People who do not believe in God, or are afraid to believe in God, often make predictable assertions to support their position. They will often start with a mocking supposition about an old wizard or some such image who sits on a throne in the sky. Well, duh. No mature believer takes those images literally any more than they still believe that their doll’s hair will grow back overnight, or that wishing their stuffed bunny is real will make it so. No, we have outgrown childish things, thank you very much.
Another argument points to how badly people behave who claim to believe in God. Well, again, no surprise. Of course, humans behave badly; that is a big part of the whole story. Have you read our sacred books? Good grief, it’s nothing but lying and murder, greed and adultery and every sort of mischief, about from the beginning. Adam screws up and blames both Eve and God! Before long, our partner in conversation points to the sexual abuse horrors of the modern age. There are no excuses for this. Religion, of course, isn’t the only arena with a flawed priestly class. The fact that scientific experiments often lead to no useful knowledge doesn’t keep people from vigorously asserting we must follow the science. Some scientists torture beagle puppies and other ones discover how to vaccinate against polio and rubella. We do not throw out the world of “science” because some of its clergy are pretty terrible.
Doesn’t all this magical God stuff just give us an excuse to not learn things? This intriguing question seems rooted in the confusion between parable, history, poetry, wisdom texts, and other types of books in the Bible. Nowhere in Scripture are people charged with staying as dumb as possible, and many scientists will admit that the more they learn, the more apparent it is that what comprises the material world does not seem to be mathematically possible as a random series of events. What is obvious, perhaps, to a physicist like the late Father le Maitre, the Belgium priest who first came up with what is now known as the Big Bang Theory, is a bit harder sell to regular people.
This leads to a particularly interesting argument: if God really exists, it would be obvious, and not just to Jesuit scientists. How obvious, you might ask, and so would I. As obvious as a Marvel Comics super hero? Would God look like a Durer woodcut, wearing what were called JC leather sandals, and making a peace sign? Would the bad people be punished, instantly and with schadenfreude-gratifying anguish by a lightning-wielding Viking in the sky? Despite the childish imagery, our non-believer wants to pin believers down on the issue of God’s supposed invisibility. To believers, though, God’s existence is clear as day, although sometimes it is recognized on reflection and not in the moment. Still, God is obvious, as obvious as a gorilla in the middle of a basketball game.
Of course, I am referring to the famous and oft-replicated experiment designed by Chabris and Simons in 1999. Given the task of counting how often the basketball was passed between one team’s players, almost 60% of the subjects failed to see the person in a gorilla suit walk through the basketball court.
Yes, perfectly bright people stared at a short film clip, diligently counting basketball passes and bounces, and failed to see the obvious. Other scientists, around the world, have replicated this experiment with much the same outcome. People focused on a task will ignore the obvious, even a person in a gorilla suit strolling through a basketball game. How much of a stretch is it that we miss other remarkably obvious things in our environments?
I imagine most people think they would be in the 40% or so that would notice the gorilla, but statistically, that’s unlikely. We can’t all be above average. More likely we all ignore, or fail to attend to, amazing things every day, selectively riveting our attention and discounting other stimuli as irrelevant or interference. One listener’s static is another’s radio transmission.
The non-believer, and perhaps, at times, almost all believers, have some confusion about what is, and is not, God’s job. I know I suffer with this one, too: don’t we all ask for things and view the apparent “no” or “not yet” as rejection, like when Mom or Dad once again says “no” to ice cream for dessert? Sometimes it takes a long time to see the utility of experiences, because a believer has to learn to see things, to the extent possible, through a different perspective – a God perspective.
We will die. That’s inevitable, and death seems to be easier for people who have made peace with the people in their lives, with God, and with at least most of the processes of aging. It must be easier to let go of this life without too much reservation, when one has, often slowly and painfully, surrendered so much: health, beauty, quickness of body and mind, social power, loved ones, valued roles in our relationships. Every loving mother (I am not a father and cannot speak to this) knows that our children move on from each level of parenting before we are ready to let go, and those practices of having part of life that is important to us peeled away is preparation for eternal life. Imagine how painful it must be for young people who are terminally ill or terribly injured and facing mortality, who have not had the practice of surrendering, over and over, to the losses of life. A believer looks back over this pattern and can see, very clearly, where God was present (all through it) and how the love and compassion of God was extant in some people around them, the coincidences that were not coincidences at all, the seemingly random moments of pure, abandoned joy.
If you are preoccupied with the tasks of the day, riveted on a to-do list and the self-created commands of your bullet journal, do not be surprised if you miss the obvious, even something as obvious as a gorilla in the mix.