Thursday, 26 August 2010

Is there a God?

Before my son-in-law's grandfather died,  earlier in August 2010, Poppa, as he was called wrote a little treatise exploring the nature of First Causes; he wrote it three years to the exact date he died. I found the essay quite inspirational and I thought others might. Here it is:

"John Humphrys, on the radio recently, challenged the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the senior Muslim Cleric to prove to him that a God existed. Each of them failed in the course of an interview that lasted for half an hour each. All of them said the same thing; that his belief was a matter of conviction and therefore of course not a proof in itself. I am a member of the Church of England and have been for most of my life and in the course of that time I have heard constantly from members of the clergy and the laity views on a host of different subjects. In every case there are disagreements.

If two people disagree on a subject, then obviously one person is wrong. The other one may be wrong too, so the chances are that they will not produce the truth between them.

I started by thinking about the building in which we live. The first thing that I notice is that we know an awful lot about the materials with which it is made. We can discern the shape of itself and its components. We can measure them. We can determine the height, length and breadth, and measure their weight and the temperature. In fact there are countless ways we can measure them. We can do this by using mathematical principles, which are constant, absolutely unvarying, so therefore to everything we can give a very precise description. We know, however, that nothing in the world lasts forever. The mountains for instance were once in the ground. They were pushed into shape by the convulsions of the Earth in earthquakes where portions of the Earth pushed against each other so we got much of it raised, and we call them mountains. As soon as they were formed these mountains began to disintegrate by erosion. They were worn down by wind and rain to a certain extent and materials have been removed by quarrying and mining. Over a long period they were cut up by rivers into great valleys, and some of them were torn apart by volcanoes from the molten interior of the Earth. To take something much smaller, like plant life, it produces a seed, it grows, flowers, produces a fruit, it dies and is no more. If you planted a tree it may grow for hundreds of years but eventually it will die. The material of which it is made will decay and crumble and eventually sink into the earth itself. Living creatures, of which we are one, are born, they have a life and then they die.

On the other hand we also live in a spiritual world, a world composed of thoughts and ideas and principles. These are vague, they are abstract, they have no shape, and they cannot be measured in any way. Things like compassion, pity, justice, mercy, beauty, love, honesty, purity and unselfishness, and the opposites like violence and hate; these are all vague. We cannot define them easily. We can only point to what we think about them with abstract terms such as similes and metaphors and allegories like parables, and yet although, in spite of this, these things are important because they govern our actions on Earth; our behaviour towards each other, towards the environment. We also know that the spiritual world pre-existed long before we did. We have knowledge and ideas, which men have produced in the past, which we still have today which we will pass on into the future, probably with additions of our own. The spiritual world is therefore far more important than the physical world in two ways. Firstly it governs our actions in the physical world and also, because it is infinite, it lasts forever.

I have said that the things we think of in the spiritual world are vague and in the sense that we see them only as if through a fog. We do not see them clearly, but men have arisen who have, themselves, claimed to have had a revelation to be able to see these things clearly. Most of these have also said that there is a Supreme Being who created both the spiritual and the physical world and who rules over all, who is the author of these ideas and he has wishes for the positive ones to be obeyed. They call this Supreme Being God and we call them prophets.

There has always been among men an instinct to pay particular attention to this spiritual world and especially to God. Before the idea of the one supreme God came in they used to ascribe to various physical things they had made, mythical persons with powers, and worship them, so there were many gods. However, now the prophets produced this idea that there was one true God. Many different prophets did this. One of which we have special knowledge is the one spoken of by the Jews. They were all descendents of one man, Abraham, and they worshipped this one true God, Yahweh. Although they believed that God wished them to behave in an atmosphere of love; to show justice, compassion, mercy and all that sort of thing, many of them had disobeyed and alienated themselves from God, and they believed that a Saviour, a Messiah, would come to reconcile them to God. In course of time when Jesus Christ was born many of the Jews believed he was God himself incarnate become a man to perform this reconciliation. They called themselves Christians and they were separated from the Jews. In course of time the Christians disagreed amongst themselves and split into the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church proceeded to reform itself to split into an enormous number of different churches all because of disagreements.

In trying to decide where the truth lay amongst all these different theories amongst the Christians, I decided that one way of approaching the subject would be to consider the words of the various prophets and groups of prophets to determine if they had something on which they all agreed. When one does this one finds that every one of them believes in a principle of love. Not just in the limited sense of between parent and child, child and parent, between siblings and between friends, or erotic love which had to do with the body, the love, which was ascribed to God, is called agape, and has no limits. Unlike any other love it is entirely unselfish, it has no regard for itself, it is all giving. I find that this applies, not only to all the Christian churches that are descended from Abraham, but by a different son, the Muslims also believe in this as well and it is a compelling idea that this all-consuming love, the love of God, is virtually God himself. God is love.

Having decided this, I decided that probably all of the other ideas of the prophets on which they disagreed, could be disregarded because this was the most important, the only important one really. I said that as a member of the Church of England one of its ideas is that living as we do in the spiritual world we have a soul, which does not finish with death on Earth. We will exist in some form into the future. We have no idea what this future could be. There is no way of determining it. Various people have claimed to know. We have pictures in the Bible, for instance, of heaven with the idea of people standing around and singing all the time, or like Dante’s visions of hell with torment and hell fire and so on, and another one of purgatory; a sort of trial period. All these are nothing more than the product of men’s imagination and can be discarded. We simply believe that if there is an afterlife it will be in the presence of God in some form and we can only anticipate it. This may not be true, of course, but if it is wrong then the alternative is that when life on Earth ends, then so far as we are concerned everything is finished, so the alternative to life is simply oblivion and we are no more. It is not to be feared; a deep, dreamless sleep. I have come to the conclusion that there is an ultimate God. He might be called various names, but there is just one God and either there will be eternal life or there will not. In either case we can look forward to it with curiosity but certainly without fear."

All sorts of people, great and small have explored the nature of life and death. Poppa's words are clear and simple. Without too much fuss he arrives at an undramatic conclusion with which its hard not to share his view. Over to you! 

If you have other inspriational words, personally written or inherited from elsewhere, I'd be honoured to read them and perhaps give them an airing on this blog.

Go in peace.

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