The Quest For Meaning: Belief and Disbelief

Philosopher Roger Scruton argues in his new book The Face of God: The Gifford Lectuers, that “when we hunt only for the cause and never for the reason of things, God disappears from the world” (1). And it’s true: if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will live in a Godless world and, as a result, everything becomes a proof that God doesn’t exist. A believer in God, however, lives in a world where God is omnipresent, and therefore everything becomes a proof for God. This is one of the fundamental reasons why believers and atheists are so diametrically opposed in their worldview.

Believers will often point to the seemingly “miraculous” nature of the universe and its uniformity. The New Scientist has described the universe as “unfathomably uniform”, however, atheists will point to certain aberrations in the universe like the inherent cosmic chaos and killer asteroids, which make it seem as if there is not an all-wise Creator behind this all. This is why scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, an agnostic, once reportedly said: “When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.”

The famous Muslim poet and sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi, once told a parable of an ant creeping along a carpet and complains to God, asking him what is this, these bumps, and strange colours, and patterns, this must have been created just as a meaningless obstacle course, what a futile thing to have made.” However, as Cambridge academic Timothy Winter says: “But of course the carpet maker, looking at it from above, can see the patterns and the purpose of it, and can see that the whole thing is perfect and is good. And God is often like that. We often can’t make sense of the misfortunes because we are two dimensional, we are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.”

There is a saying in the Islamic tradition that is believed to be God’s words, it says that “I am what my servant thinks of me”. This statement can be understood on many levels but what we can infer from this, is that if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will use the “aberrations” in our universe as further “proof” for the non-existence of God.

The discourse between theists and atheists has been skewed for too long. We vociferously debate with each other not to understand each other, or to come to a mutual understanding, but to attempt to prove each other wrong. Consequently, when we argue, our minds become preoccupied with trying to think of a counter response to what has just been propounded during the debate, instead of rationalising what the other has said.

While theists and atheists can both be as closed-minded as each other, both constantly looking for proofs to further their belief or disbelief, we must understand the plurality of life. There isn’t just one way of understanding things, there are many. There is a reason why we are all different; it is because life can, and should, be approached in many different ways. One of the fundamental misunderstandings of many atheists is that they forget religion has as its purpose to serve the whole of humanity. If this is the case, religion has to serve all the uneducated and stupid people in the world, which is, unfortunately, a large percentage of humanity. This is why, on the surface, religion may seem simple for simple people, when, in fact, it can be understood on many levels; the job of the intellectual should be to discern the profundity of divine revelation and explore the deeper, esoteric meanings.

When we are pushed to our extremes something strange often emanates from within us. Sometimes, when our life is in danger, we call on God. Interestingly, Oxford academic, Justin Barrett, says that research over the past ten years suggests that children are born with an innate disposition to believe in God. However, when we force ourselves to certain extremes, we often go mad, literally. Philosophers of the past have entered into a state of depression or madness because they try to push their mind to an extent that is not possible. Likewise, mathematicians have gone insane trying to understand the concept of infinity. We push ourselves to these extremes for no other reason but to find meaning. Meaning, however, can only be found within the depths of our innermost being, according to Rumi. He once said: “ The universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

What we are often guilty of doing is trying to fill the void in our lives – a void that occurs due to our inability or unwillingness to find meaning – with something physical. But how can we fill something immaterial with something material? We must recognise that the materialistic idea of consciousness is probably not the correct way to understand who we are. Things don’t always happen purely on the psychological level, they happen on the spiritual level, too. We all know that with every second that passes by, we edge closer and closer to our departure from this world, essentially, we are dying with time.

While we all agree that we must die, we differ on the concept of death. Some of us believe death is just the beginning of eternity, either in the divine Presence or in divine alienation; others believe that death is the end and there is nothing else. Leo Tolstoy once said: “Life is a dream, death is wakening.” While this may or may not be true, we only have limited time to search for any sort of transcendent, ultimate meaning. Journalist Matthew Parris poignantly said in an article in The Spectator that: “If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote my life to finding out.”

Our existential search for meaning needs satisfying and our perennial search for God will never end. Time is running out, hurry.

1) Into the void, Richard Holloway, page 43, New Statesman, 2 April 2012

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