April 01, 2005

Religion: God Exists, But You Won't Like Him

Discovering that I'm doomed to Hell has got me rattled, I'm telling you. So I'm trying really, really hard to believe in God (or Gods, for that matter) for the sake of my rather ambivalent soul(tm).

I reckon that any God worth their salt who created a bunch of bald apes with question marks in their eyes should have imbued them with the ability to reach the right conclusion when left to their own devices, so reference books written by said apes are out.

But how could I reach such a conclusion? Simple enough: we (the species) have had scads and scads of deities, but the ones that remain with us are the ones we've declared "perfect", what with the whole omnipitent/onmiscient thing the God Botherers are always on about. So the remaining Gods being actively worshipped today in any serious numbers are all perfect beings. And that means that anything they make, us included, is also perfect.

Unless they screwed up on purpose.

But that's just my heresy talking. Why would something all-powerful and all-knowing bother making something that is, most of us would agree, somewhat less than perfect? I mean, seriously now: God loves us, right? Everyone who has a God of their own says so. If we behave properly, we get a cookie; if we're bad, we get our noses rubbed in it and thrown outside.

Um, wait.

If God loves us so much, why didn't he create us already in Paradise? Some folks think we started there, and got booted. (Love: even amongst the immortal, it's a fickle thing, eh?) Others think we're already here, and this is our reward. I'm not exactly convinced. In any case, everyone diety-enabled seems to reach the opinion that, for some reason, we ended up with free will or a variant thereof. So we should spend it stroking Gods ego as much as possible by giving thanks for, well, everything. If God is that egotistical, well, we've seen what happens to Gods that show human frailties...

But if God created us to worship him, then all of us would worship Him, right? You build a toaster to toast things, not to wander the kitchen discussing metaphysics. (Actually, that sounds pretty cool - but I digress.) But the same job would be performed by all of us, what with us being created by a perfect entity and all.

Unless God was bored.

What would you do, if you were all-powerful AND all-knowing? The end of the imagination, I should think. So why not play a little? Create a cognisant species, then deny yourself the knowledge of its reactions to the world around it will be. You could do it, being omnipotent, and it would certainly be more fun that sitting around knowing everything. Unfortunately, this reduces God to a purchaser of Sea Monkeys. Hardly a flattering description, for God or for us; but it is better than the alternative:

God's a sadist.

Bit of an odd conclusion, sure, but hear me out:

1) The Gods that have survived this far with us are those that are "perfect", and are singular (accuracy hates company?);

2) God created us;

3) We're imperfect, and have been promised Paradise should we fight through those imperfections;

4) God delights in our attaining Paradise;

5) If God created both us and Paradise, then He could have created us there directly;

6) He didn't;

7) If we get to Paradise, the experiment is over for us and we're "taken out of circulation", so to speak, that is we go to Heaven and stop there;

8) Whether existence is linear or not, we live it in a linear fashion through time (yesterday led to today will lead to tomorrow);

9) There are more of us around now than ever before.

Conclusion: God not only doesn't want the experiment to end, he enjoys our struggles to reach Heaven. We call people who enjoy watching others struggle Sadists, for better of worse.

So why, if God is malicious, create a Heaven at all? Why not just put sentient beings on whatever the spiritual equivalent of a rack is for all eternity? A simple and slightly repulsive answer: have you ever heard some mediocre parent tell their child that because they misbehaved, they won't be allowed to go to the circus, which the child didn't even know was in town? Or that the family was going to have ice cream for dessert, if the kid had just behaved himself, but no more? It's a psychic stick to beat your child with that they can never tell is coming, making it all the more effective a threat: they have to keep it in their own minds to behave, or some nebulous prize might at some undetermined future time be taken away from them.

I think I'll stick with atheism, thanks.

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posted by Thursday at 11:57 am

14 Comments:

Blogger Kruppe said...

Great post, great links. Love this blog.

9:39 pm  
Blogger Phoenician in a time of Romans said...

We call people who enjoy watching others struggle Sadists, for better of worse.

We sometimes call them "teachers", though.

Although what this putative "God" is teaching us, I'm not sure, unless it's "rely on yourselves rather than a Big Sky Fairy, schmucks."

10:36 pm  
Anonymous ephemeral said...

