A dialogue on God's existence

A: I didn’t eat anything at all for two days or so, when she went away for her holiday. But I had a bit of bread last night. I had forgotten how to look after that side of myself; dinner was not ready, so I didn’t get any.

B: You don’t let her do all the cooking?

A: And I didn’t get to see my daughter this weekend. I got a message…

C: His ex-wife sent a text message about his daughter. She was unwell, it said, so she didn’t come.

B: That woman has a mental illness; it means she can get away with it mistreating her daughter like that.

A: I don’t think of it as a mental illness. I think her lack of peace of mind, and her bad decisions, are due to her bad actions in the past, and her bad actions in the present. She means to harm me, and she does so. Then, she falls apart into her private misery.

D: Mum, mum.

B: Play with the water, that’s fine, but don’t splash it here; you’re getting everybody wet.

C: I didn’t get any on my clothes, it’s okay, I’m fine.

A: You know, about this Covid virus situation, and the way the government has shut down the economy. It is the weirdest thing. When I was growing up from youth to maturity, I do not recall that any fundamental values were taught me, or expressed, except for one in particular. And that value is the value of work and making money. That is the true and only value which is fundamental to our society as I pictured it. We don’t have any morality, or moral rules…

B: That’s rubbish. We do have morality. What do you think I teach these children, and ..

A: No, not the case. Morality is based on a belief in God, and on eternal damnation or happiness. Morality only works when you know that somebody is watching you at all times. And, without God, this is not the case. Society as a whole, in the average, does not have God within it. People can do what they like, and the only thing holding them back is the police.

B: That is not a true picture of today’s society. People are held back from harming each other by a deep community, and a fear of being ostracised.

A: Without God, the only thing holding people back from murdering each other is their own cowardice, or the fear of being caught.

D: Mum, mum.

B: Yes, you can have another cake.

C: He threw the last two on the floor, look.

B: He can have another cake. He wants to play on his bike now, anyway.

A: I seek out the fundamental philosophical destination of any situation, at a theoretical level. Now, if there is only society’s expectation holding you back from harming others, then at the extreme limit, if you are indifferent to other people’s views, you can do what you like. And, as the generations pass, in the future, people will do what they like, because the old memory of God and morality will be diluted, generation after generation. Society will simply see no reason for being ‘society’. It will be tribal, like the society based on honour of the ancient Greeks; with direct force in the name of personal advantage, and revenge, as motives.

B: You’re wrong. Are you saying that it’s okay to murder people?

A: In a society without God, what is stopping people? And in future…

B: I’ve studied this in some depth, and I know what I’m talking about when it comes to people and the reason why they behave well and kindly toward each other. It was part of my counselling training, and my legal studies. I have read accounts of chimpanzees who self-regulate inside their community. They do not kill because, if they do, the other chimpanzees ostracise them. For up to three years. This is how society works, and how our society works.

A: Yes, chimp society does work like that, except in those cases where the chimp kills the boss, and then he becomes the boss. Then he is not ostracised, and so he has the motivation to murder, and if he is successful there are only good things to be gained from it. That is how it happens in an animal society.

B: That’s true. There are challenges like that in their groupings.

A: And that’s my point. Without morality of an eternal and binding kind, it is only cowardice which holds people back. I mean, in today’s world, a man in my position, knowing that one of my clients keeps money in the house, it would be proper (to play devil’s advocate here) for me to arrange to burgle the house of the money. If I can escape without being caught, then it will not incur the wrath of the wider community. Everything is allowed in a life without God. It has been talked about for at least a century now that this is or will be our situation. And this is perhaps why the banking and finance industry is in charge of our world. That profession is essentially just theft; morality-free crime in the City is what our ruling class get up to, in the open.

B: What? So why don’t I just commit crimes, and steal and that sort of thing? What makes me caring and good? Especially, why do I teach the children to be kind and good to each other? I don’t believe in God and yet I consider myself to be good.

A: Because you’re an idiot. Or from cowardice.

B: Come here E, do you want this drink, not that one?

E: Mmm.

B: So basically, you think that people who commit crimes and the like, are being watched by some kind of God-fairy; and that they will be judged in the next world?

A: Yes.

C: Do you believe in God?

