In February of 2017, Eddie Izzard did a one-night-only performance in Tokyo. It was a stunning show, a serious demonstration of skill and imagination, and very entertaining.
At one point among all the mirth though, I was made to feel quite uncomfortable by Eddie's openly stated assumption that, as a room full of rational people, none of us would believe in God. As a rational person of faith who has struggled, searched and largely found the answers they were looking for, I felt alienated.
At best, Eddie was referring to the stereotypical depiction of God in Christianity, as a bearded old man who lives up among the clouds, which is undeniably irrational at this period in our history. At worst, it was attempted Atheist propagandism through peer pressure. I don't know what the truth is, and it doesn't really matter, but the situation inspired the words below as a response.
Defense Against Modern Belief Masquerading as Certainty
People say with such certainty that god is not real.
“Where was he when this disaster happened?”
“How could he allow children to die of cancer?”
“Does he ever actually answer prayers -
how could he even, when so many of them contradict one another?”
This thinking is predicated entirely
on the belief that only physical things exist.
If god does not have physical attributes, he cannot be real.
(That’s how the “he” sneaks in there too)
I’m not saying that I know for a fact
that some things aren’t dependent on matter for their existence.
I’m saying that no one knows one way or the other.
It’s as much an act of belief to say that only physical things exist
as to say that non-physical things can have their own independent existence.
We don’t know either way.
Think about ideas.
We are literally surrounded by the physical manifestations of ideas,
but where do they come from?
They could be generated by the brain,
or the brain (perhaps our whole organism) could be tuning in
to a non-physical dimension of concepts which we then apply to the world.
Either is a reasonable hypothesis given the evidence.
Please don’t fall back on Occam’s Razor.
Saying that physical reality alone existing
is the simplest explanation here
discounts a huge variety of experience,
from the spiritual, near death and supernatural
through to the daily awareness of our own consciousness,
the origin of which is still a mystery.
There’s nothing in Occam’s Razor about excluding relevant data,
and to say that anecdotal evidence is inadmissible
because there’s no physical proof
is to be caught in a tautology of the most dogmatic kind.
What if god is meaning?
What if every time someone experiences genuine meaning in their life,
or gets a little taste of it,
that’s them tuning in to an independently existing, timeless non-physical quality
that provides a particular perspective?
(I’m not referring to meaning here
as acquired knowledge of something in particular,
such as the definition of a word,
but as a personal, active insight into one’s part in a larger picture,
an emotionally experienced objectivity)
Q: “Where was god when that train derailed, killing everyone on board?”
A: “How much meaning did each person have in their life when they died?”
Q: “Where is god when children die from painful diseases?”
A: “What meaning are their parents and support network able to bring to their suffering for them?”
Where is the logical fallacy in this choice to see meaning as independently existing,
not as something of our own invention for the purpose of self-consolation?
There are also plenty of other such contenders for god
among non-physical experiences:
Beauty, truth, perfection, creativity, emptiness, self-awareness, unconditional love.
To believe in any of these as real independent of matter
is totally within the bounds of rationality.
Or what if god is experienced by tuning in to some…
that we find impossible to describe with language,
that is fundamentally at odds with the nature of our linear rational minds
to encapsulate in words
(perhaps because it expresses what appear to us to be contradictory qualities)?
I considered coining a term to use
for those of us who choose to believe
in non-physical reality - the “rationally faithful”, perhaps -
until I realised that this misses the point.
Anybody who commits to a position in either direction,
whether it’s that non-physical experiences have independent reality or not,
is engaged in an act of “rational faith”.
Any assertion of certitude here,
beyond what has actually been proven,
is a stepping outside of objectivity into belief.
To be clear, if you’re praying to a deity
to smite your approaching enemies like a giant Monty Python foot,
or to help a horse run faster so that you can win a bet,
you are not in touch with reality.
If someone is forcing their opinion
of what the physical characteristics or place of residence
of a deity are,
they are not in touch with reality.
Because one thing we can say with certainty
is that god does not participate in physical reality in the same way that we do,
and most certainly doesn’t acquiesce in any obvious way
to individuals’ personal desires and expectations.
So there are some things that we can say are not true.
Praying for the soul of a deceased loved one
to be looked after by an intelligent non-physical entity
entirely capable of responding to the request
is different though.
There is no reference to the material world here.
So while it is not based on established facts of how we know the universe to operate,
it is not contrary to rational possibility.
That’s a fact.
Objects can represent non-physical qualities and people can embody them.
Non-physical qualities can guide us in how to lead our lives
and, through us, they change the physical world.
The question is whether they are generated by matter
or are free-standing realities in their own right.
Unless you have decided to be impartial on the subject,
actively clearing yourself of biases and waiting for conclusive evidence,
or are genuinely indifferent,
then you are a person of faith.
To be specific to our culture at this time,
denying the possibility of god’s existence
is the exercising of a belief,
to which of course anyone is entitled, but which is still nevertheless a belief.
It should not be considered a forgone conclusion
that is spontaneously graspable by anybody with sufficient intelligence.
To automatically discriminate
against those who choose to believe in non-physical reality
without knowing anything else about them
is literally prejudice.