The Epic of Gilgamesh was first written down by an unknown Babylonian scribe around 2000 B.C. It relates the heroic adventures of the semi-legendary ruler of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk about 2700 B.C. At one point, Gilgamesh seeks out an ancient sage by the name of Utnapishtim in order to discover how to avoid death. It happens that the gods awarded immortality to Utnapishtim after he survived a great flood that wiped out all the rest of humanity by building a large boat at the behest of the god Ea. In the manner of Noah, he collected his family and all manner of living things and took them along for the ride. As the waters subside, his boat comes to rest on top of a mountain. Quoting from the epic,
On Mount Nisis the ship stood still,
Mount Nisis held the ship so that it could not move,
One day, two days, Mount Nisis held the ship fast…
When the seventh day arrived,
I sent forth a dove, letting it free.
The dove went hither and thither;
Not finding a resting place, it came back.
I sent forth a swallow, letting it free.
The swallow went hither and thither.
Not finding a resting place, it came back.
I sent forth a raven, letting it free.
The raven went and saw the decrease of the waters.
It ate, croaked, but did not turn back.
Sound familiar? And yet people still stumble around on Mt. Ararat looking for the remains of Noah’s ark. Every few decades or so, they even find them, although they do tend to move around a bit. Go figure.
I’ve read a lot of religious literature in my day, and have never seen a coherent explanation of why, if God exists, he doesn’t just step out into the open and show himself. Of course, the religious have several rationalizations for this objection to their belief systems, just as they have for any of the other obvious objections one might name. The problem is, none of them make any sense.
For example there’s the “mortal man cannot behold such glory” argument, which implies that God lacks the power to dim Himself down sufficiently to appear to us in a way that would convince the general run of mankind of His reality. There’s the “He tried it once” argument, according to which he made a good faith effort by coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, but no one believed him anyway, so he gave up trying. There’s the “He couldn’t do anything that would make us believe, even if He tried,” argument, which applies similar shackles to the power of God, and requires Him to have a singular lack of imagination. Of course, there’s the “He’s just testing us” ploy, and the notion that by stepping out from behind the curtain, he would be violating our “free will.”
And the list goes on. The problem with all these rationalizations is that they’re unconvincing to anyone who hasn’t already make up their mind. Is God really so limited that he cannot come up with a way to reveal himself to us without blinding us with his glory? Was he really so demoralized by our incomprehension when he sent Jesus Christ (or Mohammed) to earth that he simply gave up and concluded it was impossible for Him to convince creatures He had created Himself that He existed? Can there really be any question of “testing” creatures who have used the mental equipment He gave them to the best of their ability and concluded that He doesn’t exist? Is there really some coherent reason why free will would disappear simply by virtue of Him showing Himself?
I have a suggestion for anyone who retains an open mind on the subject; apply Occam’s razor. If God doesn’t show himself in a way that is convincing to a species not known for its incredulity, in spite of the fact that he is supposed to be loving and merciful, and wants us to obey His will, and plans to punish us severely if we don’t, the most obvious and reasonable explanation is that He doesn’t exist. That conclusion becomes all the more plausible in view of the fact that the two biggest religions on the planet are mutually exclusive.
Apparently not. However, it doesn’t matter, nor does it matter that some people think religion is necessary for morality to exist, nor that some people think that religion is necessary to give us a purpose in life, nor that some people think that there are no atheists in foxholes, nor that some people think atheists cannot love their country or serve it loyally. In the end, what matters is whether there is a God or not. If God does not exist, then we are lamentable creatures indeed if we conclude with Voltaire that we must invent one and force ourselves to believe a lie because we are too weak to accept the truth.