You are blinded by your arrogance.

How can anyone with such a short lifespan claim such great knowledge as to make such a FULL conclusion about something that no one can know.

Your rants should lead you to the claim that you have not met God and thus do not believe in Him. Not some conclusion on God's character.

Certainly, if there be a God, you do not know his plan. That is a valid claim as well.

What if God is just a good intentioned God? Could that be the case? He created all of this and then realised that his creation was not up to snuff, so to speak. What are his options at that point? How can he fix the mess he created? Hmm...

I mean, He might have initially created this place as paradise, but his creation refused to follow the rules of paradise - i mean how can there be anything bad in paradise? At that point what can this good intentioned God do?

Destroy the creation. Well, that certainly would save a lot of suffering....but at the same time we don't exist any more...so for my sake and yours, it seems nicer that God doesn't choose to destroy his creation then.

I guess he could just let the creation run its course. Maybe give the creatures the qualifications of paradise so if any can perfect themselves they can return to paradise.

Who here knows. That is all that can be said.

Certainly, we can narrow down the options of who God is as you have...but it would be foolish to bank on conclusions narrowed down in ignorance. By the same logic, a man could convince others that an entire race of people are the problem with the world. Foolishness.

10:22 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

Ephemeral:

Ah, how wonderful! Instead of God being an omnipotent creator, He's a bit of a buffoon in the kitchen who can't quite get the recipie to work:

Too much salt, so he adds some tomato; but the tomato makes the recipie run, so he tosses in some flour to thicken it; but he's using propane and the flour catches fire, causing God to run shreiking around the kitchen, flapping his arms...

Hijinks ensue!

On a more serious turn, the biggest flaw in your reasoning (don't worry, this one's common) is that instead of looking at what's around us and seeing what's here, we look and try to see why something's here. Trying to put some overarching purpose on existence is only the domain of the individual and what the individual chooses for themselves: it can't come from an outside source, gods or no.

"Who here knows." Reason engenders knowledge; faith, belief. You don't need reason when you have faith, eh? "That is all that can be said." If you choose to ignore all philosophy and religion, sure.

The turn towards genocide is quaint: again, the fallacy is that the race you suggest would actually exist in the real world, could be experienced and resoned both with and about. I'd love to sit and have a chat with god(s), but there is simply no evidence that any such thing exists, unlike your (ahem) hypothetical race.

12:43 pm  
Blogger MJS said...

It is good to wonder
Wondering is good
It takes the place of obedience
Which only gives you "should"


I have an idea for you: read Alan Watts and his thoughts on what he described as the "Porcelain Model" theory of the world--briefly put, he points out that the Old Testament Yahweh made the earth out of lifeless dust and acted upon it to bring forth the plants, animals, etc. Yahweh was not nature and also was not Man. Now move along to the age of Englightenment, when our great thinkers toyed with the idea of removing the Potter at the Wheel (Yahweh) but then still kept the idea of the earth, the Universe, etc. as artifacts, as inanimate porcelain matter. Isn't everything in the Universe of the Universe? Are we not just as much (forget Western ideas of volume for a minute) the Universe as everything else, having been comprised of it, living of it, in it, on it, etc.

IF you remove the Middle Eastern deity from the story of life and assume there is only this dust and random mayhem left behind, you have fallen into a metaphysical trap: such assumptions are not truly your rightful inheritance, are they? The word "god" is a bit clunky, and conjures up a lot of vague feelings in many people, and perhaps should take a break. I believe everything is god (pantheism), and I don't believe in god, so what am I to do? It's an On/Off Existential Switch! Why, can it be that it is both on and off? Heaven forfend!

Give Watts' "The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" a try (what is there to lose? Money? Enlightenment is free!)--there are also literally hundreds of hours of recordings of him giving his talks--a charming speaker, dead as a doornail yet still he communicates!

+++

3:15 pm  
Blogger Phoenician in a time of Romans said...

How can anyone with such a short lifespan claim such great knowledge as to make such a FULL conclusion about something that no one can know.

Which is precisely what anyone claiming "There is a God" is also doing.

Given a choice between "Big Sky Fairy probably doesn't exist", "Big Sky Fairy definitely doesn't exist" or "Big Sky Fairy definitely does exist", put me down for the first. I'm a sceptical agnostic.

