Your God is too small

Published in The Gleaner on 9 Apr 2014 4 min read

Blame the Europeans.  Jamaica became a Christian country through the historical happenstance of slavery.  But the nasty reality of how religions spread, via bloodsoaked conquest and genocide, isn’t enough to discredit belief.  Though they might not admit it, many Jamaicans see our indoctrination as a blessing in horrific disguise—a kind of salvation through exploitation.  But as long as we’re looking at the larger picture, you should know that the god the Spanish brought, the one in the Bible, is way too small for the job.

For Christians, God is an eternal supernatural being who created and preserves the world, with a consciousness that loves mankind and actively intervenes in human affairs—hence the value of prayer.  Now, if this tenuous belief is all that’s keeping you from running down Half Way Tree naked and screaming, stop here.  We’re about to go big, then go home.

The universe is huge.  Really, really huge.  So huge that Earth-scale measurements, like miles, are too tiny to be useful.  We have to invent something new.  Light, the fastest thing there is, travels at 300,000 kilometers a second.  That’s a bit less than the distance to the moon, so you could say the moon is roughly one light-second away.  The sun, at 150 million kilometres, is about 8 light-minutes away.  The next closest sun, the Proxima Centauri star, is four light-years away.  Imagine that.  When you see its dot above you tonight, those rays of light left Centauri in 2010 and are only just arriving, despite zipping the distance of the moon every second of the way.

There are more stars in the cosmos than grains of sand on Earth

Now consider the entire night sky, a twinkling canvas of stars.  They are hundreds of light-years away, so remote that the light we see was born before Galileo.  Those distant stars are still our bosom buddies compared to the universe.  Our Milky Way galaxy, a hundred thousand light-years across and containing 400 billion stars, is only one of thousands of galaxies in a space so incomprehensibly vast that light travelling for ten billion years is only now reaching our powerful telescopes.  There are more stars out there than all the sand on all our beaches, and ten trillion planets in our galaxy alone.

An eternal, supernatural being could create such a mind-boggling universe, but Christianity asks us to go a bridge too far, and ascribes elevated significance to man, a speck on a rock in a swirl in the cold cosmic wilderness.

There are exactly two possibilities, neither of which bode well for the faithful.  One is that of all the countless planets, only ours has life, in which case you have to wonder why God would bother to put such a small biped in such a big cage.  We’re not even in the center of our solar system, which is on the outskirts of the massive Milky Way, which is haphazardly dropped in our supercluster of galaxies, so our address is irreconcilably arbitrary for creatures as important as Christianity wants us to be.

In an universe so vast, the God of the Bible makes no sense

The other option is that life is not, in fact, unique to Earth, but thrives in alien species on any number of planets scattered throughout the universe.  Since God must have fashioned them too, our privileged position (made in his image, ruler of all creatures and so on) evaporates as we get demoted to one amongst many lifeforms.  In either case, our puny existence in the grand cosmos makes a mockery of Scripture.

Now to state the obvious.  The Christian god was imagined when our horizons were much closer, when we were literally at the center of our world.  Restricted to what our eyes could see, the heavens appeared to revolve around us, including the sun and moon and stars, just like a souvenir snow globe.  We can forgive those gnostics for thinking small.  But it’s past time to break free of ancient limitations, and imagine a god as big as the universe, whose epic scale humbly reminds us life is only what we make of it.

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