This is my dissertation about a journey to find certain personal truths regarding God and religious beliefs.
When I was eight years old in Catechism class, listening to the Nun’s lectures and looking at the wonderful images of various scenes of the Bible, I thought to myself, “None of this makes sense.” And I did not know why. The whole concept was illogical to me. At the end of Catechism classes that year, I told my mother I quit and that I was not going back to classes. However, we continued each Sunday to go to Mass. I would sit in church and question, “Why are they saying these things? What are these rituals? Why am I here?” In those days Mass was in Latin. But, I did recognize the phrase in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I thought to myself, “There is something wrong here.” As an eight-year-old I was not able to articulate these concerns.
Many years later I was a senior in college majoring in electrical engineering. I needed a humanities course to graduate. A friend and I decided to take a summer class on Western Religion. This was a scary idea since we were in Utah with its strong Mormon influence. We were very surprised the first day of class when the professor handed out a paper titled “The World’s Most Dangerous Book” by Alan Watts. This paper was published in the December 1973 issue of Playboy Magazine. This class prompted interesting discussions with my friend, over many beers, about the Bible, God and Religion. After such a long time of not thinking about religion, this experience helped me revisit and articulate my concerns.
For a long time after that I was completely focused on my engineering career and did not give the Bible or religion much thought. Our family of four was completely secular during this period of time. During this hiatus I did not have any interaction with religion. Nearly thirty-eight years later I was in a discussion with my fundamentalist brother regarding the Bible. After talking with my brother, my curiosity regarding the Bible was revived.
Not unlike Shakespeare, I had always thought of the Bible as a piece of literary work. The book of Genesis and the creation of the universe seemed like really good mythological stories, and they belonged in the Bible. Karen Armstrong stated, “Human beings are spiritual animals and there is a case that Homo sapiens are also Homo religious. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became human; they created religion at the same time as they created works of art … it seems that creating gods is something that human beings have always done.”[Armstrong xix] The creation myth seemed too faith-based to begin my journey. Therefore, it made sense that my approach to learning about the Bible would be from a historically critical or textual exegesis point of view, not devotional.
The starting point of my journey was the history of gods. Thereafter, I explored Biblical times. The ancient near East is a huge arena. After studying timelines, church fathers, theology and the evolution of monotheism, I concluded that “ultimately, the Bible is a book of faith, not history, biology, biography, science or even philosophy.”[Davis xxiii] The influence of Greek culture and thought in the classical era took me to another stop.
The evolution of the Greek mind from Homer to Aristotle was my next interest. The early Greeks moved from myth to philosophy, the mystical spirit of the pre-Socrates traditions finally lead to the philosophy of Pythagoras. During this time there was a major change in Greek ideas from an oral tradition to a literate culture that set the stage for the birth of philosophy. “At this pivotal stage, there was a distinct overlap of the mythic and scientific modes”[Tarnas 19] that influenced the early philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. With the advent of philosophy, the new worldview was one of rational common sense and viewed apart from religion.
My next stop was the era of the renaissance, reformation, the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. This epoch period is the beginning of the modern worldview. Western culture transformed itself into a scholastic awakening. This is where my ideological roots are based, with the greatest thinkers of all times. In theology there is St. Anselm and St. Aquinas. Galileo, Darwin, and Copernicus are my personal heroes. And, Fibonacci set the stage for the scientific revolution. This is the age of reason with new philosophical thinkers such as Descartes, Hume and Kant.
My parents divorced when I was five years old. This left my mother to raise six children virtually on her own. For the last fifteen years of my mother’s life she was completely blind. She lost her eyesight due to glaucoma. This woman, my mother was a saint. The hardships she endured to provide a decent home and raise her children in a loving environment were enormous. We all loved her very much. Here is the problem simply stated: if something evil can be understood to be a situation that is very unpleasant or harmful, then my mother’s blindness is evil. How could God allow this injustice? My brother and sisters prayed to Jesus Christ to heal her blindness on a daily bases. She had friends that would read to her from the Bible. She was told that God would restore her sight. She had faith and trusted God and believed that she would see again. She died blind. This is pointless evil. I consider this as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible. My siblings do not understand the problem and have vindicated their God.
This is what I know. God is man-made. The Bible is composite literature composed by superstitious men. Religion is a human construct. This does not mean that I do not understand mankind’s need to invent God or god(s) and religion. I can comprehend the human psychology of spirituality and the need for an ultimate reality. In Wittgenstein’s words the concept of God and religion is a language game.
Since this is a philosophy paper the question should be asked, how do I know what I know? Since my early childhood, God is not a priori reality to me. All of the a posteriori arguments are not prima facie convincing. “If you don’t start with God you will never get to God.”[Loftus 58] To avoid begging the question my preference was to start the journey at the bottom instead of starting from the top. I think I am within my epistemic rights to this knowledge. When Napoleon asked Laplace why he didn’t mention god in his essay of the orbits, his reply was “I had no need of that hypothesis.” I am as Pascal phrased it, so made that I cannot believe. I do not have a need for the hypothesis of God or religion. I am a skeptic and capable of having a good life without the baggage of an implausible supernatural belief.
It must be remembered that in philosophy, as well as in life, what matters most is the journey itself, and not the final destination.
Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Knopf, 1993; Ballantine Books, 1994.
Davis, Kenneth C. Don’t Know Much About The Bible. New York, HarperCollins Publishers,1998.
Loftus, John W. Why I became an Atheist. Amherst. Prometheus Books. 2008.
Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind. New York. Ballantine Books. 1991.