Saturday, January 3, 2009

Is There a God Delusion?

One of the major tenets of books like The God Delusion and The God Part of the Brain is that we invented God to make ourselves feel better about death and the various insecurities of life.

I don't subscribe to that theory. People use their faith in that way, but, I believe the impetus for our concept for God comes from a very different place: probably from God himself trying to reveal the truth to us or from our own latent ability to see beyond our senses.

Let's suppose for a moment though that it is true; that we invented all this just to make ourselves feel better, to have some comfort and hope faced with the certainty of death and the uncertainty of life.

What kind of cruel person tells people this without offering anything as an alternative?

It's one thing for some over-read, middle class twit like myself luxuriating in the relative ease and security of the west to speculate that God doesn't exist, we at least have the consolation of knowing that we have it fairly well in this life, but most of the world isn't nearly so fortunate.

Most of the world needs some sort of comfort and assurance that their lives have meaning, that they're not just the fodder of evolution and random chance. Even if it is just a delusion, it gives them hope and with hope, even the most unfortunate life becomes bearable and full of potential.

Even though it's controversial, I highly recommend the film The Last Temptation of Christ. The film is the fictional account of Jesus speculating what might happen if he escaped the cross and lived rather than sacrificing himself.

In it, the Jesus that didn't die encounters Paul, preaching about the Jesus that did die. Jesus comes to Paul and says "I am the man you are preaching about", expecting Paul to embrace his new life as an ordinary man, but Paul gets angry. He says that the people he preaches to need the Jesus who died. Jesus says "You can't save the world by lying" and Paul replies:
I created the truth out of what people needed and what they believed. If I have to crucify you to save the world, then I'll crucify you. And if I have to resurrect you, then I'll do that, too.

...You don't know how much people need God. You don't know how happy he can make them. Happy to do anything. He can make them happy to die and they'll die. All for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God. The Messiah. Not you. Not for your sake. You know, I'm glad I met you. Because now I can forget all about you. My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful.
Death is inescapable. We all know that. We have all always known that. If the concept of God gives us hope in the face of this unerasable but horrible truth, then it is worthy of us, even if it is a delusion.

If a man's search for truth should lead him to the conclusion that there is no God, that's fine, but don't evangelize it, don't shout it, not without something to offer in its stead because it's better for men to live with a delusion but have hope then to know the truth and have none.

Where's the mercy in taking away hope? Where's the love? There isn't any.

People who don't believe have a tendency to consider themselves superior to those who do, because they at least know "the truth".

Maybe that's what they use to fill the void left when they abandon faith. Considering oneself superior in life can go a long way toward replacing the hope they abandon, but that too is only a delusion, because none of us are superior to anyone, no matter what we believe or don't believe.

Science offers us information, not "the truth". Certainly information is innately and uniquely valuable, but it's not God.

One thing that's very clear from the history of science, is that no matter how much information we uncover, there's still more left to be uncovered. Science brings us no closer to complete knowledge now than we were ten thousand years ago.

I'm capable of abandoning my faith. I've done it before. But after very careful consideration, I choose to embrace it now

Maybe I am deluded for believing in God or believing that our lives extend beyond these physical bodies. Maybe I am. But, you know what? I'm satisfied with that.

I'm satisfied with it because I know my limits, and one of my limits is that I need God. I need to know there is more to me and the people I love than just what I perceive.


Sandi said...

Part of that belief is historical. We look at ancient belief systems like the Roman and Greek gods and sneer at it as ridiculous. Man-made. Fallable. Which it was.

But people in that time period, in those cultures clung to it and worshiped at those altars.

Some of the athiests I know view Christianity that way. They compare Christians to the ancient Romans and say, "This is how you will be viewed 10,000 years from now. You will look just as ridiculous."

Maybe so, but still. We do have a need for God, whether we admit it or not. We were designed to search for his presence. And with our limited understanding, most of the religious truths we accept must be based on faith.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

Boyd, I am so glad that you are writing these religion posts. Do people think like this at Galloway, or is it just you?

A. Boyd C. said...

Ironically both of these books admit we need God of some kind, then they proceed to tear down the idea -- sort of like saying "we need oxygen", but then discouraging breathing.

Galloway's a pretty diverse church. Non traditional views like mine aren't unwelcome, but they're not all that common either.

I'm not sure why I'm writing so much about religion. Every couple of days an idea comes to the surface though and I've enjoyed it.

Maybe I should have considered the clergy, but I think they'd tire of me pretty quickly.

Melissa said...

because it's better for men to live with a delusion but have hope then to know the truth and have none.

This is an interesting post, Boyd, but I have to disagree with you.
Paul's argument that humanity needs the idea of Christ as God more than they need the truth of Christ's humanity is flawed.

Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. He was born, lived, and died. He smiled, wept, loved, and lost his temper. He celebrated life and suffered pain. This does not diminish Him. It makes Him a true savior for humankind.

We could not have accepted a savior that was not human, and He could not have been our savior if He had not been fully human. His humanity enabled Him to be our savior, while His divinity enabled Him to conquer death and rise again.

Paul is deluding himself. The truth of Jesus' humanity is much more powerful than Christ as God. God can do anything, even the ancient Romans knew that. But a human willing to sacrifice himself for others is a miracle.

A. Boyd C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A. Boyd C. said...

I think you and the Paul from the movie are actually saying the same thing.

It's complicated because you have a fictional Paul who believes in the real Jesus talking to the fictional Jesus and saying the real jesus was more important.

I gets even more complicated by the end of the movie when you have the fictional Judas (who didn't die either apparently) confronting the fictional Jesus on his death bed, saying he should go back and die on the cross like the real Jesus all the while Jerusalem burns in the background (which it really did in history)

ella144 said...

I am intrigued by this movie. Everything I hear about it only increases my desire to see it.

All in all, an interesting post and something I have been thinking on for several weeks now. Thoughts triggered, no doubt, by the season and a couple of recent sermons my priest has given.

(It's Melissa again. I signed on this time.)

A. Boyd C. said...

I really recommend it. A lot of people were upset about the movie, but they say right up front, "this is fictional and not based on the gospels"

The basic premise is, if Jesus is both fully God and fully human, what's the human side like? What sort of fears and hopes and doubts might a man in that situation have?

Done on a really small budget, they managed to capture some remarkable imagery. My favorite is they have Satan portrayed by the most peaceful, angelic looking little girl you ever saw.

Plus, they have Pontius Pilate played by none other than David Bowie! He really underplays it too. Not evil, not cruel, just very business-like.