“Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing – the rest is mere sheep-herding.” – Ezra Pound
In reprising this subject, I’d like to once again point out, that this is not especially intended for those who grew up in a secular environment. Who were never dragged-off to Church services as a child. Or otherwise immersed in one of the Catholic, Protestant – or even Mormon – world views. Or used to interpreting the world through any one particular veil of religious superstition.
No, this is intended for those who’ve had to wrestle with the religious questions – and sometimes their own demons. Who’ve worked hard to become, basically, free-thinking Deists. Intellectual Agnostics. Who were dipped and rolled in one religious belief or other, in their earlier lives. But who have dared to question, in their own minds, some of the cultural nonsense, passed on to them as divine truth. To examine and ponder those things about their religious belief, that would seem to be of value, while having personally refuted – and largely dismissed – some of the more obvious doctrinal nonsense from their minds.
It is especially for those who, while appreciating the exceptional person that Jesus must have been – in valuing both his sensibilities and many of his moral teachings – none the less recognize that the legend of Jesus was subsequently appropriated and enlarged on, following his death, by any number of others. And all this, a long time ago.
Who have come to see Christ as one more manufactured deity, created through the apotheosis of Jesus to the Godhead. And who no longer acknowledge the pretensions to deity made by either the Bible, or as put forth as surety against those claims to authority, made by religious leaders everywhere, while imposing their views on the minds of men.
“That God cannot lie, is no advantage to your argument, because it is no proof that priests can not, or that the Bible does not.”
– Thomas Paine
Concerning the Apostle Paul’s superintending of both his tremendous organizational abilities, as well as his own doctrinaire views and apologetic rationalizations concerning the mind of Jesus as Christ. And directed towards coalescing the many ofttimes isolated, and discordant followers of Jesus’ teachings – I won’t be going into that here. Suffice it to say, it occurred in another time, and in a vastly different era than today. And while these same views are an anachronism today, they no doubt contributed to a sense of stability – especially among travelers and merchants – in a pre-scientific world, of oftentimes shaky governments and varying jurisdictions.
But where does that leave the whole question of God? After all, merely disallowing Jesus a seat at the Godhead, hardly dispenses with the whole idea of God. If anything, it possibly expands the whole notion of deity, or God – if there is to be one. One no longer defined, or limited, by the doctrinaire beliefs of the Bible. And one that is still afforded sanctuary, in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere.
Let’s look first, at the ontological argument for God. That bit of a priori intellectual rubbish (pejorative emphasis, mine), that would essentially CREATE GOD BY DEFINING HIM INTO EXISTENCE. A fiction, created out of whole cloth versions of various disingenuous, begs-the-question stabs, at obfuscated circular logic. (Well, if He’s God, He’s omniscient, can be everywhere at once, sees everything, and knows everything that’s going to happen. Because, well … He’s God.)
My own take on this – given His apparent inability to direct His own affairs, or prevent others from fraudulently misappropriating His authority – and speaking in His name – is that it becomes but one more glaringly self evident example – that there is no God. For such an emasculated deity could not possibly possess the former abilities, yet be unable to communicate clearly and directly with all of mankind. Or fail to exercise control over any of the horrible nonsense that has been – and continues to be – perpetrated daily in His name.
It does, however, bring us to the philosophical problem of the absent – or missing – God. And the conundrum deists have wrestled with for ages, when considering what possible reasons God could have, for not making Himself known directly to man.
While there are any number of interesting arguments that can be put forth, the one that would seem, on its surface, most plausible, would be so that – by having no direct knowledge of God – members of the human race might be able to get on with the business of living their own lives – and discovering their own truths. That – out from under the intimidating presence of a God – people might truly experience a sense of free agency. As well as a sense of responsibility. Removed from any sense of divine governmental oversight, if you will, that might cause some people to focus the bulk of their time petitioning God to make good on those misfortunes and inequities, suffered in their lives, instead.
The irony of this argument – obviously – being mankind’s credulous propensity to attach themselves to any superstitious belief. So they can, you know, spend the bulk of their time petitioning an imaginary God, to help them out with many of their life’s problems. Both real and imagined.
Of course, creationists point to the wonders of nature. And in one of many takes on the Argument From Design, would have us believe evidence for God is hiding in plain sight, all around us. The other reasons are also – for the most part – narcissistically ego-centric. In maintaining that God is testing us, in any number of unaccountable and unexplainable ways.