5:57 pm  
Anonymous ephemeral said...

i don't pretend to convince those who "know" the origin of life of anything. They already "know" - convinced by their reasoning.

Sound argument does not guarantee truth.

The truth is we do not know. And that is all i care to point out. As simple as that is.

The original post though REASONs a conclusion. And that is non-sense.

Is there a God? Is there life after death? These are questions that cannot be answered by someone constrained to this earth, this life.

So if you profess certainty in something that is completely uncertain then you are either a fool or selling to fools. And yes this does go both ways - many "godly" people are guilty as well.

His post seems to profess a certain knowledge of the character of God without knowing who the God is.

If the master of a rather huge estate goes on a trip and workers are hired after his departure to care for the place by a rather mean-spirited overseer. What can any of those workers say of the master-owner? They do not know the character of the master-owner although they can certainly make assumptions based on the attitude of the overseer, but how wise is this?

The only thing of value would be testimony from workers who were there before the master-owner left and even that testimony needs to be weighed lightly next to an actual meeting with the master-owner.

Likewise, it is ill-thought to blame the master-owner for any misdeeds done while he is away.

So if i were to ask a new worker about the master-owner and he makes any claims with certainty - i would be a fool to accept his claims. However, if the worker makes a case with humility and uncertainty, i might accept what he says without letting go of my intellect but i should not bank on it.

7:46 pm  
Blogger Thursday said...

MJS:

I'm only passably familliar with Mr. Watts work, and again find myself far more allied with Bertrand Russell or Carl Sagan, whom I reccommend in turn. The mystical approach to life is, to my perspective, a pretty distraction to the wonder that is really here, what you call "...only this dust and random mayhem". I find the claim that we are of the universe painfully obvious: where else would we be?

I refuse to allow the world to become a mere plaything of gods, a creation of some power that has since left it to collect dust. Gods are crutches, excuses for humanity to never grow up and accept the responsiibility of our actions; they are the apron strings we, in our vanity, cling to when we try to consider concepts larger than ourselves.

This is not just vanity, thinking of all around us as something created specifically for us by a benevolent and watchful diety who cares for us alone; but also cowardice, a safe haven for our psyche to stay in its little fishbowl when we recoil from the sheer awesomeness of reality.

I'll certainly give "The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who Your Are" a try. (Not one for short, catchy titles, is he?) Looks like I've got to order it in, so it may be a month or so before I get to read it. Thanks for the suggestion.

Ephemeral:

Let's continue with your example, shall we?

The "wise" (though I think "smart" is a better term here) either know they are working for an overseer, rather than the owner, do they not? If so, then they know where the blame for their treatment actually lies. If not, then the assumptioon they make is a valid one, for they have the ability to look around themselves and reach their own conclusions. Likewise, is is "wise" for them to pray to the owner of the land? To worship him and shower him with devotion when he left behind such a lousy manager? Or should they try to improve their own lot

(Your proposal is from the Gnostics, in case you weren't familiar with it. The first great schism in the Christian Church, and denounced as heresy ages ago. If you already knew that, my apologies for presuming.)

You suppose there is an outsider of this circumstance asking them questions about their owner: who does this represent outside of the example? Here in our world, there is no outsider to ask us such a question; there is no overseer, and there is no estate owner, either: there's only us. This is our estate: we are the ones here to manage it. The question is, will we ever get around to accepting that responsibility, or will we keep working with our heads down, praying for some miracle owner to come save us?

You've really got to work on the whole "ad hominem" thing, too: I make no claim to "know the character of God" because I'm an ATHEIST. I don't think there is a god, just to clear that up.

10:11 pm  
Anonymous ephemeral said...

"You've really got to work on the whole "ad hominem" thing, too: I make no claim to "know the character of God" because I'm an ATHEIST. I don't think there is a god, just to clear that up."

All good.

Personally, i'd say you like many atheists are just upset because God won't show himself to you. What would be enough for someone to KNOW God?

By your post, it seems that no pain and suffering would be, if nothing else, a start.

But what would it take? For God to stand at your bedside? For him to appear in the world and take control of everything? And at what point would you stop judging his character?

