"Do you credit a Most High God?"

John Scalzi recently described himself as "an agnostic of the 'I'm almost certain God does not exist, but intellectual honesty requires me to admit I just don’t know' stripe." That's a belief I have a lot of respect for.

I'm both similar and opposite (yes, I can be both). I'm certain God exists and cares for us, but intellectual honesty requires me to admit I could be wrong.

I said I have a lot of respect for beliefs like Scalzi's, and that's because there isn't proof of a God -- not in the way we want there to be. If there were, the internet would have a lot less to argue about. And so of course I struggle with my own belief.

I'm certain God exists; I wouldn't be out here, doing what I'm doing, if I thought He didn't -- I'm just not that good. But why am I so certain? That's harder to quantify, and certainly I can't do it in a way that would irrefutably convince an atheist I am right.

But I don't believe blindly. As I said, I struggle constantly. I question why I believe what I do, and why others believe what they do. I question every word I teach my kids, refusing to teach the Sunday School lessons I was given unless I believe them myself. I frequently answer their questions with, "I don't know." I teach them what other people believe. Most importantly, I teach them that I won't ever make them follow God, that they have to make that choice for themselves.

To the point of this post, sci-fi/fantasy is usually so unabashedly atheistic, that I am always surprised -- quite pleasantly -- when it speaks directly to my own heart struggles. The passage below is from SFWA Grand Master Gene Wolfe's The Wizard. Sir Able, the narrator, is a knight more noble than any I have ever read about, who wrestles daily with what it means to be good and honorable. The sister of the king meets him in secret on an unrelated matter, but during the conversation, she asks him if he believes in God.

I'm sure it won't hit you the way it hit me, but I have to share it anyway, because I see a lot of truth in Sir Able's answer:

"Do you credit a Most High God?"

The question caught me by surprise. I said, "Why of course," stammering like the boy I pretended not to be.

"I do and don't." She smiled, and the smile became her laugh. It was music, but I never ached to hear it again as I did Disiri's. Even then, I thought her less than human, and that laugh was at the root of my opinion.

"I don't and I do." She cocked her head like a bird.

I bowed again. "Just so, My Lady. We can think only of creatures, of things He's made. Creatures are all we know, and can be all we know until we know Him. When we think of Him like that, we find we can't believe. He can't be like a creature any more than a carpenter is like a table."


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love that you're touching on this subject! And I know what you mean about the atheism of most SF&F (well, most books really). I suppose we compartmentalize because we don't want to offend; but I love deep questions like this, in fiction as in real life. I think I'm not alone in that.

(Remember that book I was afraid to write? I'm starting it soon. :))

Faith E. Hough said...

Wow, that's quite a quote. I find the atheistic view of many sci-fi/fantasy books disturbing...but at the same time I feel that others have expressed faith better than a book of realistic fiction ever could. Lewis and Tolkien are givens, of course, but there's Madeleine L'Engle (with her beautiful, searching faith--she never let herself think she knew it all) and Susan Cooper... And even for authors without as firm a faith, the medium allows for some wonderfully probing questions to be asked. (I'm thinking particularly of T. H. White's struggling with faith on the pages of his books.)
I've never been more angry at a writing event than when an author had the audacity to say in a speech, "Everyone knows God doesn't exist, so we have to stop writing as if he does." (He thought it would be a good idea to totally eschew metaphor in our novels...) I mean, I feel sure that God does exist, because I see His hand in my life so clearly--but I would never be so arrogant as to begin a talk, "Everyone knows God exists." Faith is a gift, and a very personal one. I think it's better to present questions and ideas than to think we have all the answers.

Ted Cross said...

I'm a Scalzi-type, but have you read the Deryni Chronicles? That dealt with religion fabulously while having a terrific story.

Matthew MacNish said...

That last line is quite the analogy. Really beautiful, actually.

I don't really like to talk about faith on the internet, partly because I struggle with it too, and partly because I don't like to offend people, but I think you know where I stand on the question.

I also really like the way you talk about God. It's one of my favorite things about you, in fact (first place is your writing, FYI). I like that you say believe. Believe is a good word. It's a very English word (Old English, West Saxon, Proto-Germanic), but essentially it means "to love into existence."

That's different than faith, I think, and somewhat more comforting.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Scalzi pretty much describes me to a T. But i'm definitely a live and let live person. I respect people of faith as long as they respect others and themselves.
I've also always been super...impressed isn't the word i'm looking for but it's the best my brain can do before breakfast...by what you do in response to your faith. I wish there were more people like you in the world

Sarah Ahiers said...


Believe is a good word. It's a very English word (Old English, West Saxon, Proto-Germanic), but essentially it means "to love into existence."

holy crap, matt. That's awesome

Matthew MacNish said...

Tee hee. Isn't it though? You know me and etymologies.

Cap'n Heine said...

Teaching people that "I don't know" is a perfectly valid answer to any question anyone poses about someone's beliefs is the most important thing to teach in my opinion. We don't have to *know* everything. That's what faith is for.

Steve MC said...

I'm much like Scalzi at times, but what I believe varies day by day. I'm often torn by doubt about the big questions, and I thought I should be sure if I really knew anything, but then one day I thought, How expansive are your beliefs if they don't allow doubt?

And about Sir Able struggling himself, yeah, how heroic or moral is anyone who's born a saint and always knows instantly what's right? Even Saint Francis and Mother Theresa doubted. Sometimes it seems the point of being here is just that struggle, that challenge, and living with the fact that we'll never be able to figure it out with our heads.

Otherwise we'd all be on God mode and walking through walls and have nothing to share with people at all 'cause we don't know what they're facing.

Cool post, and thanks to Matt for that insight as well.

KayC said...

I try to live by the motto "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Whether it's God, faith, karma, or something else guiding my life, I don't know. But I am thankful it is there and I believe I am a better person for it.

Daniel Smith said...

Let me tell you about an irony: No one believes anything blindly. All belief is logical, based on the information available at the time, and this statement is not restricted to religious beliefs. You will never find a believer in anything that dedicated their life to something with no reason whatsoever.

I am a Christian, I don't think my faith is wrong, and I accept and respect that each of us has a choice to make. My own faith calls it free-will, a marvelous gift from the God that made us.

mathias said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mathias said...

I sympathize more with the woman and think she is more interesting for being so vilely degraded by narrative intent. It makes her all in all a more truthful and moving picture of humanity in my mind. Don't get me wrong, or don't worry about my "criticism" too much, and I have nothing against your feelings and opinion, but I think this depicts how Gene Wolfe's writing seemed to have become less complex after The Book of the New Sun, and also carries his latent trace of issues with women at open display. This is at least how I perceive it.

Myrna Foster said...

Yes, and the God I believe in wouldn't want anyone trying to force religion.

Unknown said...

A God Most High. That is a tough one. I do believe though I must admit that faith is often tested, but yet I still continue to believe. FYI - There is a new book out about Godwinks or chance happenings that many believe are the works of God. I also have chosen to write about God. My middle grade urban fantasy, Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers, deals with nephilims and therefore religion. I felt a pull to write it, a call if you will, so yes I do believe in God. He may not be the God I've been taught, but I think He is there.