THE NOTION OF GOD
THE NOTION OF “GOD”
It seems that as long as there have been humans on this earth, there have been religious beliefs of one kind or another. While there are only five major world religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism – there are as many as 4200 different religious belief systems in the world! For any rational human being, there quickly arises the following question: “What is the true religion?” Clearly, there is no way to know except to refer to the official writings or “scriptures” of each particular religious system. And even then, there is no agreement in these writings on what constitutes the true religion. So we are back to square one!
When I honestly consider why I believe in the Christian God, I always come back to the fact that Christianity was our family’s religious tradition. In other words, it was the only faith I ever knew. If we accept then that there is no way to know what the true religion is, I believe that we need to hold our beliefs humbly. Unfortunately, humans have great difficulty holding their beliefs humbly. This is because we naturally need to validate our beliefs in order to think and make sense of the world. Thus people like for others to think as they do. When we come across people who do not share our beliefs, it makes us feel out of place, isolated, and even confused as to whether our thinking is correct or the other person’s thinking is correct. I believe this basic need of humans to ascertain their beliefs has led to countless atrocities throughout history. When I think about this, I think of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century between Protestants and Catholics and how it enveloped Europe for a third of a century. There have been countless wars fought in the name of God or religious belief, and wars are still being fought today for this very reason.
The idea or notion of God is a belief, just like religion itself is a belief. This is to say, God is not a fact or something that people can perceive with their senses and agree on. However, this is not to say that God is imaginary or unreal. Why would I say this? Well, first of all, I say this because belief in the existence of God is just as rational as disbelief in God. That is, we cannot prove that God exists nor does not exist. No matter how sophisticated our knowledge becomes, it requires a great deal of faith, in my opinion, to believe that our earthly human life came into being merely through an infinite series of random events. I’m not saying this is impossible. I’m just saying that it is difficult for me to place a great deal of trust or faith in random chance as an explanation.
Although attacked by a philosopher named Immanuel Kant, I find the First Cause Argument to be more plausible. The First Cause Argument was put forth in the middle ages by Thomas Aquinas. This argument basically stated that all things have a cause. However it is impossible to believe in an infinite regression of causes. Thus there must a first-cause which caused all other things to come into existence. This first-cause is God. This leads us to believe in a transcendent God. That is, a God that transcends the physical universe as we know it. Thus, before there was a universe there was God. God exists independently of the universe. However we also think of God as being present or immanent in the world. This means that God is somehow present in our physical universe.
My aquarium can serve as an analogy for what I’m describing here. In this analogy, I will play the role of God. Clearly I exist independently of my aquarium. In fact, I bought the aquarium and the aquatic life in it at a pet store. I put it together. I filled it with water. I placed the fish, snails, and plants in the aquarium. I put the light on a timer that resembles a day and night cycle. I feed the fish in the aquarium. I care for the aquarium. I can see all the creatures in the aquarium and at least in this way am present in the aquarium world that I created. Thus I transcend the aquarium while I am also immanent in the aquarium world.
Thus we cannot be certain whether God exists or does not exist, and we cannot know which of all the world’s belief systems are true and which are not true. Thus we have to recognize that religious beliefs, including the notion of God, are just that – beliefs. They are not facts. I believe it is absolutely necessary to hold our beliefs humbly. By this, I mean that we cannot go around killing other people because they don’t think like we do. We also can’t run around thinking that we know the true religion or true God. Yet it makes just as much sense to say we believe in God as to say that we don’t believe. For me, I believe in the Christian God because that was our family’s tradition. I also acknowledge that I freely choose to believe in God. Further, I think there are benefits to believing in God. These I will discuss in my next essay; but suffice it to say that the way I think of God is that he was the First-Cause. He exists independently of our physical universe, yet He is present in it at the same time. We thus say God is transcendent, yet God is immanent.