Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Final Paper: My Thoughts on the Existence of God... :)

      Savannah Shipman 
       Dr. Oliver 
       Philosophy 1010 
      December 7, 2013
So what is going to happen when I die? Luckily, I live in a world in which I can talk openly about what will happen after death; in the past, people have been persecuted, executed, and excommunicated for having differing beliefs than those in power—so I would like to exercise my right to discuss openly my thoughts on whether or not there is a god or gods. For the sake of conformity throughout this paper, I will not refer to one specific god (i.e. Allah, Yahweh, or the Christian God) but gods as a whole; I would like to discuss my opinion on whether anything created our world and if we shall join any universal creator after death. 
            My entire life I have been brought up in a Christian home with Christian values. Growing up in this way, I learned certain attributes such as honesty, humility, and piety; at the same time, I grew up prejudiced against people of other religions, people of no religion, homosexuals, and even people of other sects of Christianity. When I entered high school, however, things began to change; I could not help but notice when some of my teachers made off-hand comments about the discrepancies in the Christian religion, that one of my closest friends was a strong atheist, and that as I learned history, the permanence of the Christian religion began to fall away. And so I began to think. Maybe I should examine other theories instead of simply believing what I have always been told my whole life.  It was a philosophy that first made me have this idea—Descartes to be exact. And it was the ideas of other philosophers that made me really question my beliefs and arrive a new and better (at least I think so!) conclusion about the world and my place in it. In this paper, I would like to discuss my current views on religion and why I believe what I believe with the help of the philosophers we have talked about in class. I have always enjoyed historical thinking and I believe the best way to move forward is by observing the past. 
            So let us start from the beginning before the Christian religion was even fathomed and people of Ancient Greece were “pagan,” or without “right” religion. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would have been these “pagans,” and it is with these men that western philosophy was brought into existence. Socrates certainly believed in a god; when the oracle at Delphi said he was the wisest man in Athens, he was perplexed, but believed these words whole heartedly. Thus, this shows Socrates believed in Apollo, a god of a religion we do not believe in nowadays. I am not sure if Plato subscribed to the same beliefs as Socrates, but he did believe in a more theoretical form of god; Plato believed more in the idea of perfection, and believed that there is certainly something larger than us at work in the world. Aristotle seemed more down to earth in his philosophies, but it would be a safe bet to assume Aristotle ascribed to the same beliefs his mentors did.
            This is perhaps one of the first things that struck me about the religion I was brought up in; it is hard for me to imagine one religion as correct while there are so many others that have existed within the world. In my opinion, it is unjust to claim that what someone believes is wrong; it is certainly just to say you do not agree with someone’s beliefs, but I do not believe it is right to say people are delusional or barking up the wrong tree to use a euphemism. So as I learned about the beliefs of Socrates and the other Greeks, it really got me thinking about the ways in which religions fall in and out of favor. The Romans believed in multiple gods, as did the Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, and the Celts; so in this world where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the dominant religions, the world seemed to open up a bit more when I realized that there were other religions that people had believed in completely. In this way, Christianity lost a lot of its mysticism for me and I was able to step back and think about religion logically from an outside point of view.
            But in order to observe religions from a logical standpoint, I first had to set aside my belief in Hell. To be honest, Hell is a truly terrifying concept, and once I put the idea of Hell behind me, I was actually a lot more comfortable with my life in general once I stopped believing in the concept of Hell. Hell truly terrified me as a child while also interesting me as a young adult when I read The Inferno by Dante. Western humanity as a whole also seems to be perplexed by the concept of Hell; Augustine is one theologian who was also concerned with this terrifying prospect.
            Augustine was perplexed by the concept of Hell; and if you are a Christian, going to Hell is a very real possibility—and a very terrifying one! So Augustine wrestled with the ideas of evil in the world and whether or not we had freewill.  After much philosophizing, Augustine decided that God (this time the Christian god) gave us free will even if God knows how things will eventually end up. Boethius was also interested in the concept of free will and believed that even if God knows how everything will end up, he operates outside our time. Augustine’s and Boethius’ philosophies are interesting, but during Augustine’s early life, he seems to have struggled with the notion of God—specifically on how to reconcile physical pleasure and religion. One of the first things that struck me about religion was the guilt trip it seemed to create. True, religion does give hope and strength to some, but it also creates a system of rules and regulations that are not to be broken. Augustine seemed to have the same thoughts as he participated in all sorts of debaucheries in his earlier life and prayed to God to give him piety and strength—but not yet, because he was simply enjoying himself too much.
            This is certainly an interesting concept to me. Physical pleasure is a very integral part of life—I mean, we aren’t stoics or anything. People drink, smoke, have sex, and party all the time almost as if they need to. True, these events can get quite raucous—and perhaps that is why they are considered sins. Is it not convenient that many of the things that are fun in life are sins? It is almost like religious rules were made to control people—do you not agree? Well this is what runs through my mind, at least. Augustine found a sort of faith in this concept, but the system of guilt under which Christianity seems to operate simply does not work for me. It does not seem healthy, nor does it seem like a very fruitful way to live my life. To me, life is about human relationships and having fun as much as possible. I do not believe anything happens after I die, so why not enjoy this truly precious life that we have now? The fact that I believe this is the only life I will live makes my life all the more precious.
