Reasonable by Whose Standards?
My good buddy Zen was waxing philosophical about some of his ideas regarding religion. Naturally we don't see eye to eye, but agreeably so. Anyway, in the comment section I went off on a bit of a tangent, explaining the modern Christian concept of sin, that sinful actions are a result of a person being sinful by nature, rather than a person becoming sinful because they sin.
More on that later.
But both Zen and Lily made some interesting comments that I've been mulling over lately and decided to discuss, in a departure from fun yet inane lists of things people don't really care to know about me.
Zen said: "That particular concept [free will] in Christianity is incredibly difficult, Anthony. There simply isn't a good answer to how you can have true free will when God is transcendent, and a/ created your will in the first place, b/ knows all outcomes of your decisions before you make them and c/ (most importantly) because he stands outside time has "already" judged you for the decisions you are yet to make."
And Lily said: "What sucks is that mankind shared in the fuckup of one man and is expected to pay the idiotic price of hell if they don't recognize the existence of God and his workaround to fix it all-the sacrifice of his son. Since God is omnipotent, since he knew what would happen, since he knew that billions of his supposed beloved creatures were going to be doomed based on the choice of ONE man and that they would have nothing to go on to understand God than the gut, basically, certainly nothing tangible, you would think he would have stopped himself from doing anything so utterly absurd and cruel as to create man in the first place."
Both are astute and reasonable observations, and I honestly have no direct answer. They are reasonable from a human point of view.
To me the question becomes one of point of view. Whose point of view are we operating from?
So let's look at the possibilities. A few assumptions that I think are safe, but if I've missed, let me know. One, you can't prove a negative, so we cannot prove God does not exist. Two, despite the fact that we could prove God does exist (provided he does) if He were to opt to submit himself to empirical examination, it's probably safe to say that we cannot prove God does exist simply based on His apparent pattern of avoiding direct detection. This would leave us with a true-false proposition. Either God does exist or he doesn't.
Let's also define God as an entity existing outside the natural universe yet directly responsible for its creation and maintaining supreme authority over all aspects of creation, and capable of influencing and participating in the activities of creation at will. Naturally there are a few other concepts, but this covers several billion people's perception and will serve the conversation.
Let's start off with the premise that God does not exist. There is no God, no reality external to our universe. Matter is eternal and the universe is on a big, accidental cycle of some sort. Existence is purposeless except for whatever purpose any sort of sentient intelligence has chosen to apply to it for the sake of survival and social stability. Every moment is to be filled with as much pleasure and contrived meaning as possible because the moment of annihilation is always at hand, rendering your legacy meaningless to you, and only as meaningful as the pleasure and continued meaning it contrives for the people in your social context who manage to outlive you.
In that context is it really more reasonable to deny the existence of a non-existent God? Well, of course it's more reasonable, but faced with the moment of annihilation, would you rather step knowingly into permanent and unknowing darkness, snuffed out? I admit I would not. I would rather slip into annihilation with the full expectation of my entry into heaven, never knowing the extent of my hopeless estate, the hopeless estate of every human being. I would rather not fear death, since I will likely not have any control over its timing or method.
As an aside, I found it interesting when Zen said that as a committed Christian I had "much more to lose." I think the exact opposite is true. As a Christian I have very little to lose. If Zen's right, it doesn't matter anyway. No decision I can make regarding any sort of religious affiliation will alter my eternal destiny the least bit. I would face annihilation the same as any other man. I would simply be more likely to die without fear and save myself that last, small bit of suffering. However, if I happen to be right, and God is real, and Jesus is the way, then I still obtain heaven, but the willful unbeliever does not receive the annihilation he expects, but rather eternal torment. I would argue that the unbeliever has more to "lose" than I ever could.
Anyway, I suppose some would say that knowledge of God's non-existence would urge you to make the most of your life. The problem is that the definition of the "Most" differs greatly between individuals, and in an accidental existence, nobody's definition can possibly be wrong. It can be frowned upon by certain social subsets, but in the end, everything is valid because there is no overriding authority and any moral authority is by necessity contrived by circumstance and redefinable simply by gaining power over whatever social subset one belongs to. Your responsibility is simply to yourself, you have ultimate free will, there is nothing more than you can see, there is no need nor responsibility to seek God or any level of spirituality other than your own pursuit of happiness or pleasure. All aspects of living are bound only by the force of Reason that lacks any level of moral authority other than that contrived by society and you face neither judgment nor paradise in light of your actions or choices made in your pursuit.
Now yes, I realize that volumes have been written between each and every phrase written above and that I have chosen but one of many lines of reasoning, but I don't think that particular line is that far off the mark from the core of most humanist philosophy.
On that note, let's continue. What if God does exist? What if He really is there?
Both Zen and Lily's comments reflect a natural and innate arrogance on the part of humans. Humanity tends to think that in order to be real, the onus is on God to conform to a sense of human reason.
But if God is really real, if he exists, does it not behoove us to seek him out? If God has created this world as it is and all that is within it, does not the onus fall on us to find Him in whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself and seek to conform to whatever demands He places on humanity to fulfill His will as it pertains to human beings?
Reasonableness aside, if God's plan is a pass/fail proposition, and if failure is an eternity of torment and isolation, and passing is an eternity of paradise, does it not make sense that it would be in our best interests to seek God out, learn His will, and conform to it, no matter how some aspects of it may offend our human sensibilities?
If God is real and the way is narrow, God probably isn't going to argue semantics or reasonableness while processing 37 billion souls for the afterlife.
