The Bishop and The Turkey Egg

My friend – the ubiquitous writing partner you’ve heard about – is proof of God’s existence.

This is what people say: That people in your life are proof of God’s existence. This is when I say my own god – small g – is the god of the turkey egg.

A turkey egg is a lovely thing. A warm sand color, with brown specks. A couple of weeks ago, I ate a turkey egg for breakfast. The yoke was as large as two chicken yokes. The white was a little looser. The taste was not discernibly different.

That turkey egg proved the existence of God, capital G.

This is what people say. That is how believers argue. Everything bites or – in this case, pecks – at the tail of everything else. My shoe, for example, proves the existence of God. Anything I say or do proves the existence of God. The same is true, apparently, of everyone else on earth. We are talking about three, four, five, maybe six billion people. Each one is the proof of God’s existence.

This is what people say.

What we have here is a closed system of argumentation. God exists because he – or, as some say, she – exists. The question of God’s existence is exempt from all analysis. Logic and belief in God are mutually exclusive. God-believers use this circular argumentation to counter logic.

For example, logic says there is no proof that God exists. God-believers answer, as usual, You are proof that God exists. This is a clever but avoids the point. My existence, in fact, proves nothing about God’s existence, unless it is assumed – never proven, of course – that God created me.

Charles Darwin might comment: Evolution created you. Perhaps it created your God as well – although there is no evidence of the latter and overwhelming evidence of the former.

Sigmund Freud, in his little book, “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur,” or as we know it, ”Civilization and Its Discontents,” postulates that humans suffer a need for dependency. On the deepest level, they want a father who will protect them from dangers, calamities, disease, and – most especially – from uncertainty.

This last affliction is the most grievous one. Facing uncertainty requires self-reliance and intelligence and courage. It is not easy to live, let alone die, with uncertainty.

Two paths extend from this point, one could argue. The rule of human law, on the one hand; and the rule of laws ascribed to God, on the other. The latter are, of course, often formulated by and to the advantage of groups of men who claim access to and understanding of God’s intentions.

The path of human law I would like to think of as the rule of good moral codes, formulated over time by wise leaders. The Old and New Testaments are filled with moral teachings. Generally, as enunciated by thinkers from Kant to Martin Luther, the best of them, the good ones, say, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” Except that Kant made an exception regarding Africans, as Luther did for Jews.

In a reasonable society, moral codes would be based on this golden rule and moral reasoning would guide all human affairs. Reason would be the basis for deciding what is just and good. Reason would allow a conclusion that just laws create the good life. Qualities like generosity, kindness, innocent until proven guilty, and habeas corpus would protect people from tyranny that is based on stolen power or stolen legitimacy.

A king who says, I am the law, is an example of stolen or assumed legitimacy, that is, without the permission of the people. A high priest or a senator or a Congressman who says, God’s law is the only law, is nothing more than a small king claiming a legitimacy which is not supported by reason – that which is good and just – nor by the will of the community.

When Descartes wrote, cogitat ergo sum – I think, therefore I am, in my opinion he undermined all kings and tyrants, all fundamentalists, and many believers. Descartes freed men and women from the need for dependence on a father figure who decides for us whether we exist or not. If a person thinks, in the sense of using logic (cogitat), he or she does not say, God exists, or, Reason has nothing to say about the existence of God, or, The priest knows better than I.

Belief in God, then, requires the suspension of reason.

Fine, I can say, I will suspend reason, keep it in a little box, and open this other little box and believe in anything I want to, in order to satisfy my need for certainty. I will maintain that there is Rana Gigantesca, a Giant Frog, who will save me from disease, hunger, war and natural extinction. This supernatural being will offer me certainty in an uncertain world.

This attitude would be fine until I started persecuting others who did not believe in my giant frog. When I started burning these non-believers at the stake or taking their children’s heads off with my sword or with my cluster bombs, I would be following the worst consequences of belief. I would be substituting a murderous assumed legitimacy for the rule of reason and for good moral codes such as fraternity, equality, and liberty. Not to mention generosity, respect for all living things and – the greatest of these – tolerance toward others.

Not long ago, a woman – Katharine Jefferts-Shori, was ordained a bishop in the Episcopalian Church. She is the first woman bishop elected in the past 500 years. A well-known high priest of evangelical fundamentalists and self-anointed spokesperson for God’s intentions, sputtered in consternation, while being interviewed on the matter.

The woman bishop, he protested, had said that Jesus is our mother, and that Jesus is not the only way to God.

But I say, by saying these things, Bishop Jefferts-Shori allows the two paths to co-exist: the rule of good moral codes and rule of faith in the existence of God. The god she talks about is no longer the domineering stern protecting Freudian father. Rather she is the comforting and tolerant mother. The concept of Christ as mother opens the door simultaneously to both tolerance and belief. The new bishop was advocating more than one path to well-being and the good life.

The evangelist responded with undisguised amazement. He giggled in derision. He conceded something to logic and immediately constructed an analogy. The path to God, he said, is like landing a small plane on a fifty-foot runway. There is only one way to do it, so that you land safely.

Of course, within the logic of his metaphor, what he says is true. There is only one way to land safely on a fifty-foot runway, and that is with great skill and unusual amounts of luck.

Alas, the male evangelist’s assumed legitimacy as paternal spokesperson for God is not enough make a good analogy out of a bad one. Just by saying there is only one way to have faith does not make it true.

I accept the little box Bishop Jefferts-Shori wants to open, and I like the vision she gives of her god or giant frog as one of generosity and tolerance.

As for myself, I will continue to eat turkey eggs when they become available. I will continue to marvel at the beauty of their evolution, at the soft shimmering luminescence of their sand-colored shells with their brown flecks. Though they prove nothing beyond the existence of themselves, they are at least laid by the mother of the species, and that – in and of itself – I find comforting in this uncertain world.

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