            Most of the philosophers we studied in class, at least the earlier philosophers, were strong Christians. Anselm attempted to prove the existence of God (the Christian God, specifically) with his Ontological Argument. Anselm seemed to believe that God existed simply because we humans had the possibility to imagine and understand this being, he (or she…) then existed. I have a number of problems with Anselm’s theory, however. First of all, Anselm’s theory must be applied to all possible gods and does not seem exclusive merely to the Christian God. I guess Anselm could say people were mistaking their thoughts of Apollo (as an example) for the Christian God, but this seems like a feeble response. Second of all, Guanile of Marmoutiers’ reasoning to disprove Anselm’s theory is quite strong. He cites an example of the perfect island and how ridiculous it would be to imagine that this perfect island exists just because we can imagine it. It would be awesomely magical if we could imagine anything we wanted and it would awesomely appear, but it seems a fantastical way to prove that God exists. Thirdly, I feel that Anselm bridles the imagination with his proposal. Perhaps one of the most amazing things about us humans is our brains and we can imagine, understand, and create.
            This thought leads me to Nietzsche—perhaps my favorite philosopher. Nietzsche was quite angry with religion and seems fed up with the ways in which it constricts us. Instead of looking to the sky for answers—a pre-19th century phenomenon, it seems—Nietzsche instead looked to the human race for answers and for salvation. This philosophy affected me the most of all philosophers, I think. Humans have continuously put faith in something that has been bigger than them, stronger than them, and smarter than them. But Nietzsche suggested that perhaps the savior we have been searching for all along was one of us—to me, this theory certainly seems more reasonable than the belief in a mysterious and fantastical god somewhere in the sky.
            Nietzsche makes a few really good points, in my opinion; he forms the image of the Ubermench and attempts to prove that one day, hopefully, there will be a man who will rise up and lead the rest of the humans. For far too long have humans bowed down to a god who seems fairly absent; true, people cite parts of the Bible in which God has direct influence in human affairs and seems to actually care about what is going on with the Isrealites—but it seems quite curious that God (or any god for that matter) does not come into the world anymore and make himself (or herself) known. When I mentioned this stark absence to my friend, he said that he believed God had stepped away from the world because humans had been too sinful. This reply really disturbed me. I asked him why he thought it was our fault that God had stepped away—I mean, what could humans possibly have done to upset and all-knowing God who is supposed to love humans? In fact, I told him it was unhealthy that he was blaming the human race, and thus himself, for God’s departure. It is the same system of guilt under which I feel Christianity has always operated under—I think it is unhealthy to continually blame humans for the troubles within the world. I mean, look at this violent and pain-filled world we live within! If a God has stepped away to leave us here, then I don’t think he needs to be revered or loved anyway—at least that’s my opinion!
            Nietzsche perhaps thought the same as he stressed the idea of the Ubermench and how only one of our own kind can save us from this harsh world in which we are all forced to live and work. True, his theories favor survival of the fittest and violence under some circumstances, but I think he is completely correct in asserting that only from the ranks of humans will we find any kind of guidance and comfort. It is certainly a romantic notion to look to the skies for guidance and answers to life’s questions, but in an age where people no longer fear the creaking sounds coming from the woods, why wouldn’t we put our faith in something that we can see and understand? Human kind is something to be celebrated! We are finally reaching an age in which we can have worldwide peace and celebrate each other’s differences while also working together in a global economy, trading and making goods for each other. Many of the countries with which we communicate also subscribe to other religions—we, as a human race, have taken enormous strides since historical religious disasters such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades.
            So when Nietzsche suggested that we allow one of us to step up as a sort of demi-god or leader, I am going to have to agree that this is a more reasonable explanation than waiting for some massive being in the sky to come and judge us off His morality. Humans need to make their own morality and stand as leaders of their own lives. Why wouldn’t we? It seems crazy that we would bow down to something that is not there, forsaking and alienating other human beings, and creating splits in cooperation for the sake of religion. And I am talking about any religion, as I said at the beginning of this paper.
            Thomas Aquinas, a theologian who I actually like a lot, also attempted to explain why God (the Christian God, specifically) must exist. In order to explain this, he used an example of someone finding a clock randomly. This person, according to Aquinas, must then postulate that someone, or something, made this watch. Aquinas then expanded this theory to include everything in our world—if we see it now, and it works perfectly, who then is the watchmaker?