Of course, most of these questions pertain primarily to the Judeo-Christian concept of God, though they do lend themselves to Islam and other monotheistic traditions.
We should clarify that there are two other major paths of conversation here. On the one hand is the idea that perhaps God is unknowable and purposely so, and that we simply have to live our lives however and figure it out for ourselves and just see how it turns out at the end.
The other, of course, is that God is knowable and has made a way for us to know Him. Should've said that up front, as naturally if He's unknowable, the effect would be the same as if He didn't exist, as there would be know way to know His will or His expectations.
So, continuing on with the idea that God does exist, let's say we agree that if He does, then He's knowable and it's up to us to seek Him out, all for the sake of argument. What sort of position are we in with Him? Are we in a position to demand reasonableness from a human point of view from the being who created us and has ultimate power over us? Leave for the moment any consideration of whether the application of said power is loving and just or the opposite (don't worry, I'll return to that.) If God is the ultimate and overriding authority in the universe, does it not follow that His law and His order would then be our overriding moral foundation? As a human being, would it be worth facing eternal torment to avoid being coerced into paradise on God's terms rather than ours? I mean this seriously, too, because I can see Zen saying, "Hell yes!" without really considering what eternal torment would mean. Anyway, I hadn't really intended to get that far into that aspect of the argument, mostly because I don't like fire n' brimstone preaching :)
When we consider the state of original sin that condemns the unbeliever to hell, Lily takes affront at being held responsible for a single ancestor's screw up. I would ask her to consider that eternal innocence might be a gift once bestowed, and once lost, cannot be regained since the knowledge that destroyed that innocence cannot then be eradicated. Pandora's box is open and it ain't closing up again. It's sort of a genetic state of being. We're born in the image of our parents, separated from God. It sort of seems unfair, but don't we then fulfill that destiny by our own actions? And if you could be born perfectly innocent and incapable of sin, that would imply a complete lack of knowledge of the possibility of sin or even the definition of disobedience. To maintain that purity, you would have to divest yourself of any level of free will or self-determination because you could not allow yourself the freedom to choose an alternative other than that prescribed as good by God. One might take issue that if hell is the result of freedom to choose, then it really is no choice at all. Perhaps, but the biblical God really does make it pretty easy to avoid damnation. More on that in a minute.
While we're on the responsibility aspect, part of Lily's comment strikes right at the heart of the main message I'm trying to get across. She says, "...you would think he would have stopped himself from doing anything so utterly absurd and cruel as to create man in the first place."
You would think.
Yes, you might at that, but who am I? Who are you? You can question God, but would you accept His answer? If God is really there, do you really expect Him to submit himself to finite human reasoning? Is it possible that there are things He knows about all things that are impossible to ken from our point of fleeting existence?
Let me throw something out there. This is a conjecture that is not far off the mark of conversations concerning just this issue among Christian circles. It's important to realize that even the most committed Christians wrestle with this very same issue. Sometimes it does seem cruel.
What if God wishes to create and surround himself with other sentient, finite beings to relate to and care for. It's hard to know why He would wish that, but let's say He does. And let's say He desires to be loved, but as a free choice of will. He could create people and place them in a paradise without the possibility of disobedience, but perhaps there is no possibility of freely given love there because there is no alternative, no other choice. Without a path of negativity, positivity means nothing. How do you appreciate the light never knowing darkness?
How can a person truly freely love God and willingly give up the alternatives if they are blind to the alternatives?
The biblical God is often described as being slow to anger and quick to forgive. It is said that if one truly seeks God, he or she will surely find Him. In my view, and for most Christians, God isn't trying to send people to Hell. He is waiting for someone to seek Him with an honest heart and just say, "God, if you're there, I want to find you, the real you, no matter what that looks like, or what I have to do. If you're truth and you're there, I want that more than anything." I believe that's just what God does.
Let me say one thing here. I am not under the illusion, as some of my Christian bretheren sometimes are, that I can prove to anyone the existence of God. I cannot, nor can anyone else, and personally, I think that's by design. The need for faith is part of the design of love, for if God were to submit himself to scientific examination and provide empirical evidence for His existence and specify the Bible, or some other material, for that matter, as Da Rulez then people would come in droves, not out of love and not as a matter of free will and not out of a desire to truly find God and commune with Him, but simply because it would become the only proven method of avoiding damnation. There would be no need for faith, trust, belief, love, any of it. The same way we know to put on our seatbelts and wear a helmet and hold onto the railing, we would know to convert because there would really be no choice.
You see, I believe many people do not seek God out with an honest heart because they would not be willing to change their minds or their lives in response to what they find. People don't seek God with an open willingness to accept whatever they find at the end of that search. People look for God on their own terms and expect Him to conform to their own sensibilities rather than being willing to conform to His.
After all, if He's really there, He is God.
I'm sorry a lot of this was pretty train of thought, but all of the tangents seemed relevant at the moment of writing. I'm sure I've raised a LOT of questions I didn't consider and hope you'll take the time to ask them.
In the end, though, it's true that we only have our own human reason to go with. I do choose to believe in God, because the world and the universe, to me, can be no accident. When faced with what is basically a yes/no question of "Is there a God," my sensibilities tell me that there must be more, and that I ought to seek God out wherever He might be found. If it turns out He's not there, I've lost nothing, but if I find Him, in Him may be found the secrets of Heaven and Eternity, and then I've gained everything.
Sounds like a very safe bet.