by A.J. Grunthaler
In the 21st century, it seems as though the belief in a supreme being is destined to become a quaint and slightly silly artifact of a bygone age. In an age where technology and science have become so advanced, we think that we can simply do away with antiquated ideas like God and religion, because it seems as though we now have all the answers to life’s most perplexing questions—who we are, where we come from, and where we are ultimately going. But the more advanced we become as a species, the more we realize that the ultimate answers to our deepest questions are as elusive as ever.
What we’ve discovered is that it is easy to kill off God. It’s much more difficult, I’m afraid, to replace the idea of God with some other concept that can provide us with the kind of ultimate meaning and value that all human beings desire. In a world devoid of a Supreme Being, we are simply one species among the many that inhabit this planet of ours (our brains, after all, may be larger than that of a chimpanzee or baboon, but not by all that much). And without God, our lives become little more than the same kind of struggle for brute survival that we witness among all other life forms in the animal world. In such a world, to dominate others for ones own gain and to maximize ones own pleasure and wealth, even at the cost of the happiness and well-being of others, becomes the sole point of human existence. Peace, cooperation, and the pursuit of justice are merely values promoted by the weak and foolish—those who lack the fortitude, the courage, or the intelligence to triumph over their fellow human beings.
In a God-emptied world, our role models really should be those who are able to put aside antiquated notions about morality that stem from religious ideas and do what is necessary to insure their own long-term prosperity—successful gangsters, wily dictators, corrupt politicians, and dishonest businessmen. These are individuals who understand (to use the language of Dostoyevsky) that, if God is dead, then anything is permitted. In fact, if there is no God, then it makes no sense at all to be concerned with others, since our fellow human beings are nothing more than competitors for the increasingly dwindling resources that make life on planet Earth worth living. A gangster or dictator gets this fact completely; a naïve and foolish proponent of justice and morality, not at all. In the end, the gangster or dictator triumphs and the man or woman of faith ends up in the garbage bin of human history.
Gangster-logic, as I said, makes perfect sense in the God-emptied world. But I think that it’s somewhat premature of us to announce the death of God. Even in the 21st century, there are some fairly good reasons to believe that God exists. In the 14th century, the great Dominican philosopher Thomas Aquinas came up with five ways to prove the existence of God, and I think that these ways hold up as well today as they did in the Middle Ages. Aquinas’ “proofs” for God’s existence basically hinge on the idea that nothing comes from nothing. If there’s no first cause of existence, then there’s no reason for contingent beings like ourselves to be here at all. In a universe of infinite possibilities, the fact that self-conscious, rational beings like ourselves would come into existence purely by chance is an extremely unlikely possibility at best. We have absolutely no evidence, after all, that other intelligent forms of life exist anywhere else in the universe. So the very fact that we exist at all, as Thomas Aquinas understood, seems to indicate the existence of some Higher Being that is the first cause of our existence.
While I think that Aquinas’ arguments make a good case for the existence of a First Cause that is itself uncaused or a Prime Mover that is unmovable, I think that it takes a second leap of faith to infer that this being is the God we read about in the Old and New Testaments—one that has entered human history and cares deeply about our collective and personal destinies. After all, a Supreme Being could be the god of the Deists—one who creates the universe and everything in it and then steps out of the picture completely.
That the First Cause is also the God who loves humanity as a father loves his children—with a constant, abiding, and unassailable love—must remain a matter of faith for most human beings. But our faith in this regard can be bolstered by the long line of saints and mystics in all the great religious traditions who have been blessed with the beatific vision and who have encountered God as Pure Love and Supreme Goodness. And the bliss, joy, and happiness that these great spiritual exemplars have experienced as a result of their God-encounters should be a consolation for the rest of us who strive to achieve what those men and women have achieved, despite having to live out our lives in a world that keeps telling us that God is dead and faith is for fools.
Logic tells us that God exists; faith assures us that He loves us and has a plan for our lives. This is the reason why it makes more sense to strive be more like Mother Teresa than like Donald Trump. If the First Cause of our being is also the God who views us as his beloved children and who has a plan for our salvation, we defy Him and His plan at our own peril. Such defiance means that we have missed the whole point of our human lives. What could be more tragic than that?
And this is precisely why gangster logic is really not very logical at all. In the end, the logic of faith remains the best way to ensure happiness and peace in this life as well as in the next.
A.J. Grunthaler is a formers classics instructor and the author of The Art of Persuasion (SophiaOmnis Press, 2012).