This weekend, I stumbled upon the late atheist scientist Carl Sagan’s metaphor of the dragon in my garage from his book “The Demon-Haunted World.” It goes like this:-
"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage"
"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle -- but no dragon.
"Where's the dragon?" you ask.
"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.
"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."
Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."
You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick." And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.
Here is the cruncher in Carl Sagan’s own words:
“Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?”
To Dr. Sagan, this world has no dragon, no god, no intelligent designer, no personal creator, no fairies, no elves, no globin, no pixie dust and no Santa. The evidence just doesn’t support their existence.
As a Christian, I read the dragon in my garage with an open mind. It is a powerful metaphor for the need to think rationally and critically because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Personally, I have come up with my own reflection along the lines of this indissoluble dragon in my own garage for the last 30 years. It starts off with “the God I worship” and here is how it goes…
“The God I worship is not a straightforward being. He is in fact mysterious in his ways. He is less than obvious in his thoughts. He is not to be second-guessed because his words and deeds are not always readily understood.
To be honest, there is just no discernible pattern of what he will do next or how he will do what he will do next.
You can spend hours talking to him and he will spend the same numbers of hours just listening to you. Most times, you can’t expect anything more than that.
Alas, if listening is a undervalued trait amongst humanity because we talk too much, then it has to be an overvalued trait of the God I worship.
Sometimes, I crave for more than that. I crave for more interactions, more mutuality of responses - even an occasional nod or shaking of the divine head, so to speak.
But that is just me and I may have overvalued my needs for absolute certainty and undervalued his overriding sovereignty. And if there is one supernatural trait of this God I worship (among the innumerable), it is his extraordinary patience that is definitely out of this world.
This God I worship listens and he listens and he listens. Sometimes he answers. Sometimes he doesn’t. Most times, you don’t even know? And when he doesn’t answer, he doesn’t explain himself. He is not one to explain his actions or his silence.
The humble petitioner would just have accept that his silence is his answer or take the time to reflect on what he is really saying by his silence or wait upon him to answer even when the wait can take indefinitely longer than one can take.
Oftentimes, the God I worship has designated earthly agents to decipher the mystery of his silence on his behalf. They are earnest participants in this massive decoding exercise called religion.
They are highly revered for the sacred role they perform. They are basically the intermediaries of this grand divine quietude. These agents come in many forms with luminous titles and exacting devotion, but their vicarious answers are always indistinguishable from one another. Their answers are highly predictable in fact.
His silence is a test. His silence is a prerequisite for character-building or faith-strengthening. Others are more direct. They leave no stones unturned in their sleuth-like pursuit of self-revelation.
His silence is because one has prayed amiss. His silence is a response to one’s lack of faith or unconfessed sins. His silence is therefore a timely call for the petitioner to perform a ritualistic exercise of self-confession and self-purging.
Notwithstanding the unanswered petitions, the table is turned on the petitioner to get his/her life right before he/she can ever hope to ask it right.
Still, there are others who are more sensitive to the desperate plea of the petitioner. They rather err on the side of being less presumptuous of this divine hiddenness.
His silence is a call to wait a little longer. His silence is a mystery to be respected and not to be interpreted as a form of discouragement. His silence therefore demonstrates that all things will be made right at the end even when that end oftentimes means the end of the petitioner’s mortal life on earth.
Alas, the God I worship is surely more than meets the eye. He can’t be read like a book because he is not confined within a book - not even a collection of books housed in a library the size of a universe can ever match the mystery surrounding the God I worship.
And he wouldn’t be so if he is readily comprehensible, held down by our own pet dogmatic interpretation of him, and captured by us in a sermon preached over the pulpit to thousands hungry for some sort of self-comforting certainty.
So, I will always struggle with this dragon in my garage, this insuperable omnipotence, this unseen mystery – silent and still. I have to accept it as part and parcel of my faith amidst the uncertainty, the veiled knowledge.
And whether the God I worship is Carl Sagan's garage dragon or not, one thing I know is that this divine mystery has set eternity in my heart and once appeared as a father, a brother and a friend in my dreams. As a father, he reminded me that I love because he first loved me. As a brother, when he foretold of the troubles I will have, but assured me to take heart for he has overcome the world. And as a friend, when he prodded me on to finish the race and to wait for his return. Those words are like seeds in my dreams, and dragon or not, I will strive to grow them into reality in my life.” Cheerz.
Postscript: Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” The truth is still out there for the atheists and theists. Ontology is still a probing question for now rather than a resolute (or provisional) answer led only by science. Theology is still a means to constructing a coherent reality rather than just another self-assuring, outmoded superstition. And God’s confectionery is busy churning out apple pies for those who are still searching for the truth of all things, the reality of all matter, and the theological framework for the ontology of all beings. God is not the dragon in my garage. He is the fired-up curiosity in my heart. He is the enabler of apple pies. Cheerz.