This is Part V of “Embracing Doubt to Grow to a Mature Faith”. In Part I, I described some of my own faith journey and had an excerpt from Fr. James Martin, S.J.’s book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything on how the Path of Disbelief is one of the six paths to God.
In Part II, we discussed Pope Emeritus Benedict’s insights on how doubt is a common feeling, even among revered saints such as Teresa of Avila, and how this doubt can serve as a springboard to strive for a deeper intellectual and spiritual understanding of faith, which leads to a richer faith experience.
In Part III, we discussed how faith and doubt to form the basis of cordial dialogue with non-believers and a deeper understanding of our common humanity.
In Part IV, we discussed how God would prefer that we wonder in search of the Truth rather than spend our life as spiritual zombies.
Today and tomorrow, in the final two installments of Embracing Doubt, we discuss Christianity. Not the institutional Christianity that is practiced in various forms throughout the world but questions regarding the core truths of Christianity: Is there a God (or Mind behind the Universe)? What is the nature of God (deism, pantheism, theism)? Did God become incarnate in the form of Jesus of Nazareth? Is God still active in the world?
Theologians and philosophers have been debating these questions for thousands of years. Obviously, we will not be able to discuss them in any detail in a single blogpost (although we plan to discuss specific issues in the future). However, we can at least address the uniqueness of Christianity.
Many profound truths are best told in stories, as any reader of the creation-flood story in the Hebrew Bible or the parables of Jesus can attest to. I am a science fiction fan, primarily because I enjoy the speculative potential for the future of humanity. One of my favorite authors is Julian May. May is an award winning author who has published over 30 books. Her best known works are the four-book series Saga of Pliocene Exile and the four-book Galactic Milieu series. May is a follower of Teilhard de Chardin and creates a future world based upon his principles of God being the divine author of an evolving universe and humanity (the Galactic Milieu reference is based on Teilhard’s Divine Milieu, or in May’s novels, St. Teilhard de Chardin). In the not-too-distant future, a critical number of humans evolve to a set of “metaphysic” mental powers that result in humans coming in contact with five other sentient species.
In one of the scenes of May’s novel Jack the Bodiless, there is a telepathic communication between Teresa Kendall Remillard and her unborn son, Jon Remillard (In May’s novels, the Remillard’s are a Kennedy-esque, Catholic family who help lead humanity into the Galactic Milieu) in which Teresa and Jon discuss the intellectual problems of God and the Incarnation. I have modified May’s discussion as follows:
Jon Paul Kendall Remillard had philosophical difficulties with the concept of Christmas. That the scraggly little evergreen tree his mother was trimming was a midwinter hope symbol was easy enough to understand from the explanations and mental images his mother Teresa offered. But the notion of God creating a body for himself to wear—and even Creation itself—bothered Jack.
Jon said: “It seems a very strange and unnecessary thing for God to do. To become human so that we’d love him rather than fear him. If he’s truly a Supreme Being then it follows that he has no need of any other entity to ensure his own happiness. Especially entities that are so imperfect by their very nature that they will inevitably befoul an otherwise orderly creation. I can understand God creating the physical universe for fun. But why create other minds when you know they’re going to mess things up?”
Teresa: “I believe famous human thinkers have debated those points.” I seem to remember that the theologians of early times were quite positive that God had no absolute need to create other thinking persons,” Teresa said. “This is perfectly ridiculous, of course, since the theologians were willing to concede that he had done it and must have had a good reason. Now, unless we’re ready to admit that a Supreme Being can be capricious or wishy-washy, it follows that he needed to do it. He did need us.”
Jack: “But what prompted God’s need of us?”
“Love,” said Teresa.
Jack said: “That’s irrational.”
“Exactly. I don’t believe anyone has ever reasoned out a satisfactory answer to God’s need of us. Those religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition rarely hit upon the notion of a loving God at all. As for natural philosophy, loving-kindness would not be an attribute that one would logically deduce that a Big-Bang-Creator-God would have.”
