“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” Marcus Aurelius
Who is God? What is God? Does God even exist? These questions have been asked and “answered” over and over again through the ages. None has been satisfactory, however, and I know there is nothing I can say that will add to the discussion. In fact, I’ve concluded that there is no good answer to such questions. But still, while we are unable to explain satisfactorily who or what God is or if he even exists, the belief in God is so popular and so strong that people will kill and die for their own particular brand of it.
People who tell you that there is indeed a god seemed genuinely convinced that evidence of God’s existence is everywhere. That is because their thinking begins with the belief that God exists and everything around them simply reinforces that belief. How the universe came about. Why nature is so finely balanced. How humans can distinguish right from wrong. They believe that the bible is an accurate and literal record of historical facts and that it was inspired, if not actually written, by God. Even those who think the bible should not be interpreted literally believe that events that have occurred had been prophesied and those yet to occur will happen in the future.
People who don’t believe in God start from a different take-off point. Their thinking begins with the belief that God does not exist and they criticise answers given by believers to questions of his existence. If you say there is only one true god, why are there so many versions of him? What kind of an all powerful and merciful god likes killing so much anyway? You say all are God’s children and he loves all of us, but he seemed to have chosen some over others, and played favourites with the different races. It is also very difficult to appreciate his teachings of humility, kindness, forgiveness, selflessness, etc when there are so many prominent self-professed believers indulging in the pleasures of their worldly lives and their cruelty to their fellow human beings in his name.
There really is no scientific answer to whether God exists, and philosophical answers have been found wanting. Those who believe have simply come to terms with his existence and his demands; and demanding proof of his existence is ungodly, even heretical. In other words, they have decided on faith to believe that God exists and they will get to meet him and be judged by him when they die. Those without such faith remain non-believers. Since scientific and philosophical arguments have changed very few minds on the matter, I have decided to discuss the related topic of why people who believe in God, do.
It is in the nature of human beings to want to believe, i.e. there is a tendency to believe in a higher being that oversees and punishes us. Such a belief can make people more cooperative, conformist, patient, and restrained. Throughout history, people have looked for strong men to rule over them and bring order and calm in times of turmoil. Similarly, man look towards the heavens during times of hardship for a god or gods to protect them and/or punish their adversaries. In some religions, there is acceptance of their lot in life, no matter how miserable, in the belief that they will be rewarded in their next lives. Societies with such people are more likely to survive and thrive, at least until they decay and the cycle repeats itself. In other words humans have become believers and god-fearing through evolution.
If a person has been brought up in a certain way and surrounded by certain things ever since he was born, he is likely to accept these as truths and reject beliefs and practices alien to him. People believe their religion because that’s the one they were indoctrinated into from young and which is consistently reinforced around them through their growing years. When you grow up in an environment which takes for granted that a system of belief is sacred, your knowledge base and your critical thinking skills grow up around that belief structure and when questioned, you tend to rationalise what you already believe.
The fear of death or the fear of not knowing what lies beyond death, can motivate some people into believing in God. This fear is instinctive. It is hard to accept that when you die, there is absolutely nothing after that. People don’t want to think that physical death is the end of all experiences, emotions, and thoughts. It is a lot more comforting to know that you will continue to exist in some form after death. There must be a meaning to life than simply existing for a few years on this earth. Cynics will say that it is like buying an insurance policy; what harm can it do should you die and there is no afterlife? But if there is, you sure wouldn’t want to miss out.
There are people who are converted into believing through some personal experiences. They have chosen to interpret their near-death experiences, dreams or some other mystical events as direct evidence of God. They may believe that a personal prayer for something was answered by God; or that something they witnessed was a supernatural event that could only be done by God. Others may say that unlikely events, no matter how unlikely, do happen; in other words such events may be extremely rare but they are not supernatural. To the person it happened to, however, it is a miracle, especially when that person has directly prayed to his god for the event.
There are those of us who would like to believe that there must be some form of justice in the world, if not in this life then in the next. We’d like to think that by being good, honest, kind and generous we will be rewarded; and those who are bad, dishonest, cruel and selfish will be punished. Who can dispensed such justice better than an all-seeing and all-knowing god whom no one can escape detection? The logic is sound and admirable, and we wish it is so. If our belief system is in tune with the logic, it simply reinforces our belief.
What do I believe? I find the arguments for the existence of God as flawed as the arguments against the existence of God. For example, non-believers would say that the universe started with the big bang, and was not created by God. But they cannot explain why the big bang happened or whatever existed before the big bang happened to be there. Believers would say, however, that God initiated the big bang. To them the answer is so simple, but it’s because their belief is so simplistic – faith in the existence of God; no proof required. A human being trying to understand eternity and creation is like an ant trying to understand the human anatomy. Trying to prove if God exists is a futile exercise because it is way beyond the capacity of our collective brains.
With all humility, I consider myself an agnostic.