For my first post related neither to movies, literature, nor my own work, allow me to tackle a biggie, and that is to do my best to explain why I believe God exists. While it may seem like questions related to God are primarily theological matters, I would argue that they also very closely relate to the nature and purpose of art. For if God exists, then that makes a difference as to what art is and its purpose. If He does not exist, then that too has ramifications as to the nature of art. My own work, whether it be writing or filmmaking, is informed (consciously or not) by my understanding of God. The same is true of my writing about movies–my view of film and what constitutes good art from bad is directly linked to my belief and views of God. I fully believe that if there is any single root factor which informs and governs one’s view of life, one’s opinions, and one’s very manner of thought, then it must be how one views God and whether or not there is such a being.
As I continue with this preface, let make two points to begin with: first, by necessity a single blog post can in no way be comprehensive on this most profound of topics. Entire books and volumes of books can and have been written eloquently and by others far wiser and more intelligent than myself. Find them and read them; it can do you no harm. Second, I am here going to try and focus merely on why I believe in God as opposed to believing in no God, rather than attempt to explain why I am a Christian rather than a member of any of the world’s other great religions. That is a different and equally exhaustive topic which I may one day in the future attempt to distill into this blog, but not today.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways approach this issue: as a theist (one who believes in God), or as an atheist (one who believes in no God). Theists, of course, branch out into a myriad of different religions and beliefs, whereas atheists must almost exclusively be Materialists (those who believe that the universe is of entirely material and natural origin). A third way to approach the issue is as an Agnostic, which is simply a translation of a Greek term meaning “ignorant”, but I will not address that particular view since to hold any opinion at all means to believe a thing is knowable and by definition, agnostics believe things to be unknowable.
To begin with, I’d like to dispel a common misconception in popular culture which claims that as a worldview, atheism is open minded–a kind of mental tabula rasa in which evidence is evenly weighed without prejudice and conclusions are subsequently drawn. Whereas with theism, it is commonly asserted, this is not possible, for to accept a particular religion, one must accept certain dogmas and creeds which hinder one’s ability to make an unbiased evaluation of the evidence. The atheist, who accepts that there is no God, is therefore free from such dogma’s and prejudices and able to weigh the evidence more clearly. This is plainly untrue, and an increasingly common misstatement. When asked, atheists will often say something to the effect of, “I don’t believe in God”, when it would more correct to state, “I believe in no God.” As I noted above, the actual definition of the word atheist is a belief in no God. Atheism is not a denial of belief, but an affirmative belief in Nothing, or at least in no God. This may seem like semantics, but the difference is important. There is no such state in which one is utterly open minded and free of bias; there can be no such thing as a pure denial of belief and still remain a thinking creature, unless, I suppose, one is a plant, for so far as I know plants are supremely open minded. Human beings, however, are not and cannot be. To make any positive statement is to hold a belief, and to hold a belief is to be dogmatic. The skeptic is no less biased than the believer, for he holds a definite bias in favor of skepticism. In order to believe in no God, one must hold certain things to be true, for example, the purely material origin of the universe. The atheist, in other words, who holds a Materialist view of reality is every bit as rigidly credal and dogmatic as the Nicene Creed of Christianity, or the Jewish Shema, or the Islamic Shahada.
Why do I believe in God? Perhaps for the same reason that when I hear a symphony I listen for the voice of the composer and when I read a book I search for the perspective of the author. And how much more infinitely complex is the universe than any book or symphony and how eerily beautiful it is. A work of art is beautiful because it is orderly, but not merely in the sense of being neat and tidy, rather in the sense that the artist has arranged and ordered the elements in a way that is aesthetically pleasing; in the same way, the universe is beautiful, but not merely in the sense that it is aesthetically pleasing (though images from the Hubble telescope suggest that it most definitely is), but in the sense that it has purpose: the sustainability of life. Without order, the conditions could not exist which are capable of supporting life and certainly not for any length of time. The Materialist must maintain that the chaos of the Big Bang eventually ordered itself into the universe we have today–a universe capable of sustaining life. Yet chaos does not beget order–not on it’s own, at any rate.
St. Thomas Aquinas used the analogy of the “Unmoved Mover”, and I feel it appropriate to quote his own explanation of the analogy:
“We observe that all things that move are moved by other things, the lower by the higher. The elements are moved by heavenly bodies; and among the elements themselves, the stronger moves the weaker; and even among the heavenly bodies, the lower are set in motion by the higher. This process cannot be traced back into infinity. For everything that is moved by another is a sort of instrument of the first mover. Therefore, if a first mover is lacking, all things that move will be instruments. But if the series of movers and things moved is infinite, there can be no first mover. In such a case, these infinitely many movers and things moved will all be instruments. But even the unlearned perceive how ridiculous it is to suppose that instruments are moved, unless they are set in motion by some principal agent. This would be like fancying that, when a chest or a bed is being built, the saw or the hatchet performs its functions without a carpenter. Accordingly, there must be a first mover that is above all the rest; and this being we call God.”
Here the Materialist might point out that “principal agent” mentioned by St. Thomas which set everything in motion was the Big Bang, and the “instruments” are what is known as Natural Law, which governed the elements after the Bang released them. To this day, the motions of the universe and the principles which bind it together are determined by Natural Law. Yet even here, the Materialist cannot help but to fall back on a self-defeating metaphor. In no way do I deny that there are principles which bind the universe together and that they are aptly known as Natural Law, because much as we might delight in the notion of eliminating Congress, there can be no law without a lawmaker.
Why do I believe in God? because everything from art, to ethics, to the complexity of nature points to it; because I believe in such concepts as beauty and truth; because I believe that liberty, equality, and the brotherhood of mankind are real, genuinely existing values to be strived for–concepts which have no foundation in a universe formed without purpose and utterly at odds with a humanity that takes the strictly Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest as its motto for advancement. Why do I believe in God? because it is reasonable to do so. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
These are clearly not the final words on the topic; it is one that will continue to be argued and debated until the end of time. You must forgive me also for making some fairly broad statements; it is the restrictions of time and length that prevent me from going into more detail regarding some of my raised points, and it is the same restrictions which prevent me from even raising a hundred others that I feel might also validate my perspective.
Feel free to chime in and comment. If I’ve been unclear, I’ll try to elucidate my statements.