When a man is born, he cries aloud while those around the scene rejoice at the arrival of the newborn. Later, when he dies, he lies down peacefully while those around him cry aloud and sometimes so bitterly. Some people believe that he goes to rejoice in the netherworld. The question of belief and its consequent answers should help us to understand that not all aspects of human life are reducible to scientific or mathematical interpretations. As Richard Creel says, “Reason is not a very effective tool for achieving happiness, if it were, we would all be a lot happier.” The act of belief in itself is not an experience that can be subjected to the faculty of the pure reason. However, it is essentially a human characteristic that is inherent in him thus separating him from other species of animals.
In the history of mankind, from Ancient Greece to the postmodern era, there is a shared belief in the unitary higher being, a creator, who is viewed as the source of all establishments in the cosmos. The aim of this paper is to establish whether or not a relationship with such a being, which we call God, is necessary for the fulfillment of the human person. Each individual at one point or another may be pushed to challenge his/her belief in God’s existence. This is because the human person has got a natural curiosity to find reasons for events that cannot be immediately or easily explained. Most of the queries, which concern belief in God, are attended to through or in religion. However, authorities in most religions have been notorious in cautioning their faithful against querying or deeper questioning of their beliefs. This is so because; there is a fear that they will find a handful of discrepancies, which may lead them to denounce their belief all together.
This presentation is divided into three chapters. The first chapter provides a background to the notion of belief in God’s existence. It is mainly focused on the Ancient Greek society and the traditional African society. The philosophers whose ideas are considered in this section are: Plato, Aristotle and J.S Mbiti. In the second chapter, the views of the Christian thinkers will be analyzed. It starts with the ideas of Augustine running through to those of Aquinas and finally settling on Karol Wajtyola the present Pope. The third chapter contains an opposing view drawn from non-theistic contemporary philosophers. It exposes the other side of the coin. Guided by Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre and Karl Marx, the aim is to figure out why and how the fulfillment of the human person can still be considered possible without necessarily believing in the existence of God. Each philosopher in each section will be dealt with separately but not independently.
The structure of this presentation allows it to develop a synthesis between blind faith and belief in nothing. This is only possible by an objective and independent inquiry of the two different positions putting aside all prejudgments and prejudice. Such an attitude is necessary because the greatest weakness of a good idea is to imagine that, that good idea is the best and only idea. This is why, with the help of the natural light of reason, all the concepts will face ferocious elucidation avoiding mere comparisons of thought but rather providing a comprehensive synthesis of ideas. Even though the subject of belief in God’s existence is too convoluted to be exhausted in this limited assignment, the design of this paper allows it to give sufficient information necessary for a better understanding of the topic itself.CHAPTER ONE.
A General Background to the Reasons for Belief in God’s Existence
This chapter is aimed at tracing the reasons why people have believed in God’s existence in the past. The main focus is on the Ancient Greek Society and the Traditional African Society. The Ancient Greek Society features mainly the views of Socrates, Athenian, Plato and Aristotle while the Traditional African Society is based on J.S Mbiti one of the renowned stewards of African Philosophy. Finally, there will be a systematic evaluation to synthesize the presented ideologies.
1.1 Reasons for Belief in God’s Existence During the Socratic Period
In the dialogues of Plato, God’s existence is differentiated from the existence of gods. More often that not, there is a presupposition that there is a God who regulates all the activities within and without the cosmos. This particular God abrogates all other gods. Socrates himself was accused of rejecting the gods prescribed by the Olympian state and consequently corrupting the youth with the knowledge of a God whom, he claimed called him to Philosophize. As a means to achieve an end in this section, Plato refers to belief as the third faculty of the soul alongside ‘reason, understanding and picture thinking or conjecture.' Belief plays a role of explaining authoritatively the facts that our thought reveals to us of the nature of objects that we cannot observe. The object of belief just like reason and understanding is truth and reality. The people who lived during the Socratic Period considered belief in God’s existence necessary due to several reasons:
a. God was considered as the one who put order in the universe.
b. God was viewed as the source of all goodness.
c. God was revered as the sole giver of life.
d. God was referred to as truthful.
e. God was seen as self sufficient and reliable since he does not cease to exist.
