Monday, December 15, 2008

The Reason For God

There are a lot of good reasons to believe in God, but this reason I'm about to unfold is, I think, the best one. There are also a lot of good reasons to doubt God, but clearly I'm a person who has not given those reasons ultimate sway. I think the fact that people with power get away with murder and worse, and sometimes young children die of cancer and starve and get beaten should give people pause. But ultimately that should probably drive you to a hope that there is a God.

But making an argument for the vague idea of "God" is not very useful. In this country 94%-plus people believe in God, but what that means to them is as varied as cocktail recipes. A deistic God may as well not be there; a new age, "positive" God is really just you with your own personal style of halo...No, I lobby for a triumphant God with standards that may not necessarily match up with yours or mine. This God also reserves the right to pronounce a final judgment when you're all said and done. Yes, I've chosen to take the Bible at its word, and if you would like to engage me in fisticuffs over that then I am certainly willing, but I don't think that's necessary. I wish to engage your mind rather than your emotions or sense of guilt.

That God of the Bible is somewhat controversial, and that is why I am relying on an atheist to make my point. I don't know for sure if Joseph Heller is an atheist, but nihilists usually are. Anyway, he makes this case for God (even though he doesn't know that's what he is doing), and the appeal is very similar to that of the book of Ecclesiastes, which is disenchanted with almost everything (it is in the Bible so it's automatic that it will be for at least one Thing). Here is your life-changing paragraph:

"The chaplain had sinned, and it was good. Common sense told him that telling lies and defecting from duty were sins. On the other hand, everyone knew that sin was evil and that no good could come from evil. But he did feel good; he felt positively marvelous. Consequently, it followed logically that telling lies and defecting from duty could not be sins. The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character."

This is the world that you live in. A world where the only truth is the question of whose will shall triumph over whose. Of course it is exhilarating to wake up in the morning and think that everything is negotiable, but you'll quickly tire from the knowledge that sooner or later everyone is bullshitting you, including yourself. To say that you define your own truth, that everything is negotiable and we blaze our own trail, is the same thing as saying that everything is meaningless. If your truth is simply your truth and others are free to contradict and disagree, then that and 5 cents will get you a decent cup of coffee--and that's about it. If there is no fixed morality then questions of right and wrong are only yet another expedient to whatever a person desires. No ultimate reality means that all questions, ALL questions--Hitler, abortion, suicide, genocide, matricide and shoplifting--are questions of personal taste.


What this quote accentuates is the fact that we all lie (rationalization usually equals lie), and we do it well, and we do it often. It's a depiction of the common human experience, though when most read it they claim to somehow be an outsider to the human race: "Yeah, those lying, cheating bastards," the outsider will say. It's "those people," over there. The world is composed of six billion souls who consider themselves the exception to the rule.

Do you know what the ultimate picture is of someone who has fully actualized themselves and created and embraced their own truth? A person who has gone insane.

After viewing the world through the lens that Heller and the Bible provide, I would think you would hope there was a God to pull you out of that morass, that awful, meaningless grind. But alas, I know that most won't. Submitting yourself to a higher authority suggests a loss of autonomy and the ability to do what one wishes--even though we spend ourselves chasing after the wind. The child insists on their own way and we are all thankful that a parent is there constantly saving the child's life--that is our relationship to God, writ large.

1 comment:

Jess DesLongchamp said...

You are remarkable.
I love your thoughts --- and that quote.