On God

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on December 14, 2014.

God is eternal.

I do not say this as a com­pli­ment. Often we com­pli­ment people with things which are slightly beyond their actual merit, and it is some­times annoy­ing to dis­cover that they have received it as fact. I state it as fact, because the con­cept of deity hinges on the eter­nity of the being. Which is why when I am self-con­scious about the social­ized ten­dency to give this being a gender- like right now, when I’m writ­ing in a philo­soph­i­cal bent- I call it things like ‘being’ and ‘entity’. But even these are con­tentious. Does God exist? It’s hard to say. Existence as a con­cept seems to fall short of what deity sug­gests. Were I to watch you fall into a black hole- of course I’d save you; I assume I could, having come that far, but let’s pre­sume. Were I to watch you drift into the event hori­zon, you would appear to remain there, static, for as long as I watched after that. Having ceased to ‘exist’, our time-bound uni­verse would keep a wist­ful sort of memory of you for­ever. Thus sci­ence projects.

Our uni­verse is more frag­ile and more finite than we make it seem. We are often con­fronted by a pro­found circle with zero as its centre and infin­ity as its cir­cum­fer­ence. Merely by draw­ing the x- and y‑axis on a graph sheet, we run the risk of dis­tract­ing our­selves with eter­nity; which is why we have the nice white mar­gins, to help us stay sane. Our world is gov­erned by bound­aries more useful than mere grav­ity and ther­mo­dy­nam­ics- the lim­i­ta­tions of our knowl­edge. But some­times these limits are tick­led by irrev­er­ent people and phe­nom­ena. I tran­scended the petty belief in the super­nat­ural for a while a couple of years back. The prob­lem with my bliss­ful agnos­ti­cism was, once in a while you come across a case of blur­ring in the lines of real­ity. Cases like that guy who says he does­n’t need to eat. Who does­n’t need to eat? It’s blas­phe­mous. I clung with faith to the assured dis­be­lief of the Indian Rationalist Association, who have con­sis­tently found such people to be frauds. They’d catch this guy out too, I knew, if he ever dared to agree to be stud­ied. Then I won­dered why it wor­ried me so much. What does it mean if our lim­i­ta­tions aren’t lim­i­ta­tions? We know there’s invari­ably a gap between what we can com­fort­ably achieve and what our max­i­mum capac­ity is. To state the vital con­cern: how much candy could I eat if I could tran­scend the ner­vous feed­back from the pulp in my teeth?

We’re a weird species. So many years after we became civ­i­lized, we still paint our faces and go through phys­i­cal pain to con­form to fash­ions. But we’re good at one thing- every gen­er­a­tion does some­thing big that the pre­vi­ous ones thought impos­si­ble. Our range of pos­si­bil­i­ties have so expo­nen­tially expanded that now smart people look at wacky ideas for the future and respond with a giddy ‘Who knows?’ But some things go too far; they seem to imply that we are under­achiev­ing, kind of. Like the guy who is hating on food- he’s not alone. Political pris­on­ers are reg­u­larly reported to go weeks with­out eating. It con­cerns their jail­ers so much, they force-feed them. These jail­ers, they have tor­tur­ing in their job descrip­tions, but they won’t let a guy starve. It’s just not human. Eternity mostly frus­trates us by its simple law of addi­tion, but beyond that it mocks us. It derides us for quitting.

God is good.

This isn’t a com­pli­ment either. Good means ‘pleas­ant; right; ‘pos­i­tive’. It also, for some reason, means ‘for­ever; com­pleted’. ‘For good’, we say. In essence, ‘god’ and ‘good’ are equiv­a­lent con­cepts. The origin of the word ‘good’ revolves around the con­cept of ‘together’, which makes sense. The glue of our expand­ing, decay­ing uni­verse is the ambi­tion of neg­a­tive par­ti­cles to gain pos­i­tive attrib­utes. It’s the only hope of sta­bil­ity for us, but it’s our inter­minable strug­gle. But how do we define good? It is part of the nature of our pecu­liar real­ity that it is often easier to define ‘bad’, and work from there. I ago­nized about the Japanese yin-yang thing for a long time, then I real­ized that it’s human nature. When you keep get­ting abused, you ratio­nal­ize it; you come to think it normal. Indeed, our belief in super­nat­ural evil is harder to get rid of than super­nat­ural good. We often think about the sim­i­lar­i­ties in reli­gions, but there’s even more sim­i­lar­ity in the horror sto­ries of cul­tures. The per­cent­age of the global pop­u­la­tion who agree that Hitler was supremely bad is greater than for those who agree that any person is supremely good. Because of this, it’s hard to solid­ify good into a single being. What would you do with the bad, anyway? Why is there bad to begin with? How does a chaotic nature arise from a uni­form, stable origin? It baf­fles both my sci­ence and my faith.

Beyond the prob­lem of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing a per­fect good­ness, it seems almost cheesy to the intel­lect. Why do we need an exter­nal source of pos­i­tive behav­iour? I don’t know. Why do we? Because we do. I dis­cov­ered in my time as an agnos­tic that it’s hard trying to teach the spirit to stop look­ing with­out; you end up look­ing to the ‘Universe’ and ‘Mother Nature’ and the ‘common good’. Fact is, our econ­omy requires self­ish­ness to sur­vive. Logic rec­om­mends it. Instinct demands it, how­ever com­pli­cated the chain from action to reward. So why do people get all irra­tional and go and die for other people? There’s no reward there. Also, we pre­tend like caring for the future is ratio­nal. It isn’t really. But still we do these things; we appar­ently have to. You can’t even break the law of good­ness; you only cir­cum­vent it, by con­vinc­ing your­self that the sit­u­a­tion isn’t so bad, or that they could help them­selves if they wanted to, or that they are actu­ally bad people who deserve it. Suggesting that such a pow­er­ful law is innate is as dis­turb­ing as the option that visu­al­izes it exter­nally. Why we nat­u­rally choose the latter I don’t know.

