|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Summer 2009|
Binker Glock Hughes
[Copyright by E.M.B.G. Hughes 2009]
illos by Alexis Gilliland
Lots of people over the millennia have tried to “prove” the existence/non-existence of a God. It's a totally pointless [and endless] exercise, but it keeps them amused. The reason it's doomed to failure is that nobody's bothered to ask what would count as a God – what would make a candidate for Godhood worthy of worship. Oh, sure, Aquinas' “ontological” argument relies on defining God as 'that than which nothing greater can exist' and then saying God must exist because it's “greater” to exist in reality than as an idea – but that misses the point. People's conceptions of “that than which nothing greater can exist” vary wildly. Besides, the 'can exist' line stacks the deck in favor of whatever-it-is existing. In short, it's one of the cuter attempts, but irrelevant.
The same can be said for the “argument from randomness” [my personal choice for cutest of the lot]. It starts, as you recall, with the usual claim offered against common “intelligent design” views of the intricacy of the universe/etc that "Absolutely anything can result from the random interactions of atoms and molecules." [We will courteously bypass the touchy question of how said atoms and molecules came to exist.] The claim, as it stands, sounds good. The catch is that “Absolutely anything” is a large enough class to include (you guessed it) a God. Gulp. It's so all-encompassing, in fact, as to include all possible versions of “that than which …” In short, you could have multiple Gods duking it out for top dog [or cooperating, of course] – which is the gist of pantheism. The worse catch is, “Absolutely anything” also includes a “supreme” God, outgunning the paltry Gods of pantheistic systems. Even if you didn't have one to start with - even if you can get those pesky atoms and molecules out of nothingness – “absolutely anything from randomness” means, sooner or later, you'll have one. In fact, after all the millennia, there's almost certainly a “supreme” God already. Hmmm.
That's what I mean about the pointlessness of existence/non-existence arguments. All they accomplish is to amuse the debaters and distract us from the real point. Before haggling about existence/non-existence, one has to identify what would make a candidate for Godhood worthy of worship. Let me suggest a few qualifications.
Qualifications for Godhood
Durability is essential. It's hard to commit oneself to a flash-in-the-pan that is here today, gone tomorrow or vanishes when times get tough. A short-term “god” can't be taken seriously because it'll be gone before long.
Power is another essential - indeed Omnipotence. How could one worship a God that was too feeble to do any good? or was easily thwarted by something else? The something-else would seem a better candidate.
Readiness to help is built into the 'do any good' line above. Nobody wants, or would worship a God that wouldn't help in times of trouble. Being powerful doesn't mean much if would-be worshippers might just as well pray to a mindless lump. This means the candidate also needs Caring, since worshipping a God that doesn't give a hoot is a waste of time. The candidate must also be Evenhanded, treating all alike instead of playing favorites – which adds the requirement of Lawgiving, so everybody knows the rules and the benefits of sticking to them. This in turn, leads to another requirement.
Communication is necessary between the God and the worshipper, to convey the rules and to let the worshipper ask/receive help and guidance. Who would worship a God who, through lack of communication, might as well not be there? Get real.
These characteristics rule out a vending-machine-style mechanism that dispenses good or evil depending on what buttons you push. To be worthy of respect, much less worship, the candidate must be a Person, and a Reliable person at that. We see enough of vending-machine style mechanisms with cause/effect and stimulus/response phenomena, but who could worship that sort of thing?
Then there's Intelligence/Wisdom. How could one worship a God that was stupid? or, through lack of wisdom, gave instructions that were often wrong? Since one can't respect somebody who can be suckered, or can have things pulled off behind his/her back, Omniscience is also required. Yeah, I know it's getting to be a long list but, let's face it: we're talking about qualifying as God. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
Yet even all those characteristics won't do without Truth/Trustworthiness. If the God isn't reliable in word and deed, you don't have a God but a crapshoot. Truth is the touchstone of reliability and, to be worthy of worship, the candidate must be reliable.
Finally, even such a splendid being as met these qualifications must have/provide a Means of Communication. Otherwise, the whole exercise is senseless. Fortunately, we have scriptures from many major [and minor] religions purporting to embody what their respective Gods have said and done. They offer an idea of how well the proposed Gods measure up to the various standards. Let's deal with them briefly.
