Thursday, May 28, 2009

On God: Why I Believe

Something I always struggle to put into words is why I believe in the existence of but one God. I wasn't raised to believe in Him. At a superficial level, I actually tend to prefer to think as an atheist. I'm definitely a great big sinner by the standards of many religious creeds. But believe I do, and I think, at this moments, I may actually have the words. Hopefully I can get them down before they fly from my mind yet again.

Suppose you were an engineer, and you came across a functioning device of unknown origin. You spent many years studying this device, seeing how all the parts go together, determining the principles by which it operates. However, the one thing you could not get a look at no matter how hard you tried was the power source. The device was clearly self propelling, but the power by which it operates was, for whatever reason, hidden from view. You'd diagrammed the entire thing, but at the heart of the diagram was an empty spot simply labeled "phlebotinum device". No other configuration seemed workable, and any other model you could come up with required a lot of arbitrary adjustments to even function, a bit like the Ptolomeic model of the solar system. In a situation like this, it would be foolish to debate the semantics of what the device should be called, or the existence of the device.

For me, the field is moral philosophy. No, I am not formally trained, but the majority of my life has been spent musing on the subject, whether I believed in God's existence at the time or not. To me, one of the primary functions of scientific thinking is to discover the order in a seemingly chaotic mixture of facts. And so far as I could tell, notions of right and wrong were only questions of seeming, and could not be justified according to any ultimate principle or structure of thought. Ultimately, right and wrong were purely matters of either futile and circular reasonings, or assertion.

And nobody asserts that more than the more traditional, less thoughtful believers... but ironically, the time I spent trying my best to be as religious as possible, attending church and reordering my thoughts to account for His existence, brought a spark of order to all these chaotic musings. For though in the short term, submission to a written code and a social order (so far as I was able... I've never been good at submitting to social order) brought me a brief reprieve from my own crisis of morality, in the long term, the "God" principle became the "phlebotinum device" at the core of my own moral structure.

(Note that I recognize that this "God principle" is not God himself, but rather a memetic structure that fits into the only consistent memetic structure I have ever run across. I do not worship this principle; that would be idolatrous. Indeed, I do not ordinarily worship, unless my wonder at the brief flashes of insight this principle enables me to have counts. I say this not to brag, but more as a confession.)

What is this structure? Hopefully I can elaborate on this further in future entries, but there are a few platitudes that I regard as being more true than false, that point to the existence of some benevolant guiding force.

For example, "leave the rest up to God," or "Matters beyond that will attend themselves." It is, I believe, a fact that there are limits to individual responsibility. One simply does not have the power to order the entire world around him... but there are so many who drive themselves to the grave attempting to do so. Worry worry worry... but it isn't even necessary. For the world is not a dark place with potential enemies around every corner... unless you have made those enemies yourself. One CAN focus his attention on that which is within one's own power without worring about sudden unexpected disaster... and be more effective at life as a result. For though sudden unexpected disaster does strike from time to time, worrying about it accomplishes nothing. And afer a natural disaster, or "act of god", the key to moving on is acceptance of the situation, "trusting God", not howling at the arbitrary and senseless nature of the universe.

What is the engine that enables "matters" to "attend themselves"? One can suppose an inherent benevolance of humankind... this is not, in my opinion, a reasonable supposition. One can throw up his hands and simply say "I don't know." I don't know either, but the first phrase I quoted suggests something that is true...

What is the mind that guides the "invidible hand" that guides the distribution of resources? How are the species that survive amid extinctions on the one hand, and the social and moral systems that continue to the present day, selected? Is the chain of cause and effect infinite, with no original cause? Or is there a "base" cause from which all effects arise... and what is that "first cause"? What is the equation behind the fractal pattern that seems to emerge in such disparate places in nature? And why does it always seem to function, at the macro level, better than any human planner?

What is it that made Jews and Jewishness indestructable? What is it about the cult of YHWH that was so compelling it spawned two world religions, and numerous other ofshoots? What was it that drove Jesus to knowingly and willingly approach the cross? Which is less reasonable: to entertain the notion that the old prophets may have known something (or someone) we do not, or to valiantly squeeze one's eyes from even the possibility (whatever you think of the old religions) that the ordering of the universe has a conscious intent behind it?

To me, human morality simply does not make sense without a "God principle" at the center.

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