Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Hidden God

"The absence of God will bring you comfort, baby"

Rilo Kiley

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is an at times clunky novel of religious theorizing as it plays out in academia and Orthodox Judaism (as novels of ideas go, I'll stick with Dostoevsky and Mann), but the jewel of the book is its philosophical appendix, a compendium of 36 arguments for the existence of God followed by their convincing refutations. In this analytic tour de force, theistic justifications are systematically dismantled. However, the disproof of the final argument (The Argument from the Abundance of Arguments) ends as follows:

Few people rest their belief in God on a single, decisive logical argument. Instead, people are swept away by the sheer number of reasons that make God's existence seem plausible--holding out an explanation as to why the universe went to the bother of existing, and why it is this particular universe, with it sublime improbabilities, including us humans; and, even more particularly, explaining the existence of each one of us who know ourselves as unique conscious individuals, who make free and moral choices that grant meaning and purpose to our lives; and, even more personally, giving hope that desperate prayers may not go unheard and unanswered, and that the terrors of death can be subdued in immortality. Religions, too, do not justify themselves with a single logical argument, but minister to all of these spiritual needs and provide a space in our lives where the largest questions with which we grapple all come together, which is a space that can become among the most expansive and loving of which we are capable, or the most constricted and hating of which we are capable--in other words, a space as contradictory as human nature itself.

Yes, that's it. Logically, these refutations are relentlessly persuasive, but I can't imagine them having any effect upon believers, because belief rests upon existential need and emotional disposition. However, one can imagine those who, contrarily, disbelieve not merely out of a respect for logic, but because belief in a God who, to judge from the evidence of the world, could just as easily be sadistic as benevolent is best avoided. History may be more consistent with the cruel God of the Old Testament than with that of the New; is it really desirable to be trapped in the universe, beyond death even, with an omnipotent being with questionable or at least inscrutable motives?


Retriever said...

Well, you know I don't agree, my friend! But glad you are writing again...

Believers don't believe because of arguments or need, but because they have experienced God's power and love at work in their lives, sometimes directly, sometimes mediated thru other people. And it isn't all fakers like televangelists and tricksters.

As a physician, you could appreciate the Bible stories about Jesus as a healer, I think. Here's a story I love on so many levels...

Luke 5:17-26 (King James Version)

17And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.

18And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.

19And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.

20And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.

21And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?

22But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?

23Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?

24But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.

25And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.

26And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.

Anonymous said...

Exactly right. I don't think logic is the fulcrum upon which belief/disbelief balances. Just as belief goes beyond testable hypotheses, atheism goes beyond nihilistic living. Believers deciding not to believe on the basis of evidence and reason is like atheists--steadfast in their logic-based existential persuasion--reneging on the flimsy idea of life, purely because it ultimately means nothing and all humans are destined to unelegantly (well, most anyway) rot (everyone has their own special way of rotting) toward death anyway.

Humans choose, believe, live and die in spite of reason; or just to spite reason which tends to monopolise the murder of all unreasonable passion (is there any other type?).

#1 cuz said...

Welcome back!

Novalis said...

Anonymous, your comment--which I only now discovered floating in Blogger limbo--makes me wonder, is the traditional view of passion as opposed to reason perhaps misguided? Perhaps they are parallel faculties, each of which may be more or less healthy or pathological.

Anonymous said...

Passion and reason are dueling siamese twins.