Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life and Faith

In The Calendar of Wisdom for today, Tolstoy states that "The life of a person without faith is the life of an animal." I am inclined to agree, though that raises the question: What is faith?

In the broadest sense, I think that faith is the acknowledgement by the individual that there is more to life than that which is natural and observable. To put it more succinctly: that essence precedes existence. Faith means accepting the truth that what lies at the heart and origin of life is something that is not itself alive; that existence arises from that which does not exist, yet which gives rise to existence. It is the willingness to admit that our existence is founded on, and depends upon, that which does not itself exist. Yet this non-existence is the essential nature of all that exists.

It is at this point that logic and reason must give way to faith. For any logician or scientist will tell you that something cannot be generated by nothing, and that non-existence cannot give rise to existence. In an attempt to accommodate this apparent truth, theologians and philosophers have long posited the concept of the First Cause. Most of Thomas Aquinas's proofs for the existence of god, for example, depend on the proposition that if things exist and are in motion, then something must have originally put them in existence and motion. This "something" becomes the first principle in a long chain of causation, of which the reality we experience is the direct result. In short, it becomes god.

That this cannot be so should be self-evident. If the First Cause is merely the original link in the chain of existence, then, while it may be a motive force, it cannot be qualitatively different than the existence which it puts into being and motion. This primal cause is, therefore, of the same, or at least of similar, character as the effects it generates. God thus becomes nothing more than the first principle of existence, and yet, if god exists, then something must have put god into existence, by the subsequent logic of the proposition. The god which is said to create existence must be embedded in existence and share its nature, which subjects that god to the inconsistencies and vicissitudes of existence; to its qualities and characteristics, with all their contradictions and shortfalls. Thus god is portrayed as jealous, angry, loving, forgiving, and at once the source of all good and of all evil. God is, in effect, superman, possessed of all of man's faults and virtues.

It is for this reason that I argue that any concept of god, as a generative cause or primal principle, must inevitably lead to contradictions which cancel out the concept itself. God cannot be both loving and vengeful, cannot be the origin of both goodness and evil, and, at the source of the concept, god cannot logically be a form of existence that was not brought into existence by something else.

For this reason, the concept of god becomes itself a contradiction which cannot be sustained by the very process of logic which coaxed it into being. Such a concept of god must, therefore, be rejected, not least of all because the conceptual god makes faith unnecessary. This is ironic, to say the least, but it is, nonetheless, inescapable. For if you posit god as the First Cause, or as the primal link in the chain of existence, then reality can be traced logically back to god, and no faith is needed to accept god's existence.

No, oddly, what is required is an acceptance of the illogical proposition (in conventional terms) that existence arises out of non-existence - that everything, in effect, comes from nothing. Only in this way can we find a ground for the exercise of faith. Anything less is merely musing on an idea, regardless of how complex it may be, that negates the possibility of faith. To put it simply: It is necessary to reject the concept of god in order to discover the possibililty of faith.