Conscious Religion part 3 - If God did not exist...

Published: Mon, 05/15/23

Last Monday evening we showed the film Easy Rider at the Norwood Nites Film Club. Yes, it was my suggestion, but the response was very positive from those I spoke to afterwards. Iduna insisted on coming with me too and the deal was that if she got bored we would text Venetia to come and collect her. She lasted about two thirds of he way through the film (with several whispered questions about what was going on? And what were the characters up to?) before being collected by her mother. Just after Iduna left came the scene where Wyatt and Billy are waiting in the brothel for their ‘company’ to arrive. The room is decorated with a strange mix of imagery and text and Wyatt (played by Peter Fonda) lingers particularly on an inscription which reads: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’ (Attributed to Voltaire) As much as anyone can figure out what Easy Rider is about, it could well be a metaphor of the journey as
a search for meaning in life. The Wyatt character (Fonda) not really learning anything he didn’t already know, and Billy (played by Dennis Hopper) having no idea what he is really looking for anyway. Or, maybe it is just about riding motor bikes? Having seen Easy Rider many times over the past 44 years (first time was at a late night showing at the Pheonix Cinema in East Finchley in 1989) I might be qualified to suggest that: ‘If the film Easy Rider has no meaning you might as well project onto it your own.’
According to Wikipedia: ‘Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, including the first principles of: being or existence, identity and change, space and time, cause and effect, necessity, and possibility.’ The Question of whether or not God exists has always been a challenge for metaphysics with four possible answers.
The first answer is materialism (or, by way of a belief system, scientific, secular, materialism) which suggests that the universe has always existed on the material plane and has no need of a God or gods.
The second answer might be called animism or pantheism. The word ‘Animism’ comes from the Latin ‘anima’, meaning breath or spirit, which suggests that all things within the universe have a distinct spiritual essence. Pantheism is the belief that the universe is identical to divinity, so God is the universe.
The third option is Deism, which suggests that the universe was originally created by a supreme being of some kind. However, once this ‘creator’ had done his work he took no further interest in his ‘creation’.
The fourth option is Theism which suggests that God pre-exists the universe, has an existence outside of his material creation, and yet ‘fine tunes’ and maintains an active interest in creation and what happens within it.
For most of history it seems that people believed in a creator God who. ‘In the beginning made the heavens and the earth.’ As it says in the first verse of Genesis. In the time of Issac Newton it came to be believed that the universe had always existed. Therefore if it ever was created, it was so long ago that the deity responsible must have forgotten all about it. Hence the idea of ‘Deism’. By the 19th century this idea was morphing into materialism with ideas like Darwin’s natural selection ‘explaining’ the existence of life with no need for a creator. If you were spiritually inclined you could still believe that the universe was animated by spirit, or indeed that the cosmos has a divine purpose of its own, without actually believing in a transcendent being.
Then, with the 20th century comes the development of cosmology and the study of the universe using tools and instruments such as radio telescopes. The observation of an expanding universe, and the background signature of some extraordinary event around 13.4 billion years ago, led to the idea of what Astronomer Fred Hoyle sarcastically dubbed the ‘Big Bang Theory’ of creation.
It seems to be generally agreed today that the universe was suddenly created out of nothing at a certain point in time. However, for an environment to exist where life as we know it can flourish, constants such as the speed of light, the force of gravity and many other factors have to be very specific. There is no inherent reason why the constants in our universe should be exactly as they are. Yet, somehow we are where we are because this is a ‘Goldilocks’ cosmos (not too hot, and not too cold).
You could say that it was just blind luck the universe turned out the way it is. Some materialist scientists promote the idea of ‘multiverses’, the idea that all possible universes actually exist simultaneously, we just happen to be lucky enough to occupy the only habitable one.
Or, the universe was created by a God who wanted a home for creatures to live in time and space, and he fine tuned the universe for just such a purpose.
For most of history people have intuitively believed in a creator God who takes an active interest in his creation. For a century or so materialism rejected the need for God. Now, modern cosmology presents a compelling argument for a creation event. According to Stephen C. Meyer in his book ‘The Return of the God Hypothesis’, you need to do some pretty clever philosophical acrobatics to explain the existence of a habitable universe without accepting the existence of a creator. Scientists such as Stephen Hawkins have attempted to come up with equations which explain an accidental cosmos. However, apparently such sums can only be made to add up if you fake some of the numbers.
Does it matter? Perhaps if human beings seem to be making genuine progress in all aspects of life then who needs God? And yet towards the end of Easy Rider the George Hanson character (played by Jack Nicholson) laments that ‘this used to be a hell of a good country, I don’t know what happened to it’. By the end of the film, all three main character have come to a sad end. (Sorry for the spoiler).
I think Dennis Hopper was pretty disillusioned with the state of the world when he made his film nearly 55 years ago. And yet the film also contains so many images of great natural beauty along with stories of people who are genuinely striving to make a better world, even if they might seem destined to fail.
More than 85 years ago Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that man makes a religion of his highest social values. However, true religion has a profound uneasiness about our highest social values since the creator God so far transcends the limits of finite man.’
Perhaps the big questions are simply: Why a finite universe should be created? And what are we doing here living in it?
PS Direct contact with nature can do a great deal to restore our confidence in the wonder of the universe. We get too isolated from reality for too much of the time. So, please join us at Stavcamp for three days at Silver wood in the depths of the Linolnshire countryside at the end of June and the Start of July full details at
PPS If you don’t want to wait until June to train don’t forget the day course on the 27th of May at Tickton, East Yorkshire. Details here
Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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