AS for who asks the questions - i think those questions are continually asked from within us. We are constantly trying to size up our existence. Who we are and why we are are very tightly knit together...and our individual security wraps around our identity or WHO we think we are. So those question come from within...

As for belief and faith. AS you say...

""Who here knows." Reason engenders knowledge; faith, belief. You don't need reason when you have faith, eh? "That is all that can be said." If you choose to ignore all philosophy and religion, sure."

Reason does not eliminate belief nor the need for faith. Only truth is faithful and only belief resting on truth is secure. That is why we rarely think twice about sitting in a chair...it will work...

But your REASON for being Atheist is not based on TRUTH but on words. For TRUTH would certainly lead you to "i don't know" and a lot of question as to "What would it take to KNOW" Not claims of would-be Gods' characters.

Anyway, i appreciate your time of responding and without just calling me names. God is an interesting topic regardless of belief. You clearly have a great deal of knowledge on the subject and it seems history in general, maybe.

5:39 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

Ephemeral:

Thanks for the commenting: it's certainly one reason why I do blog, other than a staggering amount of vanity... Trying to make up for being a Canadian Public School dropout or some such.

In any case, I can't say I'm upset that God doesn't show Himself - I've simply never been inspired to worship something that may or may not exist; and if it does exist, has been so clumsy with the instructions left behind that internecine wars have become a common trait in our history.

I'm using a standard method of study for this post - start with what's here, then collate evidence until there is a convergence that can approximate a proof. You then have a hypothesis (one that must be phrased in such a way that you are able to disprove it). You can count on others in your field to work on disproving your theory (and the question you This is why scientists are constantly updating what they know.

This can be compared to starting with a belief that cannot be disproved and supporting it by shrugging and saying "we can't know the mind of God". This has always struck me as a cop-out, and still doesn't serve as any sort of proof that there is a God(s).

Sagan has a great parable in his book "Demon Haunted World", where his neighbour tells him that he has a dragon in his garage. The first reaction is "Hey, cool!" but when he tries to see it (or otherwise identify it), the neighbour keep coming up with excuses why he can't. It's invisible, silent, breathes cold fire, flies, incorporeal, etc. But the neighbour still insists it's there.

The question is, do you believe him? If you do or not, that's your choice, but if you decide to base a society and its laws on that dragon, I'll have a few questions for you first...

There are a awful lot of people who are waiting for exactly what you mention - for God to show up and take control of everything. In fact, they crave for this to happen, expect it to happen soon, and are living their lives accordingly. Anything long-term (like enviromental laws) can be ignored, as the Rapture is on its way.

As for TRUTH leading me to say "I don't know", a more accurate phrase would be "I don't believe". Asking myself what it would take to KNOW carries the presumption that God exists, but what would it take to KNOW there's a dragon in my neighbours garage? It doesn't look to me like there is one, his protestations to the contrary. And there certainly isn't enough evidence to inspire me to devote my life to worshipping it.

So why did I bother posting about Gods sadistic tendicies? A simple reason - it made me laugh. Serious subjects have the best humour in them.

Again, thanks for posting.

12:05 pm  
Anonymous ephemeral said...

All makes sense. Ya know i figure there is always truth leaning under any comedy. I guess that is what instigated my retort to your post.

My ire, if you will, comes from the fact that God is totally misrepresented in this society. Primarily by the church, even.

I do believe and in fact think there is evidence to support the belief. To prove it - no. But God is a reasonable belief...just as 'No God' is reasonable.

It all comes down to trust. Like in the Sagan parable. Perhaps the guy is right about the Dragon - maybe it is there. But after a while without seeing the effects of a dragon living in his garage, it would be easy to doubt and then not believe. I mean, feeding a dragon would be expensive...and the amount of poop generated, WOW. But if the neighbor does nothing to make you think he is a straight-up liar, why not trust him? I mean, at least trust that he believes there is a dragon in there.

That requires no change in your lifestyle at all but might encourage you to figure out why he thinks there is a dragon in there.

So anyway, to erase the plausibility of a God when there is no certainty on the topic can frustrate me.

Both sides of the argument explain away every issue to satisfy their biased beliefs. So it is annoying for any who try to seek the truth...on either side of the argument.

i appreciate the discussion, none the less.

12:26 pm  
Blogger MJS said...

