Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Alien God

“You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the ... appalling ... strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

Jesus loves me.  I have been reliably informed that he is simultaneously my copilot, homeboy, brother, friend, judge, guardian, and can probably fix my plumbing as well.  God – the Creator of all things, shaper of galaxies and star systems, lord of hurricanes and tsunamis, Will and Power all concentrated in a single being – is the kind of guy who would crack a few beers with me on the couch.  The idea of a ‘personal God’ has gained incredible traction partially because it’s so comforting to ascribe a familiar, friendly will to the inscrutable workings of the universe.  This comfort tends to obscure the ridiculousness of the whole concept: that an Almighty Creator would even deign to notice one tiny race of mammals on one tiny planet, let alone involve himself in their affairs.

Fundamentalist Christians often deal with this problem by asserting that the universe began at the same time we did.  Aside from the flagrant disregard of empirical reality, this is a pretty good tactic for answering why God would involve himself now, rather than at any other point in the last several billion years.  However, the vastness of the universe – why here – is just as serious a problem.  Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard made the inventive argument that this seeming absurdity was what made Christianity so attractive – that the sheer effort of passion needed to have faith was admirable.  Despite these responses, I would like to explore the idea that God is actually ineffable and alien, rather than, as the fundamentalists would have it, ineffable and alien only when bad things happen to good people.

What does it mean to live in a universe ruled by a literally incomprehensible deity?  For one, it would mean no Pascal’s Wager-type deals, as Alien God would be no more likely to reward you for faith than Cthulhu.  Religions based on this God would have very small creeds: I believe in God, the Creator of all things – then what?  Philosophers of ethics would have to do without a divinely-ordained morality; the teleological underpinning of many other bodies of thought would have to be discarded.

Regardless of whether Alien God exists, it remains a powerful image.  It allows for an entirely different perspective on the world around us. We probe at the ineffable as if it were a loose tooth.  Those things in life we find impossible to understand – death, say, or love – are strangely compelling.  What defies understanding more than the Thing which made everything; which is everything?  Alone at night, on a jetty extending over dark water, one can feel it stirring.

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