One of the many problems that people have with religion, is lack of proof for any of its claims- starting with the existence of God. Given the limitations of human perception and a clear understanding of the nature of God (beyond religious personifications and contradictions), is it any wonder that proof of divinity eludes us?
Our human sensory systems are very limited in what they can detect. We can’t detect radio waves, infrared light or ultrasonic sounds, and only know they exist because now – after 200,000 years of evolution – we have instruments to detect them, and the intellectual capacity to understand them. Yet they existed long before science “discovered” them! What else lies waiting for science to prove in future decades, centuries or even millennia?
Perhaps someday we’ll have proof that the gods, demigods, angels and demons of religion exist beyond our imaginations, and have an actual basis in reality. Perhaps… But how does that help us right here, right now, when trying to decide whether or not to spend Sunday morning praising God(s) – and putting our tithes and offerings in the collection plate – or catching up on our beauty sleep?
Given the non-physical and supernatural nature of any God(s) that may actually exist, and the current limitations of science, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll have “proof” of Divinity anytime soon. Certainly not in our lifetimes. A Second Coming of Jesus Christ or the arrival of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse would certainly bolster our faith – well, Christian faith, at least- but they’ve been coming for so long now, one cannot help but wonder if they’ve changed their minds.
Maybe our Universe is explicitly designed – or created- not to allow scientific and objective proof of religious claims. For example, if the existence of Heaven and Hell were proven, wouldn’t everyone do everything they possibly could, to avoid the fires of Hell and reap the rewards of Heaven? If we knew for a FACT that God was watching our lives, and would be making decisions about how we spend the rest of eternity (based on what he sees), oh what saintly lives we would live! I know I would. If the existence of Satan – and hence demonic possession – were a proven fact, they wouldn’t be able to build enough churches!
But would these saintly lives reflect REAL spirituality? No, they wouldn’t! The child who refrains from stealing candy because they fear the consequences of getting caught, is not the same as the child who refrains because it goes against their moral nature. Perhaps the moral\spiritual nature that mankind aspires to (or should aspire to) is not one that can be attained if the existence of God could be proven. Maybe we are meant to wander the darkness of unproven faith until we find our own inner light of truth: not just in religious books written by other people, not just in the words of Pastor Pete preaching from the pulpit, and certainly not in mirrors reflecting back to us whatever we want – or need – to see.
Where would we find such truths? There are people throughout the ages who claim to have experienced subjective proof of God’s existence. They claim to have experienced it through religious\spiritual practices, usually involving self-denial, self-discipline and selfless service. They usually have sacrificed – and maybe even suffered- a great deal before such “proof” has been experienced. They have proven themselves to be spiritually worthy of whatever has been revealed to them. Here are some passages from various religions that express these ideas
- Christianity (1 Peter 4:13): “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
- Hinduism (Bhagavad-gita) “The senses are higher than the body, the mind higher than the senses; above the mind is the intellect, and above the intellect is the Atman. Thus, knowing that which is supreme, let the Atman rule the ego. Use your mighty arms to slay the fierce enemy that is selfish desire.”
- Buddhism: “Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom”
What these quotes suggest to me is that only when we reach the requisite state of spirituality, can we hope to even see glimmers of real proof for our beliefs. By real proof, I mean phenomena that can’t be explained by self-induced psychological states (e,g, heightened emotions and suggestibility), wishful thinking, and other religious practices that masquerade as “finding God”.
Until science reaches a point where it can be helpful to us, one way to seek subjective proof of God’s existence -or lack thereof – is to follow the paths of people who have gone before us and claim to have found it. There are many religions to choose from, and there are many spiritual practices (e.g. meditation, chanting, visualization, and whirling). One thing I would definitely keep in mind is this: do NOT abandon reason on your quest! I say this because “proof-by-delusion” is an easy trap to fall into.
For example, if we believe that God exists because of all the wonderful things that happen in our lives, then every wonderful thing that happens in our lives will be “proof” of God’s existence. We’ll forget that atheists too have remissions of cancer, win the lottery, and find love in unexpected places. When loved ones die of cancer, wander homeless, or get served with divorce papers, we’ll say that God is testing them, or punishing them, or unfolding some master plan for their lives. Maybe that’s true. Then again, maybe it’s not. How would we even know unless God told us directly? Is this kind of flimsy, circumstantial evidence the best we can do in our quest to prove -or disprove – God’s existence?
Another example of proof-by-delusion is when the pastor tells the congregation “I can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit moving in God’s house today” and everyone in the congregation swears they feel it too. Just because people were sharing joyful praise, and enjoying the sermon doesn’t necessarily mean the Holy Spirit (as a divine and supernatural presence) was actually there- no matter how much “speaking in tongues” took place. What might have been there instead, is the Pastor’s skill at appealing to -and manipulating (intentionally or otherwise)- the emotions of the congregation, the strength of HIS belief that the Holy Spirit is right there visiting HIS church, and the powerful desire for such a visit to be real to the congregation.
After all, when we strongly want something to be true in a relationship – whether it’s with a co-worker, friend or spouse – don’t we usually find “proof” by interpreting reality in ways that substantiate our beliefs? Isn’t that one of the reasons people go to therapists – so they can see reality more as it is, than how they perceive it to be? If we can alter our perceptions of reality to “prove” assumptions about people who we can see, hear, touch and interact with, how much more do we twist reality (in directions we want it to go) when it comes to something that we have no sensory proof of – like God?
One of my favorite religious catch-22’s is when people say, “just open your heart to Jesus, and he will give you all the proof you could ever need of his existence.” But if we’re at the point of feeling like we’re opening our heart to Jesus, haven’t we pretty much convinced ourselves of his existence – without any “proof”? Otherwise, how could we be opening our heart, in the first place?
Peer pressure aside, if we keep going to the church, keep experiencing the camaraderie, the caring, and the warm smiles, won’t we start caring and smiling back? If we go long enough to attend the ‘new member classes’, the bible study classes, the baptism classes, the potlucks and the sermons (that result in us being “spiritually fed”) are we not going to become thoroughly indoctrinated? Are we not going to “open our hearts” to the congregation and it’s leadership, and feel that to be the same as opening our hearts to the deity whose love they have been sharing with us since we walked through the door?
But is being fed a satisfying meal, created by the best chef in the world- with loving family and friends around our table- the same as meeting the chef… the true source of the meals? He could have died years ago, and now the kitchen staff is just following his recipes, and hoping people keep coming back for the meals. Commercialized, mainstream religion may do a great job of feeding its followers but that is not the same as its followers connecting with the source of whatever spiritual truths actually make it into the pot. Sometimes the flavoring is so sweet and\or spicy, it’s hard to tell if the correct ingredients were even used.
Maybe mainstream religion – when staying true to its spiritual mission (instead of just rituals and dogmas) – can be a path to proof of God’s existence. But treading a path to a destination is not the same as actually reaching it. Even in religious texts we see this idea expressed:
- Christianity (Matthew 22:14): “Many are called but few are chosen:”
- Islam: Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise .”
- Hinduism (Atharva Veda): “Do not be led by others, awaken your own mind, amass your own experience, and decide for yourself your own path.”
In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to finding God is thinking we already have.