Why Our Friends Like God, and Why We Don’t
July 1, 2014
I’d say “God is the name of a relationship of affection and trust,” and most of you will think “this man is finally gone soft in the head, he’s surrendered to the godlies.”
But if you think about it, you will see what a radically atheistic thesis this is.
The path of Truth is a difficult one. You can never be sure what is morally right. Shall I dip into mother’s savings? Shall we stone our sinful sister? Shall we support the Gezi demonstrators? Tough choices!
You wish someone could tell you what is right. If you look hard enough, you will find one. He is either the Saint or the saintly one, either the Swami or the Sheikh, or beyond them, the Prophet or the Anointed One. In a way that is hard to explain, you like the man and trust him, and believe that he is telling the truth. He knows. Thank God!
God is the stamp of that connection. It is the certificate of authenticity. It is the metaphysical anchor -I’d say ontological, if that weren’t such an abused term- of a relationship based on human affection. It is not satisfactory to say, “I like the guy, so I trust him”; it leaves open the suspicion of subjectivism. “My father trusted him, so do I” won’t do either. You must believe that the holy man has a solid and indisputable footing in Truth. Why do I trust him? Because he received God’s revelation. Or was anointed by the receptors of God’s revelation. Or studied the mysteries of revelation better than I did. He is not a poor lost soul like I am. Or perhaps he is a poor lost soul, but holds on to the Absolute with one hand.
God is a silly notion if you really think about it, with hardly a logical handle. But unless you suppose a god, you can never be sure about anyone’s truth. You cannot explain why the holy man or the Prophet is any better than poor you and me.
This, then, is the nub of the matter of religion. The real focus is not god. It is some people of flesh and blood, and the need to believe in what they say. That is why the Latins called it re-ligio, attachment, not to an abstract concept, but to certain spiritual preceptors, holy men, teachers, prophets, and to the community of their followers.
Test it, and you will see. They won’t stir too much if you say “God does not exist”. But they will lynch you if you say “your prophet was a profit-seeker”, and they won’t listen if you bring all the evidence of [orthodox] ecclesiastical history.
What are our objections? They are three:
One. The idea of God –or rather One God- is limp. It cannot persuade, in this age, anyone who takes rational thought seriously. The idea of an omnipotent God being powerless against sin and oppression is absurd. The idea that He bears grudge against the subjects of His absolute power and punishes them with disproportionate force is morally repugnant. And all the arguments they have conjured to solve this paradox over two thousand years are not worth a fig.
It is not rational consistency we are worried about here, but the dismissal of those who care about rationality. The defenders of reason may be a small minority. What is the worth of a system that denies them the right to be moral exemplar and precedent? What is the use of a mentality that excludes Voltaire and Einstein, but is able to view some small-town preacher of Alabama or the ignorant Sheikh of Lower Güngören as the spokesperson of the Absolute? What breadth of horizon, what wealth of experience, what spiritual generosity, what wisdom can flourish on such sterile soil?
Two. The books are outdated. However hard you try, you cannot squeeze a moral teaching for today out of the sayings of an ignorant Palestinian dervish or an ignorant Arabian preacher who lived in an age unfamiliar with the internet, the second World War, America and China, the printing press, thebill of rights, the professional army, social security, DNA and organ transplants. You cannot find answers to today’s questions. Granted, there may be a few pearls of wisdom in them, too. If some of the ethical questions facing humanity are new, some are age-old. But then, you can find pearls of wisdom in Sophocles, too, or in Hacivat and Karagöz [the traditional Turkish shadow-play]. Watch three run-of-the-mill American movies, and you will find a greaternumber of moral precepts in them than the whole of the Quran.
Three. Belonging corrupts. If a monoply of truth is given to Ours, then the Others, by definition, fall outside the circle of truth. You may tolerate them, you can be nice to them, but you cannot trust them. Perhaps you won’t immediately proceed to cut off their heads, but you cannot clear your soul of the corrupting poison of hypocrisy and double standard. And when the head-cutters eventually get down to work, you don’t have a clear and firm ground to stand upon against them. “But our prophet,” you mumble, “did not necessarily advocate violence,” expect, insofar, however …”
This is why, at the cost of sometimes hurting the sensibilities of our friends who would love what they love, we say that they are on a path of error. It narrows their vision. It insulates them from many facets of the truth, and from people who know a thing or two about them. It forces them to cohabit with the ignorant and the untamed. It makes them incapable of understanding today’s problems. It delivers them into the arms of a seething anger that they are unable to check. It is irresponsible.
You are entitled to your love, I grant it, but do you have the right to impoverish the world so recklessly?