This is a sensitive topic so my introduction will resemble a disclaimer rather than a traditional opening. I am not advocating the superiority of one religion over another. Moreover, this piece is not approached from a deist perspective (accepting God but not religion) with my belief in God being contextualized in the larger framework of religion. Lastly, this is not an 800 page first volume so trying to keep things brief and concise are key.
Does God exist?
You could propose this question to a room full of people and receive a diversity of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. This question has been addressed by philosophers and theologians alike with the former focusing on the issue of existence and the latter helping us to facilitate the understanding or critique of religious topics and God itself. I will take the philosophical angle merely because theology can take the tree of religion and try to make you understand the numerous roots (well, exactly what it is meant to do).
God does exist. If this claim bothers you, stop reading. If you are the most passionate of atheists, continue reading and comment.
I subscribe to the cosmological argument of ‘all things must have a beginning’. Every effect must have a cause and in my view, this cause must be some form of divine intervention. The design of our universe is amazing. We have everything we need at our disposal to help mankind survive and simultaneously destroy itself. At a microscopic level, a single cell has everything it needs to survive just as it has the ability to succumb to destruction, a divine creation some would say. Consequently the universe must have been caused by something un-caused, which causes everything else to come into existence – an eternal force. A common analogy of God’s existence is demonstrated with triangles. We define a triangle as a figure formed by connecting three points. This definition would be true even if triangles did not exist. The connecting of three points does not guarantee its existence but it does so because it was caused by something else and that something else must have caused it, and so on. This, however, is not infinite there must exist something to give everything else existence.
I will refer to Aristotle’s Prime Mover theory. Aristotle stated that the universe and our world are in a constant state of flux, with a series of actions and reactions. For such occurrences to happen, where A moves because of B and B moves because of C, there must be an initial force, eternal in its existence which is not changed in the process. In his book, Metaphysics, Aristotle does not refer to the Prime Mover/Unmoved Mover as God in the sense as we know it but rather as something with the ability to cause and create. Aristotle is firm in stating that the Prime Mover does not cause the movement of other things but is the purpose of that movement, resembling the Newtonian principle of every action has an equal reaction. Aristotle states that God draws things to him just as a lover gravitates towards his/her beloved and being loved does not involve any change in the beloved. These Aristotelian ideas lent themselves to renowned Christian philosopher, Aquinas, and his work on the existence of God.
Different strokes for different folks
My belief in God and a subsequent religion stem not from some divine intervention in mine or someone else’s life but rather the need to have a moral code. I do like Emmanuel Kant’s view on God and religion in this respect, as he argues that moral faith does not hinge upon religious traditions (you can argue that it differs if it was written in a holy book) and that such moral faith, and its conduct, is more important than the public declarations of faith. For me, religion is a very personal thing. I do not engage in larger religious debates, finding them wholly tedious, to profess my adherence to faith and gain some sort of superior high ground morally and/or spiritually.
Firstly, the ability of religion to teach one right and wrong in the grand scheme of things (or at the very basic level) is something beneficial. While right and wrong is not synonymous with religion, I consider a belief in God and principles of a religion inhibit one from doing immoral acts. This does not make an atheist immoral; considering some of the world’s greatest atrocities have been done in the name of God and religion (The Crusades, The Inquisition, Al-Qaeda’s declaration of Jihad). Rather I argue that being taught not to lie or steal, for example, during your childhood through religious teaching is something that stays with us for life and if a fear of God reinforces that, in some cases, so be it. It is however important to note that moral obligations have a large element of choice and free will, and if there is one aspect of religion or God that I am not particularly fond of, it is this limitation of choice. Nonetheless when I donate to charity or commit a good deed, it does not stem from a need to be pious and display religious enthusiasm but rather to adhere to my moral faith. While some may render this system of belief as liberal or spiritually orientated, I profess nothing riles me more than the preaching of virtuous actions when a dose of hypocrisy is unmistakable.
Secondly, intrinsic religiosity, a term coined by Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport is another beneficial aspect of God and religion. Contrary to extrinsic religiosity which is centred on more selfish acts of worship (going to the Church/Mosque/Temple because it is a more socially accepted norm), intrinsic religiosity in his study found subjects to exhibit less anxiety and greater freedom of will. This has been a pivotal mechanism for humans (past and present) as a way of coping with the unknown or incidents of misfortune. Indeed my personal belief in the grand Aristotelian view of God being the Prime Mover and the idea of purpose, reaching a certain outcome, does lend to the notion of fate and ‘God willed it’. This however is not so simple and requires another debate.
I probably left the most controversial thought to last – God and religion unify. This is not some fantasised and exuberantly propagated view adopted while holding hands with missionaries. At the same time I am aware this unification manifests itself in both good and bad forms but for the purpose of keeping this succinct, I feel the positives outweigh the negative. When I step back and look at what brings people together, religion and a successive belief in God features highly on my list of unifiers. I illustrated this with a diagram below.
We are all humans but sadly I do not remember a time when I came together with a group of people because we were…human. That being said, to the most pure and unadulterated of minds, we are united by species. Religion is thus in the grand narrative a huge unifying factor. I will once again stress that I am not ignorant of the violent and unscrupulous elements unearthed under the banner of ‘insert religion here’ and the inherent flaws deeply rooted within it. If anything, such elements are restricted to the minority and should not overshadow the good of man. I do not need to elaborate on where religion has succeeded in unifying people and where other factors have failed (see below), or have simply been dwarfed by religion. At a grassroots plane, a mere sense of identity and belonging can help one to alleviate a range of concerns – mentally, socially and spiritually. When communities of Hindu’s take part in Holi or those of the Jewish faith observe the Sabbath, one can notice a coming together of different backgrounds, castes and nationalities in an almost effortless manner.
- Species – I will not expand on this. The failures are palpable.
- Race – Manifests itself in racial division
- Nationality – Nationalism, war, self interests.
- Interests – Dwarfed.
Of course every word, sentence, paragraph and idea in this piece can be completely countered with a valid opposing argument. Like many who ‘think’ for a profession or operate in a scholarly capacity, I too have approached the topic with a host of opinions and personal beliefs. In that respect, this is not a subjective post. When one introduces the idea of empirical evidence, science and the virtues of God, and religion in greater detail, we then start heading towards an 800 page volume.
The next few posts in this series will address the role of religion in society and history. Thank you for reading and happy commenting.