            This theory is an interesting idea, and I have certainly struggled with the idea of how we are here and why this world even exists for me to experience, but David Hume points out that just because it appears that someone made this universe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone did. This is a good point that Hume makes, but I also have a few comments on what Aquinas said. If he were around for me to debate with, I would ask him why he so adamantly assumed that it was the Christian God specifically who made this world. Why not Zues? Why not Apollo? Why not any of the other gods people have worshipped over the years? Perhaps he didn’t even fathom this possibility because he lived in a western world where they only entertained western ideas. It is certainly true that the western world has been ardently Christian until recent years, so his tendency to only entertain the idea of the Christian God seems to make sense—but it does leave some holes and prejudices in his philosophy.
            Hobbes believed that God was more like some huge machine who created the world and left it pretty much alone after that. Many thought Hobbes was a disguised atheist, so good for him in my opinion, but he received much criticism for his views. It does not bother me that he is an atheist, but Hobbes’ low view of  humanity seems to sprout from the Christian tendency to believe that there is something wrong with humanity that only a all-knowing God can fix. Hobbes commented that humanity was “nasty, brutish, and short” as they are driven by base desires of lust, jealousy, and violence. I think it is unhealthy to sit around and talk about how horrible human nature is—instead, Hobbes could have been more productive if he focused on the positivity in human nature. Maybe he would have been less of a misanthrope if he concentrated on the successes of human nature instead of wallowing in their downfalls.
            Voltaire seemed to have a more positive view of human nature than Hobbes. He ridiculed Leibniz’s view that this is the best of all possible worlds, but points out the futility of sitting around being absurdly hopeful in the face of events that are unfavorable. As an answer as to how we should deal with monstrosities and unfortunate events in our lives, Voltaire in Candide, suggested that we simply cultivate our garden—or attempt to do something positive in the world instead of waiting around for others or a god to do some good. Voltaire’s is perhaps one of the best working philosophies I have studied—and certainly the most simple! True, the world is filled with a lot of pain and misery, but Voltaire puts the responsibility of change in the hands of humans. I feel that this philosophy is akin to Nietzsche’s as Voltaire charges humans to have influence over their own lives instead of waiting around for a god to come and save them or make the world better in some way.
            So at this point of my life, I would definitely consider myself an atheist. But when I was still struggling with exactly how I would define my religious views, Pascal’s Wager struck me as very interesting. Pascal basically said that we might as well believe in God (the Christian god) because the repercussion of just believing would be way better than not believing and risking eternal damnation. Is this really faith though? I don’t think so. But also, what kind of wonderful God would even send his creations down to Hell?—but that is another conversation, I think. Anyway, Pascal’s Wager was definitely something to think about when I was struggling with my faith, but in the end did not really end up affecting my decision. I feel like my opinion on Pascal was actually influenced by one of Descartes’ philosophies; when he comments that God must exist because we can fathom this concept, this philosophy seems to flow both ways. I think it is possible for a god to exist in one person’s reality but not in another. At least this is how I have reconciled people’s strong belief in god with my own disbelief. Good for you if you believe in a god, but sorry, I don’t. And I don’t think that because of this I will be punished in any way for not believing or being sinful or whatever. 
            After we die, I think blood stops pumping through our brains and that’s it; but people can believe in whatever they want while they are alive as long as it does not harm other people. I personally do not believe that anything is going to happen after we die, but if it comforts you to think that, go you. But there is no reason to feel any sort of hostility towards me or people of other religions—because I certainly have seen this before! Maybe they are threatened from my disbelief or feel alienated because I do not subscribe to their beliefs, but people need to quit splintering and alienating each other on this planet. If one thing is certain, our time here on this planet is exceedingly limited, fleeting, and short; so can we all get along for the time being?

            At least that’s my philosophy. Human beings are awesome! We are the most highly evolved and intelligent things on the planet. So why don’t we quite bowing down to something that may or may not be there and celebrate our amazing lives that we have now? Maybe a god is there, but if he or she wants us, then they will have us. I don’t really think our wants or needs or actions will have much to do with it in the ends. All I know, is that I will continue living my life as usual as I have as much fun and laugh as much as possible. That is my philosophy at least for this moment. I try to be as optimistic as possible. I consider myself a good person and I do not lie or hurt anyone intentionally. I think on this earth we are supposed to enjoy our lives, never mind how we got here! If there is a god, let him or her come over here then! But I am not going to spend my time worrying about it. I am going to truck along in my little life, happy to be here, and happy to be alive. 


  1. Nice survey, Savannah, and (in the context of our region and some of our peers) a courageous profession of your personal belief. "The fact that I believe this is the only life I will live makes my life all the more precious." Exactly. Your glass-half-full approach is refreshing, and inspiring. Enjoy your life, be happy, good luck!!

  2. P.S. I once considered Nietzsche my favorite philosopher too, and still enjoy reading him. But ultimately I agree with Wm James that "poor Nietzsche's antipathies" towards happiness-seeking humanity in general, and religious believers in particular, are corrosive and unhealthy. My suggestion: read more Mill, Hume, Voltaire, James... and realize that we're all seeking many of the same things: life, meaning, happiness, hope. Reserve antipathy for the narrow-minded bigots of whatever persuasion. Live and let live.