I cannot believe in God. It would be inaccurate to say that I am happy or even comfortable with my particular condition, for I feel nothing but a gnawing emptiness when confronted with the rites of the religious tradition in which my mother attempted to raise me. Try as I might, I simply can’t conjure up those feelings that I imagine must be the hallmark of faith—and for me, at least, reason leads to the same spiritual dead end.
Unlike many atheists, however, I believe that the existence of at least one god, if such a thing could indeed be demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt, would offer humanity the possibility of substantial moral improvement. While I am satisfied that a universal code of ethics could exist independently of faith, and that secular communities and organizations can offer the same benefits as their religious counterparts, I maintain that God could still change the equation for the better.
At its essence, religion demands that we acknowledge our inferiority to some being or beings. In my opinion, all the pomp and circumstance is extraneous, purely ornamental. This notion of inferiority is apt to provoke discomfort amongst many of us at Harvard—why should we, the denizens of one of the world’s most storied institutions, devote any time at all to the consideration of our own fallibility? The ethos of Harvard is collective triumphalism: We laud our Rhodes Scholars. We tout our financial resources. We celebrate our competition-crushing entrepreneurs. We conveniently gloss over the many alumni who will lead quotidian rather than superior lives.
Great minds think alike—many secular thinkers across the centuries have shared in this conceit. Nietzsche famously lambasted religion as the apotheosis of the weak. I am more comfortable with the theory of one of his contemporaries, Feuerbach, who argued that God is merely an amalgam of ideal human traits that none of us could possess all at once.
Regardless, it is inferiority itself that matters. The problem with nearly all religious institutions today, however, is that they imbue people with a sense of inferiority for the wrong reasons. Many faiths are obsessed with homosexuality, non-procreative sex, and a whole host of prurient and often asinine concerns. Others make specific claims regarding ethnicity. Still others will go to war over historical grievances. The problem lies in the fact that this sort of condemnation is discriminatory rather than universal. I am not opposed to fire and brimstone preaching so long as we are all destined to burn in hell.
Some might object that religion should be uplifting rather than sobering, that faith should serve as a refuge for those who, owing to poverty or powerlessness, are abused by the world. In this respect, there are secular alternatives that should allow religion to do something that it is uniquely poised to do: show us that we are not god.
We needn’t necessarily wallow in our own wretchedness or believe that we are destined for hell, for human beings are magnificent creatures. As I argued earlier, we are capable of many great things without even considering a god or gods. The one thing that we are decidedly poor at doing, however, is suppressing our own hubris. Herein lies the beauty of a being that is, by its very definition, superior to every person on the face of the planet. No matter how much money we earn, or how many lives we save, or how many people we influence, there is always something greater. Even if our god is merely that of a deist, our particular triumphs remain paltry by comparison.
As I said, I sincerely wish I could believe in such a god. There are certainly alternative means of keeping one’s pride in check, but none is quite as effective as knowing that, no matter what, you are relegated to the status of best of the rest. If God exists, all hauteur is rendered comical. The emperor has no clothes. By contrast, the very real prospect that God does not exist puts us in the terrifying position of actual superiority—and as I study my fellow man, I can barely contain a shudder. I’d rather be the perpetual buffo than the very zenith of all existence.
Ian R. Van Wye, a Crimson editorial writer, is a history and literature concentrator in Mather House.
Vesper Service.The first vesper service of the new year was held in Appleton chapel yesterday afternoon. Rev. F. G. Peabody led
Appleton Chapel.Rev. George H. Gordon conducted services in Appleton Chapel last evening. He said that one man might serve another, but
Vespers.At the vesper service yesterday Professor Everett's remarks were suggested by the parable of the Prodigal Son. Too many he
RELIGION MUST GO HAND IN HAND WITH SCHOLARSHIP-GRANT"I'm trying to put religion on the map of intelligible subjects, so that every man can study it and the
‘If You Can Tell’ an Aching Meditation on Religion