It’s best to tread lightly when discussing the God question, mostly because it’s considered socially unacceptable to impose your beliefs on someone else. Fair play. So let this essay serve less as an imposition on your views, and more of an explication of mine. The God question is often marginalized in the everyday conversation, but it seems that our understanding of God informs much of our daily life, and might be equally as important to the wellbeing of society as the discussion of racism, feminism, or class equality. Let’s start with a simple question: Do you believe in Santa Claus?
For anyone over the age of ten the answer is no, because the likelihood that there is a man in a red-suit that can drop presents off at every house in the world over night is absurd. It defies what we consider to be reasonable. Now, do you believe in God? Let’s pretend that the answer is yes, and while there are many different conceptions of God, for example the anthropomorphic version that’s an omnipresent being that moderates human interaction, punishes those who defy morality as recorded in an ancient scripture, created the earth in six days, and set the universe in motion. Now this example is particularly easy to pick on because it’s equally as absurd as the existence of Santa Claus. It would seem that the salient difference between the two examples is that we have overcome the burden of proof in the Santa Claus example, namely, because we know that our parents are the ones putting the presents under the tree.
But consider the ‘aha’ moment when you figure it all out. For me it was recognizing my mother’s handwriting on a card from the North Pole. It seemed as if there was a veil of ignorance lifted over your eyes, much in the same way that you are temporarily stunned when your otherhood childhood expectations of adulthood are falsified. Santa isn’t real? Families can fight? Pussy Knickers didn’t go to heaven? People can get depressed and want to kill themselves? Obviously we change the narrative because our children may not be emotionally equipped to handle the reality of their existence. But it seems to me that religion has much of the same affect for adults. At what point do adults break free from their childhood belief of God? Is that moment the same as when children stop believing in Santa?
Now imagine that your conception of God is more abstract. God might not have human qualities, but we imagine some sort of spirit overseeing the whole earthly operation. Or in the words of the lovely Sophie Lalani, “God can be an abstract concept in some sense, it’s harder to define and thus harder to describe and ascribe words to. Some might say language does it an injustice as it might to other say, subjective, individual, similarly euphoric experience like falling in love, music, and poetry.” While it is hard to argue against subjective experiences in any context, there are certain truths that are not subjective in this universe. Gravity exists. The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. McDonalds tastes good when we’re hung over. These are supported by science and
everyday experience, so we allow them the most credibility. My point is that mental phenomena are much more likely explained by a scientific discipline like psychology than an appeal to God.
So how is it that people can vouch for the existence of God with so much conviction? There is certainly no scientific evidence, and people will usually say they were ‘touched’ by God in some way or had a spiritual experience. We definitely can’t argue against this, and independent of the existence of God there might be some value to this type of experience. I imagine a recovering alcoholic. We often hear them say that God gave them the strength to get through. But what’s more reasonable? That an invisible man in the sky helped him overcome a physiological response to the lack of a substance, or that the creation of an internal support system gave him the psychological resolve to confront his deepest and darkest vice? We have all heard of “the little voice inside our head.” Now just imagine if you gave that little voice some God-like authority; that might just be what gets you over the hump to sobriety.
According to Guinness World Records the Bible is the best selling book of all time. Let’s say this is true. From a marketing perspective, what better way to sell a book than to inform citizens that if they refuse to follow it they will be denied an after life? The existence of God gives us an answer to life’s most frightening questions: why we are here and why shouldn’t we fear death. Whether you’re educated or not this is particularly comforting.
Now I’m not trying to denounce religion, because as someone who was raised on Judaism, I appreciate the social benefits of having a community with a common cause, even better if the cause is altruistic. For better or worse, some people are fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not because they particularly believe in their team, but because it gives them something to identify with and something to do on Sunday. And as far as the Torah and Bible are concerned, they are an important text for informing us on how to live well in a society. Most of the principles are created under the theme of, “Treat others how you want to be treated.” I think that’s great, but I don’t need to believe in God to have a sense of community or to learn the basic principles of human interaction. In my personal opinion the question of our existence is something we are meant to solve individually, and ultimately it’s up to us to imbue life with meaning. But that’s just what I think; believe whatever you want.
- Matt Silver