Flashes of Insight on the Nature of God

Article excerpt

The Quest for God

By Paul Johnson

HarperCollins 216 pp., $24 Paul Johnson begins this highly personal and introspective book, "The Quest for God," with an examination of atheism. The author of the bestselling "Modern Times," he considers the arguments for God's nonexistence in the writings of David Hume, Friedrich Hegel, T.H. Huxley, Charles Darwin, Adolph Hitler - all self-avowed atheists to one degree or another. This approach suggests that one way to finding a meaningful understanding of God is through God's "felt-absence." "Why," Johnson asks, "has a belief in God - or a belief in something beyond us - endured in the twentieth century?" He understands and relates sensibly how science, to a small degree, how world war, and how the prevalence of humanism to a much greater degree are leading mankind away from God. And even more so today, he says, it is gross materialism, so lacking in any deeper spiritual satisfaction, that people are substituting as a false idol for faith in God. He is emphatic that "At all levels of society, the growth of materialism leads to forms of moral squalor which makes the heart sick and destroys decency and happiness." Johnson moves on from considering contemporary alternatives for God to an insightful if not entirely original discussion of the actual nature of God and of God's creation. His book, he explains, "...is in no sense a manual of religious instruction. Still less is it an attempt to proselytize. It is a meditation, or a series of meditations, on religious subjects, by one who has imperfect knowledge and often ill-defined beliefs, but who has an absolutely genuine anxiety to explore truth and convey it...." Coming from a background of an almost autocratic religious upbringing, his journey breaks new ground for him and will do the same for many readers, especially those with Roman Catholic backgrounds. …