Human Love and Divine Hiddenness

Back in June, I felt compelled to respond to a blog post by one of my Patheos colleagues, Bad Catholic, offering an apologetic for the argument from divine hiddenness:

God is love. What merit is it to know of God’s existence as a man knows the existence of his right foot? God doesn’t want our observation, nor our pitiful attempts to “prove” his existence — he wants our love.

This is one of the most obviously question-begging arguments out there. As I wrote in “One More Burning Bush“, it’s like saying there’s no point in filling my car with gas because that won’t get me to my destination. It’s not a sufficient condition, but clearly it’s a necessary one. If God exists and wants to be loved by humans, belief in his existence is a prerequisite, and making that existence known in some clear and objective way would remove one major obstacle.

Observation brings certainty. We see the tree and are certain of it. Our relationship is simple, call it I-thing. But with God, what’s needed is precisely uncertainty.

…For instance, my father calls, and before he hangs up, he says “I love you.” I do not know this to be an objective fact. I do not observe it with the certainty I observe the tree, because the words “I love you,” are an outward expression of my father’s subjective, interior life — a life I cannot know. From my perspective, his kindness to me may have been born out of no more than duty, the pressures of his surrounding moral society, or the desire to raise a child in such a manner that he does not become an embarrassment. In short, the words “I love you” may not be true, and no objective knowledge can eradicate their uncertainty.

I wrote in a comment on Bad Catholic that this is where the author contradicts himself. By his own argument, for his father to make himself known, provide definitive proof of his existence, and vouchsafe his love in clear and tangible terms still doesn’t remove the necessity of faith. So why doesn’t God do the same thing?

As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing faith-based about love. We build up confidence in its existence the same way we become confident about the existence of anything else: with evidence, namely, the acts of kindness and understanding that our loved ones show toward us. But even if love requires some degree of trust that the other person’s actions reflect their true feelings, those actions are still the essential first step. It would be bizarre at best, evidence of an unstable mind at worst, to insist that someone loves me if they’ve never shown any outward sign of it.

Let’s say I’m a test-tube baby, conceived by donated sperm, and I have no idea as to the identity of the donor. I don’t know who my biological father is, what he’s like, where he lives, whether he’s even alive, or if he is, whether he knows or cares about my existence. But in spite of having no evidence, I choose to believe that he loves me, that he’s been secretly watching me my entire life and is proud of my accomplishments, but that he’ll never show himself or speak to me because that would spoil the loving relationship we have. Would this be a reasonable belief, or merely the sign of a sad self-deception?

What a pitiful, boring world which elevates objective knowledge over belief! By belief I attain a greater certainty of what cannot be known than the certainty I have of those things that can.

Remember words like these when you hear anyone deny that religion is anti-intellectual. Religion absolutely is anti-intellectual, and this is why: because regardless of their level of education, regardless of the efforts they expend on sophisticated philosophy or theology, religious believers still have to spend their lives coming up with reasons to believe things that aren’t supported by evidence. And in nearly every case, they’ve elevated this to a positive virtue, claiming that it’s good to believe in things that aren’t supported by the evidence – even claiming, as this post does, that it’s better. I deny that, as the sheerly dangerous absurdity it is.

The world isn’t boring, but far vaster and more luminous, when we commit to seeing it as it is and not imposing our delusions upon it. I elevate the “pitiful” objective knowledge of vaccination over belief in exorcism and anointing with holy oil. I elevate knowledge of embryology and evolution over all the pagan harvest myths of dying-and-rising gods. I elevate the knowledge of the true age of the cosmos over 6,000-year creationist fantasies. I elevate our understanding of climate and ecosystems over belief in fairies and nature spirits. In all these things and more, objective knowledge is far superior to mere belief, not just because it allows us to lead happier, safer, more prosperous lives, but because the greater wonder is always found in knowing reality as it truly is rather than grubbing in the dust of ignorance and bowing down before man-made fables, which are always pitifully small and unimaginative by comparison.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.