DOES GOD EXIST?
One of the great arguments of our time is the argument about whether or not God exists.
Many people quite rightly point out that the existence of God cannot be proven scientifically. But it is equally impossible to prove scientifically that God does not exist.
This then surely means, that at least for now, the existence or non-existence of God is not a “scientific” question – in the sense that science cannot help us to arrive at a definitive answer. In other words – and at least for now – the existence of God is a trans-scientific question.
And of course while science has made truly wonderful and admirable progress over time we must also admit that there are many things that science cannot yet solve – curing cancer, preventing “natural” disasters and fully explaining everything about the universe – or indeed the universes.
In spite of this scientific “shortfall” some still say that it is not “rational” to believe in God. But it seems to me that if the current state of science and human knowledge cannot answer the question definitively, one way or another, it is quite “rational” to take either view about God’s existence?
For instance I have had Crohn’s Disease for nearly 30 years now and among medical scientists and practitioners there is a great diversity of intellectual and scientific opinion on the cause(s) of Crohn’s Disease. However I have been greatly helped by one school of medical thought that says that Crohn’s Disease is caused by a small para-tuberculosis creature that is found in cow’s milk and even in water. An eminent London medic has kept me well for 30 years by treating me with drugs that attack this little creature. And yet I hardly dare mention his name or his treatments to other eminent medical scientists in the field who are convinced that he is sincerely but seriously misled. But in view of my previous horrific symptoms – and their absence for nearly 30 years now – surely it is quite “rational” for me to believe that my man is right? He may very well be one of those “prophets” who are not loved in their own community – especially when they are alive. However in time to come medical students may have to learn his theory and his old enemies might be leaving flowers on his grave? Of course if he is proven wrong in the future by certain science I will fully accept that verdict completely and ask myself if it was my strong faith in him, and not his treatment, that kept me well.
So, until science or advancements in human knowledge can definitively say whether or not God exists it is quite rational to believe in God. It is also quite rational not to believe in God until the evidence is definitive. That second position was well represented in the Christian Gospel by Doubting Thomas who said he would not believe that Jesus Christ had risen until he could put his fingers in the famous “Five Wounds”.
Personally I have made the deliberate choice to believe – a choice I have no wish or desire to impose on any other human being – that puts me among those of whom it was / is said: “Thomas, because you have seen me you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”.
This then brings us to the point where we have to say that all of us should be perfectly free to make the choice between whether we believe in God or do not believe in God.
It is true that so many millions of people who believe in God never really made this choice for themselves or were encouraged to do so. Much religion is imposed on people depending on where they are born or the places and circumstances in which they were born. Much religion – especially unthinking religion - is the result of early indoctrination.
In the past, the masses were generally uneducated and unthinkingly adopted and lived a religion that came down to them from their societies or families. Their religion was part of their cultural package.
In Roman Catholic Ireland for instance over 90% of people were born into the Catholic culture and into Catholic families. They went to Catholic schools where they were taught by priests, nuns or Christian Brothers or by lay Catholic teachers appointed by the Catholic school manager – the parish priest. When they left school they went to work for church going Catholic employers or if they were lucky went to universities which were run in any event by the Catholic Church.
If they became doctors or nurses they worked in hospitals run by the Catholic Church. If they became teachers or lecturers they worked in schools and colleges run by the Catholic Church. If they joined the legal professions they attended a Mass to begin the Legal Year and were sermonised to by a Catholic bishop. If they worked in a bank their manager was likely to be a devout Catholic who attended Mass every morning before opening the bank.
They were baptised in a Catholic church. They were confirmed by a Catholic bishop. They were married by a Catholic priest. All their deceased relatives were buried in Catholic churches. The politicians they voted for were Catholics who toed the Church line in order to keep the votes of their constituents who could be told how to vote by their priests. The Catholic ethos of their country did not allow contraception. The films they watched in cinemas were vetted by a Catholic censor.
Did all these people ever freely CHOOSE to believe in God? Many of them that chose not to, emigrated to “Pagan England” or to the USA.
These “poor” people had very little room for choice in their lives. They were born into a Catholic factory, processed through the Catholic assembly line and emerged as neatly packaged Catholic products to be distributed around the country – and to begin the manufacturing process all over again.
Today’s Irish people are much more educated. They are no longer being processed by RC Limited. Maybe this explains the massive decrease in church attendance? And this is a good thing. At least they have a choice today.
But sadly, for me at least, they are not choosing whether to believe in God or not. They are not making a choice between spirituality and secularism. They are simply – and quite rightly - choosing not to be priest ridden and church ridden. They are “reacting” rather than acting.
