The Fool in Her Heart*

I am angry with God.

If He (if He is a he) exists, why doesn't He make it clearer to everyone? Okay, okay, He has: the revelation of Scripture, the beauties of Creation, the mercy He showed in becoming incarnate, the witness of the faithful, the rapture of the mystics. But, come on, we can rationalize all of these things such that they are no longer evidence. Scripture is literature, a work of the imagination, a cultural artifact, the longings of a people for meaning. Nature simply is, without need of a Creator. Who says that He became incarnate other than a few dozen lunatics of two thousand years ago? People make stuff up all the time that they would like to believe. Biopsychology can explain everything that the so-called mystics experience. And so forth.

Not that I accept these arguments. What bothers me is that they are so easy to make. "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 13:1 [14:1], 52:1 [53:1]) See? Even the psalmist knew that there were those who did not believe in the existence of God. It doesn't take post-modern secular scientific theorizing to do away with God; fools do it all the time. Shouldn't God do something about this? You will say, "He has," but how, exactly? Even the things that people use to show God's action against the foolish can be read in a number of different ways. Natural disasters, the agony of living a sinful (a.k.a. unhealthy) life, social ostracism: none of these require the existence of God. So, come on God, show me something definitive.

Again, I know, this is the mystery of faith. There is nothing in our experience that can prove the existence of God--not even, God help us, Anselm of Canterbury's famous ontological experiment. "I can think of something than which nothing greater can be thought; ergo, that something must exist because if it didn't, I could think of it existing, which would be greater than its not existing. So it wouldn't be the greatest thing that could be thought unless it actually existed." I paraphrase, but I've read Anselm's Proslogion a number of times, so I think this gets the gist of it. Fine. I can think of something than which nothing greater can be thought. But, seriously, does this really mean that it must exist, just because I, an evolved organism with consciousness, imagine it could? It's not that I don't want to believe; on the contrary, I desperately do. Life is meaningless unless it is not about God.

I've quoted more than once Tolkien's answer to Camilla Unwin's question about the purpose of life (at least, I think I have, but I can only find it here): "If you do not believe in a personal God the question: 'What is the purpose of life?' is unaskable and unanswerable. To whom or what would you address the question? But since in an odd corner (or odd corners) of the Universe things have developed with minds that ask questions and try to answer them, you might address one of these peculiar things."* Tolkien's argument here is a kind of variation on Anselm's: we have minds that ask these questions and, even if God does not exist, have come up with the notion that He--or something like what we have imagined Him being--does, which begs the question why we would come up with the question in the first place if God did not exist.

Ludwig Feuerbach knew the answer: God is a projection of our consciousness of ourselves as a species. Whatever we think about God is actually a thought about our experience of humanity. To doubt God, from this perspective, is to doubt our very existence, or rather, to doubt ourselves and everything that we idealize about ourselves: "Hence, he alone is the true atheist to whom the predicates of the Divine Being--for example, love, wisdom, justice--are nothing... It does not follow that goodness, justice, wisdom are chimaeras because the existence of God is a chimaera, nor truths because this is a truth... The fact is not that a quality is divine because God has it, but that God has it because it is in itself divine: just because without it God would be a defective being." Again, a variant of Anselm's argument: God exists because the things that we value about humanity exist: "The divine being is nothing else than the human being, or, rather, the human being purified, freed from the limits of the individual man, made objective--i.e. contemplated and revered as another, a distinct being.... God is the highest subjectivity of man abstracted from himself."**

So, fine, we made up God. No wonder He can't prove to us that He exists; He only exists because we do and can make abstractions such as humanity, justice, goodness, wisdom. Longing for God is longing to realize the best in ourselves that we can imagine. So what would Plato say? The Ideas exist outside of ourselves; they must, otherwise we could not have conception of them. But even if the Ideas exist, does that mean God does? A personal God to whom we should pray? A Creator whose goodness it is the purpose of our lives to praise? God is love. God is justice. God is mercy, wisdom and truth. But does that mean God is God and can hear our prayers?