This argument is used by so-called Young Earth Creationists, to deny the reality of the fossil evidence for the age of dinosaurs. As a mere ploy by God, to test our faith. This, of course, tests nothing so much as the simple-minded credulity of believers – to torture logic – in order to bring any inarguable ‘facts’ into apparent alignment with espoused beliefs.
In fact, so terribly wonderful is this ability of the human mind to ‘rationalize’ the mind of God – to fit any purpose, and comport to any patently counter-intuitive facts – that we ought to look even deeper into the subliminal motivations, underlying a belief in God.
“You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility …” – Terence McKenna
We must first acknowledge that which Virgil first pointed out. That “As the twig is bent, so the tree inclines.” And recognize that the brainwashing effects of cultural religious beliefs are instilled and inculcated into the young – at about the same level as language and gender schema. And that this, then, becomes part and parcel of the basic mental framework, for arranging all our other learning and knowledge on.
We especially need to look at a couple of religious concepts that might seem all but impossible to let go of.
Because it impinges on any number of other psychological trigger mechanisms, designed to make us uncomfortable, and gain our full attention, the most obvious of these would have to be the hoped for promise of life after death. But I’m going to leave that one, for just one moment, and go one farther. In looking at the idea of final justice. That day of impending judgement, when all should be made known.
I have suggested, on more than one occasion, that it’s easier to think of a universe without God, than it is to think about a universe that lacks final justice. A day of ultimate judgement – that the idea of God represents for many.
It’s one that we, as former Christians – or Deists – find ourselves especially galled at having to renounce, in reconciling the idea with any notion that God might not exist. For without God, there can be no final judgement beyond the grave. Not only for ourselves – and any imagined “Well done, Oh good and faithful servant” – but for any of those others, as well. The ones that we know – in our heart of hearts – would be held up to shame and ridicule. Who’d have their asses kicked, and a new one ripped, on Judgement Day – by GOD ALMIGHTY HERSELF.
Our psychological need for closure, concerning the inequities of life, would seem to demand it. We are forced to ask ourselves, what about the wanton murderers? The war criminals? The Hitlers and Pol Pots of the world? What about those tyrants and sexual predators, that have left whole generations of victims behind them? Just think about how many of us have consoled ourselves, on at least one occasion, with the comforting belief that a particularly egregious offender has something equally disquieting, awaiting them in the next life.
But lets go back, now, and take a look at our whole notion of death. Somewhere, I read something to the effect that – as human beings – we are ego-centric organisms, dedicated to manipulating our environment – and the people in it – to get what we want. Of course, while religious scholars might wish to deny this, they’ve managed – at the same time – to enlarge on it, by presenting us with the carrot of an afterlife.
“There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being.” – James Joyce
What a wonderfully symbiotic relationship this sets up betwixt congregation and clergy. The clergy are able to set up shop – essentially selling tickets to God. And members of the congregation are accorded the opportunity to get in on the ground floor – for a chance to manipulate God. Either directly, or through intercession. (Sorry folks, but this accurately accounts for a large part of what is going on there.)
But let’s take another look at life. And some of our more narcissistic expectations about it
King Solomon, in the 3rd Chapter of Ecclesiastes, states that “…concerning the estate of the sons of men, [I would] that God might manifest [unto] them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts … yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”
Having further acquainted ourselves with the facts of Darwinian Evolution, is there any particular reason to expect that – alone among all the other creatures, here on Earth – human beings should survive their own death? And why?
“I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. This disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last was complete.” – Charles Darwin
While I can admit to flights of fancy, concerning an imagined ability to ‘upload’ one’s knowledge, personality, and veritable ‘essence,’ to some kind of “great server in the sky,” the fact is, that’s not how nature appears to work.
There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of a ‘soul.’ And anytime someone asks “what happens to the soul, when we die,” I’m obliged to point out that the question creates the same kind of specious conundrum one might expect to encounter if asked “what happens to the doughnut hole – once the doughnut is gone?”
Again, according to Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything under the sun. A time to be born – and a time to die.
If you had entertained even the slightest knowledge of what you and your mother were about to undertake, in going through natural childbirth – and just some of the risks involved – you would have been scared to death. Likewise, if you were singled out as the only person to ever experience death, you might be allowed pause to wonder. But death, for an organism like us, is as natural as birth. And dying is probably one of the easiest things you’ll ever do.
“The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve.” – Mark Twain
If you were OK with not being around for the last couple hundred thousand years that humans have been on the planet, what great harm do you anticipate in returning to a state of non-being?
