OurIndonesia – It happened only once that this question came from my mouth, yet still the mere memory of uttering it makes me feel quite uncomfortable. “Do you believe in God?”. The person who had to hear it from me is one of the dearest beings that live on this planet, so back then I was just very gently made aware that the question was wrong. Last week, I felt on my own skin not only how wrong but also boorish the question was.
During some more academic session on religion, a lady asked me “So do you really believe in God?”. I was baffled. Feeling uncomfortable to hear such question from a person whom I never met before, I changed the subject. But she came back requesting an answer with flat yes or no. I replied with question: “Do you have orgasms?”.
It was impolite, yet the two questions had something in common – answering them was disturbing. Both questions related to the kind of experience which only the person asked would know if it is there or not. And even supposing it is there, one cannot be really certain it is.
Mark Johnston in Saving God (2009) makes a distinction between God and what one sees deep inside his heart and knows there is a god. Indeed, it would be difficult to know that our god is really God. Johnston mentions three conditions we can determine by looking into our hearts: that we believe there is God; that we believe our god is God; and that we believe in our god. Yet do we actually believe in God then? We believe that we believe… This is already most personal and intimate.
We can see a difference between asking whether God exists or not, and whether a person believes in God or not. The latter is like forcing somebody into our own patterns of believing: if we believe – into how we believe, if we do not believe – into how we think other people believe.
And this is quite low, for somehow our concepts may be too shallow and conventional to fit other person’s subtle thought. Saying “yes” the person would accept the frame structured in our possibly very limited brains. But maybe he or she would not really want to be reduced to it?
This is where answering “yes” becomes so odd and disturbing, it could be that the person would say “yes” to what is inside his heart, but he would not feel like saying “yes” to what is inside our hearts or brains. Saying “no” is equally uncomfortable. It could mean that the person clearly refuses to accept our idea of god which is already included in “Do you believe in God?” question. And this means the end of discussion as well.
This article was originally published in IslamLib.