Friday, 20 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 4: The Ultimate Question.

I don’t find myself suddenly grave and deferential when Christians round on me and say – with a self-satisfied checkmate smile – “Well, how do you think we got here then?” I just sigh, and wish we could engage with life’s subtleties for a minute. Where does this arbitrary all-or-nothing illogic come from, as if whenever science cannot (yet) fully explain something it is defensible to assume – and worse, “assume with certainty” – that God must be The Answer?

How exasperating when we don’t know anything about God. That’s why ‘great theologians’, from Pseudo-Dionysius to Karl Barth (to Rowan Williams?), have contented themselves by pondering what He isn’t and, yes, finding new and exciting ways to extend the range of what they don’t know. Here “God” is merely a word rather than The Word; a referent to nothing at all, useful only as a convenient label for ignorance. He’s the Ultimate Question (and, for Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, the “Ultimate Boewing 747”) rather than an answer in any sense: “Well, how do you think He got here then?” Surely He’s too complex to have come into being by chance. We are envisaging an Intelligent Designer who, just as much as the Universe we inhabit, has the appearance, and all the complexity, of something that has been designed. So where on Earth did He come from? Not even science (natural selection) can’t help out here, as it does when we seek to explain the presence of intricacy in our world.

No one is saying it’s easy to explain things like Existence, Nature, Morality, or Love, but let’s opt for a plucky attempt, rather than succumb to a directionless drift down the river of myth (up creek; no paddle!). Equally, how is it that we fail to use empirical evidence in order to try, seriously and unceasingly, to locate the origins of pain, jealousy, or cruelty? Fallacious flim-flam about serpents and the Devil amounts to a harmful, and to me frustrating distraction. Rather, acceptance equals awareness, and thereafter direction and motivation for change follow: we need to unconditionally accept ourselves and our world – the good and the bad – so that we can see honestly, without fear, denial, or distortion; we must replace belief in God with a belief in ourselves, in something tangible, in order to recognise that our own enquiry and can propel us – yes, us – towards meaningful answers and actions.

As for “Creation”, well, forgive me, but why is it easier for Christians to believe in an Eternal Father than a Universe that always Existed in some form? Look to the stars, and behold your Maker! Why not? Why shouldn’t The Universe be “God”? Even if The Universe did have a beginning I don’t understand why it should require a Greater, or perhaps just a more ‘human’ Cause (with a white complexion, and a large beard, surrounded by heavenly hosts…). I’m not saying that just anything can control its own necessity or origin – I’m not positing shrubs that arose out of nothing by the effort of their own Will, nor suggesting that a sardine can find the explanation for its being within itself. But the Universe is THE UNIVERSE, and it should be credited for what it is, and for what it once began, as well as for what it is continually becoming.

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