Some thirty years ago, one of my students at UNC complained that I was like all the profs in the Religious Studies Department. “They’ll never tell you what they believe about God!”
I thought it over and decided he had a point. So I tried to come up with a clear, straightforward answer I could give to a student–or anyone else–who wanted to know if I believed in God.
That answer was no. And yes.
“No,” in that philosophically I find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe there’s any God. The world as we know it seems far more easily and naturally explainable without assuming any Creator and Sustainer who’s both all-powerful and all-good. This doesn’t necessarily prove there isn’t one. Evolution, similarly, doesn’t rule out belief in God. But it does tend to undercut it, it that it provides an explanation of the multiplicity of life on earth which doesn’t require any divine Hand. And there’s a host of events–the Haitian earthquake is an obvious recent example–that argue pretty strongly that “if God is God He is not good, / If God is good He is not God.” (As Archibald MacLeish put it in J.B.)
Then why “yes”?
Because I believe in the unconscious, a la Freud and Jung. I believe our unconscious controls our perceptions in ways we’re hardly aware of, and that can hardly be broken. Part of my unconscious–and yours too, I’ll bet–is the memory of human-like but super-sized figures who came to feed me when I was hungry, comfort me when I wailed, change my diaper when it was full. These internalized images are part of me. To root them out would be futile and pointless. It’s their presence I feel when, in waters too deep for me, I cry out to Something I feel to be listening.
Rationally, I can recognize these parental images for what they are. But emotionally, with the gut certainty that the unconscious demands, I feel them real and present. God is alive within me, whether I want Him there or not. And really, why shouldn’t I want Him? My experience suggests to me that religious faith helps people handle life better, more “skillfully” as the Buddhists say, than they would without it.
Of course there’s a contradiction here. But much of life seems to me a process of negotation, of making our way, among our internal contradictions. “It is a sore task that God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). To the daughters of women, too.
Shall I spend my energies extirpating the God within, the God who isn’t and who is? I’d rather not. Better to fashion Him/Her into the best God I can.