Three Fathoms Observatory
Stewart Yeung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                        Life Contemplation

My Belief in God

 

Ultimate Concern in My Life

I’ve asked myself whether I have identified and related to the ultimately important structure and values in my life: what is real, why there is a world, what value there is in it? Is there eternal life?

Eternity construed as infinite past and future is an illusion: it’s only more time, not eternity. Immortality is a temporal illusion of such eternity.

Kant claimed that eternity and transcendent realities are beyond personal experiences and therefore beyond knowledge. It is difficult in human habitual ways to construe/represent eternity by mental signs drawn exclusively from temporal life experiences.

I conceive eternity as the temporal togetherness of the modes of time; eternality positionlessly embraces past, present and future dynamically with the date of the present always changing, the past always growing and the future shifting with a kaleidoscope of possibilities. Eternity is the mutual relatedness of the past, present and future so as to provide an identity for the temporal persons and the temporal world in which no one date contains the whole identity. In this sense, people are eternal in their very temporarily.

The nature of my faith is based on this ultimate concern. My belief in God is a resolution based on my judgment here and now, on my inner spiritual need, on the current state of human knowledge of the reality and my personal experiences.

 

   The Leap of Faith

I am ready for the "leap of faith" (a qualitative change from non-belief to belief). Leap of faith means that in knowledge and action one has learned expertise in making wholly encompassing decisions regarding the immediate future that can exceed rule bound action because one has thoroughly absorbed what the purpose of the rules are and now have the confidence and ability to jump beyond them even to the point of a re-evaluation of the rules themselves. According to Karl Jasper, as we question reality, we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method can simply not transcend. At this point, the individual faces a choice: sink into despair and resignation, or take a leap of faith toward what Jaspers calls Transcendence. In making this leap, individuals confront their own limitless freedom, which Jaspers calls Existenz (self-definition by society), and can finally experience authentic existence.

 

I have resolved to believe in God on the following grounds:

  

    Limitation of Human Intelligence

Human knowledge (and mine is a tiny subset of it) about the ultimate reality at the current level of intelligence is limited. We still don’t know much about our brain, the nature of our self-consciousness; the hypothesis of human souls cannot be ruled out.

Our hypothesis of the genesis of space-time is limited to explaining what happened within the boundaries of space-time but not what is beyond space-time (within the space-time there is no space ‘outside’ nor time ‘before’ the genesis per se but there probably are unknowns ‘beyond’ our concepts of ‘space-time’). Our present understanding in physics vaguely hints at other “universes” beyond with different physical constants.

The idea of “wholly other” by Heidegger is heuristic. “Wholly other” is the absolute existence, the essence of the divine, equivalent to “God”, but appears as “nothing” in our world/thought system. All of our historical concepts of God is falsely based on or has the source from “something else” in our own world/thought system, which are totally misleading concepts. In contrast, “wholly other” is beyond “anything else” and is “wholly unknowable” in our own world/thought system. One may apply this concept to explain why there is something in existence instead of “nothing”.

The hypothesis of the genesis of space-time from “vacuum” in our modern scientific perspective could be one description, albeit far from comprehensive, of this relationship between our “space-time” and the apparent “nothingness”, between human existence and “God”.

Given the stage of limited human intellectual development, no doubt many intelligent people, past and contemporary, also believe in God after lifelong deliberation.

 

Hints of Inner Spiritual Experiences

My emotions long for an afterlife. I am recently most concerned about death (curiously, "recently"  refers to the time JUST BEFORE my encounter with BAC(a kind of lung cancer): did my instinct somehow anticipate my imminent encounter with death itself ?) and I dread the “nothingness” after death. The inevitability of death makes me feel despair. This predicament can be interpreted as an inner spiritual need that can only be satisfied by resolving to believe in God.

In a Buddhist perspective, my “attachment” to human intelligence and atheism is a source of my despair. I should let go of this attachment and explore the infinite possibilities of being to know more about God.

 

Consequences: Immediate and After Death

I have been wrong many times before in my judgments about reality. Hitherto the consequences are bearable and often remediable.

What are the consequences if I am wrong about the existence of God? The consequence of erring on non-belief could be infinite regret (apart from eternal condemnation if God is unforgiving). In contrast if God does exist and I rightly believe, there will be the remote possibility of eternal afterlife.

My belief shapes the outside reality about God and replaces my despair by hope and inner peace. This immediate consequence alone is desirable no matter how probable this phenomenological view of God is.

