Do you believe in God?

Jesus, surrounded by flies. Are they metaphorical as well as literal? Who knows?

There was an interesting article in today’s Observer: an extract from Martin Amis’s introduction to ‘The Quotable Hitchens’.

It’s full of fascinating quotes, rude (not quite as funny as Matin thinks they are) putdowns and perceptive observations, but the section that interested me most was an exploration of Hitchens’ forthright atheism:

Christopher’s personal devil is God, or rather organised religion, or rather the human “desire to worship and obey”.

Which I used to agree with more fully, but I’ve since converted to become a fundamentalist agnostic. Here Amis, clever bloke that he is, agrees with me:

My dear Hitch: there has been much wild talk, among the believers, about your impending embrace of the sacred and the supernatural. This is of course insane. But I still hope to convert you, by sheer force of zealotry, to my own persuasion: agnosticism. In your seminal book, God Is Not Great, you put very little distance between the agnostic and the atheist; and what divides you and me (to quote Nabokov yet again) is a rut that any frog could straddle. “The measure of an education,” you write elsewhere, “is that you acquire some idea of the extent of your ignorance.” And that’s all that “agnosticism” really means: it is an acknowledgment of ignorance. Such a fractional shift (and I know you won’t make it) would seem to me consonant with your character – with your acceptance of inconsistencies and contradictions, with your intellectual romanticism, and with your love of life, which I have come to regard as superior to my own.

The atheistic position merits an adjective that no one would dream of applying to you: it is lenten. And agnosticism, I respectfully suggest, is a slightly more logical and decorous response to our situation – to the indecipherable grandeur of what is now being (hesitantly) called the multiverse. The science of cosmology is an awesome construct, while remaining embarrassingly incomplete and approximate; and over the last 30 years it has garnered little but a series of humiliations. So when I hear a man declare himself to be an atheist, I sometimes think of the enterprising termite who, while continuing to go about his tasks, declares himself to be an individualist. It cannot be altogether frivolous or wishful to talk of a “higher intelligence” – because the cosmos is itself a higher intelligence, in the simple sense that we do not and cannot understand it.

This seems to be an illustration of another Hitchens quotation:

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

If there’s no evidence for the existence of God, and there’s no evidence for the ultimate non-existence of him/her/it either, then surely you can’t fully believe either way.

(Of course, I’m dismissing people’s ‘faith’, which by definition is belief without evidence.)

I used to be a reluctant atheist, who enjoyed the solidity of taking one side of a black-or-white argument. My reluctance came from the nagging doubt provided by many years of religion-based education (my school church was Westminster Abbey. We went there three times a week for half an hour of hymns, prayers and lessons and had a further morning of prayers elsewhere on Wednesdays. Thank God (sic) for Tuesdays and Thursdays) that never converted me to belief, but added enough to the existence side of the argument to make me doubt my doubt.

Anyway, a combination of Ricard Dawkins and (what I saw as) common sense convinced me that the idea of an omniscient, omnipresent uberbeing was, frankly, fucking ridiculous. But then I had dinner with Dave Trott a couple of months back, and he slipped in the agnosticism theory in a more succinct way than Amis did. He said that agnosticism was surely the only intelligent position to take.

I thought about that for a couple of weeks, and here I am, not believing in anything beyond my lack of belief.

But I’m curious: do you believe in God? And why?