I'm waiting, God, for something like a response. Prayer is supposed to be this great conversation, an actual engagement with a personal God, not just a meditation on the beauty of existence or the desire for transcendence. I can meditate on my navel all day and feel all sorts of pleasant things: a oneness with the universe, peace and tranquility, a sense of comfort and light (well, I could if I practiced enough), but nothing in this experience proves the existence of God anymore than my sense that there should be such a thing as justice or truth. If there is truth, particularly truth about God, why is it so inaccessible? I'm sitting here with my Ganesha on one side of my desk and my Mary on the other, and nothing but culture and tradition tells me which is the one to whom I should pray. Perhaps neither (I'm supposed to be a Protestant, after all; none of this mediation stuff); why not both? Does it matter?

So, God, are you listening? What do you say?

*Letters, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), p. 400.
**The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), pp. 14, 20-21, 31.

Comments

  1. I haven't really ever been angry at God, but I have worried about Him. I used to worry about whether or not He existed, if my existence really mattered, how I could prove to myself that He really did exist, and so on. I have no idea if what I'm about to say will be helpful or useful or anything of the sort, but after reading the post I felt compelled, against my "natural" inclinations to say it, so here I am. But more on that later. I too once anxiously waited for God's answer in different places than He had already given it, like the Bible and Nature and the like. I felt the same sort of distress (that's what I would call what I felt, anyway) that you described; wondering how it could be so easy for us to explain away God in things like Nature or even our own mind. That didn't go away, either, until I started to wonder if those answers really were easy. I certainly thought they were, but that was because they came from a long tradition of books, articles, newspapers, museum exhibits, T.V. specials, which lots of people had spent hours and hours researching, checking, proving, writing, explaining, etc. to make it so that anyone could easily understand that these answers, our answers, were the right ones, unless, of course they weren't smart enough, too obstinate, or just a kid. But then I remembered that Christ said that everyone should come to the Kingdom of God like a child. What did that mean?

    I used to think that just meant, "Believe in me and don't ask questions," which meant people came to God with some sort of naiveté, and anyone who asked questions would realize God didn't exist. But I kept finding that those easy scientific answers, produced by people who supposedly weren't naive, still didn't go far enough. They could tell me how stuff worked, but not why it did. There always seemed to be some limit to those answers, they couldn't go beyond facts. GK Chesterton found the same thing, and he decided that it was better for us to explain the world with the same answers we had as kids: the world works the way it does because it's magic. Science, for him, is really just about facts, which are perfectly fine and all, but there's no life to them, and there's plenty of that in us, so the best answers are the ones that preserve that transcendent mentality, the ability to ask why things are the way they are.

    That thinking led me, as it led Chesterton, back to the places where I wasn't sure God was, only to find I was wrong, He'd been there all along. Not really, I just sort of found myself looking past the easy answers and realizing that the easiest answer was to believe in God, just like I did when I was younger, and that the “easy” answers were really the products of years of convoluted thinking about how the human mind works, relationships of abstraction and projection, theories and laws of physics, evolution, and all that, none of which could ever really get to what was for me, the heart of everything, why all this stuff was going on. I found that when I found God again, right where I’d left Him. I don’t think I did this totally on my own; I agree with Augustine that we really can’t find His responses without His help. But thinking back on it now, that makes sense, because after all, God knows what we’re going to ask for before we ask for it. Prayer isn’t just a conversation with God, it’s a participation in belief, a belief that His will shall be done, and that, whatever comes, we hold onto Him and only Him. So really, this is about faith over knowledge. I can’t really know that God exists in the sense that I know two and two are four or why people get goosebumps or that if I drop my pen it will fall to the ground and not up into the sky; but I believe him Him, and that explains everything else in a more satisfying way that science ever could.

    Does that go far enough? Is that an answer? I’m sure many would think me fooling for thinking in such a way, but then again, Christ came to save us, and I certainly feel safe now. As I said, I don’t know if this will be at all helpful or useful, or what effect it may have at all. It is just my story, and that doesn’t mean it will apply to anyone else. If I thought about it rationally, I suppose, I wouldn’t have posted this at all, since I don’t usually share such things for that reason. But something told me that I should say this, something that spoke in my heart yet I knew was outside of me. Was it an abstraction of my conscience, a manifestation of some subconscious need to share my feelings, or God talking to me? I don’t know, I can’t really explain it in a way that makes sense to me as an adult, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s the answer.

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  2. Thank you, Christopher, this is an extremely thoughtful answer. I like Chesterton's argument very much myself, but you have reminded me that maybe I need to go back to it. I like what you say, too, about the "easy" answers actually being overly complicated and how what we in fact need to do is go back to the time when we could recognize the magic. I will think about this more.

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