Yeah, Yeah, I know lots of folks are pretty sure its all a “fairy tale,” and God doesn’t exist. Although most of the people in “my bubble” are pretty convinced that there is a god, I’m well aware that many seemingly good, nice people do not believe.
In the Mayberry I grew up in, we all did. And we were all Christians. I met my first Jew when I was 12, at Camp Zoe – he was singing “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the roof, and I remember he had a box of candy under his pillow and was really funny, but must have been homesick, because he cried in bed every-night. A few years later Pentecostal classmate accused me of not being a Christian when she discovered I was Catholic, and I didn’t really have a reply. I was pretty dumbfounded that she could think such a thing. But it urged me to do some research so I did have a reply when a similar remark was made at an Amy Grant Concert ten years later. Only in a college “comparative religion” class was I really forced to consider other world religions, and even atheism.
I got an “A” in the oral argument/debate/logic half of the class, but barely passed the assignment effectively requiring us to “admit” the absence of any proof of god, and that all religions are effectively absurd. (In fact he used that word). I spent my thousand words explaining very logically how “absurd” it was to consider such a complicated world as this could exist without a creator directing the very beginning, and the course of nature – evolution, if you like. I got a C on the thesis, with only a comment that it was a shame that I hadn’t paid any attention to him all year long. (That kind of arrogance smacks of the recent movie, God’s Not Dead.
Anyway, I’m a big boy, and I realize lots of smart people think they have everything figured out, and so they have no proof for “God.” I’ve sparred online lots of times, cause although I HATE big confrontations, I still like a well thought out and reasoned dialogue. But I continue to be floored when someone looks me in the face, and tells me, in person, that they don’t believe in the existence of God.
So there I was last week, in surgery, where I solve most of the world’s problems, when someone (I’ll call her Sara) walks into the conversation I was having with someone else about theology (imagine that!), and matter-of-factly says she doesn’t believe in God. Nope, she and her brother decided it – they were convinced that there is no God.
So, of course, I was more than a little surprised, and the room was eerily quiet sans life monitoring beeps from three machines. Finally, my gay technician broke the silence, with an astonished, “REALLY???” “So you consider yourself an atheist???!!!” She puffed her chest out and reiterated that she was quite sure. He just stood there shaking his head, saying he wasn’t convinced we had all of Christ’s teachings just right, but he was positive there is a God, and that He helps him constantly.
The best I could come up with was, “So the fact that the existence of God hasn’t been objectively proven to you, is proof enough that there is NOT a god?” Afraid that I was setting a trap, she hesitatingly said, “Yeah, I guess.” My mind and my heart wanted to take her a hundred places, with a thousand experiences, seemingly revelations for me. But in a right-brain/left-brain flash of a second, I realized these were personal revelations, and there would be no possible way any of this information could be useful, or convincing for her. Pascal’s wager came to mind, but I realized that souls are never saved by winning an argument. No, besides it was probably also inappropriate banter for an employee/employer type relationship.
She said lots of people have tried to show her the error in her thinking, but this apparently just seem to strengthen her resolve. “Yeah, ha ha, I’ll probably get sent to hell, but I just don’t believe it. When you die, its over. That’s it. Nothing after.” I was horrified at the thought. Really? Nothing after? Then what’s the point? Indeed, there would be no point.
I told her, my own leanings were closer to, “we choose” to be in God’s presence, or to be away from Him, based on our beliefs and how we live our lives. It seemed like a good starting place to begin, and end this conversation. To plant a few seeds, and do my best to “act” like a Christian. Isn’t that the best evangelizing? So they’ll “know we are Christians by our love.”
But then Sara continued, “But why does everyone have to shove their religion down my throat?” Glad that I, in fact, had elected not to do that, I mused. But then I replied to her question.
“Suppose you and some others you really care about, your family, were all exposed to Ebola, and the cure had been discovered, and was available in Sikeston, MO, and free to anyone who got there in time. Well you know where Sikeston is, because you have a map. You’re convinced the map is accurate, and so, again, you are positive that you know how to get to Sikeston. Isn’t it loving to tell your family how to get there? In fact, wouldn’t you be a selfish jerk if you saw someone headed on the wrong road, towards Dallas, or New York? They might be able to get to Sikeston via these other places, but isn’t it most loving and compassionate to share your knowledge with people you care about?”
