Why I Believe in God

18 Jul

In an earlier entry, I explained why I am not a Christian. However, I have realized of late that this raises another question of probably greater importance. Why do I believe in God?

Before I can answer that, I must explain something about myself. I have lived a very long life. It would be incorrect to say that I have lived a hard life. Many of the experiences that were hard for me might have been easy for someone else. Moreover, most of the hardships I have experienced were brought on by me.

I have never been a good student. During my years in elementary school, I had a severe case of what would now be diagnosed as ADD. However, at the time, this was perceived as a discipline problem and dealt with accordingly. For this reason, it was very difficult for me to make any progress in school. I barely finished high school. I tried to go to college, but quickly dropped out.

After I dropped out of college I spent many years working and attempting to return. During that time, I tried to understand who I am, what I am capable of, and what I needed to achieve to validate myself. I worked as a contractor, a carpenter, a clutch disk rebuilder, a salesman, a berry picker, a busboy, a waiter, a loader at United Parcel Service, a security guard, a store detective, a math tutor, and a handful of other things. I went through several tumultuous relationships. I saw my family lose everything twice. I tried to return to school half a dozen times. As I progressed through this period a realization emerged within me: I could never be happy until I finished my college degree. It was something I had to do in order to accept myself as someone worthy of existence. It was do-or-die.

The psychological problems I had to overcome in order to return to school were almost insurmountable. I had to get extensive and expensive professional help. Even with that, it was nearly impossible. I dreaded doing my school work. I dreaded going to class. I dreaded being exposed to other students as a failure and a fraud. I had trouble sleeping, I had trouble socializing, and I had trouble securing funds. My ADD never went away, and I had to deal with that as well. Curiously, it never occurred to me to obtain some kind of accommodation for this problem. I am a college instructor now, and many of my current students have such accommodations. Somehow, though I perceived myself as a victim of society and our educational system, I was never able to accept the stigma of needing special treatment.

I have not explained this in order to gain sympathy. These are the facts of my life. My life and faith cannot make sense unless they are stated.

Throughout this process of trying to find myself and validate myself, I needed one more thing. I needed to believe that there was some reason for all the angst and humiliation. I needed to believe that there was some overall plan. I needed to believe that what I did mattered. I experimented with religion. I never went to any church, although I ultimately took a class in Christian doctrine at a Lutheran church near the University of Washington. However, I took this class after most of my beliefs had been established.

While discovering what I could and could not believe about religion, I came to realize that an intelligence seemed to be communicating with me. Henceforth, I shall refer to this intelligence as God. I tried to amplify the communications I was receiving from God by pursuing several methods that could only be called “divination”. However, other communications seemed to tell me that this was not a healthy pursuit.

God does not shout from mountain tops. He does not even whisper in our ear. God communicates with us in a manner similar to how humans train rats, but even less direct. He allows things to happen, causes us to reflect on them, and drops hints that certain ways of responding and believing are correct and others are flawed. Finding God is like tracking an animal through the woods. Sometimes you see a broken branch, sometimes you see what could be a footprint, and sometimes you just have a feeling that the animal went a certain way. Eventually, you know you are on the right path, although you may not be at all clear as to how you managed to follow it.

However, after doing enough tracking, you gain confidence in your ability to follow the trail. You begin to realize that you no longer have any doubt that you are indeed able to follow it, but only wonder how it is that you managed to do it? Which broken branch, which hint of a footprint, and which slightly pushed aside bit of brush was it that told you which way to go? It becomes a source of curiosity, but no longer a source of doubt.

I got through school, found relative calm and sanity, and found God. Ultimately, I became a college math instructor.

After I finished all of this, I was certain to ask the question that any doubter would ask. Did I come to believe in God only because I needed to? Was I so afraid of failure that I was willing to accept any belief, however irrational, that would get me through it? There is a well know saying: “There are no atheists in fox holes.” Do men in fox holes come to believe in God only because they are afraid? That is possible, but I have come to believe otherwise. When I look back on my life and experiences, I cannot help but observe that it seemed to go that way for a reason. Now that I see what I have become and what I have come to understand, I cannot help but feel that my life had to happen as it did in order to get me to try harder and look deeper.

Now that I am more secure and am not subjected to nearly so much duress, one might expect my faith in God to wane. However, just the opposite seems to be happening. As I learn more about minds, physics, and cosmology, I am beginning to realize that the universe is nothing like western materialism has come to assume. Copernicus was certainly right about the solar system, but his observation does not appear to extend to the universe at large. The belief that humans are not the center of our universe has turned into a dogma no different from the earlier belief that humans were the center. It is beginning to appear that this is a mistaken assumption. Apparently, God made the universe specifically as a home for humans. This may or may not ultimately prove out.

What I believe about God is that he has existed from the very beginning, he is omnipotent and omniscient, he is loving, he is just, and he is beyond human comprehension. I have other partially formed beliefs about God, but they are constantly in flux. They are like a leaf falling from a tree. As the leaf wafts this way and that and gets closer to the ground, there is more certainty about where it may land. However, the exact point of contact is never completely determined until it touches down.

I have occasionally tried to canonize my beliefs about God. However, one of the things I have come to realize is that he does not want me to push toward any dogmatic system. He wants me to wait and see. He wants me to keep an open mind. He wants me to finish the story. This may not be true of everyone’s relationship with God. Perhaps he wants some people to make up their minds and follow a certain discipline. Perhaps he wants some people to not believe at all. I have speculated as to why this might be the case, but I do not actually know. Suffice it to say that God does not seem to pursue the same relationship with every person.

I no longer much doubt the existence of God. Now, when I contemplate God, I am mostly curious as to what he wants me to believe about him, what he wants me to do in my life, and why he seems to be so different to every person? Why do so many people believe in God, and yet make such different assumptions about God? Is it just their cultural influence, or is there something more to it? After all, if God exists, it seems like he could cause everyone to believe the same thing. For me, belief in God is an ongoing adventure.

There are a handful of things I do not believe about God. I do not believe that he exists in any way that contradicts our physical senses or that contradicts established science. He does not contradict the theory of evolution or the origin of the universe in the massive expansion called the Big Bang. On the other hand, there are caveats to these theories that have to be taken into account. There are aspects of quantum mechanics that suggest the universe and the past are not as definitive as many believe; but that is all very speculative. I would not want to suggest the dismissal of evolution or accepted cosmology on the basis of barely understood properties of matter. I do not believe that God conforms to a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible. Yet, I do not believe the Bible is false. Truth is a tricky matter. Science is the pursuit of falsifiable hypotheses. It is not the pursuit of truth.

I neither accept nor reject the label of “Christian”. I believe that I am what Christians are supposed to be, and that makes me a Christian. Yet, I do not believe what Christians believe, which makes the label impractical. As I have stated in the mission of this blog, I seek the truth. Like the aforementioned falling leaf, I believe I am drifting toward the truth. I have never found it.

Here is a list of links to other ideas I have expressed that relate directly to my belief system:

The Game of Faith

My Moral Constitution

The Technological Singularity and Theology

The Embarrassment of Artificial Minds

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