Applications for Godhood - Scriptures
The various pantheisms – from Greek/Roman/Norse mythologies to Hinduism and the neo-pagan animistic systems – are amusing, but fall short. Their own scriptures show that none of their innumerable candidates measures up. Certainly they reflect recognition that being God is a really complex business, with so many intricate details to oversee; but they tell us their candidates are unreliable, squabble among themselves, are malicious at times, and are powerless outside their own narrow areas. Such a “god” says, Not my job, mon' when problems arise, so such systems never attain to the conception of a God worthy of worship. One can only say, “Bite-sized gods for bite-sized minds.”
A different flaw besets Buddhist and Universalist/Etc. systems. They claim their respective Gods have durability and power, but they're absent. Communication is mostly one-sided [the worshipper trying to get the God's attention] and replies are haphazard at best. Maybe they're uncaring. Maybe they only talked to the unique individual who once-upon-a-time had the revelation that became the scripture. Also, those I've heard of are as likely to do evil as good [often unpredictably] - or might not do Anything. I can't see accepting such a God myself, but you may be masochistic enough to fancy it.
Then there are the Jewish, Islamic, Mormon, and Christian religions, which share the scriptures referred to as the Bible but with their own unique twists. Judaism only accepts the Old Testament as scriptural, while the others accept both the Old and New Testaments [which I'll sometimes call O.T. and N.T., respectively, to save typing]. The Mormons and Muslims each add a scriptural document - the The Book of Mormon and the Qur'an, respectively - so let's deal with them first.
The Book of Mormon is patently fraudulent – which may be why, for the zillion Mormon missionaries that assailed me over the years, it took 10+ years of diligent effort to get my hands on a copy. Either they know it's fraudulent [which I doubt] or more likely, they've never read it [as most “Christians” have never read the Bible]. It's clearly the fabrication by a clever kid [Joseph Smith] who wanted to go West instead of doing farm chores at home - and had sized up the stupidity and religiosity of the community around him. He “legitimated” it by opening with summaries of O.T. books he'd been obliged to do in Sunday school [about half the length of the thing], then shaped the rest to play on their hyper-religious credulity with inventions like the Indians being the 'ten lost tribes' to make it religious duty to go West. Being in puberty, he also made it legitimate to marry as many women as he liked. It was a good gig, but he had to get it accepted by the religious community, so needed the 'testimony' of “witnesses.”
The “testimony” of the “witnesses” – earnestly recorded in the front of the copy I got – is classic “Emperor's New Clothes” stuff. The carefully-selected “witnesses'”were brought one at a time into a closed room to see what they'd been told could only be seen by the 'pure in heart' – hence They, not others, had been chosen as “witnesses.” Isn't that swuft? The “witnesses” were their religious bigwigs, plus a few 'humble' members privileged to be asked. None would have dared say, “I didn't see anything.” “Proving” you aren't “pure in heart” is totally unacceptable to a holier-than-thou bigwig. If he later reflected on his “impurity” in private, it just gave him a higher regard for the “innocent” who “received” this wonder. Of course, once the “important” people had come out of the room raving about divine writings, “groupthink” would do the rest. I suspect somebody along the way recognized the fraud or they wouldn't have felt free to modify it by vote of their inner circle. It's a trifle more accessible since then, but still not easy to get. Either way, it's too clearly fraudulent to take seriously.
The Qur'an is much easier to find, but is not thought binding in any translation – only in the original [now ancient] Arabic. It contains the remarks and pronouncements of Mohammed but, illiterate, he didn't write any of it down. Instead, it was assembled by his followers after he died. If enough witnesses agreed verbatim on a saying, it made the Qur'an. If not, it got into a book of his sayings with only semi-scriptural standing.
The problems are two-fold. First, the Christians Mohammed knew in his town [he was a townsman, not a desert-dweller] weren't very knowledgeable, so he decided the only way God could have had a son was by physical copulation with Mary. This was unacceptable to him, so he decided God couldn't have a son. It never occurred to him that a God who supposedly spoke the worlds into existence could speak pregnancy into a young woman. This connects to the Qur'an's other problem - inconsistency. Like Joseph Smith, Mohammed tells bits of O.T. stuff [mostly major “Bible stories”] but he sometimes accepts the whole Bible. There are moving passages urging his followers to honor and be at peace with “the people of the Book” [Christians and Jews] – but there are Also moving passages urging conversion to Islam by the sword or killing anyone who Won't convert. No wonder there are moderate, peace-seeking Muslims and wild-eyed extremists! Each group can cite “scripture” to support their views. That's just the most obvious of many contradictions.
