Since time immemorial mankind has believed in a higher power, a creator no less, one who can control our lives and environment, can reward or punish us, can provide rain and sunshine when required, can grant us offspring, can promote or blight crops, can endow us with riches, or even can pick us up from any gutter we have fallen into.
Why is that? It emanates from a stark and basic fact that us mere humans very early on realised that we simply don’t understand what is going on in the World! When man looked up into the skies, particularly at night, there was a moving and fascinating kaleidoscope to behold – an unknown far away land beyond human reach. Other matters were of course equally beyond man’s control, but ones that could destroy lives and communities – like lack of food and water, or decimation by disease. The concept of a God was an obvious outcome – a power that really could control things, an entity that could be persuaded to help us mere individuals. In the early days, mankind looked for help to the perceived powerful forces of Nature – the Sun, the Moon, the Wind, the Rain, the Rivers, the Seas, etcetera (with worship and appeasement galore).
Human beings, being like they are, in past times tried to solve the puzzles of the Universe, and in particular some tried working out what was going on with the movement of the planets – many paying a high price for their curiosity and insight (as their deliberations were regularly deemed to be anti-God – and had to be severely punished!).
These days we have what we might call ‘organised’ religions – communities & groups of common-minded believers committed to living according to their sect’s particular teachings about their God/Saviour/Allah. In today’s World, Christianity is the largest group (over two thousand million) , followed by Islam (say one and a half thousand million), Hinduism (about a thousand million), Buddhism (half a thousand million), and numerous smaller religions including Judaism (a dozen million).
The big problem with some ultra devout religious folks is that, despite often the basic philosophies of their own God, they can be very intolerant of non-believers – to the extent that they think it is OK to kill them off! Christianity had in the past its day going in that direction, but it is now the extremist Muslims who are setting about destroying the image of their Islamic faith by disgusting acts of violence against the non-faithful (despite the faith’s stated acceptance of all God’s prophets).
In past centuries, Christianity strictly operated the stick & carrot approach to life on Earth – after death, the promise of never-ending rewards in Heaven for the good & righteous, or perpetual burning in Hell for the bad & evil (the threat of internal damnation seems to have dropped-off a bit these days though!). Meanwhile Islam seems to be driving home the enticing concept of Paradise as the after death destination of the most faithful – and the disturbing offer of special rewards for martyrdom, which is obsessing the most radicalised Muslims.
People often turn to their God in times of trouble and strife – and there is no shame in that is there? It might best be explained by the poem ‘Footprints’:-
One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to him, and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. he noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that at the worst times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. How could you leave me when I needed you the most?”
The Lord replied ” My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of suffering and when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Anyone who has prayed to their god to have a loved one snatched from the yaws of death and life destruction and be granted a miracle will know deep down that belief, however tenuous, brought hope. Those whose call doesn’t get answered, possible suffer the doubt of their god’s willingness to help them – but some said that god moves in mysterious ways don’t they?
There are certainly many who do not believe in any god whatsoever. The question is often asked “If there was a god surely he wouldn’t allow that devastating volcanic eruption/ that civil war/ that gas explosion/ that plane crash/ that earthquake/ that tornado” “If a god existed they would intervene and stop the evil ones in the world – stop the child murderers” etc. “A true god would punish the wicked while on earth and reward the good surely”. It is difficult to argue against such criticisms when there is still so much heartbreak in the world. There is no logical answer or explanation available to us peoples to these issues though – nothing we are capable of understanding anyway.
Belief in a god requires ‘faith’ – a unsighted acceptance without actual proof. Many millions take this blind leap into the dark, while others are the undecided doubting Thomas’ (agnostics), whilst non-religious and total disbelievers (atheists) total about ten percent of the World’s population.
The complexity of our World, and even simple gravity, denies the conception that it all happened by chance – that life with it’s unbelievably intricacies of DNA and the like was brought about by a random burst of radiation or something of the kind? Somebody who has experienced the birth or development of a baby might remain dumbfounded that it is said that this can all happen by some random ‘natural selection’. Those who have been involved with animals, or even the smallest of our World’s creatures, or perhaps just our basic plants, will be spellbound by the underlying mechanisms that support such life on Earth. How can it be explained?
Science doesn’t in any sense disprove the existence of a god (as has been claimed by many in the past!), and in many respects it challenges the irreligious to explain where we and the Universe came from doesn’t it? Discovery after discovery about how things work in our World, only increases the unanswerable questions about our existence; say for example the most recent announcement on evidence (from a South Pole microwave telescope) of the ‘beginning of time’ – evidence from fifteen billion years ago suggesting the split second first events in the BIG Bang theory at the start of everything – which only leads to further unsolvable puzzles surely?
[You don’t have to believe in a god to be a good person do you though?]