I have enjoyed reading this thread. What I was trying to impart in my previous comment was something like this: when discussions arise about a supernatural being, or transcendental "first cause" or immanent "force" or "spirit"--when these rather airy themes come up we in the West rely on a specific monotheistic tradition out of the Middle East as our intellectual starting point. This often means that an "atheist" is someone simply not believing in somebody else's construct of that which cannot be proved, a reaction to tribal myths from another time and place. When the word "god" comes up people ascribe features to it, as if these attributes were a given: it is "male" "lives in the sky" "has rules" etc. Get rid of those automatic thoughts and where can you go? To many "rational" minds such an idea as "We are the Universe experiencing itself" may seem rather pointless, but that's where the dance of being alive is! Isn't it amazing?

There is a line from Joseph Campbell that went like this: We are fishing for minnows while standing on a whale. I think Carl Sagan might have liked that line, though I don't know about Bertrand Russell. Think about it briefly as a poet might: we get stuck with this delimited version of the ultimate mystery of being (Yahweh, God, Allah) as if its the only toy in the box! I do not believe in the tribally specific amalgams of religious dogma that had their birth in the sands of the Middle East 3,000 years ago, yet I do feel that there is more to life than the grids we put on it to measure it: it is more than the sum of its parts. Does such a "feeling" require that I worship an icon, or debase myself, or hold on to some reified artifact as my rock? No, it does not. Faith is not about insisting: if it insists it isn't faith. Faith is (this is paraphrased from Alan Watts) letting go, floating in the ocean of being, whereas insisting upon one set of religious precepts or dogma is a "tightening up" and one drowns when one is all tight--faith is the opposite of insistence.

Watts also spoke about how the Universe tends to run away from us: when we created larger telescopes the heavens did not get closer but receded farther and farther away. When we built powerful microscopes, looking for the fundamental building blocks of matter, the pieces got farther and farther apart until it appeared as though we should all just be falling into the space between the subatomic particles: reality itself was comprised mostly of "nothing." Science's eyes got pretty big when it saw that one!

Science measures the material universe, but is only as objective and efficient as its instruments and abilities allow, and cannot view the phenomenon of existence without inherent perceptual limitations, i.e. we don't have Senses 7 through 21 (imagine if there were such things!). These limitations change with new discoveries and technologies, and that is why Science is (to me) much more alive than most religions, which are set in concrete. Think of God 1.0, God 1.1, etc. and you see there cannot be progression because everyone in God 1.0 has a vested interest in keeping their program where they can control it. Does the Bible have Tech Support?

I know I ramble, but I think there can be (and is) poetry in science: not an insistance on dogma but a kind of elegant experience of the data it collects, and wasn't that what religion started out to be, an "elegant experience of the data, both real and imagined?" "The Universe is alive" is the mantra of both Scientists and Mystics, though they arrive to that sentiment by different paths.

God as transcendent? Immanent? No god? God? On/off? Binary answer and call? Occam's razor said that "where there is no perceptive cognition there cannot be abstract cognition" and that makes all the sense in the world to me. The Ultimate is in the place "where words go back."

Belief is like a jailer
Who offers you a key
To free you from a prison
The jailer built for thee

Tat tvam asi

+++

1:28 pm  
Blogger Thursday said...

Ephemeral:

I tend to believe in something when there is a reason to: I've never felt my life lacking by being an atheist, so I've never felt a need to believe.

The biggest difficulty in my neighbour believing there's a dragon in his garage is when he convinces his neighbour Bob, and they convince Tran, who convinces Esther, who's the head of my neighbourhood beautification committee, which then decides that any house without a dragon altar in their from yard will be fined $1000 a month until one's installed.

I can't argue that the dragon's not there, and since they have no need to prove that it is, I'm out $1000 a month or I've got to find somewhere else to live. And that, most certainly, makes a change in my lifestyle.

Note the little kerfuffle over placing the Ten Commandments in front of a courthouse a short while back. The first commandment is: thou shalt have no other gods before me. And that very much affects the live of anyone going into that courthouse who has any beliefs outside the writer of those commandments...

Someone wants to worship a dragon that lives in their garage? Fine by me, as long as the worship stays there. Hell, my wife wants to set up a shrine to Keanu Reeves, fer crying out loud. But she doesn't expect me to offer up sacrifices, too!