The central problem with Islam, then, is that its identifying “scripture” doesn't meet the fundamental test of consistency. The Bible's apparent tangles can be resolved with only one principle of interpretation and one premise - the principle of finding out who's speaking to whom and only attributing to its God what the text attributes; and the premise that, to be God, the claimant must be worthy of respect. This won't work with the Qur'an. It stays inconsistent despite much greater effort. Like the Torah [the first five O.T. “books”], the Qur'an is seen as written by a single writer; but a high percentage of the Torah is directly attributed to God. Not so the Qu'ran. It's almost all Mohammed, with few quotes from God. This means we can't carp at all the inconsistencies [they go with the territory] and can't blame the Qur'an on the God it claims to present, much less take it as reliably expressing that God's will/instructions /preferences. This means it's no measure of whether the God discussed [Allah is just the Arabic word for “God” as Dieu in French or Gott in German] is worthy of worship. One must suspect, however, that any credible God would prefer a less self-contradictory “prophet” or would supply outside confirmation. The Bible – which Islam accepts and honors - offers a simple test. It says you need 2-3 witnesses to establish anything. The Qur'an's extremes/contradictions aren't likely to pass that test, even by referencing Mohammed's other sayings, much less by examining Islam's other “scripture,” the Bible.
Means of Confirming Scriptural Claims
Actually, the Bible's God suggests three means of confirming that He really is God and the legitimacy of those scriptures – two in the Old Testament and one in the New. The requirement of two or three witnesses to establish anything is first presented in the O.T. Also in the O.T., the God in question proposes prophecy as a basis for verifying that He is who He says He is. [I use the masculine pronoun because the text uses it and because Jesus referred to God as 'Father' (masculine) rather than “Mother” (feminine) or “Parent” (neuter/non-specific).] Telling prophets ahead of time things that will happen is offered as a basis, once the prophecy is fulfilled, for deciding He really is God. In the N.T., after Jesus' resurrection, a further means of confirmation is offered – “signs and wonders” shall follow and confirm his teachings for those who believe. In part, this is why the “books” after the main accounts of Jesus' earthly activity report various miracles associated with his followers' preaching and teaching.
This leaves little choice but to look for a God worthy of worship in the remaining “scripture” – the Bible as accepted by Judaism and Christianity. Anybody who will take the trouble to read it through from start to finish marking words attributed to God the way 'red-letter' editions mark words attributed to Jesus will find whole chapters, almost whole books, so attributed. With so much material directly attributed to the deity, there's a lot of evidence concerning His character and personality. It's interesting to note that reading the Bible from start to finish shows it to be a single, coherent book [with the “books” little more than overgrown chapters]. Essentially, it's a family-saga, recounting events starting when disobedience to the God it concerns cut off direct communication and opened humanity to various afflictions. It then follows events as that God sets up a way to restore communication with any individual who's willing. The N.T. shows the implementation of this remedy, the results after the God was able to send His Spirit to dwell in human hearts, and a lot of explanatory stuff by the best educated of those who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah.
That the God depicted would go to such lengths to restore communication with individuals is evidence of Caring that seems absent in other scriptures. The use of prophecy and promise in the Old Testament sets the stage for fulfillment in the New – giving evidence of Durability [and durability of purpose] through all that time; Power [to arrange fulfillment of prophecies, etc.]; Intelligence/Wisdom [to plan, prophesy, and properly execute it all, not to mention fulfilling other prophecies along the way]; Patience [to put up with the time it takes to unfold]; and Reliability/Truth [by keeping promises, fulfilling prophecies, etc., over time]. In short, the Bible's candidate seems to qualify, especially if one examines the New Testament as well as the Old. The N.T. records the fulfillment, in Jesus of Nazareth, of so many prophecies that statisticians have likened the odds to covering Texas a foot deep in silver dollars and, on the first one picked up, getting the only one marked with an X. That requires taking Jesus seriously, especially since non-Christian contemporary accounts [such as that of Josephus, a Jew working for the Romans] report Jesus' miracles and other data most people have only met in the N.T.
Much as some might wish it otherwise, Jesus of Nazareth seems to have been a historical figure meeting the description given in the New Testament and fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies of the Old. New Testament accounts say he rose from the grave, ascended after forty days, and fulfilled God's prophecy of writing the Law on human hearts [instead of external tablets of stone] by sending God's Spirit to indwell believers on the day celebrating when Moses received the stone tablets of the Law.
