone, and that indeed a claim to such property by religion in certain instances can be damaging*. Our morality, while perhaps coming to us in a near-instinctual kind of way, must be able to be subject to reason.

So where does this leave me with God? I find myself unable to not believe, although I have opened myself to most convincing arguments against belief I could find. I find myself--like a weak magnet--attracting odds and ends of different aspects of different denominations and religions as I go on my way, and try to do good (when it strikes me to do so) by following my own inner compass and reason, and not because I hope for streets of gold or because I fear the creativite forms of torture practiced by the denizens of hell. I know this will not endear me to any devout person, or ardent secularist, but what can I do? It would seem that one of the costs of our freedom and free will is a necessary distance. Philip Yancey says in his book Reaching For the Invisible God "Wise Parents nudge their children away from dependence toward freedom, for their goal is to produce independent adults. Lovers, however, choose a new kind of voluntary dependence: possessing freedom, they gladly give it away" And then he goes on to say that he thinks that is what God wants from us.

I don't know what God wants from us. If he does want anything,** surely he would have given us the tools to create or acheive it. That is what I have to trust has been done, and I will work with what tools I have, in good faith.

*teachingsfrom various religions on genocide, circumcision, slavery, homosexuality, masturbation, the role of women, jihad, blind obedience,etc.

**why God would want anything from us other than to be is something I often think about: surely the Home Depot in heaven is far better than what we've got down here.

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