MJS:

Duality is a common frame of reference in Western thought, and one of the most damaging concepts we've come up with; but it does no good to pretend that the same doesn't appear in Eastern Philosophies (Yin/Yang). Again, I find statements claiming that we are of the universe painfully obvious. What else would we be? "We are the Universe experiencing itself" implies that the universe is sentient (like the Gaia Hypothesis for Earth), something I cannot think applies. You'll be hard pressed to show a definition of "alive" that includes galaxies in any but a poetic sense. It comes, as you mention, down to perception.

There is nothing to reality but perception - as far as we are concerned, there can be nothing else. When an actor tries to "get into character" in a biography, they cannot actually feel what the person they are portraying felt because they are not that person. But they can imagine, and that imagination is kindled by what we percieve.

In any communication, there are at least four layers of filters between two people:
1) the mind forming the thoughts;
2) the ability to express those thoughts (method and skill;
3) the ability to receive the experssion;
4) the mind interpreting those expressions.

That's a lot to wade through for a single message, and that's with a face-to-face communication between two people! So why am I wandering off on such a tangent? Because of the question of God.

What I refer to here is (as you say) the monotheistic variant, which includes most of the Eastern religions: the Hindus, for instance, believe that their polytheism is simply many expressions of one deity. But much of what I say can also be applied to the so-called "New Age" mysticism that has been gaining in popularity over the past few decades.

Your statement that "science [...] cannot view [...] existence" is incorrect: that is exactly what science measures. There is no personality in science, no fear, or courage: it is just a tool to be used. It is in the people who use it that go through the (minimum) four filters to communicate their findings with others where the difficulties of prejudice ( fear, courage, pride, desire...) lie.

Reading the history of trying to measure light is a perfect example of watching science refine itself; likewise the history of trying to determine the age of the Earth, from Ussher onwards. Mysticism provides no such guide to improving its perceptions: while it is better than most religions (where holy writings become codified dogma), it becomes so ambiguous as to be utterly useless.

This is why I tell my wife to bite me when she tells me I'm "being Zen again".

"Sciences" eyes get big all the time: Copernicus shattered the world, as did Bacon, Newton, Einstien, Hawking...

The universe is a source of constant amazement - I live in the middle of a deciduous/coniferous rainforest, and it's plenty astounding for me! I simply don't need mysticism to let me know I'm connected to what is around me, that I have some bond with the universe or to nature: it's obvious. And I like it that way.

I'm still going to read "Taboo Against Knowledge", though!

6:02 pm  
Blogger MJS said...

It sounds like you live in a beautiful place.

One trick of Zen masters is to speak cryptically about the mundane and blandly about the exceptional, i.e. a student pesters a master about the meaning of Zen: the master asks "Did you eat your breakfast?" The student answers, "yes." "Good," says the master, "now clean your bowl." The lesson being that Zen is a direct experience of life without qualifiers and abstractions: "clean your bowl." Another student might say that the mail is late, and the master might reply "The sky is always on time." Mundane/mysterious is how everything can be viewed at one time or another.

Perception cannot perceive itself. Your eyes cannot see your eyes (no cheating with a mirror), your ears cannot hear your ears, your taste buds cannot tast your taste buds. There is no way to remove the subject from the event, therefore can one say exactly, definivitively for all time what any event/thing is in its essence, in some absolute way? I don't know!

I think everything is amazing--my son, when he was five or so, asked me to show him some magic. I asked him to raise his arms. He raised them, and I said, "That was amazing. How did you do that?" And he just shook his head, saying "That's not magic." And he was right, but it still blows me away: we can think something and make it happen!

To suggest to someone who has a set POV that they should think differently than they do is folly of a kind, so I hope I haven't done that. BUT to suggest that the Universe is a kind of mechanistic system devoid of an informing principle (beyond the measurable) is to pretend to a knowledge beyond our ken. There is not a single still-point in the universe, not one. Does this mean some jackalope with a white beard wants to know what you do with your reproductive organs?--I hope not. I sincerely hope not.

Thanks for taking the time to converse. I appreciate your writing, the beer and the delicious party snacks. I'll lock the door on my way out.

+++

11:05 pm  

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