Everyone has wondered about whether God exists or not at one point or another. Some have strong opinions either way; to them maybe the question is settled. I came to my opinion about the issue after years of ongoing study, inquiry and discussion with others. I wrote this piece as a way of sharing some of my conclusions concerning why I think the question itself is worth pondering, regardless of its answer. If you are a firm believer, or a hardened skeptic, I hope this will inform your understanding going forward. Here are five reasons I think exploring the issue in depth is valuable.
1) If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix it:
Societies and cultures going back at least to the earliest use of writing had religion, and likely those long before that did too. Only very recently have large numbers of people tried to live and survive together without a concept of God. Now there are plenty of practices and ideas most societies used we DON’T want to keep around, (slavery comes immediately to mind but there are many other examples) but in the case of religion, there is and was a huge value there, something that has helped humans survive and thrive. Does it need to be updated? Of course, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater as the proverb goes. It is hard to imagine how hard life was in the past, but an argument can and has been made that shared values and ethics, that across all cultures involved religion, made our ancestors able to cope with their conditions and contribute to the upward climb of history toward our current civilization with their innovations (some or all of us might not be here had our ancestors not just flourished but simply survived). David Tivel describes it in his book “Evolution“: “During early human existence belief in the supernatural fulfilled several important functions – it explained their origins, provided a feeling of a connection with the universe, led to establishing a moral code, fostered a sense of a moral code… Nothing else has had such an impact on politics, religion and ethics “.
2) Whether God Exists or Not Doesn’t Matter:
How can it not matter you ask?
Well even if God exists, he or it doesn’t exist quite in the way we are used to thinking something ” exists”. I mean that God, by most religious accounts, is outside or above or beyond our reality, so he doesn’t exist in our terms. I think a lot of time is wasted arguing about this. Even though some theologians do try to assert logical proof of God, many describe faith being necessary for belief because God’s nature, his way of ” existing” differs so greatly from anything we can use as an analogy to help describe him. I do not pretend to prove he ” exists”. I instead try to act as if he does exist; that is to say, I imagine there is a purpose, meaning, light and love and goodness I can access to make my life and the lives of those around me better. I ask myself how could it hurt to believe there is a metaphysical force for good, a creative energy that orders the universe. I don’t, however, assume a discreet being is there to tell me definite, concrete, and specific answers to age old moral questions like when to go to war, how to get along with my neighbors and what to be when I grow up. This is how such a belief could hurt – by making me think I am getting exclusive answers from “above” and thus am exempt from the hard work of making tough decisions. The God I imagine exists can only give me strength and insight to help with those questions.
3) Prayer and Meditation Literally Work:
Scientists at The University of Penn have conducted a number of studies on the brains of those who pray and meditate: and found that real measurable differences occurred in their brains as a result of those practices. One study showed improvement in patients with cardiac conditions after they meditated routinely. Another study showed meditation improved focus, attention and concentration.
One University of Penn Professor in particular, DR. Andrew Newberg, has conducted a number of studies that all demonstrate that meditation alters the brain of those who practice it. In the case of some Buddhist Monks he studied, while they meditated, their ability to feel intense compassion and experience “oneness” with the universe corresponded with a darkening of the part of the brain related to our sense of where and who we are at a given point of time and space. Prayer and meditation aren’t the goals of religion or the ends of it, in my understanding of them, they are the means or the method. The goal is what all humans want: serenity despite life’s turmoil, a sense of purpose, and a way to be the most moral person possible, even amongst our inevitable ethical challenges. Prayer and meditation work to help with achieving movement toward these goals .
4) You wouldn’t have your plumber fix your car would you?
Specialization is a key feature of our modern society. We have individuals who devote their lives to mastering one skill set or another. Our often highly technical and vastly complex civilization depends on this feature. But when it comes to morality and determining life’s purpose, many of us just think we can “try to be good “, and “figure it out ourselves”; we don’t need religion when trying to answer life’s biggest questions. We turn to famous comedians and psychologists, or our friends, or our uncle Larry. This is not to say these other folks can’t inform the inquiry, it’s just that the major religions have people who have been spending their whole lifetimes, many lifetimes over the centuries, studying and working on these questions for us. We don’t have to convert to their faith to find value in their work, but it would be foolish to ignore the fruits of all that time and effort.
5) It’s Humbling and Rewarding:
For all the bad that has been done in the name of religion, and plenty, if not more bad, has been done by those who openly despised religion, (three of the largest mass killings in human history were committed by Communist regimes in The Soviet Union, Cambodia and China over periods of time in the Twentieth Century and these Communists were violently anti-religion) my study of it has revealed some very real heroes who had the courage to stand up to injustice and reform their societies, often at the cost of their lives. ( For reference, please see St. Francis, The Buddha, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, The Prophet Mohammed and so on, there are too many to name in such a short space ). What these heroes revealed to me, both directly and indirectly, was what an awesome responsibility it is to simply be alive. That in our interconnectedness with our world, and our fellow humans, no one escapes accountability for his or her actions. This is both exciting and scary. But equipped with the knowledge and wisdom I have gained from studying spiritual traditions, and fitted with prayer and meditation to consult along the way, I know I am up to the task, the task of being alive.