Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Do *You* Believe In God?

It's interesting to me that several people – both Christian and non-Christian – have told me recently that they believe in God because of the natural world or because of existence itself. It interests me because that is absolutely not why I myself believe in God.

Let me state off the bat that I mean no value judgment: I don't think one reason for believing in God is somehow more or less valid than another. (Frankly, I think all God-belief is to some extent irrational – that's why it demands the logic-defying leap we call “faith.”) Everything that follows is my own personal belief, feeling, and experience, and I hope it doesn't come across as denying or discrediting anyone else's belief, feeling, or experience of God.

As a matter of fact, I think it is monumentally important to give credit to other people's experience of God most especially when it differs from your own. If you declare your own experience of God to be the only true or valid one, you are confining God to your tiny mind-box and denying the vast, multifaceted, ineffable divine. Giving ear and credence to experiences of God that differ from your own is a matter of humility, of recognizing that God is much much bigger than you are, of acknowledging the divine mystery that God is able to bring billions of unique human individuals into unity without erasing our individuality.

I am rather overwhelmingly preoccupied with the concept of a unity that does not erase individuality – in fact I'm convinced that it is the foundational philosophical conundrum of our time – and that is why I am so interested in ideas about God that do not resonate with me personally. Natural beauty, clearly, is a powerful witness of God to many people; which makes me wonder, why is it not one for me?

For a start, I think, it's because of the emphasis on science throughout my childhood. As far back as I can remember, my brothers and I were encouraged to be interested evolution and natural history and astronomy. Even though I did grow up going to church as well, I never saw God as a necessary factor in the natural world. My schema of the origins and development of the universe was complete in itself; your cosmological argument never made a great deal of sense to me.

Moreover, I am not a big nature person. Like, it's pretty and all, but that's about as far as it goes for me. I'm the world's biggest townie: a picture of the New York skyline makes my heart leap into my throat in a way that, say, one of Everest just doesn't. The closest I get to a religious experience in nature is when I look up at the night sky (somewhere out there an alternate universe version of me is a very happy astrophysicist). I have seen many a breathtaking sunset or waterfall in my lifetime, but those are not the things that stay with me. Maybe my childhood, surrounded by some of the most astonishing natural beauty on the planet, caused me to take it for granted.

The moments that do stay with me – the things I absolutely cannot take for granted – are the ones that give me what I lacked in childhood: namely, friendship. The natural world may not speak to me of God's goodness and love, but I find that goodness and love attested to in overwhelming abundance every time another human invites me to spend time with em, tells me ey cares about me, demonstrates that ey values my presence in eir life.

Creative and artistic works also bear witness to me of God. A book I love so much it hurts; a favorite TV show; “Spirit of Radio” or a Brandenburg Concerto – I can't not believe in God when I experience these things.

And yet, though friendship and creativity both witness to me of God, neither of them is the reason I believe in God. The reason, I'm afraid, is very much a product of my time among the evangelicals, and it comes down to this:

sola Jesu.

I believe in God through and because of (to, for, by, with, from, in, on) Jesus Christ. I can't go into detail, because my relationship with him is very very personal, but to me he is the grounding of everything. Throughout all of my consideration of lofty theological conundrums; in all of the ways that my first year of graduate theological studies has exploded my every attempt at understanding God into a million pieces; whenever I am so lost in deconstruction and postmodernism that I don't know which way is up – it all, in the end, brings me back to him.

If it wasn't for Jesus – for his life as recorded in the Gospels, for the countless theological and creative works interpreting that life, for the transformative encounter I had with him four years ago (whilst reading a passage in Mere Christianity on, of all things, penal substitution!) – I would still be an atheist-leaning agnostic, finding meaning in friendship and in creativity, but not God as such. He is the logic-defying leap for me, the inexplicable that transfigures “meaning” into “God.”


  1. Hi Rainicorn! I don't get online too much (work and life and a sucky computer being the main reasons why) but at odd moments when I check out my bookmarks I read a couple of posts here in a row, and it's always touching how sincere you are and how much thought you put into what you write.
    Gay Christian man (and I get a lot of shit about the Christian part, from all quarters), just wanted to chime in and say your musings about life and meaning are appreciated! Rob

  2. I'm coming back to this post becuase there is something about myself that I've realized that relates and needed somewhere to speak.

    First, for me, belief in God seems to be more of a "hope" thing than anything else. I *want* Jesus' words about the worth of people to be true - something like that. I'm hoping there's a cosmic meaning to life because I have trouble seeing much in the material. This bleakness might actually be the fault of nature - I'm a "nature-person" but one who knows the natural world to be brutal as well as beautiful. That said, I'm humble enough to think "maybe I'm wrong," which brings me to my realization:

    Whenever I'm inclined to defend peoples' belief in God/Higher Power/a Spiritual Reality of Some Kind anymore it's not about God, per se, - it's about a defense of PEOPLE.

    While certain specific kinds of dogma and political agendas can make people stupid and crazy, I don't think it's fair when people label "belief" itself as the ur-thing that *alone* makes them "stupid" or "evil." At least not anymore than non-belief makes people want to immediately go out and rob banks upon a loss of faith. People all have different experiences and people judging someone's *entire worth* especially when they do not know them upon *one thing* has always squicked me out on some level. I also hate the comparsions of "belief in God" to "insanity" - not for the offense of "cherished beliefs compared to THAT" so much as how people who go that route inevitably start borderlining actual mental illnesses as some kind of benchmark of "no longer a real true human - and you're like them." (As a bipolar person, I'm sensitive to that).

    And is it so bad for people to have a little irrationality in their lives if it helps them and doesn't hurt people? I was looking in on the comments to an article online that I'd actually read earlier at another site and saw another one of those "Don't pray, meditate because invoking God is meaningless dammit!" people like I mentioned somehwere else here. The guy who said that was bitching about somthing the interviewee recalled doing during a hard time in his life back (praying for personal strength to help and to deal with his son dying of AIDS) in *1991.* Who died and made these people the Life Police? It's always people on the Internet they do not know, too... wonder if they'd bitch at someone like this they met face to face (especially a sweet old man who had to deal with his son dying horribly).

    As I see it, if one's belief or non-belief isn't so much really, truly a part of you that you can be laid back about but is something you have to maintain by belitting and bitching at others to keep yourself "superior," one might want to look in a mirror and ask themselves what they really believe about the world, and more importantly - people.

    This is where it's really weird for me. I don't even *like* other people that much. I'm an introvert. You've read that short story of mine about the girl in the deserted city, I think. Yet, I feel this need to defend people. Wonder where it comes from.