a. The origin of the cosmos is one thing that has not been justified empirically. Hitherto, there are only many speculations. Thaetetus figured out that the orderly reproduction in nature and its strife towards perfection must have been a result of an intelligent guidance. Even though there was a popular belief during the Socratic Period that the universe might have been a product of fire, water, earth and air, God was still considered as the one who put order in their composition. “God made them as far as possible the fairest and best, out of things which were not fair and good.” He organized the disorganization of the elements that were formerly basically amorphous.
b. God being the perfect author of what exists; He could only give his possible best. He fashioned the world in such a perfect way that is beyond the comprehension of man. This means that any form of defection is not and cannot be attributed to God. Plato affirms that God is only responsible for the being of good things. He says that “for the good we must assume no other cause than God, but for the cause of evil we must look for in other things and not in God.”
c. Consequently, since life itself is perfectly good, all life is from God. No other creature that is susceptible to corruption can be logically considered as the source of life. In the dialogue of Epinomis, Athenian says that God as powerful as he is, finds it “perfectly easy to give life to anybody or any bulk and then to set it moving as he judges best.” The human person has the duty to acknowledge God’s authority over life from whom all good things come. It is by believing in His existence that man finds identity and absolute fulfillment.
d. Another factor that pushed Plato to emphasize the necessity of belief in God’s existence was the fact that God was a clear example of truth and permanence. He alone does not change and thus he is deprived of the potentiality to deceive. According to Plato, “God is altogether simple and true in deed and word, and neither changes himself nor deceives others.” This was of course contrary to the Greek gods who had anthromorphosized characteristics, cheating each other and playing games upon men on earth.
e. Socrates too exalted the necessity of belief in God’s existence when he affirmed that the immaterial nature of God presupposes immortality. Just like the soul and other immaterial principles, God can never cease to exist. He is a reliable and eternally powerful worth believing God.
Finally, one interesting point that cannot be ignored is that even in the Socratic Period there was already an element of atheism. In the 12th book of the Laws, it is reported that some men had no belief in gods while others held that the gods had no concern about men’s affairs. But Athenian in another place takes up this issue with a young man named Clinias. He dismisses such positions as juvenile delinquencies and reinstates the necessity of Belief in God’s existence by saying:
My lad, you are still young, and as time advances it will lead you to a complete reversal of many of your present convictions. (…) Hence, I who have had the acquaintance of many such, can assure you that no one who in early life has adopted this doctrine of the non-existence of gods has ever persisted to old age constant to that conviction.
The Athenian advises the young man to keep calm. Sometimes, the youth, due to the fact that they are still growing in girth and in wisdom, tend to think that they know it all. A wise man is the one who doesn’t know everything. It is therefore easier for him to be taught. A fool knows everything. With time and experience, an individual finds more reason to believe in God’s existence. He also realizes the range of fulfillment gained from doing so.
It is therefore of great consequence to notice that doubting the existence of God was an activity, which was not taken seriously by the ancient Greeks. It could only be a theoretical position held by an individual but not recognized by the society. In fact, it was almost impossible to conceive of a possibility of not believing in the existence of God. Doing so would be the best-known recipe for brewing trouble both the individual and the society.
1.2 Aristotle’s point of view.
Aristotle was a student of Plato. He however deviated from some of the ideas that Plato considered paramount. This deviation is significant since it brings forth a different view on the reasons for belief in God’s existence. Plato had held that the ‘changeable and material’ things we perceive are representing perfect, eternal and unchanging forms. However Aristotle “abandoned the notion of independently existing, separable, external Forms.” By doing so, he uprooted the world of forms and transformed it into the material world. He thus concluded that the forms are inherent in the things themselves. Therefore, the role of God was not to create the forms or the matter but to bring order into the universe, which according to Aristotle has always existed. His basic notion is that “no description of the physical world that concentrates solely on material and efficient principles can account for the order and repeatable pattern of natural process.” God is therefore a divine organizing intelligence and a reliable source of inspiration for other existing beings including man without whom fulfillment would be unfeasible.
The main task therefore is to focus on some of the reasons provided by Aristotle to support the fact that belief in God’s existence is actually a pre-requisite for the fulfillment mentioned therewith. For Aristotle, God is a ‘subsistent’ thought thinking of thinking. If He is a pure thought as such, then it follows that he is the pure intellect since the intellect is the faculty, which houses thinking as an activity. In line with this, Aristotle in his Metaphysics, refers to the intellect as the “most divine of things manifest to us.” In line with Aristotle, it is apt to talk of God as a primary essence, immaterial in nature, pure actuality, “first immovable mover and one both in formula and number.”