“But love is the only motive that seems to make any sense. Without it, you have the Creator-God as a game player trying to assuage his cosmic boredom, caring about us only as game pieces. That is to say, not caring very much! Now, if God wanted us to know that he created us out of love, he’d have to tell us, since we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves. He’d have to get directly involved with us, rather than let us tick along obliviously the way the evolving non-sapient universe does.”
“I suppose so …”
“There are any number of ways he might have done this. But put yourself in God’s position and try to decide the most elegant way to get involved with your thinking creatures. The way that is at once most difficult and unlikely but has the potentiality to succeed in the most magnificent manner imaginable.”
“Not the easiest way?”
“Heavens, no! What would be the satisfaction in that! I can sing ‘Happy Birthday to You’, but I get more satisfaction doing the mad scene from Lucia, even if it tires me out terribly.”
Pinching and twisting, Teresa affixed one little candle after another, pausing now and then to straighten those that leaned out of true. “God’s most elegant way of involving himself with us would have to be a scandal to the stodgy-minded and a delight to minds that have a sense of humor and of adventure. As his mind does.”
“God can laugh?”
“Of course, dear, and feel sorrowful, too. A Supreme Being without those attributes wouldn’t be supreme. Grim and joyless people try to pretend otherwise, but their arguments are unpersuasive.”
“Explain to me how God became directly involved with us.”
“It has happened differently on different worlds in the Galaxy. On ours, I believe that the primary involvement happened through the Jewish people and the Christians. It’s a long story, and you’ll really have to read it in the Bible. That book is a fascinating account of human moral evolution, with historical and deeply mythic truth all mingled in a wonderful mishmash. It’s a literary treasure as well as the word of God, and some parts of it are profound, and some are fascinating and some are poetic, and some are even a bore. Different religions interpret the Bible in different ways, but we Catholics believe that when the mentalities of one single key tribe of extremely intelligent people were finally mature enough to grasp the concept of a loving God, God simply spoke to them.” She laughed. “Well—perhaps not simply.”
“And the tribe accepted his messages and passed them on?”
“Some members did. Others kept slipping and sliding back into primitive notions of angry gods that constantly needed to be appeased with blood sacrifices and other rubbish. God had to keep coaxing them and putting them in their place the way a loving mother has to do when her children are naughty.”
“Is love the motivation for all creation, then?”
“I imagine so. Mental lattices within our normal Reality can’t exist without the other five kinds, and vice versa. If God wanted to make minds to love, he had to make the whole cosmos. And it is quite lovely.”
“But to create for the love of it seems so odd!”
“Of course it does. It really makes no sense—in a rational view of the universe. And yet every artist knows the truth of it. And every healthy adult human knows that people who are in love want the whole world to be as happy as they are. If you are God, loving yourself or even being Love in some mysterious fashion, and there aren’t any other minds to share happiness with—then you make some.”
“So one may conclude that God does need us?”
“Most of our coreligionists today believe it’s true.”
Jack persisted: “And the problem of the created minds being imperfect? And sometimes evil?”
“There’s a principle to the effect that it is much more glorious to make something wonderful out of imperfect parts. The very imperfection of the individual elements—even when there’s actual evil involved, as there often is in human affairs—challenges God to greater creative heights.”
“What a strange idea.”
“There’s an old proverb that says: ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’ Human history is just full of crooks and twists and twines. One would think anarchy or barbarism or the lowest common denominator would have triumphed ages ago. But it hasn’t. All the messes and atrocities and disasters have somehow been woven into a construct that looks better and better every year—at the same time that some things look even worse! The world you’re going to be born into is a wonderland compared to the world that existed only forty years or so in the past. But even so, there are still persons who are discontented or who are villains, and situations that are evil or tragic. Nevertheless we children of God continue to evolve and improve on every level, almost in spite of ourselves.”
Tomorrow, in the final installment of Embracing Doubt, we will continue the dialogue between Teresa and Jon and the question of the Incarnation.