B: I don’t think he does. I don’t think he does at all. I know he doesn’t. He would like to, but it’s just silly. And he doesn’t believe in that freedom-to-murder nonsense, either.

A: Anyway, to get back to the point. This Covid thing, it has taken our highest value, the value which alone has any moral imperative, the one which I had been taught since childhood – namely the value of labour and earning a living, the virtue of making money - and it has simply cancelled out that imperative. I can’t understand it at all. I mean, it is our society’s highest ethical value, and the virus has somehow put an end to it.

G: Do you want another drink A? Get him another cup of coffee.

A: Thanks. Now, on the subject of whether I believe in God, I have something to say. You surprise me in second guessing me, thinking as you do that I don’t actually believe in God, because for me there is no question of His reality. Let me explain.

B: You’re going to tell me that you believe in some being, far away, looking down on us, like some kind of school teacher? It’s like Father Christmas, or fairies. What’s the special difference between believing in Father Christmas and believing in God?

A: If you’ll allow me to speak, you want me to give you an answer, and so I will, if you don’t mind. You think that I don’t already know the arguments against God’s existence? Equating God with Father Christmas is what Richard Dawkins has been getting up to, and his view derives from the engineer’s view of the world.

B: Yes, there’s no evidence for God.

A: And there’s no evidence that God does not exist.

B: Pah.

A: That approach taken by the atheists, the popular ones, goes back centuries, with its mechanistic view of things where God was supposed to have created the world, set it in motion, then just sat back. And, along came the technology of the seventeenth century, and proved that humans can make things, too, or at least understand the rules of creation. And then, eventually, God had no place in creation. But it is my perspective on this story that the truth of God is beyond the engineer’s approach, and besides, the technologist’s Newtonian objective view of nature has been disproven within the confines of science itself; nature is not simply an objective predetermined process.

B: Baby, come here.

C: He’s fallen over, bless him.

B: Let me go and get him.

A: Now, there are a few basic core things which underlie my understanding of God and his existence. First, remember that for all we will ever know, the only person who truly and without question exists, is you [pointing] yourself. You alone exist, or, rather, me. The rest of existence could be and often is a dream. We see only bits of it, and never see the whole; we can’t see the real world. The only truth, the only firm thing is you, by yourself. And, it is to this which God speaks. Adducing any evidence about the world out there, and the chimps and so on, is just a distraction. How do you know that God has not made this entire world which you experience, solely and entirely for you? And this is the thing about the rejection of God on the basis of big bang theory, or Darwinian historical thinking: that God did not create the world once, and then leave it, and become irrelevant. Rather, and this is my second point about belief in God, rather, he creates it at all times, at every instant.

C: Is that the cat trying to get out of the garage?

B: Put her back inside. I’ll tell you why later.

A: Third, knowing only your own world, and being entangled with the outside world in an inextricable way, your only certainty is your own mind, your own thinking and your heart. Now, how do you know that it is not true (and I consider it to be the truth) that your mind, that is, your existence, has been given to you by God, because it is actually God’s mind? You and I have only a slight part of it, an insufficient clarity of view on the world and our self, truly. But, we do have this mind, and God gave this little mind to each of us, to C., to you, to me. God, as I might see him (and I do not claim to do so, at all) conceals within himself every person and every conscious being, bringing them all together, and giving them their individual freedom and existence. And, a last point…

B: Yes?

A: And, a last point. We do not see the whole truth, and we are dismayed about our doubts about God because God simply does not show himself in the open, and leaves us in doubt. We do not see with clear eyes, but from our damaged and limited perspective. And the reason for this is that we are in a life of sin; there is something corrupt and faulty about us, which we call sin. But I should also mention the importance, to me, of meditation and prayer, because, without these, you cannot set up a vital relation to God, and then all of these points are just a bit academic. But if you do accept God, then you do see with opened eyes.

C: It’s about faith, and entering a new world. That is the heart of it.

B: Yes, I can see all of that. It’s true, how do we know that the world was not created just five minutes ago? We would not be able to verify it. But I just don’t see the need for the idea of God, after all. I refuse to open myself up to it.

