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SEPTEMBER 12, 2011 2:34PM

Godless and Grateful

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There’s no god (or God, if you’re so inclined) in my life.  I would argue (and often do) that there’s no god in anyone’s life.  Just as there’s no Santa in your life, even if you are, like our son, a 4 year-old as convinced of his existence as you are of your own.

When people ask me, often with looks of deep concern, what happened to me that was so awful it would make me abandon god, I can’t help but smirk.  I lean in, faking sincerity, and say gravely, “it was a huge event:  6th grade.”  I am, of course, being sarcastic.  The term atheist is so confusing to say many people that they ask me things like why I’m mad at god (I, of course, can’t be mad at something that isn’t there), or, and the frequency of this actually scares me, does being an atheist mean that I worship the devil?  No, I say, that’s a Satanist, and just as idiotic as being a theist.  (Though I once answered that question by saying, simply, yes, then smiling.)

I was enrolled in Hebrew school just after my 9th birthday, essentially to prepare for my bar mitzvah at 13.  But I was also there to learn about history, culture, language, and faith, all within the context of Judaism. 

Even then, there was little talk of god. Of course, we were taught prayers and that all things come from the Bearded One, but beyond that, almost everything I learned was more historical than hysterical.  That’s my cheeky way of saying there was almost none of the fear and superstition that my Catholic friends had to endure in their Sunday school classes.

Even the prayers were more short meditations than invocations.  I was never taught to ask for things in my prayers, or that they would be granted even if I did ask.  Granted, I went to a reform synagogue.  How reform?  Well, traditional enough that I learned to speak, read and write in Hebrew.  I wore a yarmulke to class (even when playing floor hockey in the basement or touch football in the parking lot…both of which I dominated! J), but not in my everyday life.

But there was one conversation when I was 11 I may never forget.  My teacher was a young man (I can’t say for sure, but probably younger than I am now) and his demeanor was friendly and approachable.  We were learning about Moses (not unusual) and I asked, “What if it’s not true?” 

I remember the rabbi patiently asking me what, specifically, I thought might not be true.

“All of it.”  The Red Sea parting, the plagues, the man himself.  What if it’s all just a story?

Remember, I was told, that Moses doubted also.  He didn’t even know he was a Jew until later in his life.

Yes, yes, I know all that.  But it doesn’t answer my question.

I was told not to get caught up in the specifics of the story, but to focus on the lessons.

Which ones, I asked.  That animal sacrifice is OK?  That lamb’s blood will prevent death in certain circumstances?  That we’re all, as I was told often by all the Christian children on my block (three Catholic families provided our street with 33 kids) prone to backsliding and sin?  That it’s OK to slaughter the first born male of every household if that’s what someone wants to do to you?

I remember his look: concern.  Not at my pre-teen propensity toward sarcasm, not for my eternal soul; that was, I was told, taken care of thanks to my being born who, or more specifically, what I was.  His concern, and I could be projecting inaccurately back over the decades, that I was not alone in my disbelief and that he was in for much more of this.

Before he could say anything I did what I still do, got to my point.  “What if I don’t believe in God?”

He smiled.  Seriously.  He gave me a sincere smile.

God, he said, doesn’t care so much if I believe in him, because he believes in me.

I nodded, feeling that his answer was little more than a cop out, an easy and all-encompassing answer for an adolescent with a lot to learn.

I said thank you, and let it drop.  Because I did have a lot to learn.  And I still do.  But I’ve learned much since then.  Organized religion is, for purposes of brevity, a racket.  Even the most devout, often especially the most devout, often know this to be true, though they perpetuate the lie by participating.

I can’t say, to quote Julia Sweeney, that I’ve let go of god.  You can’t let go of something you’ve never had.  After my bar mitzvah, a four-hour Saturday afternoon ordeal in an airless room in August, I didn’t step into a synagogue for 20 years, until my father’s funeral.  I went back the following two Friday nights, and found, as I knew I would (though I admit hoped I was wrong) no comfort and no answers.

Quitting Judaism two decades earlier was the beginning of a life founded on rational thought, a system of belief (contrary to what anti atheists say, we do have belief systems) that allowed me, that aided me, in realizing (even though I knew it already) that people die, often before their time, not because of a grand plan, but because of illness and accidents.  That death is not a part of life, but the end of it.  That grieving is normal and begging is unseemly, especially when all the begging in the world won’t undo what’s happened.

Quitting religion released me from hours and years wasted in darkened rooms pouring over texts that provided no answers thousands of years ago and provides even fewer now that science and reason have given us so many.  It has allowed me to choose, as much as anyone can, a path of my dictation and not of millennia-old prescriptions on lifestyle and food choices and superstitions that carry no real relevance in the 21st century.

Quitting god has allowed me to live a life of reason and evidence (as much as I am capable) where I appreciate what I have because I know that once I’m dead there will be no forgiving of sins and happy reunions and eternal life.  What you see, is what you get.  And what you get is all you’ll have.  Appreciate it because once it’s over, it’s all over, baby, no matter what you’ve been promised.

 

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This is a subject I love to discuss—so I hope you will honor me (or humor me, if you choose) with some discussion of it.

There is a question I often ask theists.

The question is: Are you certain there is a GOD…and if so, why are you certain?

Allow me to re-phrase it for you. Are you certain there are no gods…and if so, why are you certain?

