“There is a God…and…”

“Just what will it take to make you believe?”, is a question often asked to skeptics by their friends who are believers. “How does it hurt you if I say there is a God?” Well, typically the believers do not stop with, “There is a God”. They insist on continuing, and providing fodder for skeptics, which most commonly comes in the following three flavors.

1) “There is a God…and he was born in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee, was executed in Calvary and is expected to return anytime now…”

A variant with a more Indic flavor is “There is a God…and he was born in Mathura, grew up in Gokula, danced in Vrindavana, governed in Dwaraka and arose to Vaikuntha, to be followed by countless other appearances among which are…” An Indian version which is even more recent, and even more local, is “There is a God..and he lived in Shirdi in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra from 1858 to 1918…oh wait a minute…he’s still alive in his tomb.” In all seminaries, theology majors also minor in geography apparently. Also they have an addiction for sequels. But before they trail off mid-sentence in their never-ending narratives, they end up raising several questions.

For one, why is it that all ‘godly’ miracles work only in the countryside? Why is it that it is only the largely illiterate peasantry of Galilee that swooned over the supposed messiah’s miracles, and not the citizens of cosmopolitan Jerusalem? Why is it that miracles happen only in unlit, sleepy Shirdi and not amid the glaring streetlights of Bombay just 229 km away? Does God lack an urban entry permit? Or does education and scrutiny have something do with it?

Holmes and Watson

“A devil with merely local powers like a parish vestry would be too inconceivable a thing.”

A skeptic therefore would tell the believer, like Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles: “A devil with merely local powers like a parish vestry would be too inconceivable a thing.”, just substituting ‘God’ for ‘devil’. A stock response of the believer of course would be to say that God chooses to appear most frequently in the outskirts and away from city lights simply because He choose to be amidst the humblest and poorest of His creatures. Of course, why a merciful God must maintain whitelists and blacklists of ‘chosen people’ and ‘condemned’ people, escapes the skeptic. As this isn’t cutting much ice, let us allow the believer to try again.

2) “There is a God…and he is within me and you as well functioning as highest self. The long form of God is goodness. Whenever you are kind and noble, you see God in action! God is Truth, God is Love, God is…”

This is a slight improvement over the previous ‘tall stories’ approach. There are no more chosen people, but all people are lodgings of sorts for an Invisible Tenant. This sounds like less trouble than the overbearing Jealous God or the overseeing Heavenly Father, but the skeptic still has a problem. Is goodness really the long form of God? Perhaps it is simply a form of behavior rooted in our biology, our very earthy biology, cast in the image and likeness of our ape ancestors.

The good men and women of antiquity who found the need to search for an Invisible Tenant to explain their own goodness, perhaps had not yet heard of Mirror Neurons, which Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran with his trademark verve calls Gandhi Neurons. Religion is at best one of the first false starts and faltering attempts by humanity to make a widening empathic embrace, as described by Jeremy Rifkin. What remains of Religion if you take away the tall stories and the frantic search for the Invisible Tenant? Let us allow the believer one more chance to answer that.

3) “There is a God…and He just is.”

That’s it. End of story. No miracles and no goodness, just Existence. The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 16, seems to say something exactly to this effect!

He verily who, owing to ignorant understanding, looketh on the pure Self as the doer, he, of perverted intelligence, seeth not.“  (Aurobindo Ghosh’s translation)

Now, ‘Self’ to a Vedantist is synonymous with (or subsumes) ‘God’. Unscrambled, this verse seems to suggest that ‘God’ almost by definition does nothing. To think that ‘God’ does anything at all, is a sign of ‘ignorant understanding’ and ‘perverted intelligence’.This scripture, after 17 chapters devoted to Man and God and how they relate, declares in its culmination something to the effect that ‘God’ has nothing to do with anything that is ever done.

If this ‘God’ is someone or something that has nothing to do with anything that we will ever do, then it is perhaps only something for believers to think about when they have nothing else to do. Doesn’t this sound like an elaborate exercise for killing time, pointless by design? Along the lines of the ‘users who bought this also bought…’ section which many online purchase websites carry, we can suggest another similar exercise for believers who are busy imagining this God who does nothing. “Imagine a blue China teapot orbiting the Sun. On this teapot, imagine a painted picture of an invisible pink unicorn. Don’t like pink? Try lilac, or fuchsia!” But keep this mystical pursuit to yourself. Just don’t try to hardsell this hobby to us!

Russell's teapot

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit…”