Saturday, December 27, 2014

Does God Exist? Answering a Few Common Objections

A blessed and Merry Christmas to one and all!

I apologize for my latest period of absence, and for the string of absences which have necessitated apologies. Life keeps happening: in our latest episode, mold was discovered in our apartment, forcing us to find a new place and move, just before Christmas. It was a tad hectic, to say the least. But life is starting to calm down a bit, Deo gratias.

Recently I received an invitation to dialogue from a reader named Gil:
Since you appear to be quite perspicacious, I would like to engage you in dialogue in the hope that a fertile brain such as yours could be rescued from the tyranny of religious dogma (I stole that idea from Thomas Paine); "All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."
Thanks for the compliment, and I'm happy to oblige. Let's address that quote from ol' Tommy Pain if you don't mind (that was purposely misspelled--it would make a good name for a pro wrestler from the 80s, no? "Here comes Tommy Pain, with his manager Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart....") What is enslaving or terrifying or tyrannical about religious dogma? Please do expand upon that so I can address it properly.

Gil has commented on several of my posts, so I'll provide a little context for his comments quoted here. In reference to my post "Is believing in God Like Believing in Zeus or Thor?" in which I said that many of the pagan gods were more like super-powered humans than anything that could properly be called "god" or "God," Gil wrote:
How about Allah or the Hindu and Buddhist Gods? Or the Native American God? Or the Gods of many South American traditions? They are more in the category of your Judeo-Christian God, so if you do not believe in Allah, then you are an atheist in that regard. Or is your God better than their Gods?
Gil wants me to expand my search parameters because he thinks some of these will provide a stronger challenge to my contention that non-Abrahamic concepts of God do not fit the bill. Let's look at these. Allah is simply the Arabic name for God, the same God that Jews and Christians worship. Christian liturgies in Arabic or Aramaic refer to Allah. You might as well say, "Ah, you believe in God, but what about Dios, or Dieux, or Theos, or Deus?" We may believe some different things about Him, but all parties agree that they worship the God who called Abraham to the Promised Land. The "gods of many South American traditions" and the Hindu gods, rather than challenging the categories I set up, fit neatly into them--none of them could be described as omnipotent, immutable, or immortal, and their very multiplicity means none of them fulfill the criterion of unity. Most forms of Buddhism are disinterested in the question of God, and the Buddhist cosmologies that include super-powered beings definitely do not describe anything that could fit the definition of God I laid out.

When Gil starts to imply the "we're only atheists about one more god than you are" argument, or when he uses the "is your God better than their Gods" rhetorical question, he shows again that he has missed the point: to call both the God of Abraham and the gods of these other religions by the same name, "god," is an equivocation, forced on us by limits in our language. They are categorically different. I laid out my definition for what would qualify an entity to be called "God"; what's your definition, Gil?

Here Gil references the statement he's responding to:
Now this is a pretty grandiose statement (even for a theologian), "I've never heard of anyone in the last 3,000 years being healed of a deadly disease thanks to their supplications to Apollo." So presumably, you have roamed the entire earth for "the last 3,000 years" and observed all the billions of intercessory supplications and their results. Er, did you say your name was . . . Yahweh?
Passing over the crack on theologians (honored as I am by being gifted that title by Gil), let me briefly say that I did not claim to have observed every intercession and result for the last 3,000 years; my statement was clearly limited to my own observation. If you know of some datum that would apply to this case, please introduce it into evidence, and we can discuss it.

Here again Gil is kind enough to quote me before responding:
"But to believe in the Triune God as described above is eminently reasonable," you say, Nick. Well tell me how reasonable it is that a Father sent His Son to be killed, but the Son turned out to be God who while He was dying (if a God of this unimaginable potency can die) spoke to His Father as if He was being abandoned and apparently the Father ignored Him, because He did die (although God could have saved Him, or saved Himself) and now the Son is God who also created the Earth 4,000 years before He died. No fair using the water, ice, fog analogy.
It appears Gil is having difficulty seeing the reasonability... reasonableness... reasonabilitude... it appears Gil thinks the relation between the Father and the Son within the Trinity is not reasonable, that it is fraught with contradictions and confusions. Certainly, the Trinity is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith, something we could not arrive at only by rational speculation and which, even when revealed, we cannot understand fully; but at the same time, it is not irrational or inconsistent in itself. Actually, the way that Gil describes the relation between the Father and the Son, and his reference to a "water, ice, fog analogy" with which I am unfamiliar, sounds like the heresy of modalism, and not the traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity.

Modalism says that there is really only one God, but this God appears or acts in different modes (aren't italicized letters so much fun?)--He appears to the Israelites in "Father Mode" and incarnates in "Son Mode" and energizes the Church in "Spirit Mode." Basically, Modalism thinks of God like Peter Sellers or Eddie Murphy playing several roles in the same film. When Jesus addresses the Father in prayer, Modalism would say that we'd need some split-screen camera work to get them in the same scene, since it's really just one person. Gil finds this ridiculous. And I agree. But that's not the Christian concept of God.

The Holy Trinity is one God in three persons, one act of existence shared by three hypostases, in which the three persons are distinct in relation to each other, but they are one in their existence. "The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God; yet there are not three gods, but one God," to quote the Creed of St. Athanasius. I would encourage Gil to dive into this subject and understand it on its own terms. It's a fascinating field of theology, though difficult. But, to anticipate an objection, just because something is difficult to understand doesn't make it "convoluted" or "nonsense," any more than particle physics or organic chemistry is nonsense by virtue of being difficult.

Gil, I look forward to your responses.