Thursday, 14 April 2011

Who or what is God?

Terry Pratchett is one of Britain’s favourite authors. His “Diskworld” and other fantasy novels have sold more than 60 million copies. He once said he was "rather angry with God for not existing". But later in life he qualified this statement slightly: "It is just possible that once you have got past all the gods that we have created with big beards and many human traits, just beyond all that, on the other side of physics, they [the gods] just may be the ordered structure from which everything flows. That is both a kind of philosophy and totally useless - it doesn't take you anywhere. But it fills a hole."

The "other side of physics"? Exactly. But it does take us somewhere, and the desire not to go in that direction is partly what lies behind the opposition of the New Atheists to Christianity. There is an emotional, perhaps a spiritual component, in the denial of God. But whatever the motivation, it involves a complete misunderstanding of what we mean by God, which is fundamentally a metaphysical idea. Without understanding that concept of God, and why it is necessary, you won’t be able to recognize the possibility of a revelation. Although a revelation can bring with it at the same time a sense, previously missing, of the metaphysical.

So what do we (believers) mean by “God”? I have tried to answer that question step by step in a “Conversation with a Skeptic”, the skeptic in this case being a scientific atheist. (This piece can be accessed along with a further article called "God on a T-Shirt" in the Christianity section of the main web-site.) As I say in the “Conversation”, if he exists, God is the infinite source of being, of existence, of everything that is good in the world. That means he is nothing less than the Holy Grail, the object of everyone’s ultimate desire, the secret of happiness and immortality, the very meaning of life and love. How can you not regard this as the most important question there is? No wonder that, all through history, people have built their civilizations around the search for this God, or the attempt to connect with him.

I hope these articles are helpful to someone. I have no evidence that any atheists have read them yet. Perhaps that is the real problem – actually getting a conversation going.

Illustration: Bust of Zeus in the British Museum.

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