Many readers will use the word, “effrontery’ to describe my approach to the subject of “God,” a topic that hardly anyone can escape, considering at one time or another, one way or another, we all encounter the subject.
I suspect that most people, during at least one period of their lives, believe that some intelligent, creative force is in charge of everything. When we’re children, parents, grandparents, and school teachers provide parameters for our behavior in a world filled with surprises and limits. Authority and expertise are then transferred, at least in part, to employers, political figures, and perhaps gurus of one kind or another (like a movie star endorsing a certain shampoo). We want and need to believe that in the vast cosmos, there is a purpose and design with cause and effect laws that provide a sense of purpose upon which we can depend. In those terms, science itself serves a purpose in providing us with concrete facts that are more or less universal. All of us at one time or another have experienced that feeling of “Why me?” Randomness can disorient and frighten us. It helps us to depend upon a sense of purpose through cause and effect, because though we are creatures of strong emotion, we are also essentially rational.
As far as I can tell, concepts of God are based upon creation of all things, everything from tadpoles to stars. Our brains can deal with such generalities but have little power to imagine anything with no beginning and no end. We have an alpha and omega, but God does not.
As far back as we can go in the history of our species, there has been worship of ethereal beings, some male, some female, some androgynous. Such veneration was also a way to explain the origins of things. “From where does this come? Who are we and why are we here?” are fundamental questions in both science and religion.
Shared belief in something helps hold a culture together. Something immaterial can also be personalized by each individual but reinforced by various images in stone, wood, painting, and stained glass. As a church goer myself, I know that though we, as a congregation, worship together, each of us has his or her own concept of the vast and varied views of deity, each of us making his or her own “designer” version. I doubt that any two could be exactly alike. This is inevitable, considering the ethereal nature of God.
The world contains an endless number of interpretations on the nature of God, everything from a loving and merciful healer to a cruel, cosmic disciplinarian. Even the Christian God changed drastically from the Old Testament to the New. Human culture (or lack of it) determines the concept and doctrine of any religion, mystery certainly being an important component, liberated in part by the absence or need of proof in any scientific sense. But that’s really what faith is.
There is something innate in all of us that responds in some way to the wonders around us. The birth of a healthy child, a blazing sunset over an ocean or snow-covered mountain. Even the healing of a small cut on a finger, can stop us dead in our tracks with awe and some level of gratitude. Science can do this for me too, but reducing beauty to mathematical formulas and physics can also remove mystery the way analyzing the geometric arcs in Mona Lisa’s smile can diminish (or increase, for some) the mystique of the painting.
In the most general terms, belief in God is something that can be shared, though it is something also deeply personal. It can relieve countless needs. It can also divide people and nations, creating as it has for many centuries, self-righteous and unfair judgments based upon fear and intolerance. Even vast genocide has been the result of such misplaced and extreme ardor, based upon religious fervor gone mad, even though, in the end, there is absolutely no “proof” one way or the other that God even exists. I suppose that’s why we call our belief “faith.” No parson, priest, preacher or even pope knows more about the hereafter (if there is one) than anyone else. No one has really been there and come back to share facts and photos.
The rest of us are content to understand the consequences of things through science. Either way, our paths should be able to cross peacefully, moving together toward safety, healing and contentment for all people.