How Do You Know?
It's been a while since I posted something about Aquinas, but his arguments for God's existence still occupy my thoughts. These days, the debate over whether or not God exists has shifted. We don't hold a medieval worldview anymore. Aquinas believed his proofs were as much scientific as they were theological, but now there is an ever-widening gap between scientific language and theological language (not necessarily science and theology -- just the language the two camps tend to employ) which many people have a difficult time bridging. Many contemporary thinkers think it's unlikely that a scientific demonstration of God's existence can be given. They point to Aquinas' prior faith in God as the basis for the proofs he offers. In other words, Aquinas believed in God and reasoned from that belief to a pre-determined conclusion. Of course, the same can be said of Hume and others on the other side of the debate. People tend to believe what they believe and reason outward from the belief.
Some have even come to question what terms like "God" and "exists" actually mean. If God exists, how does God exist? The traditional notion of God as a personal, loving Father and all-powerful Creator who is actively involved in our world, who desires community with humans is now seen as naive or superstitious.
Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was one of the most important and influential theologians of the last century. He suggested a new definition of faith: "Ultimate Concern". Tillich was an existentialist and claimed that God doesn't exist in the same way everything else exists. But he followed that up by saying that if God doesn't exist in the same way everything else exists, then maybe God doesn't really exist at all.
Tillich came to believe that the representation of God in the Bible is really a picture of ultimate human experience. He rejected the belief in a personal God and said that God was really just "the ground of our being."
If that language sounds a little inaccessible, it is. It took a man named John A.T. Robinson to translate these ideas into popular language. In 1963, Robinson published Honest to God. In it, Robinson suggested that the life of Christ contains an example for all to follow and insights for all to share. Rather than viewing Jesus Christ through the lens of deity, he said, we should view him through the lens of human potential. The truly good life became actualized in Jesus and was now possible for the rest of us. That, he said along with Tillich, is the real truth and strength of Christianity.
The language and nature of the debate over God's existence has shifted substantially, but the fact of the debate has not. People exist. The world exists. But does God exist? And if so, how does God exist? And how do you know?
When I was a kid, we used to sing a song called "He Lives!" The chorus went like this:
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.
This is what is known as "The Argument from Religious Experience". I know it because I've experienced it. But is that a good enough reason? Would that kind of argument ever convince someone else?