I’ve seen God but He isn’t what you think

On God
Nureddin Sabir, Editor, Redress Information & Analysis, writes:

Don’t get excited, I haven’t seen anybody. But there’s a thought that nags at me every time someone asks me whether or not I believe in God or every time I read something about the debate between believers and atheists.

Although I’ve never been a practising Muslim, I am also reluctant to say that I am an atheist. In my opinion, to be an atheist one has to be able to demonstrate with certainty that there’s no super entity out there.

No one has ever seen or heard from a super entity (or any other entity for that matter), but how can one actually prove there is nothing? Seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting nothing does not necessarily mean there is nothing.

For example, radio waves have always existed but no one knew they were there until they were discovered in the second half of the 19th century. Even today, if one were not told about radio waves or radio tuners (radio sets) that enable you to listen to human voices transmitted across the electromagnetic spectrum from near and afar, one would never know they were there. So, in this situation if one were asked “Do you believe there are human voices among us here, this very minute”, one could reasonably answer with a categorical negative: “I can’t hear any voices and I can’t see anyone talking, so no, I don’t believe there are voices among us.”

For the monotheistic religions, God is portrayed as a super, wiser, permanently-living version of us (or us an image of him as the religions would like to have it) but with a higher – indeed a perfect – moral code. He is both sexless (or at least celibate) and male, and he sees and hears everything we say and do but chooses not to be seen or heard. He exhorts us to pray, with a promise to answer our prayers, but then does nothing.

While the flaws inherent in the monotheistic religions’ image of God are challenging enough, the real problem arises when we try to match this God’s supposedly super moral code and his high expectations of us mortals with his own behaviour and the nature of the environment he is said to have created. So, on the one hand we have his perfect code of ethics and on the other we have the world he has allegedly created where injustice and sadistic cruelty visited upon us by nature, disease and circumstance reign supreme. Human behaviour aside, it is a world without mercy or compassion to any living creature.

In fact, it is much worse than this, for there is enough exhortation to evil in the supposedly divine scriptures to fundamentally destroy any pretence of goodness, godliness or morality in them. A case in point is the Ten Plagues in the Old Testament story of the Exodus. As the late Israeli journalist and peace campaigner Uri Avnery put it,

Why were the entire Egyptian people punished for the misdeeds of one tyrant, Pharaoh? Why did God, like a divine Security Council, levy on them cruel sanctions, polluting their water with blood, destroying their livelihood with hail and locusts? And, even more gruesome, how could a merciful God send his angels to murder every single Egyptian firstborn child?

On leaving Egypt, the Israelites were encouraged to steal their neighbours’ property. It is rather curious that the Biblical story-teller, who was certainly deeply religious, did not omit this detail. And this just a few weeks before the Ten Commandments were handed down to the Israelites by God personally, including “Thou Shalt Not Steal”.

No one seems ever to have given much thought to the ethical side of the conquest of Canaan. God promised the Children of Israel a land which was the home of other peoples. He told them to kill these peoples, expressly commanding them to commit genocide. For some reason, He singled out the people of Amalek, ordering the Israelites to eradicate them altogether. Later, the glorious King Saul was dethroned by His prophet because he showed mercy and did not murder his Amalekite prisoners-of-war, men, women and children.

There are similar examples in the New Testament and in the Koran (which is very largely based on the Old Testament), but I think the Exodus story makes the point very well. The point is that the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam did not create us in his image but quite the reverse: we created him in our image.

Does that mean there is no God at all? Mindful of the radio waves example mentioned above, I am reluctant to say there is no God. However, it would be reasonable to say that the kind of God portrayed in the Old and New Testaments and in the Koran most likely does not exist.

Instead, it is possible that another type of entity does exist. If so, then all the evidence indicates that it won’t have any conception of justice, compassion or right and wrong. It won’t speak a language (languages are a product of evolution) or even be aware of its own existence.

It could be something like the sun or a star, or some other concentration of matter. At most, it could be some kind of engineer-entity, good at making things (albeit by trial-and-error and over billions of years) but without even knowing what it is doing.

But a God in our image and with a code of ethics and sense of justice it ain’t.

That, I fear, is the best we could hope for.

This leaves the question of why the belief in an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, omnipresent, merciful and compassionate God has persisted for so long among Muslims, Christians and Jews, notwithstanding the unspeakable nastiness visited upon us by His creations and the blood shed in his name over centuries.

The answer may be very simple. Religion, especially institutionalised religion – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – is a useful tool for social and political control. As with secular corporations, religious institutions – the church, the mosque and the synagogue – compete for resources and provide jobs and careers for their promoters – rabbis, preachers, sheikhs and imams. They also fulfill a human need in some people for a purpose to their lives, and provide hollow comfort that when death strikes their loved ones, they will, one day in another life, be able to reunite with them.

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