July 28, 2011 by jamesessj
Just finished Divinity of Doubt, the new book by Vince Bugliosi (prosecutor of Charlie Manson and author of several true-crime books and, in recent years, polemicals against George W. Bush and the Supreme Court), which is his paean to agnosticism — which he terms the only legitimate and rational approach to the question of Does God exist? I wholeheartedly agree — always have — which drew me to the book, particularly since I’ve read numerous volumes in recent years attacking the issue from the two competing sides, atheism (Chris Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, for example) and belief (Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity?, for example), but had yet to come across a defense of my own point of view, namely, you’re both nuts.
Bugliosi makes the obvious, and yet somehow entirely overlooked, point that a critique of Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Islam, or any system of belief, is in no way an argument against the existence of God…it may be an argument against one religion’s version or interpretation of God, but to say that Southern Baptists, to pick on my personal heritage, believe some pretty wacky things is only to say that Southern Baptists believe some pretty wacky things. It’s an argument against the Southern Baptist God, not the overall notion of God.
Having made this point, however, and demolishing atheism’s pathetic and generally mis-targeted arguments in all of one chapter, Bugliosi then goes on to dedicate most of the book to demolishing the Christian/Catholic belief structure. His arguments are those of a prosecutor, a mind that accepts only the provable, the demonstrable, the empirical. Which is the mindset I have always tried to bring to these questions, under the philosophy (which Bugliosi repeats), Why would God have given us these giant brains if He didn’t expect us to use them? This is, of course, to cede the existence of God, but no believer I’ve ever spoken to has ever been able to answer, satisfactorily, this fundamental query. In fact I had the discussion with my partner (who’s Mormon) just a few days ago — his response was that his faith is “like a sixth sense.” In other words, he can feel God’s presence, similarly to feeling a person’s looking over his shoulder. I asked him what sort of God would create him with this preternatural ability to perceive that deity, but me without it. His answer, infuriatingly all-explanatory (and all-excusing), was that our life here on earth is a test, and my inability to perceive God is simply part of that test.
Which leads to Bugliosi’s biggest argument, and one that I’d not heard couched quite the way he does. Many atheists/agnostics use the problem of pain and suffering as the ultimate argument against the existence of God — what kind of God would create a messed-up world like this? But Bugliosi takes it one step further: we all die. From the moment we achieve self-identity, we know that one day we are going to die. It cannot be escaped — the idea rules our lives, either in endless existential angst or merely in deciding not to speed on the highway, for fear of a fatal accident. Bugliosi’s question is, What kind of God would do that to us?
More broadly speaking, If God exists, what does His creation tell us about Him? If we look at the evidence objectively, the only conclusion to come to is that God is far more the capricious, jealous, vengeful god of the Old Testament than He is the loving, caring, personal God Americans tend to believe in. Life is harsh; life is cruel; life is arbitrary; life, as someone is constantly reminding me, doesn’t owe you anything. Why did God create the world this way? He’s all-powerful, no? He could have created any universe, any earth, any human race, any way He wanted to…just why did He choose this way?
Same question I posit to Christians when they go on about Jesus dying for our sins — this issue, too, Bugliosi raises — why did Jesus have to die for our sins? Because Adam sinned in the first place? But God created Adam…and, God, omniscient, knew before He created Adam that Adam was going to sin…meaning, God must be one hell of a sadist, to have condemned every human being who’s ever lived for that one sin. And what was the sin? Eating an apple. For this, literally billions (if not trillions, by now) of humans are burning in Hell?
Ridiculous. My one quibble with Bugliosi’s book is that, in the brief chapter he devotes to other religions, he manages to be oh-so-politically correct with regard to Islam. He presents a history of the religion, and then makes the entirely predictable comment that very few Muslims are radical Muslims. He spends an entire book decrying Christian doctrine, but can’t spend one sentence decrying Islamic? Granted, earlier in the chapter he’d called these other religions “as silly as Christianity or Catholicism,” but that’s a far cry from dissecting their beliefs with the vigor and vitriol with which he tore apart Christianity and Catholicism. The courage of your convictions, Vince…the courage of your convictions. The very fact that you’re unwilling to speak a harsh word about Islam (and not in the sense of its being a “dangerous” religion, but rather, in the context of the book, its being a dopey and irrational religion) pretty much mitigates your contention that very few Muslims are radicals. If your book had been published in Pakistan and had gone after Islam the way you go after Christianity, you would be a) dead or b) in hiding for the rest of your life. Christians, at least, are capable of agreeing to disagree.
I do fear, in my irrational moments (i.e. 24/7), that I am missing something. That Matthew, my partner, is correct. That I was born without the ability to perceive God. But then I remember that, if this is so, it is only so because God made me that way. A parallel could, in fact, be made to homosexuality. God made me this way, then he consigns me to Hell because of it? I don’t know if God exists or not…but I pray (pardon the pun) that He doesn’t, because from all the evidence I can gather, He’s one mean Son-Of-A-Bitch.