Both atheists and theists alike, on the question of God’s existence, like to portray their position as the more rational one.
Atheists will say, prove it to me. You’re making extraordinary claims, therefore give me irrefutable evidence such that it would be impossible to deny. This, btw, is a standard of proof far in excess of anything science has ever had to demonstrate.
Not only do they expect a perfectly sound argument, but they expect it to be the exact kind of evidence that each subjective examiner needs to satisfy his or her own particular hang-up.
And theists love to try to rise to those occasions. They’ll say things like, “Well, I know some arguments. I heard this one called the cosmological argument one time. Here’s how it goes…”
Or, “I know one called the ontological argument; it’s very clever.” And so they will begin until they eventually end, both self-satisfied that theirs is the more logical position – without having found any common ground.
But if both were more honest with themselves, they would have to admit that their reasons for believing or not believing have far less to do with reason than they’d like to admit – as do most other reasons that influence major decisions in our lives.
Yes, we are rational beings with an intellect, but we are also emotional beings with passions and it is our passions that tend to dominate a far greater portion of our decision making than we like to admit.
Take the person you vote for. Very few people vote, consistently, on purely coherent and rational grounds.
You may have seen those street commentary videos where someone will ask a random person what they think of a given political candidate and they’ll say, “Oh I hate him.” Then they’ll ask them if they agree with a litany of policies to which the brave respondent will reply, “Oh yes, I agree with that.” Only to eventually have the trap closed on them when it’s revealed that all of the policies they agreed with originate from the candidate that they don’t like.
People, as far as I can tell, don’t tend to vote for the person that they agree with. They tend to vote for the person that they like, and their reasons for liking them tend to be based, more, on an emotional response than a rational one.
What about the car you drive – why did you buy that car? Was it a purely rational choice? Did you rationally survey all the variables and choose the exact right car that fits your life and needs and budget?
Or did you get talked into something by a smooth salesperson who preyed upon your passions? Did you choose the white one because you like white? Did you get the one with bigger rims, because you thought, hey, that’ll make me look cool? Did you get talked into a certain trim package because of the way it made you feel – with little regard for whether it made rational sense to spend the extra money on it or not?
Buying a car is a major financial decision but none of us base it on having listened to all the rational arguments and then choosing the one that was proven to be the best.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Did you calculate the perfect portion of nutrition, energy, vitamins, etc. based on rational proofs that had been undeniably conveyed to you in the past? Or did you eat what you wanted to because you liked it or because it was convenient?
Even if you chose something reasonably nutritious, we have to admit that most people make a choice based on a combination of desires and intellect. Hardly any of the important decisions we make in life are based on pure reason.
And though that may seem like a small decision, when you multiply that behaviour by 365 days a year, it amounts to a significant contribution in your health and therefore quality of life.
What about when your significant other said, “I love you.” Did you cross your arms and say, that sounds nice, but I’m withholding judgement until you can empirically prove that to me. I’m going to need to see microscopic love proteins swimming through your veins before I act on that information.
Or did you go, “really? Me? You love me?” And yet, how many of us were manipulated by those words when we should have been more shrewd about that confession.
But when it comes to the question of God, we want a purely rational explanation for all of our questions and objections and if we don’t do that for all the other important decisions in our life, then isn’t that an indictment of our own insincerity?
Why do we do that? Is it a defense mechanism? It sure seems like it to me. I know for a period of my life it’s an excuse I used among those who wanted to inspire an appreciation for the divine in me.
The truth is, the difference between those who sincerely believe in God and those who hide behind a rational façade, is the difference between humility and pride not rational and superstitious.
People who sincerely believe in God often go through an experience where they admit to themselves that they aren’t smart enough to riddle out a theory of everything or the singularity behind all that exists, which is what you’d have to do to have God proven to you.
They experience enough of a twinge of humility that they can say something like, “God, I don’t know if you’re out there, but if you are, I’d really like to know you.” Something like that traces my own experience.
I said, “God, if you’re out there, could you reveal yourself to me in a way that I can understand and appreciate.” And he did. I experienced something very personal, and very difficult to describe to anyone else. It would be something like explaining the color red to someone who is color blind.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a rational dimension to it. After I did that, I devoted myself to trying to understand this encounter through philosophy and theology as well as to defend my conclusions about God to all the people I knew lining up to challenge me on that front.
And I found countless perfectly sound arguments that reinforced God’s existence for me.
But still, that initial encounter was a subjective experience; it isn’t an argument or objective evidence. But it is a challenge or even a dare to try it for yourself.
It’s like if we we’re all trying to get into a locked room and we all had our method for trying to get the door unlocked and I came to you and said, I got in. All I had to do was pat my head 3 times and say this phrase, “Peanut butter and banana sandwiches.”
But you say, no I’m going to keep trying it my way until the door opens. Wouldn’t that refusal to try something that worked my way betray the possibility that you don’t actually want to get into the locked room?
Pride is the reason why so many people hide behind excuses to sincerely confront the question of God. Humility is a necessary ingredient to get any kind of meaningful answer in that inquiry. God organizes it in this way. Why? Because God is love and pride is the antithesis of love.
But to explain why, we need to define our terms because pride and humility are notoriously misunderstood. Most people think of pride as thinking too much of yourself when in fact, it means you think about yourself too much.
Thinking highly of yourself is a symptom of pride, but so is being down on yourself all the time. They are both symptoms of thinking about yourself too much. And this is a highly irrational disorder in character.
Just do the math, there are over 7 billion other people in the world with their own unique stories, needs, interests, and desires. Yet, you and I spend the overwhelming majority of our time fixated on ourselves. We think about our wants, our needs, our desires at an irrationally disproportionate rate to those of others.
This self obsession makes it difficult to consider the needs of others which is why it competes with love. Love means to will the good of the other. That’s pretty hard to do if you don’t spend any time thinking about anyone but yourself.
Humility is, by contrast, a healthy dose of self forgetfulness. And in the absence of thinking about yourself, you can fill your thoughts with the interests of other people, and so be better disposed to loving them.
Pride is also blinding in nature. Have you ever met someone who has the most naïve view of themselves? When you become preoccupied with some thought such that it becomes an obsession, you tend to not have a very accurate or objective opinion of it or anything else for that matter.
Like the person at work who likes to say, “I’m a team player.” And you’re thinking, you’re a lot of things but you are the worst person to have on a team. Or that person in your life who likes to think of themselves as low maintenance, but they actually spend 3 hours getting ready in the morning.
Or how about the person who loves to be known for their intellectual reading accomplishments, but in fact, they can only carry on a conversation about 3 books that they probably didn’t actually finish.
This is what pride does. It compromises our apprehension of the world around us because we’re so inwardly focused – even to the degree that it distorts our own self perception. God is the summit of the external world. If we can’t stop obsessing about ourselves for long enough to be sincerely captivated by something or someone else, what makes us think we’ll be able to meaningfully encounter God?
The fact is, unless we humble ourselves we will be blind to him and hiding behind this excuse that we need undeniable, irrefutable, proof is just one more excuse we use to continue avoiding the demands of God’s love.
So take that dare. Disregard your pride, which doesn’t serve your interests at all, and be refreshed by the effects of a little humility. And then, sincerely start to ask that question.