If upon hearing the question, "Does God exist?", your immediate answer is, "Well, of course, he does!", you won't be interested in Hans Kueng's latest book of the same title.
Does God Exist? has a twofold audience: believers who are occasionally doubtful about their belief, and doubters who entertain doubts about their doubts. Thus, not all theists will like this book, and not all atheists will reject it out of hand.
The problem with anything written by Hans Kueng nowadays is that it is difficult to find people who are still objective enough about him to react to what he writes rather than to who he is.
Some can see no wrong in him, so luminous a symbol of intellectual freedom has he become. Others can see no good in him, so scandalous a symbol of defiance has he become. .
Those who can approach Does God Exist? with some measure of objectivity, however, will find the book at once conservative in its faith and sympathetic toward the unbeliever. Neither side, Kueng argues, can prove its case, once and for all.
The book is worth having for its encyclopedic character alone. one will find here generous summaries of Descartes, Pascal, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, and other shapers of the modern mind.
One will also find some of the most pointed arguments against fundamentalism of every kind -- biblical and dogmatic alike -- as well as some of the most persuasive and moving arguments on behalf of faith.
From the outset Kueng situates himself between rationalism on the left and naive "faith" on the right. Given the multidimensional nature of reality, any position, whether scientific or religious, which claims to be absolute is itself open to question.
Against the right, he insists that without thinking we never reach the faith. Against the left, he insists that with thinking alone we do not reach truth.
We live, he suggests, in a radically new world. Whereas it once required real courage to be an atheist, today it often requires courage to be a believer. The recent murders of the four missionaries in El Salvador are cases in point.
Given this new situation, a "course correction" is called for in the Church's theology. Belief in God is not validated by arguments but by practice.
Believers who really live the Gospel are an argument for that belief, and vice versa. In the final accounting, however, we can neither prove nor disprove our faith.
Kueng's discussion of atheism is only a prelude to the real substantive core of this book; namely, its erudite exploration of atheism's consequence, nihilism.
It is Neitzsche and not the classical atheist who poses the most direct challenge to belief. There are atheists, after all, who deny God but who claim to find meaning and purpose in their lives nonetheless.
In the nihilist's case, however, it is no longer a matter of being in doubt about particular issues, even the existence of God, but of being in doubt about everything.
Life as a whole is useless, pointless, and worthless. We see everywhere instability, fragility, emptiness, fleetingness, and so forth. Everything is nullified of meaning and value.
We cannot simply refute nihilism. Life does have a "thorough-going uncertainty" about it. But nihilism is itself also unprovable, for "being, despite all the menace of nothingness, continually puts up fresh resistance to any kind of absolute denial."
People on both sides of the line don't like to be told this. They prefer to have some solution. The solution, Kueng argues, is in our hands. We have to decide for ourselves.
The entire second half of the book contains Kueng's arguments for his own faith-stance. To say "Yes" to reality (over against nihilism) is fundamentally to trust it rather than mistrust it.
Trust, however, is both a gift and a task. It is a gift because reality is given us from the start. Trust is also a task because we are called to criticize and change those social conditions which make trust difficult, if not impossible, for others.
In the final section of the book, Kueng makes his case, in a somewhat compressed fashion, for the God of the Bible and the God of Jesus Christ. The companion volume, On Being A Christian, provides a fuller statement.
Does God Exist? is, like some of Kueng's other writings and lectures, too, long. An abridged edition would be useful. But that is not to say that this one is not worth having, and reading.