Beyond religion: the quest for god
Why is religion so diverse? This is the question that drove me. What, if anything, was behind the curtain of religion? If God gave a message that he wanted everybody to have and understand, one would think everybody would have it and understand it. That does not seem to be the case at all. No two people seem to have broad agreement on what it is God has said or what he wants. For the longest time, I was convinced that I knew. Naturally, I was in the minority. God delivered his word to one and all through the bible. There were no private communications as they would be superfluous to what was already written in the bible, and freely available to everyone on the planet.
If anyone wanted to know exactly what God had to say on any given topic, they only had to open the bible and correctly parse the meaning of what was there. Simple. Increasingly, I became concerned by the fact that so many people kept coming up with different conclusions than mine. This represented a problem and required an explanation. In the past, I was content to believe that those with different opinions were either too stupid to understand simple truth, or they were insincere in their desire to know the truth. Another accepted reason was that they were so caught up in sin, God had given them a strong delusion so that that they would believe a lie. If you are not Verizon familiar with the Christian scriptures, you might not be aware of how this one works. Take a look:
…and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. 2Th. 2:10-12
That’s right, people. If you take pleasure in wickedness, you are just someone who refused to believe the truth. God wants to make sure he judges you while you are in that condition of unbelief. Therefore, he will send you a deluding influence to make sure you continue to believe what is false. That’s what you get for not loving the truth in the first place. In the Hebrew scriptures, there is a direct example of how God used a lying spirit to deceive someone so that he could get his way. Don’t even bother trying to square this with all that talk about how God hates lying liars. It seems he has a cross-licensing agreement with the father of lies. If you are not all that interested in knowing the truth, God will make sure that you never can.
That is what I thought had happened to the billions of people who disagreed with me. The search for God had to begin with a search for truth wherever it led. The bible had already told me to seek, and I would find. Thing is, I wasn’t the only true seeker. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been the only truth finder. I had enough experience with the denominational world to know that their problem wasn’t that they were too stupid, or insincere, or caught up in sin. If they had received a strong delusions so that they would believe lies, how did I know that I wasn’t equally deluded? If we were all seeking the same truth, why were we not finding the same god at the end of the same answers?
Their god cared about very different things than my god. Some of them had a god that was still active in the affairs of men in overtly miraculous ways. Mine wasn’t. Their god cared about social justice a lot more than mine. Their god was not particular about worship details. Mine was. Their god did not have a lot of rules about everyday living and habits. Mine did. Their god allowed dancing and swearing. Not mine. Their god liked churches with steeples and bell towers. Mine didn’t. Their god was very ecumenical. Mine wasn’t. I could not wrap my mind around their god. Yet mine was the minority god. After having many conversations and reading many books, I just could not understand why there was so little agreement about what it was God was trying to say to us. After what seemed to be an eternity of reading and rereading the bible, I realized I had no idea what it was trying to say either. By the time I was 35, I had been on both sides of every issue. I was just as confused as everyone else. I was looking for God to provide me with some sort of clarity that never came. I sought God through scripture. I prayed for truth. I begged for clarity. I learned the bible very well, but found no god within. I would have to widen my search.
God of the gaps
There was an uneasy and complex dance between the churches of Christ and science. Above all else, we revered truth. We also gave lip service to science. For the most part, we believed in three levels of revelation. The first is the revelation of our spirit. Everyone knows that God exists because we all have a god-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God. We have a knowledge of right and wrong. We have a sense of the eternal, etc. The second level is what some might call the book of nature. Mostly, it just refers to science. We can look around and see the evidence of creation. The observable evidence points to God if it is interpreted correctly. The third level is the bible. The other levels point to God and his nature. The bible provides the specifics. The bible is the only one necessary. The other two just serve to confirm it, not that any confirmation is needed. If a person insists there is no god, the book of nature and the god-infused spirit would be enough proof of the contrary..
Both of those point to the bible in the end. But since the bible had failed me, or I it, I had to look to the other two levels. At that point, I was not looking for religious details, just God. My inner spirit was not doing much for me either. That just left the book of nature. I had determined to get as familiar with that book as possible. It is not fair to say that I began a serious pursuit of scientific understanding at that time, since I had always appreciated science, and thought I knew the basics pretty well. While I would never be a biologist or physicist, I did have a good grasp of the scientific method. Without the bible to point me to God, I found it necessary to brush up on science. My intent was to discover God through science.
What I found was shocking to me. Rather than God being made evident through observation, I found the opposite. If evidence for God was there, it was well hidden. It seemed God went out of his way to be undiscoverable in nature. From astronomy, to geology, to biology, to psychology, to history, the universe was dressed in a cloak of independent operation. Science revealed the universe to be old and evolved, not young and instantly mature. God had cleverly hidden himself behind illusion. We were to believe in him despite the best evidence in front of us, not because of it. Science was a test of faith, not an affirmation of it. For the first time, I felt the real antagonism between faith and science. I realized that all of my evidences for the existence of God were the gaps in my scientific understanding. The more gaps I was able to fill, the less room there was for god. I devoted myself to biology, physics, astrophysics, quantum physics geology, ecology, history, anthropology, and anything else that could be consumed from books and lectures. After that, I applied myself to philosophy, logic and reason. I did not abandon God. I looked every place I could think to look, including introspectively. He simply was not there.
If he existed at all, he was hiding from me. The broader I expanded my search, the fewer clues I had of his whereabouts. During this time, I was praying a lot, constantly. One might even say that I was praying without ceasing. My prayers had come down to one simple request: “Show thyself!” If a glimpse of his awesomeness would drive me blind, I could live with that. I by bolstering my faith with certain knowledge of his existence would disqualify me from all but the room next to the noisy ice machine for all eternity, then I was prepared for that. I just wanted a sign, any sign. A still, small voice of a deafening roar would have been equally welcome. I was desperate and willing to die on the spot for the confirmation I sought. In my search for God, I left no stone unturned. I just wasn’t there, at least, not for me.
Conclusion: full circle
And so it was that my search for god ended in failure. But I was not yet done. Perhaps I couldn’t find God with human effort. Perhaps God would appear to me on his terms and in a time of his own choosing. At the very least, I wanted to collect all the reasons I believed in God in the first place, and with a fresh set of eyes, see if any of them had merit. If they did, then perhaps God was there, but hidden from me. I refused to be the victim of a strong delusion. So I started a new examination. I lined up all my previous reasons for believing in God in the first place, and measured them against my newfound insight.