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The God I Believe In

Mario Cuomo on pacifism, faith, and Teilhard de Chardin

WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT: Governor Cuomo, is God a pacifist?

MARIO CUOMO: It's so difficult to attempt to define God in any way. As a matter of fact, most of the formal religions that I'm aware of, including my own Roman Catholicism, start by saying that God is ineffable. You can't define Him. And the Hebrews suggest as much when they refuse to write His name (or its name, or a name). So it's impossible to define God, especially if you assume that God means something infinite. We're not capable of understanding infinity. How could we, as hidebound as we are by the strictures of our humanity?

The whole thing gets to be a terrible riddle for most of us. My working idea of God is that there's something very significant, beyond my capacity to measure, that existed before me and will exist after me and all the things like me. It was there at the beginning, and it will be there at the end of this reality. Perhaps it will create new realities. And I'll call it God, but it is a kind of “first force,” and it does exist.

Does it determine all of our actions? No. The God I believe in allows us free will to make the contest of humanity an interesting one. If it weren't for free will, we wouldn't be able to tell when we were doing it right and when we were doing it wrong. So this force, this God, built that into our current stage of existence. There's a right and wrong in everything. But for it to be right and wrong, we have to have a will, and we have to be able to choose between the two.

So is God a pacifist? Well, first of all, I confess that you get nowhere, in the end, unless you're allowed a heavy dose of faith. “Faith” is a word that is carefully chosen, because you have to reject knowledge. If you had knowledge, you wouldn't need faith. You use as much knowledge as you have, but to make it all the way across the chasm between you and a belief in God, you have to use faith for the last part of the trip. So acknowledging that, what God wants is the perfect society, and He wants you to get there. Now, I'm a Teilhardian, so I would say that in all the struggles of Phipps and Cuomo and all the rest of us, what we're trying to do, in our stupid, trivial way, is contribute to that effort, move toward what Teilhard de Chardin called the pleroma, the ultimate consummation, which is perfection. We're trying to get there. How? By making it as good as we can make it for now. Would pacifism serve that end? Well, if pacifism means not butchering one another in a war, then yes, of course, that would be ideal. Would God allow for a time when He would permit you to undertake a war? Well, if you meant a war against evil, probably. Probably the God I believe in would not want you to surrender to evil to the point of allowing yourself to be obliterated.

On the other hand, it's also conceivable that He could say, No, I'm going to allow you to take Jesus literally. Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek,” so yes, turn the other cheek! And if it wipes you out, so what? Maybe your permanence is not part of the arrangement. Maybe that's not part of what God has planned. Nothing is more obvious than the fact that when God created you, there were no guarantees. It's theoretically possible that it would be irrelevant to God whether you were pacifistic or bellicose or just a loyal fighter for truth and justice and all things that are at that moment considered good and holy. So I think it's too limiting to say that the God I can't fully understand would be, or wouldn't be, a pacifist.


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This article is from
Our War vs Peace Issue