But, Oh – that promise of resurrection. What a concept! What an idea! And here we get into the one about how a life of hope and promise is just so much more comforting and satisfying. How, having something ‘to look forward to’ is so much nicer, than having to think life will just end. Where’s the joy in that? And why would any of us care about life, if we knew THAT was how it was going to end?
What can I would say to that. Except that if the reason you embrace the whole God myth is because the alternative just seems too horrible – then you are like a child who is afraid of the dark. Who needs a nite light and a bedtime story – to keep the imagined scary things at bay. And you are more than likely a victim of Hollywood excess, and religious hyperbole. (Not to mention, out-and-out lies.)
Recognize that, we’re not talking about altering one thing, in either the actual fabric of reality, or to the larger scope of things. We all die. And it is an adult recognition of the fact, that tends to keep the mental arc of your life grounded in reality. Instead of floating off towards some lofty horizon, while the details of this life pass unanswered.
The facts of life, as revealed by science – and, as it turns out, the way things really are – simply aren’t obliged to make themselves all warm and fuzzy, to accommodate our psychological needs. Or keep us insulated from the cold hard truth.
But, there’s one other thing. If you’d be happier not knowing the truth – and participating in some fantasy existence – it isn’t going to matter to me or you, in the larger scope of things. We all lead our individual lives, and eventually go to our rest. The grave is a scrap heap, if you will. There, you won’t have any consciousness, of who you are now – or that you ever once existed. The good news, of course, is that you won’t be around to even possibly care less.
So for all practical purposes, the fact that we all live and die, and any belief in an afterlife dies with us, it’s no skin off anyone’s nose. And it isn’t like anyone will be going to hell for it, either. But there are any number of valid reasons I don’t recommend it.
The only reason anyone should care, is for a love of the truth. An unflinching need, in fact, to have an unvarnished look at reality. And a possibly deeper understanding and appreciation for the wonder of life. On this earth. And while we have it.
“Our theories are instrumental – are mental modes of adaptation to reality – rather than revelations or gnostic answers to some divinely instituted world-enigma.”
– Wm James, Lectures on Pragmatism
As previously pointed out, imaginary beliefs affect one’s whole world view, and the way we interact with others. Awake, in a dream of our own mistaking, we never the less weigh in on decisions that often affect the very health of this planet, along with the lives and life-styles of various other members of the communities we live in.
In standing up for some deluded sense of belief we espouse, we often stand against real progress in the world. And, by making life an even bigger mystery than it already is, the effect is to befoul true understanding. But, hey! Let’s not let that stop anyone from living the life they’ve always dreamed of.
Believers, of course, would assert that not only am I the one who is horribly wrong, but how could I possibly know there is no life after death? No resurrection, no judgement day. Or that other wonderful little place, down under?
To answer that, we have to return once more to that question of just what reason any Good God might possibly have, for not wishing to reveal Himself to us. So stick with me here as we have an additional look at a few of the possibilities – as well as the answer. (Yes, there is one.) Hopefully, it will enlighten you – as it did me – only a few short years ago.
Part II – The epiphany
“Vessels large may venture more, But little boats should keep near shore.” – Benjamin Franklin
In getting back to explaining exactly how it was, that I came to know there is no God, I need to first point out that, philosophically, I had long considered myself to be an existential atheist. But I had never been called on to nail down whether I was actually more of a deistic-leaning agnostic, or a true atheist.
But there was an organized push, about six years back, urging non-believers to come out as atheists. At which time, due to my own evolving beliefs, I had remained leery of being pigeon-holed by these kind of labels. So I was a bit nonplussed at this growing insistence, that I should take on this mantle for myself.
Aside from the fact that this apparent call for certitude – in declaring ones disbelief – appeared to mirror those theistic demands for certitude, espoused by religious proponents – like the Christian requirement that Jesus be accepted as the Son of God. That, and my initial gut reaction being a hesitance to simply slam the door on the barest possibility that a supernatural being could’ve had any part, in either the creation of the universe, or life itself.
So I soon found myself defending – if not the idea of God – the idea that the God Question ought to remain open. And in a couple of succeeding articles, attempted to justify the importance of the whole question, as providing suitable grounds for valid scientific and philosophic inquiry. And in tentative opposition to this call for certitude among atheists.
“Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties, than to the explanation of a certain number of facts, will certainly reject my theory.”
– Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
I put forward a number of different, rather imaginative, notions. Some borrowed, and others dredged up from somewhere in my own sub conscious. Some that sounded completely outlandish – even as I wrote them down. Brainstorming all sorts of possible reasons why an absentee God might have deigned to set things up this way.
