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On the surface, just another flippant remark by Oscar Wilde. It is easy to overlook the full depth of the observation while admiring the perfect use of his favourite technique - a kind of semantic reversion that juxtaposes the banal with the unexpected and turns everyday concepts on their heads ("Work is the curse of the drinking classes" is the perfect example).

However, as is often the case with Wilde, once you stop and think about it, you find a wealth of ideas to be considered.

Is belief impossible without disbelief? Say one believes in Christ, surely that means the same person does not believe in the Greek gods? So, is Faith, with a capital F, really just another privative?

Or is it the case that true, deep and abiding faith is impossible without a preliminary process of searching through doubt and examination? So, is the blind and loyal faith most religions require of their followers really a perversion of the true principle?

I'm sure there are more angles from which this issue can be considered. I don't presume to know them all. I just can't stop being amazed and awed by the elegance, brevity, humour and ease with which Wilde characterises people, social phenomena and, as in this case, whole metaphysical concepts.


I found it a little difficult to find a proper pronoun to substitute for god/God. You would think that god gets his own pronoun. While I would like to use shis/sher, a foreshortening of super-his and super-her, these pronouns exist only in my head. I then must use his/him/he to piggyback atop a shared cultural understanding of the terminology. As will become readily apparent, I hope to leave behind some of the more traditional ideals associated with God. God has no gender. Gender is a biological trend aimed at doubling life's chances at success in the evolution game. God created this game one rainy Saturday afternoon, listening to Joni Mitchell LPs1. Also, I try to inject some levity into what can be an arguably substantive topic.

What is so great about faith?

What is it about this human activity that is so laudable? Empathy, compassion, generosity: these I understand as goals to shoot for, but why faith? Does it help your fellow man if you have faith, a belief in something with absolutely no evidence to support this belief? Does it help god? Or does it help only you? Sidestepping that last question, what about faith helps god? The Christian God (most notably in his Jesus Christ pose) wants you to have faith. According to Judeo-Christian beliefs, if God set up this world with a specific goal in mind, it must be to cause human beings to have and engender faith. The idea that man isn't the sole purpose of the universe isn't even on the table, so that possible argument won't even be considered. Christians have an indefatigable ego that assures them that God's reason for creating the entire universe, of which we are an infinitesimal part, is man. Furthermore, one of Jesus' parables details how faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains.2 It is essential in securing access to heaven, where there is a lot of landscaping work to be done. Unfortunately all of the contractors are destined for hell, hoarding their precious earth-movers and other tools. God needs you in heaven and he needs you to acquire skills not usually associated with the pious, righteous, and price-gouging.

In the movie Being John Malkovich, we are treated to a quirky adventure about a group of people that fight over the chance to be John Malkovich. Aptly named movie, I know. But let us dare shift that focus from John Malkovich to God. What could you see? Would you even see at all? Why would God limit himself to the barest sensory devices he created for the clay-borne humans on that third rock from a star in the outer spirals of the Milky Way galaxy? God's senses encompass the entire universe; he experiences human joy and pain, but also the travels of a photon speeding by Jupiter on its way to interstellar space. If we are to believe that God is the Alpha and Omega, then God very much is the universe in its entirety.

Throwing God a Surprise Party

Merely to dwell on the idea for too long is enough to cause the average human brain to explode. God is all knowing. God is never surprised, not because God has clichéd powers like seeing into the future. Time is a construct that God created for the benefit of this universe and the Earth's population of smart yet angry man-creatures. God is the creator of time, not subject to it. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. The aforementioned "beginning" is referring to man's (or more accurately, this universe's) beginning, and not God's. God cannot be surprised, because surprise involves the not-knowing of something, followed by the sudden knowing of something. God has never not-known anything. This comes with being omniscient. God cannot be surprised, and God cannot learn anything. God already knows everything that has ever been and that there ever will be.

This should be a stumbling block for Christians, apparent as it is in the glaring lack of continuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In the vernacular, the god of the Old Testament is quite the mean bastard, while the god of the New Testament is one chill dude into things like forgiveness, and requiring faith in Him for eternal salvation. Why the sudden change of personality, God? Did you pick up some new ideas in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble? We've already established that God can't learn anything new. God already knows every book from the Oprah Book Club that ever was and that ever will be. And if I may continue to beat this dead horse, God doesn't even think in terms of time. I find it difficult to conjure a story that would be sufficient to explain how and why God would (or could, an idea expounded upon here) change his mind. Yet an attempt must be made.

God vs. Time: A Thought Experiment

Try this conjuration. God communicated with the world directly in the times recorded by scripture. His countenance would shine, his wrath would be known, he was always talking to prophets, and he even terrorized the god-king Pharaoh of Egypt with snakes and blood and even more awesome dark-metal curses. Some will say that God still communicates with the world, and cite 9/11, but then I elbow Pat Robertson in the jaw and yell, "Shut the hell up, Pat, nobody asked you!" The point is, that while God is not subject to time, he is time's master and can well enough use it to be perceived by his worshipers over a time-line.3 God has already created and played out the entire story of humanity, and knows how it will end, because there is no such thing as a beginning or an end for God. It is almost impossible for us to envision what a five or six dimension universe might be like. It is just as difficult to imagine a universe without time. To help man, and man's meager brain, God causes man to perceive his personality as changing over time. This is me attempting a possible explanation.