Obviously, I am trying to determine how atheists and theists come to certainty on what must be included in Reality…and what must be excluded.
Frank, thanks for the question. How am I certain? Well, I can easily fall back on the oldest trope in atheism, how am I certain there's no Santa or Tooth Fairy or unicorns? Scientifically, I'm certain due to a lack of evidence. I know, I know, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But until someone, anyone, anywhere, comes up with some concrete proof, I'm staying on the 'no' side of those particular creatures. Logic dictates that claims to anything must be proven by the claimant.

The same goes for "God." No one has ever seen proof of ANY kind (at least not any that a rational person would call true evidence), but so many people claim belief and are constantly looking for it. What are the chances that billions of people throughout history lay claim to something, but no one, not ever, has proven it? On whom does the burden fall?

I know that everything that is cannot be "proven." Love, for example, can not be measured like gravity or the speed of light, but can be proven through other actions. I love my wife and kids, for example, and "prove" it by giving to them before taking for myself (mostly).

The claims of religion, and I don't mean the moral claims but the historical and scientific ones, are for the most part false. If these are revelations, why aren't they accurate? A round earth, a sun-centered system, etc.

The anecdotal proof of love I gave as an example of its existence works the same way for me with "God." That is, every claim to prove Him has been shown to be false (or a lie). Every textual scientific "revelation," whether it be it biblical, Koranic or otherwise, is false, or was accurate by luck or with instrumentation available at the time.

We've seen nearly to the edge of the universe, back some billion years. We've seen back in time to the Planck era. We know, for the most part, how life works from human reproduction to photosynthesis. None of it, not one shred, has ever come from faith, but from observation. Religion, frankly, has taught is next to nothing while the sciences, both physical and social, have taught us all we know.

With the evidence of history, what other conclusions could a rational person reach?

Thanks.
Shadow, thanks for the response.

Let me begin my part of this discussion by tackling the final question in your response post.

With the evidence of history, what other conclusions could a rational person reach?

I think a rational person could reach, “We really don’t know what the Reality of Existence is…and on the specific question of whether there is a GOD involved or no gods involved, we really cannot say. In fact, I suggest that reaching that conclusion makes more sense than either of the other two options—the one you suggest is the most rational and the one you suggest is irrational.

I’d like to think we can agree on this: There is nothing that appears to indicate that there has to be a GOD in order for existence to be. I think we can also agree: There is nothing that appears to indicate that the existence of gods is an impossiblity in order for existence to be.

The fact that we can make those two statements (if we can agree that we can) is significant, Shadow.

In short, I think it is eminently reasonable to conclude that we know only a tiny, tiny fraction of what the Reality of existence is (please feel free to add several more “tiny’s there)…and that making any hard and fast decisions about what it has to be (or what it cannot be) is inappropriate.

Let’s discuss the implications of that for a bit before we get into the substance of the rest of your reply.

And as respectfully as possible, I’d ask if we can save Santa, the Tooth Fairy, unicorns, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, and CPA’s working on one of the moons of Saturn for much, much later in our discussion.
Allow me to ask this one question: are you saying that the existence of so far unproven (and seemingly unprovable) entities with godlike powers of creation and destruction is a 50/50 proposition?
"Quite frankly, I consider American conservatism to be one of the most dangerous pieces of garbage ever to pollute the planet Earth."

On a totally separate note, bravo!
Shadow, you wrote:

Allow me to ask this one question: are you saying that the existence of so far unproven (and seemingly unprovable) entities with godlike powers of creation and destruction is a 50/50 proposition?

Fair enough question! Complex answer. Hope you see it as an answer and not an evasion.

I am saying that the true nature of the Reality of existence is unknown to us…that it could include some components so strange, that the notion of “entities with godlike powers of creation and destruction” would seem fairly benign—not at all extraordinary.

I do not put a probability to it, because I see the true nature of the Reality of existence as beyond the grasp of entitiies just down out of the trees—sorta like a ferret trying to comprehend the complexities of the Theory of Relativity.

I will say this about the specifics of your question, Shadow—and this may give you a sense of my actual answer to the subtlties of your question:

If a theist tells me “It seems more likely (more probable) that there is a “creator GOD” than that there isn’t—I consider it to be a gratuitous assessment of the “evidence” available. I dismiss it as a self-serving statement of very little substance.

When an atheist tells me “It seems more likely (more probable) that there are no gods than that there are—I consider it to be a gratuitous assessment of the “evidence” available. I dismiss it as a self-serving statement of very little substance.

Obviously what I am saying with those two statements is: Any assessment of the probability of what must be included in, or excluded from, the Reality of existence, is of so little value, best to just ignore it.

Further in regard to the specifics of your question: Once I have concluded that I see no reason to supose a GOD is necessary to explain existence—AND I have concluded that I see no reason to suppose it is impossible for gods to exist in order to explain existence…

…I suspend any thoughts of probability. I suspect that any thoughts I may have about the probability in either direction will more likely be the result of what I want the probability to be rather than truly a calculation of what it actually is.

It is my opinion that theists and atheists often make gratuitous calculations about “the probability” of the existence or non-existence of GOD or gods.

In order for me to take as objective a look at the issue, I tend to steer away from that.


(Thanks for the separate note of that comment in my bio! Glad you are of like mind on that.)