I touched on reincarnation. Also, the possibility that we’ve simply been marooned here – doing life – for possible misdeeds committed on some other plane of existence. Or possibly some other life – on some other planet. Hell, I even broached the possibility that, while there doesn’t appear to be much evidence for a God, we might ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of something more akin to a military tribunal; a committee, or board of Gods.
The point I wish to convey, is that I was going at it like a Dutch Uncle – trying to defend that barest possible patch of ideological or philosophical ground, as providing room enough to still allow for the possibility of a God.
Bear in mind, being a locally grown Idaho spud, living in Utah, I had yet to even hear of Richard Dawkins, or any of the other so-called New Atheists. And I had yet to read the profoundly spiritual, as well as scientifically valid, evidence for evolution, to be gleaned from the pages of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. But I was about to experience what the French Algerian existential writer-philosopher Albert Camus meant, when he opined that “the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face – at any street corner.”
Even as I was arranging these thoughts on paper, and attempting to justify them as logical arguments, I was rocked by a very unusual – and completely unexpected – jolt to my own cognitive processes.
Like that marching off to war adventure, in Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo, I had split my mental forces, in having sent one winning philosophical treatise down the road, on one side of the issue – while I had a small handful of equally wonderful postulates, angling in from a few other directions. And I was earnestly engaged in bringing up support for the argument on all sides. When I experienced a “We have met the enemy – and he is us”- type epiphany. When I suddenly caught myself unmistakably looking back at myself – as it were – from all sides of the issue. Like seeing myself and all my specious arguments reflected in some mental, kaleidoscopic, hall of mirrors.
“There is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves.” – Richard Rorty
I immediately not only apprehended the cathartic truth of the matter – that no basis for a God would ever be found hiding there – but I also experienced a completely unexplained and horrific flush of deep embarrassment, that any actual God should have ever found me casting about, in pursuit of Him, while engaged in this sort of sordid attempt to satisfy my own, patently self-serving, needs.
So that, even as the initial flush of embarrassment, before this merely imagined visage of God, had passed, it was followed by a second, equally deep sense of humiliating embarrassment, over what I clearly saw could be found hiding there.
That tiny realm of philosophic space I had attempted to mark out, as delineating valid grounds for postulating the barest possibility for a hidden God – was actually discovered being used by me, as a safely hidden haven for harboring, justifying, and excusing my own sniveling equivocations, and argumentative dodges. Wherever and whenever a question was found pushing up against one of many superstitious needs, requiring an otherworldly remedy. Itself based on an unreasonable sense of my own self-importance, and driven by an unmistakable, yet heretofore unacknowledged, and unreasonable, fear of death.
The same motives, in fact, that had continued to insisted that a creator-God simply HAD to be given the benefit of any doubt, for His presumed ability to remain out of sight. An extension of those powers conceded via the ontological arguments for circular logic. (God is able do this. Because He is, after all, God.)
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
At one level, of course, the whole thing was sadly disappointing. And further evidence for the fact that I’d had a dog in the fight all along. But any relevance, to even the barest match up with reality, had just evaporated into thin air. And there was simply nothing left to either argue for, or sweep up after.
So that you might better understand where all this left me, at the time, I’d like to share the last few lines of the article I’d been working on.
They were written in a kind of dazed stupor, at having just experienced a rather amazing – look Ma, no drugs or alcohol involved – epiphany.
At realizing I had just mentally surmounted this whole question from one side, while having managed to came down on the other. And hardly believing how it left me with the ability to see – with previously unimagined clarity – that God is merely a mental construct of the imagination. And does not exist anywhere outside our own wants, superstitious needs, and desires. It also accounts for the stumbling way, I sort of wrapped things up:
These are merely the views from the unshuttered windows of one mans mind. As I’ve indicated before, it’s my view that if there ever was a god-like intelligence, or prime mover, that could possibly claim authorship for either our existence or purpose, we are obliged to infer that, for whatever reason, we have been marooned here – intentionally left with no direct knowledge or ability to know. And not only that, but we must recognize that the very concept of deity has never the less been left behind, almost like the grin of that Cheshire Cat, to serve as a sort of maddeningly unattainable wish, for introducing confusion, and delusion, into the minds of men.
There’s got to be a damn good reason for that, or it’s one hell of a long way to go, just to rationalize against any possibility that maybe we’re just being stupid.
After all – what would Occam have said?