As human beings possessing intellect, we are attracted to God who is the Divine intellect. Through this, man draws inspiration from God. In fact, “the highest possible way of life is that which expresses the highest element in us, the divine element of reason. (…) The intellectual life is the life closest to the way gods live.” It is thus reasonable enough to assert that belief in God’s existence can be a maxim on which we can base our strife to live a fulfilled life.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle clearly demonstrates that the fulfillment of the human person is only possible if life is based on a higher principle who is God. He authoritatively affirms this by asserting that:
It follows, then, that the activity of God, which is supremely happy, must be a form of contemplation; and therefore among human activities that which is most akin to God’s will. (…) The life of man is happy in so far as it contains something that resembles the divine activity; but none of the lower animals is happy, because they have no way of participating in contemplation.
As shown above, Aristotle suggests that the best forms of things are those that are derived from the act of contemplating God. The association that man as a believer has with God, through contemplation, makes him much more precious than other animals. The belief in God’s existence in this case can even be viewed in a higher sense as what gives man his special identity. Even though God for Aristotle is not personal, he is necessary as an object of inspiration as has been mentioned before. Therefore, man’s life will be haphazard in the absence of the activity of Contemplating God.
Finally, each individual is naturally inclined towards the good. In Aristotelian metaphysics, Good and God is convertible. This follows from the fact that Being is convertible to Good. God and good are viewed as the ultimate “standards on which all other goods are referred.” Therefore, anybody who is in search of a podium for goodness must look forward to believing in God.
1.3 The View of the Traditional African Society
According to John Mbiti, “Africans are notoriously religious. (…) Where the individual is, there is his religion, for he is a religious being.” This implies that believing in the deity is an imperative act for the African. The life of an African is characterized by belief in God. The nature and nurture of belief, is inherited from the previous generations. Even though there is evidence of polytheism in some Traditional African societies, there is a common recognition of the one God who is the creator. This particular God is going to be our point of focus. For instance, Ruhanga, the creator god of the Banyoro in East Africa is revered for his good job done but is not worshiped. He had done his duty and is consequently considered irrelevant to an extent.
Generally, in the African Traditional Society, belief in God’s existence was considered necessary for the fulfiment of the human person due to the following reasons:
a. God is the only Creator.
b. God is the provider and the sustainer of the universe who created
c. God is the possessor of all answers and solutions to all queries.
d. God is all powerful and thus a protector at all circumstances
e. He is the law giver and the ultimate standard of all justice
f. God is the source of all gentleness and compassion, pity and/or mercy.
g. The furthest that God is, is so near.
a. God is considered the creator of all things that are. Among the Nuer, Shona and Banyarwanda there is a concept of creation ex-nihilo. This means that before God created anything there was nothing. Nothingness here should be understood as absence of anything and not as presence of nothing since nothing cannot be. For the Yoruba, not only does God create but he rather ‘ordains the destiny of his creatures.b. He consequently sustains and provides for his creatures. Among the Nuer, God Omvimbundu, provides for the things he made so that their existence may be maintained and continued. Providence is also seen in the free supply of rain, sun (light), and celestial bodies. Whenever things are good in life it is because God has willed them to be so.
c. God was also seen as the one who knows all and thus can be the solution to all the problems. His knowledge and wisdom is infinitely vast. Man’s wisdom is just but a fraction or a residue in comparison to God’s. The Baganda see Him as the one with a great eye from which nothing can be concealed.
d. The infinity of God’s knowledge extends to his infinite power as well. The Banyarwanda believe that God has got very long arms with which he can control everything else at ease.
e. Among the Africans, God was considered the source of all ethical codes and laws. The Yoruba refers to God as the Perfect King enrobed in immaculate whiteness and purity. Anyone who contravenes God or his laws is vulnerable to severe punishment and vengeance either from God himself or from the spirits. “God evens things out, rewarding good to those who follow good conduct and evil to those who follow evil conduct.” He pays each according to his due.
f. Conversely, the justice of God is not without mercy. There is a popular say that justice and mercy does not meet except probably in heaven. However, for Africans, God is so merciful and full of pity that the Akamba calls him ‘God of Comfort.' When implored with deep sincerity, He can even revoke a curse that he had whereof pronounced.
