Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Selfish Ape

The second part of Antony Thomas' film for Channel 4, How Do You Know God Exists? poses the question: is it really possible that the creator of this vast universe could have a direct, personal relationship with you, and with me?

Not terribly well worded, IMO, since anything that is logically possible can be agreed as possible. Is it really likely etc... would have been a more interesting question. Never mind; let's see what the protagonists said:
Yes! In a word.
...said Rowan Williams. A little triumphantly, I thought. He expanded:
Because the difference between us and god is not that, we're very small and he's very big... it that we exist and he doesn't?
Christians have always held, and Jews and Muslims too, that god is absolutely present in every bit of the creation, that his energy, if you like, is at work in every act within the universe. We may be very small, but we, and everything else, are in the palm of god's hand.
No, of course not, it's that he's omnipresent, like Big Brother. Note the final sentence, hoping to portray some humility in this most arrogant of doctrines. This arrogant-humility is a hallmark of theist belief. The universe; it's all about *us*, and we've done wrong. This is attention seeking behaviour, and should be ignored if it wasn't so prevalent, and respected.

This little speech doesn't address why the Archbishop thinks the god that he worships is a personal god. He's not one for answers, though, as we've seen.

Swami Pramtattvadas, for the Hindus, then offers:
God pervades his entire creation; that means he is everywhere... in the rivers... he's all around us.
He goes on a bit with a few examples of where he is, although saying he's everywhere should have communicated the message. Not sure what this has to do with the personal god, though.

He then talks with the Swami and the Archbishop and Vincent Nicholls about doubt, and the testing of their faith. Nicholls says:
I think doubt is an intrinsic part of faith.
I've noted that another Catholic priest has acknowledged the doubt in his faith. This is a little odd when one considers what the Vatican says about it:
Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but "the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives."
I'd really like to know which it is; are these theists certain, or doubtful? Because this affects how people take the message they are pushing. When they are sermonising they seem to be pretty certain about what it is they believe. Do they add provisos at the end when talking about the bible?
The events depicted in this book may or may not be fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.
Not at any church I've been to. But Nicholls ends by saying:
My own experience of faith is real, and, at times, very encouraging, very fruitful.
Here we go again, with the solipsism. Will they never stop thinking about themselves? Everyone's experience is different, so to extrapolate from one's own experience to a general truth is *unsafe*. Please stop doing it, unless one is prepared to be scientific about it.

Nicholls again:
We come from god, and we return to god.
He believes that life is a *separation* from god. To what end? Does he recall being with god before he was born? Does he know he will be with god after death? No, of course not; it is selfish wishful thinking. Probably! Jonathan Sacks would prefer to dwell on the hear and now, but also says:
We are more than physical beings, and everything about us should tell us so.
I disagree; everything about us should tell us we *are* just physical beings. Letting our desires rule the evidence is simply dishonest. Rowan Williams says:
All I really know about the afterlife is that god has promised to be there. God has promised that death is not the point at which he wipes his hands and says 'I've done with you'.
Could you show me that promisory note? Is that really all you claim to know about the afterlife? Which god will be there?

Swami Pramtattvadas talks about the Hindu belief of the journey of the soul through different incarnations, gradually building to the point of release. He talks of the afterlife as a place of bliss and calmness. Serenity for ever.

Ultimately, this portrayal of a man shaped being who will guarantee us eternal bliss is a form of infantilism; we don't like the idea that when we die, we are gone - forever. But these constructs allow for the fact that people we know and love *will* be excluded from this eternal bliss. To believe that is true, and accept eternal bliss for oneself, is surely the very definition of selfishness. So the personal aspect of god is important only if one is worried about oneself. I certainly am worried about myself, but I also care about the people I know and love, and many I don't. I'm not prepared to respect a doctrine that suggests that some of them, through no fault of their own, deserve some kind of hell, whilst others enjoy an eternity of bliss.

Next up in the program; is religious faith important for community?


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