 

Which “God” to Believe in : Belief in God ¹ Belief in Church

There are historically different concepts of God “constructed” by Churches (see Appendix and some raw notes). The differences could be analyzed in the following dimensions:

a. Belief in the boundless eternal God (ultimate reality) Vs the bounded historical God

b. Innate Vs Transcendental;

c. Abstract Vs Anthromorphic (personalized god).

d. Future expectation and Otherworldliness: different dreams may come after death in different beliefs in different God.

e. Theological difference: natural (philosophical), revealed (scripture and religious experiences), transcendental (a priori reasoning);

 

Monotheism implies the same divine source, the same God, but which church represents this monotheistic God? Whose god to believe?

Cultural Relativism


We have to adopt the "cultural relativism" perspective in sociology when "debunking" the nature of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and any other religions.

In world history, there have traditionally been many different groupings of religious belief due to diverse cultures.

Since the Christian countries have been influential in the last millenia in world affairs, many of us (e.g. in HK, an ex-British colony) were INTRODUCED to God by way of Christianity, as an integral part of western cultural dominance. As a result about 1/3 of the believers in God are Christians (various sect, including Catholics) all over the world.

Naive Christians tend to think with a simple dichotomy of world beliefs: Christian "truth" about God (source : Bible) versus heresy (e.g. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism...).

A simple way to "debunk" this effect of cultural bias is to consider the Islam religion. Over 1/5 of the world population are Muslims. But when we critically examine our situation and ask "how many of us in the western world (including we in HK) know much about Islam?", we realize that we are all limited by our cultural bring up.

Cultural relativism is the principle that "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes.".

Adopting this principle in our religious belief (Christianity, for example), an integral part of our culture, we all have to ask ourselves, "Can I admit that although it may seem to me that my religious belief is self-evidently true, and hence seem to be grounds for passing judgement on other peoples's beliefs, in fact, the self-evidence of my religion is a kind of illusion" ?

Given this state of affairs, my belief in God is not constrained by the concepts of God “constructed” by any particular church.

 

 

Appendix: Belief in God Not Equal to Belief in Church

 

 

From a socio-political viewpoint, Christianity is just one institution among others, a human creation. Like other institution, it has a history, a rather dramatic one.

The Christian God used to be the God of Jews, omnipotent and omniscient, protecting them against other hostile tribes. Judaism claims Jews as God’s “chosen” people, with an obvious hint of international political manipulation. They reject the idea of Jesus as the savior.

Subsequently the Roman Emperors “chose” the Christian God (among others in their Pantheistic tradition) for despotic manipulation of their ordained right to rule, hence a sharp turn from persecution to embracement of Christianity, and the change of title to “Holy Roman Empire”. Orthodox Christianity since then has evolved a lot, from the orthodox papal infallibility (the popes were in most time friends of Emperors, weren’t they?), human screening/selection of the Book of Concord (excluding apocrypha from the canon), blatant political manipulation of Christianity during the Crusade, to the climax of the cruel ideological persecution of Inquisition.

Then follows the liberal tradition, the “privatization” of Christian belief by Martin Luther, who taught that salvation is a free gift of God and received only through true faith in Jesus as redeemer from sin. This was a direct reaction to the absolute power of the papacy. Luther objected to papal supremacy by upholding the Bible as the only infallible authority and by considering all baptized Christians to be a universal priesthood with direct access to God's grace. The liberalization entails the denial of Jews as the only “Chosen” people, thus opening up salvation to all peoples, Jewish or otherwise.

The modern proliferation of various sects of Christian faith, such as Mormonism with its own prophet, attests that Christianity is continually evolving, just as human beings are …

Other peoples had their own prophets and valid revelations of their own. If one is born in a country with little ideological influence from the “western” culture, “Christianity” is an alien word.

Suffice to mention just one example : Muslims in the Arab world worships the same Jewish God, but not exactly the “Christian God”. Equal to Jesus in status, Muhammad was supposed to bring the old faith (Jewish) in the One God to the Arabs, who had never had a prophet before. But again the closing of the gates of ijtibad (independent reasoning used by a jurist to apply the Islamic sacred laws derived from the Quran) by Sunni Muslims is also an aid to despotism. Contemporary jihad movements (the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims) also demonstrated the political nature of Muslim.

