Ask & it will be answered
“Il ne dépend pas de nous de croire en Dieu, mais seulement de ne pas accorder notre amour à de faux dieux.” This is among my favourite pensées of Simone Weil: “It is not up to us to believe in God, only not to grant our love to false gods.”
Gentle reader is invited to keep thinking about that.
To my mind, we cannot think our way to God, we have not the brains for that. Therefore I will readily concede that the existence of God cannot be “proved,” empirically or even philosophically; only inferred. And an inference, even one that seems dead obvious, may be wrong. I will allow no man precedence when it comes to scepticism of human intellectual capacity. We are idiots, the lot of us, & our chief intellectual capacity consists in seeing what we want to see. It is a quality well expressed by the concept of “original sin”; & those who think they are sinless are not so much blind, as prey to ridiculous illusions.
“The future” was among the false gods Simone Weil had often in mind. She had passed through her youthful period of political radicalism, & walked away. There is no shortage of false gods. We are constantly adapting old & inventing new ones, & it is the limit of the natural human endowment to see that they are false, phantasms, disruptions of our peace. The best that we can do is to reject them; to refuse worship to self-created abstractions.
Whereas, belief in God is quite impossible. There is no logical path to Him: “you can’t get there from here.” His absence from the Creation is total. There could not be any such path, in the nature of things, for we may say with some confidence that the entire universe consists of things that are not God. His very impossibility saves us from confusion with a god who is false. At no point in history could any human being have “found God,” by any effort or science of his own. It wouldn’t have been possible even to create Him: for He is too absurd, too “other.” False gods at least answer to our more immediate desires.
Let me quote another, seemingly paradoxical aphorism from Simone Weil to enlarge upon this point:
“There are four evidences of divine mercy here below: the favours of God to beings capable of contemplation (these states exist & form part of their experience as creatures); the radiance of these beings & their compassion, which is the divine compassion in them; the beauty of the world. The fourth evidence is the complete absence of mercy here below.”
Glibness or cleverness will stand in the way of understanding this passage. The fourth proposition does not contradict the first three.
This, if you will, is why I became a Christian; not in spite of being an atheist, but because I was one. It was the complete absence & impossibility of God that impressed me. Perhaps I flatter myself in memory, but I do not recall being an “agnostic,” or ever having time for agnostics. It struck me as a foolish position, not self-contradictory but beyond self-contradictory. If something were possible, but unlikely, one might take an agnostic position, waiting for further evidence to come in. But when something is impossible, you don’t wait. Unless you are extremely feeble minded.
I became acquainted, quite young, with the conception of the “Big Bang.” (Verily, I was something of a “science child.”) Though I did not know it at first, owing to lies & misrepresentations in books of popular science, the “discoverer” of it was the Belgian priest & monk, astronomer & physicist, Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître. He called it, “the hypothesis of the infinitesimal Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the Creation,” a much better label (than Fred Hoyle’s). Contrary to what is still given out, by way of pop science, he also anticipated Hubble’s Constant — by two years on Edwin Hubble; & was from several other accomplishments almost certainly the most under-appreciated scientific mind of the 20th century.
Father Lemaître was mocked at first, including by Albert Einstein. (Though not by Arthur Eddington, who had had him as a pupil & been tremendously impressed by the clarity of his thought, & his mastery of mathematics.) His hypothesis included the seemingly batty idea of cosmic rays, emanating from the origin of the universe; & strange to say, that was the point that brought Einstein around, in a celebrated moment when it all made sense to him & he began to applaud wildly.
It took many more years for the physics establishment at large to cope with what many suspected was a theological invasion of empirical science. What made it even harder to assimilate: the notion that our universe actually had a beginning at a singular point of space-time, & an expansion rate that can be reasonably estimated. It is that finitude they found most distressing, & to this day they are looking for ways to wormhole out of it, into multiverses & the like, of purest speculation, impelled by a kind of ungodly claustrophobia.
I, as a budding adolescent in the later ‘sixties, had no problem with it, however. A “cosmic egg” is not God. Curiously, this is a point upon which Father Lemaître was also quite insistent, so that when Pope Pius XII referred to his “theory” as a validation of the Catholic faith, Father Lemaître corrected him quite sharply. No, it is a scientific hypothesis, on which no theological inference can be banked, for something more might be discovered & it could all be kicked away. Pin Nature on God, & not God on Nature.
This is all mentioned to dispel the notion that science can lead us to God. It cannot. And in my own case, neither my early embrace of Father Lemaître’s cosmology, nor my early rejection of the Darwinian explanation of the phenomena of evolution, had anything to do with my becoming a Christian.
