Since 2001, I’ve been struggling with a crisis of faith. I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church as a baby, participated in the Eucharist, and was Confirmed. I went to a parochial elementary school and junior high. I went to a high school that is run by the Jesuits. In college, and in the beginning of med school, I participated in the Catholic Community.
I still believe that the person presented by the four Gospels known as Jesus Christ is someone worth emulating—someone who cares for the unwanted, the down-trodden, the outcast. Someone who is willing to face up to authority and to unflinchingly stand true to your beliefs, without arrogance, without false bravado.
I still keep the words from the sermon on the mount in my heart: blessed are the poor, blessed are the hunger, blessed are those who, in their quest for justice, are made to suffer at the hands of authority. Blessed are those who are merciful, blessed are those who strive to bring peace to the world.
But in 2001, evil and/or deluded people performed evil deeds in the name of God—Muslim and Christian alike—and in the religious communities around me, no one heeded my cry for understanding. I was treated to dirty looks, and shaking heads, as if I were the one who was crazy and deluded.
The Roman Catholic Church’s failure to express true contrition for the acts of perversion their representatives have done over the years was another blow to my faith. The continued ranting and raving of sick fucks like Pat Robertson for vengeance upon his enemies and the failure of other Christians to condemn him made me wonder what the point of believing was. The demented, idiotic leaders of this nation who are intent on turning our secular democracy into a Christian fascist theocracy, every bit as sick and twisted as the madness spewed by bin Laden, made me wonder if God even existed.
My religious education through the years has taught me that God does not make himself/herself manifest to human beings in flashy, ostentatious ways. In my mind, much of the Old Testament is allegorical, metaphorical, and reflects the incomplete thinking of less sophisticated people, or more likely, the imperfect translation of less sophisticated, more superstitious people. So while I don’t believe in the literal appearance of a burning bush, that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to know the story of Moses, and to draw lessons from it. So I’m not expecting God to suddenly appear with the legions of heaven behind him. I’m not expecting him to show up in my dreams telling me that everything is OK. More than anything in the Scriptures, I think of what Galileo told the Inquisitors:
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
God has already given us the answers. I’m not just talking about sacred scriptures. I’m talking about the totality of human experience. About our relationship to each other, and to the physical world. The difficult part is understanding it all. Faith is not about easy answers, or blind obedience. Faith is about trying to understand. Without doubt, there cannot be faith.
But in the end, I cannot completely be rid of my desire to believe that a massive, benign hyperintelligence exists somewhere in the great beyond. Call it wishful thinking. Call it madness. I know that what everyone says God is, isn’t. Or at least, it’s not the whole of the story. Each culture in the world has an idea of what their supreme deity is like, and I think the post-modern, pre-Singularity vision of what this might be has already been postulated in works of speculative fiction.
I think of Charlie Stross’s Eschaton, the massively distributed galactic AI that shows signs of near-omnipotence, near-omniscience, near-omnipresence. Or Philip K Dick’s VALIS: the vast active living intelligence/information system that has been keeping its eye over us since the beginning of civilization.
I’ll accept the idea that it’s all just wish-fulfillment. Really, it’s just a more sophisticated form of an imaginary friend. But the fact of the matter is that, just as we can never prove the existence of God, we can never prove his non-existence either. (And if you believe in the Singularity, then it follows that a being with properties of God has a possibility of existing. And if you believe in Eternal Inflation, then anything that is possible is inevitable.)
In the end, I think the most honest answer to the question of “Does God exist?” is “I don’t know.” Anything else is dogmatism, in my mind.
But these thoughts come up when I overhear someone ask, “Is Obama Muslim?” Google leads me to this blog post that records Obama’s thoughts on his religion, and what he means by faith. It is the best answer I’ve ever heard someone give to the public at large. It’s just too bad that many people are too simple, too stupid, too wrong-headed to even have a chance to understand what he’s saying.