Paradoxically, God who is viewed in the African tradition as very transcendental and placed high above the heavens is also recognized at the same time as very near and/or immanent. This is the paradox of God in this case: the furthest he is, is so near. He is unreachable, very remote yet he in every place every time and can answer prayers swiftly at any given moment.
Generally, failure to believe in God’s existence in Africa is somehow unimaginable. Any slight attempt to deviate from God, results into profuse miseries. Mbiti points out that for an African there have to be maintenance of an ‘ontological balance’ between God and man. Otherwise men encounter inexplicable misfortunes or live in constant anxiety of being punished. It is thus crystal clear that there is an absolute lack of fulfillment in an African life without the belief in God’s existence.
1.4 Systematic Evaluation
As we have seen, the necessity of belief in God’s existence was held with high esteem both in Africa and in Ancient Greece. Actually, the fulfillment of the human person was indubitably based on this belief. Both traditions agree that God was directly involved in the beginning of the universe. However, the doctrine of creation is not upheld in the Greek Society, as it is the case in the Traditional African Society. Aristotle on his side is very careful with the use of the word God and it somehow reluctant to conclude what he is really referring to. It has to be remembered that Aristotle lived during a period in which the Olympian gods were to be worshipped unquestionably. As a student of Plato, he had a clear recollection of what had happened to Socrates who rejected the Olympian gods completely. In fact, at the death of Alexander the Great to whom Aristotle was a tutor, it is reported that Aristotle withdrew from Athens, so as to prevent the Athenians from ‘sinning against Philosophy for the second time.' After assessing the conditions that surrounded him and his environs, he escaped from the scenario by talking of God without talking about Him at all. He thus used several terminologies to refer to the same as has been discussed above.
Much has been said of the God of Aristotle who is merely a cause and has no feelings and who does not care for the universe, which he created. But objectively speaking, it will be naïve to pay no heed to the momentous effort employed by Aristotle’s ethics to show how significant God is in fulfilling man’s life. He portrays a God who is very instrumental in the completion of the process of contemplation. God’s eternal principles and laws are mandatory in man’s life because they are the ones that are reflected in the natural law of man. Human laws are just but footnotes and plagiarisms of the totality of the Law of God.
Another concept that is common in both the Traditional African society and the Ancient Greek society in relation to belief in God’s existence is that failure to believe in God’s existence is detrimental to human life. To believe or not to believe, is more of an answer than a question. There is a very little room for deliberation. In both cases, every good action is aimed at preserving or repairing the relations that exists therein with God. Lack of fulfillment in life is as a result of deliberate refusal to gratify the goodness of God, which is his existence.
Interestingly, belief in God’s existence in these two backgrounds is propelled and strengthened by the insufficient empirical explanations for the events of nature. These include things like natural calamities. In fact, a Tsunami disaster in an African context would draw ethical explanations in reference to the modern erosion of morality. The council of elders would point out the dressing code, televisions, internet pornography and musical tunes adulterated with sexual innuendos as the cause of the Tsunami disaster and its likes. In line with this, God is always brought in as an explanation in the African context whenever there is an earthquake or thunder. He has a big role to play in the solution of puzzles. It seems that God was bestowed with the capability to separate the lips from the mouth. The same way, in the Greek society, several myths were in place to explain why things are the way they are. But with further discoveries based on reason and science, there is demystification and a demythologization of events, thus weakening the influence and affluence of God.
 Richard E. Creel, Thinking Philosophically: An Introduction to Critical Reflection and Rational Dialogue, (London: Blackwell Publishers, 2001) 20
 Plato, Apology, 17b, Trans. Lare Cooper, et al., (New Jersey: Prince University Press. 1963).
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 Plato, Sophist, 265b.
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 Plato, Epinomis, 978c.
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 Plato, Phaedo, 106e.
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 Aristotle, Metaphysics,Λ, 1074b, 9, 15. Trans. Hippocrates G. Apostle, Iowa, Peripatetic Press, 1979.
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 Heidegger considers nothingness as a very important thing and this is of course not what we are talking about in this case.
 Mbiti, 40
 Mbiti, 41
 Mbiti, 31
 Mbiti, 32
 Mbiti, 212
 Mbiti, 36
 Mbiti, 33
 Socrates was forced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock because of his religious convictions.
 Aristotle cited in Fredrick Copleston, 11