Following on from my topic The Christian calling is to love selflessly I hope to show in this topic that acts of selfless love would be much less prevalent in society if God’s existence were to be proven beyond all doubt and that a belief in God should not therefore be rejected merely because there is ambiguity regarding his existence.
Moral ambiguities cause us to express our inner character
Most of the moral dilemmas that we face are obscured by ambiguity. We might, for example, want to buy an item of clothing such as a jacket. Equivalent jackets might be available in various clothe stores, some at prices beyond what we wanted to pay, whilst others at prices that are more affordable. We could then go on to question why the jackets are priced differently. If the qualities seemed equivalent then we might suspect that the affordable jackets had lower production costs, probably benefiting from worker exploitation in developing countries.
Of course, none of the clothe stores would advertise their worker exploitation, so our moral dilemma is immediately clouded by ambiguity. However, this ambiguity actually gives us the freedom to express either our inner morality or even our inner immorality. We could, for example, take the highly moral approach and decide not to do anything that could potentially encourage the exploitation of workers in the developing world. We could say that the act of simply searching for the best bargains would ultimately encourage clothe stores to cut prices and that the resulting price competition between stores might ultimately result in further cost cutting and further exploitation of workers in developing countries. This would clearly be a very moral approach, which, if we followed through with our actions, would require us to selflessly pay more for the jacket than we would otherwise need to.
Alternatively, our inner moral dilemma could result in an action that was more favourable to ourselves. We could conciliate our conscience with the knowledge that the clothe store might not be exploiting workers or even argue that any exploitation was not our doing and, therefore, not our responsibility.
The moral ambiguity will have then given us the freedom to either make a highly moral decision or to make a decision that benefited ourselves. If there were no moral ambiguity then the opportunity would be lessened. If, for example, every clothe store that benefited from worker exploitation, either directly or indirectly, was forced to advertise the fact then our decision to buy a more expensive jacket would be driven by a sense of obligation or a desire to keep our conscience clear rather than generosity of character.
The moral ambiguity made it possible for us to make a decision based on shear generosity. Our conscience would have been clear whatever our decision, but we had the opportunity to say, ‘Just in case there is a chance that my money will encourage worker exploitation, I will pay more.’
Our purpose is to love selflessly
In the same way, our tendency or otherwise to believe that God exists reflects our inner morality because his existence is unproven. I’ll explain my reasoning next. (I’m not trying to say that all followers of religion are automatically more moral than others; there are many reasons why people can follow a religion and not all of those reasons are moral.)
In my topic The Christian calling is to love selflessly I explained that I believe the most important calling for a Christian is to love selflessly. This selfless love is sometimes called ‘agape love’ and is an unreciprocated love. In others words, it is the kind of love that makes the receiver feel better than the giver. As you can imagine, it’s a challenge to love in this way.
Our selfless acts are more generous when we are uncertain about God’s existence
It is perfectly reasonable to say that if God existed he might be calling us to love selflessly. However, it’s also perfectly reasonable to expect that the challenge to love selflessly does not suit everyone. If our preference is for a different, more self serving kind of love and we are confronted with the challenge that God exists and that he is calling us to love selflessly we have three choices.
The first choice is the one we would be least likely to take; we could believe the challenge, but decide to reject the challenge to love selflessly. I say that it’s the one we would be least likely to take because the act of believing and rejecting the challenge is fairly self condemning, in the sense that it is a judgemental statement of our own character and it is an acceptance of any consequences associated with the rejection of the challenge.
The second choice is the easiest to take. We could deny that the challenge is true. In the same way that we could earlier deny that the cheapest clothe store might be benefiting from worker exploitation, we could say that God’s existence is unproven and that the challenge can therefore be ignored.
The third choice is the one that I believe to be the most honourable. We could honestly consider and investigate the challenge and, if it seems reasonable to us, then we could say to ourselves that, although we are not entirely sure that God exists, we would like to strive to love selflessly and accept God’s calling for our lives. I’m not saying that the mere act of following a religion is honourable, but the act of sacrificing our own desires to love selflessly because God might exist is definitely both honourable and generous.
Again, it was the ambiguity of God’s existence that gave us the opportunity to make either a decision based on shear generosity or a decision that benefited ourselves.
If God’s existence and calling were proven beyond all doubt then I suggest that we would probably be more likely to try to accept the challenge, but also more likely to fail. Our actions would no longer be those of generosity and self sacrifice, but actions of self preservation as we seek to appease God. The very call to love selflessly itself would be invalidated as we made vain attempts to act out the lifestyle that we felt God wanted from us, whilst our motives to love selflessly would be overrun with a desire to keep God happy with us.
Does God’s unproven existence form part of a universal moral test?
I suggest then that the very ambiguity that surrounds God’s existence is not a reason to dismiss his existence. Although, Jesus himself was never ambiguous about the existence of God, the Bible describes in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 (verses 13-20) how even he warned the disciples not to reveal that he was the Christ, relying instead at that time on the interaction between a person and God as a source of the revelation. The process of ‘discovering God’ might in itself be part of a moral test, a challenge that we either accept or reject. I don’t find it surprising then that Jesus himself seems to hint at this in various places in the Bible, including the Gospel of Matthew chapter 13 (verses 24-30, 36-42) and chapter 25 (verses 31-46) where he describes how all of mankind are being/or will be sifted according to their morality.
It’s a challenge to us all that the seemingly inconsequential decisions that we make daily may be justifying or condemning ourselves. Please, continue to investigate the evidence of God’s existence, possibly by reading some of the other topics on this website.