On knocking

How do we know that the Earth was created by God? Because it exists. The same can be said for the universe in which we are located: our little universe, quickly expanding but still less than 93 billion light years wide, at the broadest estimate. It exists, and continues to exist, even when we close our eyes; or die, for that matter.

This naïve little “proof” first occurred to me about forty years ago. Or rather, first occurred to me then as an irrefutable proposition. It may not satisfy gentle reader, to say nothing of Saint Anselm in Heaven, but it pleaseth me. I found Descartes too subjective. I was trying to get behind cogito ergo sum. You may think you are, but what about a machine that thinks, but has no consciousness, and has parts that can be switched on and off? A Cartesian machine that has nothing but brains, and thus no way to anchor? How could it ever know? How do earthworms know? Why are humans privileged?

We are, if we can ask the question. Animals may be problem-solvers, too, but I rather doubt even those clever (and sometimes vicious) dolphins spend time on problems like this. They know what they know; had they the philosophical capacity, they would have walked out of the water by now. For that matter most humans don’t, until there is some tease, such as looking into the face of death: one’s own in particular. Does this universe continue when I check out?

“Well, what do you think?” I asked myself, sardonically. Of course it does. I’d watched other people die. The “fact of life” was ineluctable; clinched, as it were, in the fact of death. There it lay before me.

It struck me, in the darkening London twilight, on the steps of the V&A Museum, that the choice between is and is not had likewise been made before me. Consider: the universe “ought” never to have existed, and nothing ought ever to have been. This would be sensible. It would solve all metaphysical quandaries. But as in fact there was something, not nothing, one must deal with a miracle. A rather large one. Modern men do not care for miracles, but there’s a whole chain of them to contend with, and we might as well start here. The “IS” just where we look for an “is not” provides, if nothing else, an outrageous scandal; for with that IS we have the unavoidable authorship of meaning. We have Being, Life, things that Exist. Even an atheist is stuck acknowledging them, and suicide can provide no escape. We might have some Becoming, too, but in the face of such truths, it is an homeopathic dose; I wanted my Reality straight up.

That it all “just happened” is no explanation; that one thing led to another is lame. Being does not come out of nothingness. It eradicates nothingness. It establishes for fact that nothingness never was. One cannot even aspire to restore what is unrestorable: for it is nothing, not something, that never was. One might preach that “God is dead,” but it will be just words. That IS, is prior, and it seemed to me then that I could see where even “godless” Buddhism, and very godful Christianity converged — in an undeniable immortality. Or to take this to the Upanishads, something that “neither is nor is not” unmistakably IS. He might be prior to male and female and neuter, prior to many other distinctions, but too, He is prior to prior.

One might even say, with Jean-Luc Marion and the cutting-edge theologians, that there is “God Without Being.” Notice one must say that this IS.

“Live with it,” as they say. Or as Isaiah put it, “Choose life.” We are stuck with IS for as long as we should live, and infinitely before, and after. We might as well start coming to terms, with the elephant in our cosmos.

Thoughts like this began to afflict a young man not quite twenty-three, who had done his best to be “an evangelical atheist,” with whatever bells and whistles came to hand; to deny everything that could not be proved. My intellectualism had defeated itself, and now I would be prey to the suggestions of the greatest poets and philosophers, saints and doctors — whom I had previously noticed were never on my side. My unconscious lie had become a conscious one, which meant, sooner or later I should have to abandon it, and tuck into minds greater than my own.

Add a few more thoughts, some time in a hospital with a collapsed lung, and a great deal of intellectual and emotional confusion, ending in a question asked ever less sarcastically, ever more candidly, to wit: “Christ, if you exist, why don’t you just show yourself to me?” and answered finally with the most personal sun-burst of unearthly Love, accompanied by the words, “I will cross this bridge with you.” The story of my conversion and subsequent development into a “born-again Catholic” has been told elsewhere. I don’t like to repeat it, because I cannot do justice to the experience, only awkwardly report my inadequate response to it. But if gentle reader is looking at his watch, let me add that from IS to Christ took about three months, and a half.

As I think back, I realize, one must start somewhere, in this universe full of starts and finishes. “If you came this way,” &c. (See: The Four Quartets.) One must try to get behind what is, to what IS. One must find one’s way out of the “box” of time; walk through its walls. There is no door, no material key to be found, and yet, knock and it will be answered.