Notes From a Life-Long Learner: God — To Be(lieve) or Not To Be(lieve)
I spent a recent weekend pondering the existence of God. It’s something I do from time to time because I was a religious person once, in the Judeo/Christian tradition, but am not so now. After many years, I’m still getting used to living without that label. I have to admit, my non-religious years have been very good years.
One interesting documentary that makes a case against the Judeo/Christian God is called The God Who Wasn’t There. It presents the story of Jesus Christ — his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection — and discusses how it resembles many of the myths invented hundreds to thousands of years before Christ’s birth.
This edgy film contains man-on-the-street chats with rank and file believers and interviews with professors, well-known atheists, and the headmaster of a fundamentalist christian school the filmmaker attended as a child. That interview doesn’t go so well; the filmmaker spent many of his formative years terrified by the teachings of that school. In fact, although the documentary is interesting and makes compelling arguments against the existence of God, it’s clear that the filmmaker is unpacking some baggage on screen.
Another documentary I watched is God in America (also available to watch online), a PBS mini-series that traces the history of God in America from before its official founding until now. Narrated by Campbell Scott and dramatized by fine actors depicting historical figures and their very own words, this film doesn’t tackle the question of the existence of God. Rather, it shows the influence the belief in God had (has) on America, and, more interestingly, the influence America — its ideals of liberty for all and the pursuit of happiness — influenced belief in God.
In the Old World, central authority and conformity were all important. In the New World, the individual became paramount. New churches and denominations developed, old beliefs were reformed.
I suppose while watching this mini-series an atheist would note the continual morphing of religious beliefs and conclude what he has always believed: God is a human construct. On the other had, a believer in God may see God behind the scenes directing the evolution (pardon the term) of humans’ understanding of Him.
God or no God — it's a puzzle. Thankfully, great minds have grappled and are still grappling with this question. Along with the films mentioned above, there are several interesting books making the case for and against the existence of God listed below.
- Letters to Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God by C. Stephen Layman
- The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
- Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief by Scott F. Aikin & Robert B. Talisse
Although I’m not religious and lean against the existence of a central character that controls the universe, I do have a spiritual streak and I’m not ready to jump on the atheist bandwagon, or into the atheist hand basket, if you will. I suppose I’m an agnostic, which means I am not taking a position about the existence of God, because I do not know.
In the meantime, I’ll keep pondering. How about you?