Before she could doubt the accuracy of the map, I quickly added, “Whether or not it can be proven that the map is correct is irrelevant; you asked why someone might be compelled to ‘shove their religion down someone else’s throat.’ Even if they’re wrong, they’re doing it out of love. They want to save someone else’s life, and they personally are positive they know where the cure is. They might have even taken the same road, and even “gone to Dallas,” only to realize they were so fortunate to get a “do-over.” Many don’t. So it makes it a bit easier to “swallow” when we realize it’s really out of love that this is done, and that you’d be a bit of a jerk if you didn’t care enough to share.
Why not “live and let live,” and “coexist?” Suppose you see your neighbor pull out of his driveway with his coffee-cup or phone on the roof of his car. Don’t you care enough about him to wave and yell at him?
This conversation was “about a week ago,” and clearly I’m still thinking about it. What exactly is our level of responsibility to our “neighbors?” Do we let them head towards Dallas, when they may die of “the virus” before they realize there’s nothing there to save them? Do we let the coffee cup smash to the ground? And who, exactly is my neighbor?
I read a FB post a few days ago condemning “imposing our religions” on our children. “Let them wait until they’re adults, and can decide for themselves.” I’m so thankful my parents did such a horrible thing to us, so I could in turn do so to my own. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that “imposing my parent’s religion” saved my son Cullen’s eternal life. Indeed, at the end of the day, at the end of our days, nothing else matters. That’s the point.
But what makes me squirm, and probably why I’m sitting down on a Friday night with a couple of IPAs in front of the keyboard, is another question. It’s nothing new, and I’ve read much more intelligent people than myself discourse about it. What if someone could and did prove that there is no god. How would that affect life? Clearly I have no idea how others would respond, but how would I respond?
I mean, really – do I try my hardest to be a good person and to live a loving life only because Jesus of Nazareth was killed for telling me to do so? Is His staying on the cross to bleedout and suffocate the epitome of self-sacrifice as an example that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s own life for those who hate? Or what if the Discovery Channel’s special a few years ago really had opened a tomb and found Jesus’ bones? Would this be “proof” that He did not resurrect and ascend? Or what if Paulkovich is right and Jesus never even existed as a historical figure?
Clearly I’m convinced these are absurd assertions. Paulkovich is an engineer, and probably reasonably intelligent, but from what I’ve read, no smarter than me, and definitely dwarfed by two thousand years of theologians who have devoted lifetimes to prove, and many attempted to disprove, this very thing. And what of the thousands of early Christians, especially the apostles who were killed because they refused to recant the story. Don’t you think even one would have if it had all just been a big lie? And if even one did admit to the big lie, wouldn’t other religions of that day (and this day) have held them up as “proof?”
But again, let’s just, for argument sake, query this. What if someone could and did prove that there is no god. Is it a coincidence that every civilization and every culture has an idea of god? Why is this so important to humans? Is there this “space” inside each of us that only God can fill, and so we do our best to do so? Is it relevant that Christianity is the only world religion based on a real historical person?
How would I respond? How would you? Is it even possible for someone of deep faith to imagine their world without? And what is our responsibility to others? Are we truly “in it alone?” Or are we our brother’s keepers?
I always post all comments, but please be civil and respectful.
What if someone did prove that there is no God? That’s a very thought-provoking question. What first comes to mind is, how would this affect the people I know personally who do believe, some quite devoutly? Well, I am sure that one of them – who has had a major influence on this agnostic’s life – would continue to believe in Mary and the saints, regardless! I sure hope she would. I dread to think how it might affect good people who have turned to God for help in their darkest hours. I must wonder, however, would such proof be accepted by the vast majority of believers in the first place? Would it change the behavior of those who claim to be followers, but utterly fail to demonstrate that through their actions? How would non-believers react? I can only hope there would be no “I told you so’s” going around. Would such proof cause the “good” to go “bad”? Personally, I doubt it. It might shake up a lot of people, really badly – but in the end I believe that good people would remain good (however one chooses to define goodness.) And, all our brothers and sisters, creatures great and small, and the wonderful world and universe, would still remain – to hold each other up, to hold us all up, with love and inspiration.
I would love to enter into the discussion if it was any way possible for me to even think that there is “no God”, but that is an impossibility for me as a thinking person. All one needs to do is look into the eyes of an innocent young child, see the sun coming up over a snow capped mountain or encounter the love of care workers during a horrific tragedy and you would see that God does exist. Don’t believe it if you want but that will not change the fact that God does exist. And for those who choose not to believe – know this, God still loves you.