I want God.

‘The king­dom of God is within you’. This is the point where faith and ethics diverge; one is a con­trol­ling force, the other is an enabler. Power is some­thing we can never have enough of, even in our small uni­verse. Our armies work by this logic: more power, less strug­gle. This is what makes deity and eter­nity fright­en­ing. If they matter, if they have an effect on our world, then we have that much far­ther to go before we are king of the hill. This is why we are per­versely pleased to find that per­fect people aren’t so per­fect. Because per­fec­tion is a tri­umph over our broken nature, and if some­body achieves it, it makes us lazy by com­par­i­son. Back to that guy who says he does­n’t need food. If I get stuck on a desert island with him, I can’t ratio­nal­ize my log­i­cal can­ni­bal­iza­tion of his body by saying that he’d have eaten me. He would have just sat on some palm fronds, with a flower in his hair, med­i­tat­ing. Also he has tran­scended the need to pee, appar­ently. He is like every teacher I’ve ever had who told me ‘fair, could do better’, except he says it with his life. To feel sat­is­fied with my life, I need him to be a fraud. This need in all of us is sat­is­fied by scan­dal after rev­e­la­tion, and even when we feel sad we are sub­con­sciously relieved. Which is why democ­racy in reli­gion is such a fright­en­ing idea. It’s easy to like Zeus; he’s sur­viv­ing the death of reli­gion nicely. All he does is kill people and have one night stands. But what do you do with a reli­gion that asks more of you? So in protest we focus on the imper­fec­tions. We say, ‘reli­gion is at the root of all evil’. That thought isn’t sup­ported by logic or sci­ence, though we say it in sup­port of these alter­na­tive pil­lars. The bad things that happen happen because of fear and greed and pas­sion. If a reli­gion promises tran­scen­dence, then every common human you see is a mere appren­tice. Everybody goes through the stages, in groups and as indi­vid­u­als. First, God appeals to you as a bug­bear, a sort of neg­a­tive rein­force­ment. Then he (or she, or x) becomes a touch­stone, a magic lamp, a wish­ing well. Then, finally, deity becomes the clear­est mirror, reveal­ing your own bro­ken­ness. And you begin to scratch fran­ti­cally at your shell, hoping to find a gem within.

My aunt loved ani­mals as a child. My mother told me how she would go to hens’ nests and take the eggs that failed to hatch, and kindly break the shells for the poor chicks within. They always died. It’s no good trying to crack the shell from out­side. The force must arise from within; that’s the only way you know you’re ready for the world out­side. If we were dropped into eter­nity, it would kill us. We would find our­selves in a place with­out time, with a place which tran­scends the con­cept of order. The idea of streets of gold is a solid one, though sci­en­tif­i­cally impos­si­ble in a place beyond matter. Another bound­ary-break­ing thought con­fronted me about a year ago: it rains dia­monds on Jupiter. It raises the ques­tion, so what’s the point? The answer- if we knew, it would kill us. Mere cracks in our con­scious­ness are capa­ble of weak­en­ing our sur­vival instinct. A con­crete appre­ci­a­tion of eter­nity makes our lives a dis­ease, and death a blessing.

I was coming to this place after search­ing sci­ence for answers, and find­ing only data. Then I found an unusual little sermon in ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’. (I don’t know how I forgot it when I listed the books of my child­hood.) It came from Arthur, when he lay recov­er­ing from his fever. He described heaven as a blue­print, a thing we can build by our actions. It was a thought I hadn’t come across before, though it’s essen­tial in many faiths. It turns the power we crave into a respon­si­bil­ity. ‘Thine will be done on earth’. In my earth. As daily we fight self­ish­ness, as we tell the truth when the lie would be easier, as we lift people up when it would serve us to prey on them, we pray this prayer with our lives. For a per­fect world, with per­fect people, in per­fect peace.

We want God.

I’ve always avoided talk­ing about God because there’s so much con­flict across beliefs, and con­flict does­n’t serve the peace I crave. This is prob­a­bly the most per­sonal essay I will ever write, and I wrote it as a thank-you, really. It’s been an inter­est­ing couple of months, back alone with my thoughts after a foray into the Real World. Depression does­n’t bring me help­less­ness; it brings me anger. I’ve seen it in others, so when mine comes I avoid people. I avoid God too. On Thursday we finally talked, and then in the evening, with the lights out, my mother and I talked. With our faces obscured in the dim­ness, we shared with pro­found hon­esty, talk­ing about eter­nity. Today, I sat in church, barely fight­ing the urge to sleep. Then I began to notice whole sen­tences from my thoughts, from our con­ver­sa­tion, being repeated in my ears. My eyes cleared, then misted as I watched people. These thoughts that enable us, that we are God, these are thoughts that are whis­pered in minds every­where. I won­dered if I should share this little expe­ri­ence, if it would­n’t be vent­ing like I’ve been wor­ry­ing about recently. I am shar­ing it for those who have heard the whispers.