The harder you search for god, the more you realize he isn’t there!
By Guest Author: Don Severs
I am a religious atheist. I share the ultimate concerns of religious people, but my search for God has led me away from gods.
Many atheists are religious. We yearn for meaning and purpose, we’re animated by concern for humanity, and we recognize the power of working together. Of course, there are non-religious atheists. They are suspicious of group prayer, hymn singing and the pulpit. I share these misgivings, but there is much good in religion I want to cultivate. I attend a Unitarian church. It has far more atheist members than my local atheist group. But Unitarian churches have no creed, so there is nothing to surrender to, except the joint desire to come together and do good. I lend my voice, but I also scan the hymn lyrics and often withhold it, sometimes mid-verse.
If I hear something troubling from the pulpit, I go home and write a response. I act as an at-large committee member, not a Party member. I am wary of groupthink and headless mobs, even liberal ones. I am as hard on my own thinking as I am on others. An unexamined belief is not only not worth having, it’s not really even a belief if we don’t understand its consequences.
Already, we can see that ‘religion’ is a big word like ‘politics’. If fact, religion is largely politics. It is an effort to get people to work together. As such, it is going to be aggravating, uplifting and full of compromises. But it is worth it and we can’t do nothing. Our humanity requires us to try.
But religion isn’t just politics. It is usually polluted with supernaturalism and unreason. Faith is declared be a virtue, without mentioning that it is a road to anywhere. We are often programmed to believe that following the rules of invisible gods is necessary for us to be good people. These often include dietary and sexual restrictions that have nothing to do with human well-being. They are like being told which peg to hang your coat on. And billions of people take them very seriously, to the point that they restrict the rights of women and minorities because of them. We are told we can live forever, but there are conditions. We are told our faith is correct but other faiths are wrong. Or we are told they’re all correct, which is itself unbelievable.
So why am I religious? Well, I’m not religious if religion requires faith. And I’m not religious if it requires God. I am religious because I’m concerned with the things that religion lays claim to: morality, ethics, meaning, purpose and knowledge. I want to help rescue religion from its supernatural corruptions. Carl Sagan:
“A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”
It’s already here. Unitarian Universalism is close, but we don’t need its imprimatur. Sagan’s religion comprises perhaps a billion dispersed people who don’t know they are members. They are people who live moral, meaningful lives without supernaturalism. Many of us have found each other in UU churches, atheist groups and on the internet. We are more visible and politically involved than ever.
Being a religious person, I am open to God, but I can’t find one. It is common for atheists to be knowledgeable and interested in religion. In my own investigations, all the gods I have encountered are unworthy of my devotion. Why? I have several scientific, logical and moral reasons, but the clincher is this: Little kids suffer needlessly. That’s it.
It is impossible to believe that Indonesia, Haiti and Japan were the best an all-powerful god could do. It is impossible to believe that he couldn’t have reduced the suffering of even one kid a little bit. But we don’t need spectacular disasters to know this. We have always had smallpox, birth defects, mental illness and neglect as demonstrations of God’s character. Yet, when I point this out to believers (typically Christians), they make excuses for God! As if God needs primates to defend him. Come out and answer for your crimes! Where are you? No Greater Good, no happy ending justifies the real, present abandonment and torture of children.
You might think this is unfair. We shouldn’t expect God to meddle with nature and make everything fair and safe. I couldn’t agree more. But then you have to stop saying he helps you and he is a loving God. It isn’t loving to help some people through a divorce or a child’s illness, then do nothing for a kid with a brainstem tumor. You have to admit that, if God exists, he plays favorites. You can’t have it both ways.
Am I angry at God? I would be if he were real. If believers love God, they should do what a good defense attorney would do: try to convince us that God is absent from the scene of the crime. Deists understand this. They like to think Something started the universe, but then retired or died. Ordinary human compassion requires it. It is unthinkable that any God presides over the epic, ongoing suffering we read about in the news every day. We would pillory anyone in our community who did the same. It is also more than a little selfish to take comfort in a God who isn’t for everyone.
So, the best thing we can say for God is that he is absent. Anything else implicates him in crimes against humanity.
But wait! Doesn’t God deserve a good defense? Absolutely. I’d love to hear it. But consider this: the defendant is all-powerful, created the universe and populated it with planets and species. Yet you want a jury to believe he couldn’t allow one more drop of rainwater to fall in a child’s mouth before she died from gangrene in her crushed legs? See you in court.