A: You wouldn’t see the need for God, not in this point in history. Everyone around you thinks as you do, with your secular values; it takes some deeper thought than society is capable of, to see the importance of what I have said.

B: Well, you obviously don’t know what it’s like in America. When I was in Texas people didn’t understand what I meant when I said that I didn’t believe in God. They thought it was self-evident. So, society as a whole, there, is not of my view; I was the odd one out.

A: Perhaps the Americans, members of a great nation, have God because they are great…

B: O A., you call America great! Little boy, come here. Come and sit on my knee little boy.

A: Well, maybe me equating greatness and America is not exactly right.

B: The Americans do all kinds of weird and sometimes bad things at the same time as being religious.

C: Now, you two, you have different views on things, and you think one thing, and she the other. You won’t convince each other. So, come on, this is the cake and coffee Tuesday. Let’s enjoy the cakes and coffee, and stop arguing.

B: I think that Jason will be much more likely to change his views than I am to change mine. I don’t go in for the church, and all the rules. I mean, let’s say that God did give us a mind, and life. So why all the subjugation of women; the hundreds of years of women’s subjection because of religion? And what about the power of the church to get into people’s lives, and to all that trouble with wars, caused by religion? I won’t let anybody tell me what to do. I respect myself as a woman too much. And, again, all because some man wrote down about God. What’s the practical benefit of living as if you believe in God? You could just as well believe in Fairies or Father Christmas, like I said.

A: You don’t know the benefits of a relationship with God; you wouldn’t get angry about your situation in this kind of individualistic way if you saw your essential nature. But I can tell you that it is clear that when we believe in fairies, we get to enjoy dreaming, writing poetry about them, or painting things. But eventually, we must tire of them, if we were ever stupid enough to take them seriously. And I have found that a relationship with God as a personality, in eternity, does not exhaust itself. Father Christmas is just an overweight man in a red suit. Believing or having a relationship with this person has no benefit. But a relation to God does.

F: Hey, I’m listening.

C: Don’t dismiss Father Christmas in front of the children.

F: I’m listening to you talking about Father Christmas.

A: What represents the true majesty of Christianity, and I am a Christian, is that at a certain point in historical time, and perhaps never again, and it need never happen again, God became a person, like me and you. And this means that human being is therefore part of the Godhead. We have in us the eternal world, potential for everlasting life. If it does happen again that man becomes equally God, then it is possible that it can happen in me or you.

B: And what about all the fuss with particular places, holy places. What makes one more special than the other? I mean, why Christianity exactly? Or, what about the rituals, and all that. It’s pointless, and just comical with the funny outfits and solemn phrases.

A: Again, I understand and think that these things are not just extraneous pointless features of the religious life. As humans, we need a connection with the physical world, and physical things. Beautiful music and images, singing and order. It helps to bring a meditative state in us as a group. Humans spontaneously create art, and music, because it is our nature. And that is why they are part of church worship. There’s nothing to be despised about them, either. Art and music, and architecture derive from Christian worship, in the West at least. And as for the places, the holy places, I see history as a meaningless distraction, a catalogue of tall tales leading toward no resolution, but only having a resolution in these places. At times in history people have set up a relationship with the eternal, and these relations took place at specific points in time and space. And those places, long ago as may be, are therefore special, and can be visited. They are places where eternity entered in to time. That is the significance of Lourdes, or Holywell, and other places, like the Cathedral in Chester.

B: You still haven’t convinced me. It all seems so unconvincing. I’m thinking now of people from other places, and other times. For instance, what about people from Pakistan for instance, or some other non-Christian place, hundreds of years ago? Are they going to hell because they didn’t believe? And, what about the ancient Egyptians, and their gods? Were those people with their religion all wrong?

A: I don’t hope to convince you. You are talking now about the problem of the varieties of religions. And I can’t explain it. Religions are similar, and all point toward the same thing. And yet they are also different on points of principle. You know that they do attempt to come together, from time to time, to discuss their differences. Christ is the centre of my view of God and history. For Muslims, who do recognise Christ, but differently, things are otherwise. The religions are similar in their core message. I can’t explain why there are different patterns of relation to God, I agree. As I’ve said: the existence of God is self-evident. But the focus on Christ requires faith. Buddhists, for example, have a god-man; though it is not a religion exactly, Buddhism does have a man at its centre who was also divine. I see these old alternatives to Christianity as prefigurations of Christ, perhaps. But this question, and the questions of the Egyptians, and other people, is a distraction; you are getting side-tracked.