Here is something that had to do with it. It is a passage from the Upanishads, which I can no longer trace, but find still in memory: “He is not a male. He is not a female. He is not a neuter. He neither is, nor is not. When he is sought he will take the form in which he is sought; & again he will not come in such a form. It is indeed difficult to describe the Name of the Lord.”
This did not convince me of anything, but was a mental preparation for accepting Christ, & Trinitarianism. Perhaps it only could be for me. Let me flag particularly: “again he will not come in such a form.”
The impossibility of getting to God, by any empirical or philosophical method, is what still convinced me. It struck me as odd, however, that almost every man or woman I tremendously admired — scattered over centuries — had got there anyway. My claim to be smarter & wiser than any of them began to pall. Conversely, the discovery that my atheism was shared by very few I admired, & mostly by the stupid & obnoxious, weighed upon my cocky self-confidence. Was it just possible I had missed something?
There was another source of weight, more purely psychological. Let us call this “a sense of sin.” It was growing on me, with the realization that, “objectively,” I had done a few things that were “bad,” as demonstrated by the fact that I instinctively concealed them. And too, felt inescapable shame, & remorse — not only for what I had done selfishly to the harm of others, but for the harm I had done more mysteriously to myself. Gravity, “pesanteur,” weight.
It would take too much space, & be awkward to reconstruct, my reading of that period. I have anyway written elsewhere about my Christian conversion; of an event on the Hungerford Bridge in London. I am writing this evening only about intellectual preparation, not about “religious experience,” although the two will be joined. That preparation came down to: “We cannot reach God. But perhaps it is possible that God can reach us.”
One book is worth mentioning in this connexion, however: the Bible. At the time immediately before my conversion, I was reading it with great attention. I was already familiar with “the Bible as literature,” for I was by my early twenties more literary than scientific. And if you don’t know your Bible, English literature can make little sense, nor any other European literature. But to read something “as literature” is quite another thing from reading it as if your life depended on it. “Attention” is Simone Weil’s term. (She associates prayer with complete attention.)
In particular I became mesmerized by the Gospel of John, in which it seemed all strands came together. Either Christ was a complete fraud, or he was the Son of God. There really is no third option, for a conspiracy of all apostles & all other earliest Christians gets too far beyond the plausible. There were two possible answers, “yea” or “nay.” And more & more I felt, no place to hide.
The first time I asked, “Christ, if you exist, why don’t you just show me,” the tone was quite facetious. But it was a question I found myself repeating, in different ways. Example: “Christ, if you are there, why this hide & seek nonsense? Why do you play games? Why do you toy with people?” Gentle reader will note, it was becoming a conversation; but one consciously between a young man, very alone, & a Messiah, very absent.
The conversation ended, or was rather transformed, as I have written before. It was by the steps ascending that pedestrian bridge (alongside a railway), from the South Embankment. I think I must have asked, so many times, “Christ, if you exist, why don’t you just show me?” that I had finally managed to ask it sincerely. And in that moment I became aware of the presence of some extraordinary light, or flame, or radiance, that I knew to be a Person; to be Infinite Love. And of a voice that spoke one unmistakable sentence:
“I will cross this bridge with you.”
At the other side, as I turned to steps descending to North Embankment, this Person was gone. But as if in the air above & before me, I became aware of another presence, or Person, briefly but so vividly. I can recall trying to reason: “And that is the Holy Spirit, whom I have known all my life; known without knowing. Who stood over me when I was in the cradle.”
All of which may be dismissed by any reader. An aberration; perhaps I was mad. But if so a temporary insanity, for nothing like it ever happened again.
Science, according to Simone Weil, offers three kinds of interest: technical applications; a game of chess with prizes; & a road to God. It would, she believed, find a source of inspiration higher than itself, or perish.
I still do not think it can possibly offer a road to God. I do however think it can be inspired, & that it will perish without this inspiration; that in light of God, we can see things, even make connexions between things, & seize upon remarkable evidence, to which by our own light we would be blind. It may even offer analogies, useful to poetry & art, philosophy & theology. But in & of itself it is nothing, a zero.
On a religious view, the scientist is examining the Creation, & thus a reflection of God’s glory. On a materialist view, he is examining hunks of dirt. But the phenomena of Nature are the same, either way, & science is only an accounting of them — more catalogue than theory.
God is not His reflection. He will not be found there, in that “Maya” (if you will), any more than a human person will be found inside a mirror, or shadow of himself. This is not where you turn to ask a question, or get an answer. For that, you must turn (as it were) away from the universe, & ask your question directly. Or so I have come to think.