Posts Tagged ‘deism’

Life Remains a Blessing

March 20, 2014

galaxy

Sentient consciousness is a marvelous gift; I’m really glad I exist.

I would be happy to thank Someone for every glorious breath that life grants me; I just can’t quite figure out whom to thank. God? Which one?

I’m a devout deist because my Creator has endowed me with the type of brain which renders me incapable of experiencing a connection to an anthropomorphized God. I can’t imagine ever giving myself over to the God of the Christians, for example. First of all, a God who wishes to be exalted by the likes of me would be all too human for me to take seriously. Moreover, there are billions of people on Earth who believe in reincarnation while billions of other people believe in heaven. These are two mutually incompatible outcomes of existence. Maybe billions of people are right and billions of people are wrong. Who knows?  Fortunately, it’s not my task in life to figure these things out.

To be clear, I am not one of those New Atheists who hates God for not existing. On the contrary, I encounter many things in Christianity that are good and beautiful. I’m all for fellowship, good works, humility, and forgiveness; furthermore, the Peace Christians are my heroes. (And I really don’t think grownups should have heroes.)

But the universe got along just fine for a long, long time before human beings came onto the scene, so it’s obvious that Existence really isn’t about us.

For some reason or another, human beings have developed the capacity to appreciate the fact that we exist. At any rate, for me, life remains a blessing, as W. H. Auden notes in “As I Walked Out One Evening,” his bleak and lovely meditation on Christianity

This brings me to the Christian concept of grace. Although there is much bickering over the theological specifics of grace within and between Christian denominations, grace is basically the notion that human beings have done nothing to deserve the love and mercy bestowed upon us by God. Instead of arguing about how loving and merciful God actually is, I will simply concede that our existence is unearned. Life is a mysterious take-it-or-leave-it proposition. And griping about how life should be different is a silly waste of our precious time on Earth.

As Robert Pinsky notes in “Family Values,” his bleak and lovely poem about resentment and cupidity,

nobody gets what they/ Deserve more than everybody else.

Does anyone deserve to have an unhappy childhood? Of course not.  But this world is not about fairness.

The universe wasn’t built for us. But it’s a spectacular privilege to be granted the slight and brief glimpse that our limited consciousness affords.

I don’t “hope for higher raptures, when life’s day is done.” The physical world is sufficiently marvelous for me.

I’ll leave the final word on grace to Kris Kristofferson.

by Richard W. Bray

Listening to the Whirlwind: Theodicy for Deists

May 26, 2012

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows

—Robert Frost

Ever tried to talk to a grasshopper?  Of course not.  Yet the moral, intellectual, and existential divide between God and humanity is obviously greater than the gulf between people and insects.  So why do so many human beings expect to hear from God?

Our Judeo-Christian heritage leads us to assume that God is both creator and creation.  (God is in all things but somehow He is also an omnipotent overseer.)  We assume that God must be perfection.  We assume that God must be infinite in relation to both time and space.  And then we expect this marvelous conglomeration of mystery and paradox to speak to us as we would speak to one another.

Unfortunately, God exists in a realm so many notches above our level of understanding that we utterly lack the necessary equipment to understand Him.  Attempting to contemplate God with a human brain makes as much sense as trying to cut the sun in half with a pair of scissors.

Jon Dryden eloquently expresses the folly:

How can the less the Greater comprehend?
Or finite Reason reach Infinity?
For what cou’d Fathom GOD were more than He.

This simple observation makes me deist. (Although I should hasten to add that Dryden explicitly rejects deism in Religio Laici.)

I don’t know what God is; I will never know what God is, and I’m not going to waste my precious time on earth trying to figure out what God is.

Does this make me a candidate for Winston Niles Rumfoord’s  Church of God the Utterly Indifferent?  My answer is an unequivocal maybe.  (Getting mired in a swamp of paradox is perhaps the greatest peril of groping after God.)  Maybe God cares about humanity; maybe God doesn’t care.

My fellow human beings, however, tend to assume that God cares a great deal about us.  And Christians anthropomorphize God to the point that He can actually feel our pain because a God who cannot suffer is insufferable.

But if God loves us so much, why is our world full of suffering and injustice? Unfortunately, there is no humanly comprehensible answer to this question. But there is an entire branch of theology dedicated to “reconciling God’s traditional characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience (all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, respectively) with the occurrence of evil in the world.”

Humans have been looking for someone to blame for our lot since Gilgamesh. And as long as we insist upon anthropomorphizing God, we are stuck in the cul-de-sac of asking ourselves why the universe is the way it is.

Interestingly, the Old Testament provides an answer for this question which is as profound as it is unsatisfying:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?….

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place….

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.

Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof….

Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;

To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man;

To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?

Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  (Job 38)

So God’s answer to it all is: It’s none of your damn business and you wouldn’t be capable of understanding it if I told you anyway.

Or, as the wonderful gospel Midrash (You Can’t Hurry God) He’s Right on Time succinctly notes:

I’m God all by myself/And I don’t need nobody else.”

This vast, spectacular universe is not about us.  But then again, of course it is.  (Another paradox.)

If we read the Book of Job imagining God and Satan sitting in a couple of celestial director’s chairs as they toy with Job for sport, then we must conclude that God is a sick, sad, wicked creep.

But once we reject the silly notion that God is merely some sort of human being who lives in outer space, the Whirlwind begins to make a hell of a lot of sense.

by Richard W. Bray