Whether one accepts these accounts, or regards them as clever inventions by the followers of an impressive person, relies on other data. The most difficult evidence to discount is what happened to those early followers. If it had been invented for supposed benefit, they would have retreated and recanted when things got tough. Such scholarly, zealous Pharisees as Saul of Tarsus would have kept hunting and imprisoning Jesus' followers. Instead, Saul reports an encounter with God on the road to Damascus, after which he did a complete about-face, not only accepting Jesus as the Messiah, but [under the new name Paul] becoming the main voice for belief in Jesus to non-Jews [Gentiles].
Then there are those who were with Jesus during his earthly activity and report experiences with him after his resurrection. It would have been so simple to say they'd made it all up - but rather than take that obvious course, they suffered brutal treatment and died appalling deaths. Paul's wasn't so bad. He was beheaded. Of course, he'd been stoned, beaten within an inch of his life on several occasions, and lots else while he was spreading the word about Jesus – but beheading wasn't so bad compared with the others. Several were crucified [Peter was crucified upside down]. Bartholomew was skinned alive. John, although he died a natural death, had been through boiling in oil and other efforts to kill him. All suffered “lesser” penalties, such as being brutally beaten or stoned. They could've avoided all that just by keeping their mouths shut, even if they didn't formally recant. Yet their conviction that Jesus was the long-prophesied Messiah couldn't be shaken by any earthly penalty they had to endure for insisting on it and telling others. That sort of devotion isn't easily won.
Jesus, as they understood it, offered the only way - but open to any who would accept it - to gain forgiveness and cleansing from the human tendency to disobey that had cut people off from God. Any who would believe it and invite him into their hearts as Lord could have it. Once that change was made, the curse humanity had walked into by disobedience [including sickness, poverty, etc.] was/is broken. People could/can be filled with God's Holy Spirit, so communicate with God directly [not through a narrow priesthood], receiving ongoing, individual guidance and help. Further, this God is 'big' enough and caring enough to treat each individual as His beloved child.
+ Even if we don't like it, then, the closest we seem to come to a candidate for a God worthy of worship is the one seen in the Bible. The N.T., as recording the fulfillment of O.T. prophecies, seems needed to complete the picture. The N.T. also presents a way any ordinary individual can get a fresh start, erasing all past folly and error, and making it possible to interact directly with this God. The means is to “believe in one's heart and confess with one's mouth that Jesus Christ [the Greek word for Messiah] is Lord.” That's all. Since the God in question resolutely adheres to the freedom of the human will, He won't strong-arm anybody into accepting Him. To me, it's further evidence of caring to refuse to force anything on us, even something seen as beneficial. I've heard many forms of such a prayer in Jesus' name – from elaborate, detailed formulae to such simple ones as, “Lord Jesus, take my life and do something good with it.” The traditional upshot of sincerely praying such a prayer is what people call “being re-born” – born as a new creation into this God's Kingdom. Like changing any other habit, this change involves adjusting to new ways of thinking/acting, getting information [maybe even 'reading the manual'], and so on. This is easier with experienced help – guidance/encouragement from other(s) who have been at it longer. That's where a problem arises.
While the Christian God seems worthy of worship, Christian churches/sects over the centuries have engaged in many follies – even atrocities – in God's name [which the God depicted would Not appreciate]. Hypocrisy in the ranks and abuse of power in the leadership have meant Religion has given Christianity a bad name. Still, the Christian God seems the only one so far who's worthy of worship – whether through Messianic Judaism, a denomination, or a more tenuous linkage with one or more of the independent ministries. Since, however, a person who has committed to this God can receive direct guidance, he/she can ask to be shown suitable sources of teaching and worship – or other sources of knowledge [scripture/etc.] to build a better basis for choosing.
Having criteria makes it worth asking, What's my current God? The answer is what gets most of our time, energy, money, attention, and trust. Does it measure up as worthy of worship? If not, maybe we should seek a God that does meet these standards – or look more closely at the only one found so far. Since this one doesn't force people into anything, requiring their authorization before getting involved, it's entirely personal choice to join this Kingdom so He can protect, provide, heal, advise, and bless in other ways. Of course, once in His Kingdom, He can't help if the person ignores or refuses His advice. Still, advice from a God who met these standards might be the quickest route to fulfilling one's highest potential. Does my God qualify? Does yours? Look and see.