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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

Does God Matter?

“I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar”. [Friedrich Nietzsche Twilight of the Idols]

“We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created our universe, and no one directs our fate”. [Stephen Hawking]

“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this”. [Albert Einstein, in a Letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind]

“Everyone has faith in God though everyone does not know it. For everyone has faith in himself and that multiplied to the nth degree is God. The sum total of all that lives is God. We may not be God, but we are of God, even as a little drop of water is of the ocean”. [Mahatma Gandhi]

“If you gain, you gain all. If you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that He exists.” [Blaise Pascal]

There's an old joke about faith in God that I often tell my students which illustrates something about how belief in God has changed over time. One can imagine that in the Medieval world denying the existence of God was simply unthinkable. No doubt there were doubters, but they kept rather quiet about their suspicions. But, as the poet Ovid might have said, Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis, "Times change, and we are changed with them". So now imagine a fellow in the present century is walking along through a forest path and falls into a deep hole in the ground. He barely manages to grab onto a tree root to keep from falling all the way down. He looks up at the opening above him and all he can see is a cloudy sky. He yells up " there anyone up there". After a few seconds the clouds part and voice seemingly from heaven booms out "It is I, the Lord. Let go of the root and you will be saved". The fellow looks down into the abyss and then up into the sky, pondering his situation, and then says "Is there anyone else up there".

Is belief in God fundamentally a belief that the world and our existence have some kind of purpose or meaning? Perhaps what Nietzsche had in mind in the above rather playful quote is that God, like language, can be a rather useful tool, but to think that either language or God exists in any necessary way is simply delusional.

It is often claimed that belief in God is the human projection of hope over against the possibility or threat of meaninglessness, nihilism and the arbitrariness of existence. This is not so much a question of whether God exists, but rather a claim that He must exist, or else we are left without meaning…not to mention morality. The agnostic would, of course, claim that human reason is simply incapable of proving the matter one way or another. That fact does not really seem to bother the six billion people who actually think God matters, and ‘religiously’ hold on to their belief in him (or her!).

This raises a host of questions: Why do human beings still think God matters? Are there objective grounds for holding on to the belief in God, or does faith in God inevitably presuppose a ‘leap’ beyond reason and empirical evidence? Would the complete loss in the belief in God be lamentable or, in fact, a cause for celebration?

It seems that despite what many sociologists, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and philosophers have argued, we do not really live in a secular world after all. God still seems to matter to many people. Why is that? What do our beliefs amount to, and, by the way, what does it mean to say we 'believe' in God? Is the latter a rational or empirical claim, an experiential claim, a therapeutic necessity or just fantastical or wishful thinking?

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