Self and deity

I read a bit of Julian’s Atheism: a Very Short Guide earlier today and there was a bit I wondered about. It gave me pause. He’s comparing belief in God with belief in the existence of the self – one’s own, that is.

For many religious believers, their belief in God’s existence is of comparable strength. They feel the truth of God’s existence so strongly that they can no more doubt it than they can doubt the existence of their own selves.

Is that true? I wondered. I don’t know that it’s not – but I wonder. It seems implausible. It seems implausible because (as we all know via Descartes, of course, if not in any other way) it’s not the same kind of belief or truth-feeling or inability to doubt. We can’t (I think) even imagine not believing we ourselves exist. We can imagine believing we’re in the clutches of the evil demon, in the matrix, all that, but we can’t imagine believing we don’t exist, because if we did we would immediately wonder (unless we’re very absent-minded) who that is doing the believing then. But no other belief can have that kind of strength, or force, because no other belief has that trick up its sleeve. Unless of course I’m just wrong. I’m curious about it. I could ask Julian, but I don’t think he has time for my footling questions.

His point is interesting, and no doubt right: that arguments are beside the point for most religious believers because arguments aren’t why they believe in god to begin with. I’m sure he’s right about strong belief – but I wonder if it can be as strong as belief in the existence of one’s own self.

I suppose for people who believe in an immanent god it could. You just believe your self and god (and all selves) are the same thing – so you need to believe in just the one. I don’t think that’s really what Julian meant though, since he wasn’t talking about mysticism and inner experience and so on. But maybe it is what he meant all the same. Anyway it’s given me an interesting puzzle.

Good book, by the way.

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