Absent and present

May 11th, 2008 | By | Category: Spirituality

Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby is unconvinced by religion,

‘If you were God, why would you absent yourself from earth?’

No answer.

‘I mean, what is the point in divine terms of being not here? What purpose does that serve?’

Still no answer.

‘Traditionally,’ I went on, ‘it’s explained as a “test of faith”. But if God was evident, then you wouldn’t need faith, would you? So it’s a circular argument. It looks like it’s also an ex post facto one, doesn’t it?’

‘What do you think?’ said Dr Sen.

‘I don’t think that a wise God would conclude that the advantages of being absent outweigh those of being present.’


‘The consequence of being absent is that you place a heavy premium on blind “faith”. You leave belief open to human credulity. You make religion open to perversion by politics and fanaticism.’


‘Better to turn up, I would have thought.’


‘I mean, if Woody Allen knew that ninety per cent of success comes from showing up, you’d think the Almighty could have figured it out too’.


Not really.

Engleby’s argument rests on his perception of what is meant by ‘present’. Because the God he doesn’t believe in is not present according to his understanding of what it is to be present, he believes God is absent and that religious belief is therefore “blind faith”.

But to say God is absent is as much a statement of faith as to say that God is present – neither is verifiable because God, by conventional definition, is infinitely beyond humanity and therefore not susceptible to scientific methods

Certainly, credulity leaves religion open to politics and fanaticism, but religion has no monopoly on fanaticism, as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot would testify.

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  1. Isn’t the presence of an interventionist God a human construct? We wrote and rewrote the Bible, not God. It’s strange, we choose to ignore God most of the time but when under pressure we pray and thank God when the ‘intervention’ is positive. Can’t have it both ways I feel which is why I struggle so with the concept of ‘faith’ and the portrayal of God as something ‘humanish’ rather than ethereal.

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