I think people would die. We’d eventually become extinct. It’d be ok for a while, but in those darkest times, pain, loss, sickness, challenges. Over and over and over, you read about people– even people who have never believed, call out to G-d in the moment where there is seemingly nothing left. The IDEA of G-d helps us survive. In a world where G-d definitively did not exist, hope would not exist, strength, options, there would be no escape from those darkest moments. So eventually, there would be no one left.
I like the line: I realized souls are never saved by winning an argument. Our work on this earth is to first love. Who? Whomever He places in front of us. I appreciate your illustration of rescuing a loved one from Ebola, I don’t usually think that quickly on my feet, so I want to keep that in mind for the future!
I do indeed think there is something higher than ourselves at work. Do I think it’s God as Christianity would define? No. Nor do I believe it’s anything I can explain.
But my bigger point is that Christianity is not the only religion that is based on a real historical person. Consider Buddhism. (The religion is based off various elements of inner peace and inwardness, yet people still often pray to Buddha due to the teachings). Consider the Mormon church (yes they mention Jesus and are also break-aways of an original form of Christianity, but I have met many Mormons who claim they are not “Christian” as they see themselves as set apart and look to Joseph Smith as a spiritual founder). And then of course there’s Muhammad, a real person on which a religion is based.
However, going back to back to my lesser point is that I also don’t believe it’s any of my business to know ahead of time what my fate is after I die. I just believe if I try and be a good person while I’m here on this earth, that’s my purpose. To be nice and respectful and do good stuff while I am alive. I mean, simply put, why shouldn’t I? It’s just a nicer way to live. I don’t do nice things and practice charity so that I can get into heaven or paradise or be accepted by a God that may or may not exist as each religion has defined. Abe Lincoln even once said something like: “I feel good when I do good things, I feel bad when I do bad things. That’s my religion.” My responsibility to others is to respect their beliefs- or non beliefs- as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. Killing in the name of a God is unacceptable- whatever the religion is (FYI- Christians have been known to do it too). Specific religion is often the root of so many wars…. it’s a “my God is better than your God” tug-of-war so to speak. I find it sad. That’s why I refuse to adopt a religion. I was brought up Catholic, but I see the non-acceptance of so many in all religions. And there seems to be a growing urgency of segregation within religious beliefs. For example, Christianity often condemns homosexuality. Some sectors accept it, others do not. Yet all those sectors claim to be the “right” way, the “true form of Christian love.” I am straight, but I find it sad that many religious sectors turn away gays. All forms of religion are a form of judgment- and in the end, I find ironic that according to religion, “God” is the only one who can judge.
Look, I see something in every sunrise, in every sunset, in the oceans, in every puppy, in the moon, in the sun, in every rain drop and snow flake. I see something greater than me. Do I feel the NEED to name it or define it? Nope. I just feel grateful at that moment and carry that gratefulness with me for the rest of the day. I really do. I feel like if God had indeed been defined accurately by now, we’d all be on the same page. But I do think there is a need to believe in something more than ourselves, an inner pull in that direction, that exists within mankind. The need to define it and lead others to believe what we believe, and that “my belief is the best way- the only right way” I find to be rather arrogant. It goes back to “my God is better than yours.” And besides, everyone has a different interpretation of the Bible, the Torah, the Koran… (how many times do we see Islamic militants killing others and then other Muslims claiming that’s not what the true teaching of the Koran is… or some Christians saying one thing while other self-proclaimed Christians preach the opposite….) If I see someone in distress or who could use a hand, sure, I lend it. I’ll holler at my neighbor if the coffee cup is about to fall off his car. But when he stops and rescues his cup, I let it go. I don’t constantly remind him not to put the coffee on his car roof. And I also don’t think to myself how wonderful I am for helping him or being in the right place at the right time to assist. I just do it because it’s right. And when I die, if there is a God of some sort that had a hand in my being here, I’ll say “Thank you! Life… seriously, that was fun!” If you’ve read this far, thanks. I truly enjoyed this particular post as I do all of them. Cheers, Kim
Hmmm, interesting thoughts. I am in the atheist camp myself. I found it very interesting to hear your points and your thoughts as you say your circle of friends is mostly religious. My circle of friends is very mixed but contains many atheists. Your article shed some light on the response I see when Mormons come knock on my door and I politely tell them I’m an atheist. They look truly shocked, which I always thought was strange. I don’t think atheism is uncommon.