C: Yes, she is distracted.

A: God is appealing to you, and you are rejecting him because of what people were doing thousands of years ago. It’s like asking about the dinosaurs and saying you won’t turn to God because there were once dinosaurs. Time is illusory, and can mislead you – maybe is meant to mislead you - and so are these excuses: your task in life is to focus on yourself and your own time and your own existence. God calls out to you, and you dither with these remnants and distractions of a fallen sinful world.

C: Jason, that’s enough now; come on. We can’t listen to you two arguing all afternoon.

A: Yes, I have to go now.

B: At the end of it all, I won’t believe in it because it is all male-centred, and I dislike the recriminations against women in these religions. I won’t let anyone take away from me my place in this secular society where women must fight to be equal.

A: Our church, the Orthodox Christian, has not changed since the time of the Apostles, and the people who knew Christ in person. Churches do change, but not ours. And so, just as there were in those days, there is a very generous place for women. Our saint, the saint of our particular church, where I go, is Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr. Elizabeth was a close relative of the last Russian Czar. And if you were to go to my church, it is true that you would find that only males officiate at the altar. There are no women bishops or priests. But they do play a large part in the life of the Church. Remember that there is a tradition of orders outside the church, too. There were orders of strictly female Christians. St Elizabeth was a nun, and was so when she was executed by the Communists. We have at the church some relics and remains. And if you were to come, you would see these, and you would be met by women, and see what a large part women play in church life.

B: Relics and Russia, my son would be interested in that…

A: Anyway, I must be going.

B: I still see no possible use for religion in life. Society is fine without it, and the bad things in society won’t be changed by some kind of reversal back to medieval methods of living. I associate it with control, poverty, and just bad thinking and doing... the old world of male dominance and battered wives and battered children with mental illnesses.

A: Well, I will leave you with a remark about the film director, David Lynch. He set up a Transcendental Meditation society. He meditates. Learning from him around a decade ago helped me. He is not religious; and yet, following his lead, I began to ask questions about why meditation so obviously harmonises and fulfils me. Being philosophical, and not wanting half-measures of knowledge, I decided that the contradictions about history and eternity which are embedded in meditation’s effectiveness could only be resolved by an account of life in which God is at the centre of it all. Lynch himself is content with going half-way. But not me. Now, Lynch has dedicated a lot of time to bringing the meditation practice to schools in bad neighbourhoods, and to damaged military veterans. He has shown, and I believe it, that the life of a school and a community does seem to benefit greatly from 10 or 15 minutes of meditation per day. The children are happier, calmer, less ill at ease or angry. And the community at large benefits when the children do this, too. And I’m thinking of PTSD, as well. I don’t fall for modern notions of mental illness and scientific accounts of how to train the brain with drugs and tricks. Meditation is prayer, and schools benefit…

B: Obviously. But that is because it is counselling. I bet they have one-on-one sessions with the kids, and somebody actually talking to them. Those children in those places need attention, and affection, and that is what it is. Of course it works.

A: I’m not talking about counselling; I’m talking about meditative prayer. That is all that they do. They just pray or meditate silently. I imagine a situation where the school children are told simply to sit, to observe their breathing and their thoughts as the thoughts come or go; how the children are instructed to be at peace, and to quietly repeat a simple God-directed phrase. And just to sit, and be open to their own inner depth, and to the infinite riches. You don’t only find your own self looking back at you – although that is good in itself. Rather, you also find God, and his infinite consideration and welcome. It gives what I think of as true strength and security. As for you, by becoming an instrument of God, you will see how small such stuff as feminism is.

B: Yes, the children need attention, and funds and money. Of course that works: professional social scientists and counsellors: that is what can turn a poor and dangerous neighbourhood around.

A: I am not talking about counselling. I am talking about something really simple: the relationship of the self to God, which does not need money, or interventions, or specialists. Anyway, I had best go.

B: See you soon.

C: And make sure you feed yourself.

A: Bye, bye.

Design Jason Powell, 2020.