Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Evidence

A standard refrain I'll hear when chatting with folks who are skeptical about the existence of God is that there's just no evidence for a Creator. The universe is a deep and cold place, almost as deep and cold as the hearts of the human beings that inhabit our tiny little speck of nothing orbiting a nondescript yellow sun in a quiet fringe of an unremarkable spiral galaxy. Where is the hand of the Maker?

Further, where is the work of a gracious God in a world in which children starve by the thousands each day, where women are raped and mutilated in the Congo, and where ignorance and self-interest govern the lives of the faithful and unfaithful alike? How could a just God tolerate this [poop]?

The challenge, then, is twofold. It seeks both empirical proof and ethical proof. My responses to that need tend not to be the same as my Bibliocentric co-religionists. What's the point of quoting scripture to folks who don't recognize it as a source of authority? It's like trying to persuade Ken Ham of evolution by quoting from the Origin of Species. Instead, I tend to feel as follows:

1) I find existence itself to be a marvelous evidence of God. In it's complexity, beauty, and deep inscrutability, the universe in which we find ourselves is an astounding thing. It evokes both awe and a bit of knee-trembling, even...and sometimes particularly...among atheists of a poetic mindset. Our spacetime is neither static nor does it appear to have come into being in a way that is scientifically comprehensible. Our physics can only go so far back. That things just plain ol' exist is a marvel, and points to a reality that transcends the boundaries of what we can empirically know.

The way that things are...the intricate interweaving of physical laws and structures...also directly speaks to the connectedness of all things. Matter and energy and gravity and light are all part of a great and complex dance.

2) I find sentience to be a marvelous evidence of God. What am I? I know I must be, because Descartes told me so. But the self that is typing this now is an odd and marvelous thing. It has its roots in a biological system, in the complex processes of an organic neural network mounted atop a slightly sedentary bipedal form. It frames its conceptual grasp of the world through an array of abstract symbolic constructions that are derived from a sociocultural foundation. Yet it is more than an ephemeral and mechanistic process. It is. It has being. I have being. As do you.

This self that I am is does not exist in isolation. My awareness is both particular to myself as an individual and formed by connection to others and to the broader universe of being. Interconnectedness does not just define the physical universe we perceive. It defines us.

3) I find the ethics shared by all sentient beings to be marvelous evidence of God. Well, with a rather significant caveat. There are competing norms governing human behavior, obviously. There are the norms of coercive power and material self-interest, which have played themselves out across the history of humankind in some rather unpleasant ways. There is the norm of tribalism, the bond formed by genetics and blood and language and culture, which has frequently involved the hatred of the stranger and the Other.

But against these destructive ethics there is an alternative, one that surfaces as a strong and consistent meme among the prophets and the mystics of every major religious tradition. For those who have a sense of the presence of God, there is the awareness that there is more to us than the mechanics and desires of individual persons. There is the heart-knowledge that the seemingly insurmountable existential boundary between particular selves is illusory. There is the spiritual insight the joys and hurts of others are not just present for us in the abstract, but a part of who we are in ways that are radically defining. It is an awareness that underlying that ethic is a broader purpose to sentient existence, one that transcends not just the particular self, but also culture and species.

I am Christian because that ethos of living into a gracious interconnectedness is absolutely central to the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth. It defines his people. I see it further etched deep into the teachings in Torah, and in the prophetic call for justice...not just for "us," but for the Other. It presents an ethic that both reflects and harmonizes with the nature of being, one that is both self-evidently good and in defiance of the horrors that humanity inflicts on itself.

For some of the skeptical, the absence of miracles and wonders and signs and the mortality and brutality of humankind are evidence of God's absence. I understand and sympathize with this. Our mortality as beings, though, means little in the face of the interwoven nature of existence. It's a little daunting being so small and fragile, but then again, we're more than we seem. As to the brutality of is this evidence of God's nonexistence? We have, in all of the world's traditions that reflect an awareness of the transcendent, ethics that radically resist the hatreds that lead us to coerce and abuse and destroy.

In the annual Jewish celebration of Passover, there comes a point in the ritual meal when the folks gathered round the table remind themselves of every detail in the story of deliverance from Egypt. In response to each moment of grace, the response is: dayenu. Meaning, in the Hebrew, "it is enough." There is in that statement a thankfulness for every moment, in and of itself, as an evidence of God's being and nature.

We have the marvel that is creation, and to that I say, dayenu. We have in the heart of faith an ethic that, if followed, brings healing and hope and joy, and to that I say, dayenu.

There is more, of course. Much, much more. But even these things are enough.

Maybe I'm just easy.