 

Raw Notes :

 

Different Churches Represent Different Views of God

The genesis of orthodox churches demonstrated the construction of the concept (or even manipulation) of God by human beings;

Christian Church: faith-seeking-understanding approach; with personalized symbols at the heart of their affirmations and practices;

Lutheran: privatized faith;

Muslim community ideal: Hindu Church: Universal consciousness; internal participation in yogic religious life-

Atheist Buddhist Belief: same despair – negative tint of nirvana –

Confucianism and Taoism: social concerns; community ideal; vague view of the cosmos may be compatible with modern physics;

Churches are Human Institutions and their Doctrine Often Erred

Church=A community bound together by a shared ideology

Judaism church: claim of Jews as God’s “chosen” people – hints of international political manipulation; reject the idea of Jesus as savior;

Jesus as a cult? “Holy” Roman Emperors’ and subsequent despotic manipulation of ordained right to rule; symbol of personified God as an agent who intervenes in the world; the naivete of religious symbols referring literally, or even descriptively in some sense, in order to find symbols that actually engage people with religious realities truly, context by context.

Mohammed as a cult? Closing of the gates of ijtibad (independent reasoning used by a jurist to apply the Islamic sacred laws derived from the Quran) by Sunni Muslims = an aid to despotism? ;

Hindu caste system – Samsara -- the wheel of cyclic existence, birth-life-suffering-death-rebirth...rationalization of existing social system shaped by resources scarcity and survival conditions

Holy wars – Christian Crusade – the role of the Christian church in western colonization of the world;

Muslim conquests – contemporary jihad (the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims);

Muslim belief: Islam = surrender; a Muslim is a man/woman who have made a submission of entire being to Allah and his demand that human beings behave to one another with justice, equity and compassion; jihad = the effort to live in the way that God had intended for human beings; the experience of living in a truly Islamic community (ummah) makes an existential surrender to the divine and give Muslims intimations of sacred transcendence; the aim is tawhid, making one , the integration of the whole of life in a unified community, which would give intimations of the Unity which is God; n.b. therefore any misfortune or humiliation suffered by the community has profound effect; Muhammad was merely bringing the old faith (Jewish) in the One God to the Arabs, who had never had a prophet before; history of prophets and their scriptures;

n.b. other peoples had their own prophets and valid revelations of their own;

Buddhist : transcendental being as an innate integral part of our self.

Religious codes – the Inquisition – the Muslim code –Hindu caste ideology

 

Belief in a Personal God?

 

The case of Martin Luther: Luther taught that salvation is a free gift of God and received only through true faith in Jesus as redeemer from sin. His theology also challenged the power of the papacy by using the Bible as the only infallible authority] and by considering all baptized Christians to be a universal priesthood with direct access to God's grace. Luther's teaching on justification as based on Jesus's righteousness which indwells the believer rather than Jesus's righteousness as imputed to the believer.

Role of free choice in redemption;

       Luther’s Limitation :

Jesus against the church : Jesus as a cult ? Luther was concerned that people have faith in Jesus as the messiah for salvation. In rejecting that view of Jesus, the Jews became the "quintessential other," a model of the opposition to the Christian view of God. He argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people, but were "the devil's people. He advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews' property and money, smashing up their homes, and ensuring that these "poisonous envenomed worms" be forced into labor or expelled "for all time." He also seemed to sanction their murder, writing "We are at fault in not slaying them." His anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed significantly to the development of antisemitism in Germany, and in the 1930s and 1940s provided an ideal foundation for the National Socialist's attacks on Jews; Luther is credited with "Germanizing the Christian critique of Judaism and establishing anti-Semitism as a key element of German culture and national identity." he caused a "hysterical and demonizing mentality" about Jews to enter German thought and discourse, a mentality that might otherwise have been absent.

Bible against the infallibility of papacy : The Holy Scriptures are set forth in the Book of Concord to be the sole, divine source and norm of all Christian doctrine; but there is an evidenced history of human manipulation of the Bible : human screening/selection with apocrypha outside the canon;

n.b. vulnerability to correction is a requirement for a claim to truth ?

      Baptism as a human ritual or the gate to God’s realm?

 

Who’s going to make the final judgment?

     

      justification is God’s act of declaring or making a sinner righteous before God.

God as the creator, judge and bestower of felicity, all traits that address the world in its eternity;

Catholics and Orthodox Christians justification Catholics and Orthodox Christians distinguish between initial justification—which occurs in baptism—and final justification, accomplished after a lifetime of striving to do God's will. Protestants believe that justification is a singular act in which God declares an unrighteous individual to be righteous because of the work of Jesus. Justification is granted to all who have faith, but even that is viewed as a gift from God.

Muslim justification : Allah had created the world and would judge humanity in the Last Days, as Jews and Christians believed;

Hindu justification : no original sin;

Buddhist justification : no original sin, everyone can become righteous by one’s own effort;

 

 

                                                                                                                                    First draft by Stewart Yeung on 6 April 2009

Appendix added on 18 Oct 2011

Paragraph on "Cultural Relativism" added on 14 March 2013