Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Be Your Self

14517722_6bbc8e79c8_mHad He willed they would not have been idolators. –  Sura 6, “The Cattle”

The existence of evil, or, more banally, base disobedience of God’s word by the vast multitude of human beings, must in some ways be explained by monotheism. If God is all-powerful, in fact, singular in His omnipotence, how do you explain the existence of evil without admitting that it too, like all else above and below, was created by God?

Similarly, since God has sent down his Word and therewith his Law via sundry emissaries, how is it that so many, indeed the majority of humanity, either fail to heed it or denounce it as false (adhering instead to their own regional or familial creeds)?

The idea that God created evil (the Devil, drives, temptation) and then bestowed Free Will upon Man in order to test his fidelity seems far-fetched. Why would an all-powerful Being operate in such a neurotic (or, really, passive aggressive) fashion?

The alternative (if you are not going to jettison monotheism altogether and retreat into a polytheism that does not suffer this conundrum) is to state forthrightly that God created Evil and, moreover, that God determines who will obey and who will not.

Hence the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination, for example, or, a thousand years before it, the words of the Holy Quran where we find in Sura 7, “The Wall Between Heaven and Hell,” Aya 178: He alone is guided whom God shows the way; and whom He leads astray is surely lost. (This is echoed later, in Aya 186, “Whosoever God allows to go astray has none to show him the way, for He leaves them to wander perplexed in their wickedness.” and indeed repeated throughout the Quran.)

“Whom He leads astray….” How many can get to that and appreciate and worship a God who willfully leads some astray? Of course, Islam aside, how else are we to understand the monotheism espoused my Judaism or Christianity (or Zoroastrianism, if you want to get technical)?

And have many considered that, when we look out over the vast sweep of history, broadly speaking, or burrow into the unique experiences of every individual who has ever lived, we would not be able, following the model of monotheism offered in the verses cited above, to distinguish a reality created by God from a reality which has unfolded in His absence?

In other words, truly consistent monotheism and atheism, from the standpoint of observable reality, are indistinguishable.

Which brings us to the preeminent secular commandment: “Be Yourself” – a notion emanating from Emerson and Nietzsche, sacralized in the Sixties (not to mention countless movies, sitcoms, and television dramas), and now central to the concept of authenticity that the social media gurus of today wield like an iron hammer.

You are as God wills you to be. Thus, when you are “yourself,” you are submitting to the will of God, as is proper. However, when you are not yourself, then you are also obeying the will of God, since you could only not be yourself if He willed it to be so.

We can no more escape ourselves than we can act against the will of God. You are always already yourself, even when you are not. If God wills you to not be yourself, than “not being yourself” is how you are.

And therefore, I believe, the insistence on “being yourself” is really driven by the frustration and disappointment associated with the fact that this is, in fact, impossible.

Image source: mrmystery.



God is dead. – Nietzsche
Nietzsche is dead. – God

In America, and apparently some parts of the developing world, it can be very shocking when you tell people that you do not believe in God. Indeed, even among America’s educated classes, you’ll rarely hear an expression of outright atheism (though you will encounter a fair amount of agnosticism).

I asked a friend once why this was and he replied, in effect, that people claim to be agnostic mainly because they are cowards. At first I thought he meant that they, like Pascal, were basically hedging their bets. I mean, what if they’re wrong? Better not to commit either way.

Now I believe that he was pointing instead to their fear of communal opprobrium. Agnostics don’t fear God, after all (if they did, they wouldn’t be agnostics). The only thing they have to fear is Believers.

For my part, I’ve tended to be fairly forthright about my atheism. I do not believe that God exists. At the same time, being of a rather philosophical bent, I’m not entirely comfortable with that manner of expressing things. Why? Well, it all depends on what your definition of “is” is.

You see, we humans tend to have a pretty strong physical bias when it comes to “existence.” When we say that something exists in the course of daily conversation, one can safely assume that we mean “physically” exists. And to the extent that we are particular in questions of fact, we have some fairly rigorous and straightforward standards regarding proof of physical existence.

For example, one should be able to supply fairly precise coordinates of an existing entity’s location in space if one wants to definitively claim that it does indeed exist. One should also be able to specify it’s mass, its physical dimensions, and so on. (In the case of those “objects”—electrons, black holes, photons, etc.—for which precise location or exact mass, among other things, may be difficult to establish, we have mathematical models and experimental procedures that provide a great deal of circumstantial evidence from which existence can be reasonably inferred, if not postively demonstrated.)

Unfortunately, the existence of God doesn’t lend itself to such procedures and demonstrations. If it is argued that the reason for this is that God does not exist “physically,” then I must respond, “Well, then, in what sense of the word ‘exist’ does God exist if not in the physical sense?”

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