How Can I Believe?

God? Gods? A God? Goddess?

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably seriously questioned how on earth you can believe in any form of supernatural being. Or perhaps you wonder how you can believe in any of the world religions which seem to be a quagmire of complicated doctrines that people argue over incessantly to no avail.

I’m sorry, I can’t help you! Because it is hard.

A vast majority of the human population professes some form of faith. Some form of belief in a higher power. This in itself raises an interesting question. Is our desire for “religion” innate; Part of our makeup somehow? An evolutionary failsafe developed to placate our growing self-awareness? Or is there something to it?

I’ve been taking a course in the history of Western Philosophy this semester and what strikes me is how many philosophers have argued for the existence of God. In some ways, it seems to have been one of the primary discourses of philosophy up until the modern period.
One particular writer who I have found interesting is Anselm of Canterbury, an Italian bishop who lived in the 11th Century and was considered one of the greatest minds of his time. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury (in Catholic England) and is considered a saint in the Catholic and Anglican Church.

His idea that God is “that of which a greater cannot be thought” can at times seem like a ridiculously stupid argument and at others, pure genius.
His basic argument being that if you don’t believe in God, you must concede that you can think of the idea of God and understand the idea of God as something that transcends all other things. i.e. the greatest thing that can be thought.
But then he says, if you are thinking of something which nothing greater can be thought, then it must exist, because if it doesn’t, then it isn’t something which nothing greater can be thought! Because any existing thing would by default be greater by the mere fact that it exists!

There is obviously more to his arguments (see Proslogion) but my point is to show that the intellectual discussion and reasoning that went into many philosophers’ discussions about God was remarkable. This is in stark contrast to how people perceive “believers” today.

But perhaps the hardest thing to wrap our heads around is why there is suffering in this world. In light of the terrible conflicts and terror attacks around the world recently, you can be forgiven for questioning whether a divine being exists and if it does exist, what is its nature that it leaves us to suffer? There are of course arguments and discussions around this topic, but much of that rhetoric falls flat in the face of the reality of human suffering. You cannot spout philosophy or apologetics to a mother who has lost her child.

I remain, however, positively biased towards God’s existence. I mean this in the sense that even though I may doubt, I have not written off the possibility of a God and I have not written off the possibility that I can know something about this God; that relationship is possible. How we achieve this relationship? That is a question of faith!

The last few months have been quite a rollercoaster ride for me personally. Living in Leuven is amazing and I love my course immensely (despite the stresses!). I’ve learnt a lot about myself too, about my strengths, my faults and how to approach both of these things. I’ve enjoyed intimacy and I’ve hurt people, I’ve been reckless and I’ve been too cautious, I’ve been joyful and I’ve been terribly sad. And this is where, perhaps, philosophy falls short because what is logical about emotion and life and pain and joy? And this is where, perhaps, theology steps in and says, “I am not sure either, but I have some ideas.” And finally, faith steps in and says quietly, “I’m here.”

Lord my God, teach my heart
where and how to seek You, where and how to find You. If You
are not here, 0 Lord, where shall I seek You who are absent? But
if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You as present? But
surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is light inaccessible?
Or how shall I approach unto light inaccessible? Or who will
lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?
– Anselm of Canterbury