The first question upon hearing this is of course, why? Why would God, the omnipotent and omniscient be-all and end-all want humanity to perceive him as capricious and/or arbitrary? In the Old Testament, it is clear that Yahweh is the god of the Israelites, and as such, is a god amongst many other tribal and foreign gods. The transition from polytheism to monotheism certainly happened to the Semitic people around the area of Judea at some point, that point not so clear from a reading of the Old Testament. The scriptures of the New Testament, the Book of John especially, paint a much different picture of a purer monotheism where God is clearly the Creator of all, even evil and the Devil. Why would this all-powerful being want to be perceived as fickle, or as having evolved from an angry father-figure to the cooler, younger, and much more laid back Jesus character? Perhaps God is exactly what the world needs at that time, right? Maybe the people on Earth need God to be like Jesus now, and the people of the Earth prior to 2000 years ago needed a gaffer that was more of a Yahweh character. But if you open that door, you're going to let in a lot of buddhas.

Wherein, We Stop Picking on Christianity Alone

If we were to address the buddhas4 and get their story, we would hear an interesting variety of tales coming from varying personalities. The Buddha inhabits the spirit of his age in order that he may best be able to help humanity end their suffering and reach enlightenment. Helping people escape samsara to exist in nirvana is exactly what the Buddha is all about.

The early Pali texts names six Buddhas who lived before the historical Buddha, and one who will come after, who is Maitreya. Theravada Buddhism teaches that there is only one Buddha per age, and the Buddha of our age is the historical Buddha, the person born Siddhartha Gautama in the 6th century BC. (A)
It is quickly apparent that this idea is radically different from Christian monotheism. But then, Christianity's flavor of monotheism is confusing in its own right, because of this idea termed the Trinity. For the unfamiliar, the trinity represents God's existence as three-gods-in-one, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Reconciling one God, The Creator, with the veneration of three entities has been the cause of much consternation and theological debate ever since the beginning of Christianity. From the Council of Toled (675 AD), we get the following.
Although we profess three persons we do not profess three substances but one substance and three persons … If we are asked about the individual Person, we must answer that he is God. Therefore, we may say God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; but they are not three Gods, he is one God … Each single Person is wholly God in himself and … all three persons together are one God.
To the non-believer this reads as equivocation, pure and simple.5 Seeming contradictions, like the trinity6, are the result of establishing a brand-new religion while co-opting the history (and only sometimes the tradition) of an existing religion. For the non-believer, employing Occam's razor, the disparity finds an easy explanation. Judaism is a religion complete unto itself, while Christianity is something different altogether. The Christian grasp may simply be unwilling to let go of the tenure gained by claiming ancient roots, hoping it may bolster their beliefs. They may not need it anymore, but it's much to late to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Perhaps the founders of Islam liked this idea, but were aware of the contradictions Christians face because of it. Since they were in fact the second group to co-opt Judaism, Muslims claimed the legacy of Judaism while discarding the scriptures of the Old Testament, claiming them fallible and the authorship of man. Thus was the Q'uran given to Muslims by God, with the promise that it would be protected from less-divine authors with itchy quill-fingers. Henceforth, this will likely be a stipulation in all scriptures.7


While scripture can be edifying for some, the pure history of religion is a fascination in its own right. Even more intriguing is man's capacity for faith despite the trappings of logic and common-sense. Reading the traditions of Judaism passed through three great world religions, I am reminded of kids at play in their backyards.

Kid A: Bang! Bang! I shot you, Billy! I shot you! You have to fall down!!

Kid B: Nu-uh, I have uh, I have... bullet-proof armor! Your bullets bounce off me!

Kid A: Ha! Yeah right, these are armor-piercing bullets that go right through armor!

Faith has something to offer us; more specifically, it has something to offer you and something to offer me. There should be no "us" when it comes to religion and matters of (personal) faith. I may have the kind of faith to move mountains, and still it would not afford me the right to dictate my beliefs to you. Furthermore, no one has this right. God does not support one nation over another. God hates your football team, and God never reserves parking spots. Man's great sin was to bring God out of the heart of the individual and into the political sphere, where He reeks of power and judgment. Faith should seek to strengthen the heart and resolve of one man; it should not pardon the violence of invading nations, nor condemn the morals of your neighbor. Faith should have a constant audience of two, the individual and the individual's God.

1) I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. Stephen F Roberts

2) Surely faith would have the power to maintain Einstein-Rosene bridges or deposit the beginnings of organic life in a far off planet. I simply presume to follow this argument to its logical conclusion.

3) Since I have never met a Christian who claims this idea, I will not consider the idea that God's first name is Demi. In Christian theology, God is the Alpha and the Omega, the be-all-and-end-all, as it were.

4) Buddha or Buddhas? I'm not sure.

5) If we follow the theory of a different spiritual leader for each age, one supposes that we need not worry about the trinity for much longer. Once the next guy is on the scene, the quadrinity will confound theists.

6) In the movie Religulous, even Bill Maher is brought up short by a Jesus character in Jerusa-land™. God is like water, he says, solid when cold, liquid when tepid, and steam when hot. A very good spin on the idea, methinks; Thomas Aquinas would have been proud.

7) Ha-HA! I'm Jesus III, but all those scriptures that contradict my new book (and themselves oddly enough) are only contradictory because MEN screwed them up. I, Jesus H. Christ III, have written this one myself. No one gets to change anything. Furthermore, gather the weenies and s'mores because we're about to have a big ole-fashioned book-burning.
A http://buddhism.about.com/od/whatsabuddha/a/whatsabuddha.htm
B Philosophy of religión: a reader and guide by Craig, William Lane
  Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/christiantheology-philosophy/#Tri
C http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judea
D http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0815241/
E http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Christian

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