Is There a God?

Is There a God?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Sept. 30 1996 12:30 AM

Is There a God?

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Dear Steve,

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       The way you frame the question of God suggests to me you never really believed in him in the first place--at least, not in the way I understand the experience of believing in him. Belief in God is not a question of filling a need. God is not the utilitarian answer to human anxiety. If he were, he would be outclassed in many ways. Doesn't a love affair truly fill the human need you ascribe to God? Doesn't a stern teacher, or a mentor, or a great book? Or a subscription to SLATE? All these things can help you feel less alone in the world--and give you moral guidance in your life. Look around, and you'll see hundreds of well-adjusted atheists perfectly at ease in their lives, with a sense of duty and morality inculcated from any number of sources. They don't "need" God, any more than you do. Are you honestly saying that since you lost your faith, you are completely without any direction or hope? I doubt it.
       No, faith in God is not an answer to human anxiety. Rather, it explains human anxiety. It explains why we alone, in creation, cannot somehow be satisfied with our lot; why we seem to retain a notion of something greater and better than ourselves that is yet inextricable from ourselves. Human beings, in this sense, all have faith. The question is merely how deeply we can understand the source of this dissatisfaction, and make our lives more meaningful as a result.
       You speak also of the lack of empirical evidence of such a God. But of course, you are simply confusing categories. The knowledge we are speaking of is not empirical knowledge. It is not found in the world. It is found in our own consciousness. It is part of the equipment with which human beings encounter the world. It is before the world--not in it.
       For me, there has never been a moment of unbelief. Sometimes, the belief has been hazy--its object opaque, its meaning unclear. At times, the God of the Gospels is near; at times, the God of the Old Testament has come closer. At times, too, even the gods of other religious traditions have beckoned. But my bleakest moments have never been when God has ceased to exist in my mind--a preposterous idea--but when he has seemed to be evil. But overcoming that temptation is a matter of Christianity, a subject perhaps too esoteric for our first exchange.

Yours,
Andrew

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and Andrew Sullivan is former editor of the New Republic.