And it is very arguable that there is something of a great spiritual drought in modern Ireland – a drought I believe that is not unconnected to Ireland’s high ranking in European and world suicide statistics – especially among younger males. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not seeking people to make a return to bad religion. I only wish that people had a “spirituality” that nourished them on life’s journey – whether that spirituality is a healthy humanism, the return of Irish Druidic sensibilities, the embracing of Buddha or indeed a positive Christianity devoid of the ugliness of man religion and canon (Catholic sharia) law.
One evening in Belfast many years ago I was visiting a friend’s house. My friend was babysitting their highly gifted 4 year old nephew from London whose parents were virulently anticlerical “lapsed” Catholics.
The little boy was gobsmacked at my clerical attire and he had many questions to ask me. It was a little bit like being quizzed by Jeremy Paxman. He was not impressed with my explanation of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). He said: “That does not make sense to me. The bread becomes his body and the wine becomes his blood. What do you do with his bones”?
He was interested – in a wonderful childlike way – with the notions of God and spirituality.
After our 3 hour conversation his parents arrived home and were very unhappy to see me sitting there being interviewed by their young genius. They had brought him in his normal can of Diet Coke and chocolate bar. He refused to accept it. When his mother asked him why he answered: “Because I have been talking to this “priester” – and I think you are always giving me food for my body but you are never giving me food for my soul”.
I want the very best for all my brothers and sisters on this earth. I want each and every one of them to go to bed every night with a full stomach. But I also want each and every one of them to have joy and peace of “soul”.
If they find that in humanism I am happy for them. If they find it in human love, art, music, etc., I am thrilled for them and share those things in common with them.
And if I find my joy and my peace of soul in my choice to believe in God – and in my relationship with that God – I want all my brothers and sisters to rejoice for me. And I need them not to write me off as foolish or irrational.
I believe in God. But more than that I “know” that God exists. I do not know this because of anything that I was ever taught. I do not know it because I was born and raised a Catholic. I do not know it because I have spent nearly 40 years as a priest. I do not know it because of Saint Augustine or Thomas Aquinas. I do not know it because of any pope, bishop or priest. In fact knowing what I know about church, popes, bishops and priests would be more likely to make me not believe in God.
I know that God exists because, and only because, I have experienced God and because of my relationship with God which has gradually become the central and most important relationship of my whole life.
I knew God in my mother’s womb when I felt like a cloud and could bend my spine in both directions. This last statement will shock people and perhaps convince my enemies – not that they need any further evidence – that I am mad or mentally ill. I had lost the memory of knowing God in my mother’s womb until some 30 years ago when I attended a two week long work shop with Dr Frank Lake in Nottingham in England. Dr Lake (1914 – 1982) was an eminent British medic, surgeon and psychiatrist, interested in pastoral counselling who founded the Clinical Theology Association. During my time with Dr Lake I “relived” some birth and indeed pre-birth moments. It would take too long to go into it here but, for instance, I was able to go home and describe in detail to my mother the entire lay out of the room in which I had been born in her father’s house – a room I never visited either in my childhood or adult life. From that moment the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament took on a whole new significance for me: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”.
|Dr Frank Lake|
From the age of 4 I wanted to be a priest. I wanted to be a priest in order to be close to God and to serve other people. From the earliest of ages I visited churches almost every day of my life. I cannot describe in words the feelings of joy and peace I found in these buildings.
And on rare, well-spaced out occasions throughout my life I have had a succession of real “encounters” with the Divine Presence. It has not always happened in churches or places associated with religion. It has happened in a shower in a gym, sitting at the bottom of a ruin on the Antrim Coast overlooking the Irish Sea, in a hospital ward and on a deserted island staring at a wild hare staring back at me.
Only yesterday, February 1st 2015 - at our 12 Noon Mass in our little Oratory at Larne I felt the palpable presence of God. When I thought about it later I felt that the "midwife" that delivered that particular presence was a combination of a meaningful liturgy, the sharing of the Word of God, some very inspiring music and above all else the presence in that little place of people whom I can only lovingly describe as "the walking wounded".
These were moments of true and unutterable KNOWING.
If I were to deny their absolute reality I would also have to deny that the sun shines by day and that the moon looks over the night. I would have to deny that Washington DC is the capital of the USA. I would have to deny that the world is round.
These moments of knowing were and are as real to me as washing my hands and teeth.
They are so real to me that I do not need people to believe me and are totally unaffected and undiluted by anyone’s ridicule – or by anyone’s desire to call me a neurotic, a fantasist or even a liar.
I have as many questions as anybody else about God and about why he allows certain things to happen and be the way they are.
But I have no doubt about his existence – for I have experienced his presence.
To deny this would make me a liar!
*************** ALSO PUBLISHED ON www.christianityasap.com
*************** ALSO PUBLISHED ON www.christianityasap.com