Why Not Believe in God? Good Question.

In A God of Infinite Possibility on August 5, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Let me start by making it clear that I believe in the existence of god. And the two most important pieces of that statement to me are the word “believe” and the lower-case ”g.” But it is the purpose of this essay neither to argue about that belief nor to persuade anyone that I am correct.
Instead, I want to say that I think that I can understand why a reasonable person might not believe in god. And the fault lies with religion. Because the Earth’s religions have without exception provided such limited visions of what god might be that a reasonable person can find fault with them all; they have nearly all insisted on remaining devoutly loyal to ancient and untenable perceptions of the nature of reality and the realities of nature, clinging to ideas that defy what any intelligent person can easily observe or can discover through simple research about how the universe is constructed and how it works; they have constructed dogmas and ideologies that are often simultaneously simplistic and obscure; and they have chosen to fight one another over the righteousness of their beliefs, even engaging in actions that contradict and defy the very teachings they claim to be defending in their righteousness. And along the way they have dragged the bulk of humanity through unconscionable suffering. The fact that they have provided many people with clearly positive things, such as compassion, hope, community and a sense of connection to the better parts of their human soul (for want of a better word) does not in any way excuse nor mitigate any of the above.
The reasons for these things are all grounded in the fact that religion is a human activity. Of all the creatures we know of, of all that is in nature, only humans practice religion; only humans express a belief in god. One of the most important aspects of religion is that it gives context and community and power to particular moral imperatives. Now you don’t need a religion in order to have a powerful moral code, you only have to be human; but religion makes it easier by giving large numbers of people access to a moral code that they can reference as necessary without having to think about what their personal moral code might be every time life presents them with a moral dilemma requiring a choice. Now you may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I present it simply as an observation, not a judgment.
The rest of the world’s creatures have no need of a morality, because they do not have the capacity to see themselves as separate from the rest of the universe. A cat that kills a bird does not do so because it considers the murder a good thing, and it cannot consider whether it might be more useful to kill the rats instead; it is simply doing what it was designed to do as part of the great ecology of the universe. But a human being is blessed or cursed with the ability to consider its choices as one living in the world, but not necessarily part of it; affecting it and affected by it, but somehow above it; its caretaker, beneficiary, and most self-consciously important denizen. We know that what we do affects the world, but we are often more concerned about what it can do for us than what we are doing to it – and more concerned about what other humans can do for us than what we are doing to each other. Used properly, a solid moral code can help us to navigate through all that for everyone’s ultimate benefit. Used badly it justifies the bizarre, the atrocious, the criminal and the destructive.
Given these kinds of perceptions, it is not at all unreasonable to look at the world with as objective a view as is humanly possible; to not assume or believe that which does not hold out the possibility of proof. There is morality in the notion that this is all there is, and that we need to preserve it, nurture it; understand it; and treat all of it, including ourselves and other humans, with the utmost respect and care. This does not, of course, describe the perspectives, beliefs or actions of all atheists any more than a single description can describe the morality of all believers in god; but it is certainly a reasonable thing to believe in, and it is open to the same limitless individual variations as any religious belief. And it is open to the same possibility of abuse.
The point is that either god exists or does not. There are no other possibilities. The difference is in how each of us defines god. Our beliefs are in our definitions. There are a great many ideas of god in which I do not believe; and I suspect that a great many people would not believe in my ideas of god. And the same is true of those who do not believe in the existence of god. Get them together and being honest about the details of such things and they will find that they do not all agree about everything they believe about the non-existence of god. So what? We are all human beings, limited by our humanness to flawed perceptions of any god that might or might not exist. And since our definitions and perceptions are limited and flawed, so are the choices we might make based on those beliefs and perceptions. We can use our idea of god and the universe to explain our actions, but we cannot expect others to see things our way just because our beliefs are sincere.
Arguing about the existence of god will never ultimately answer the question to everyone’s satisfaction; but talking about what we believe and how we are trying to understand what others believe could possibly bring us to a place where we can see the human in all of us, where we can honor the human experience in all its diversity and wonder; if only more of us could do that without judgment, but with a genuine desire to know and respect each other. In the end, I believe that whether you believe in god is less important than how you use what you believe to guide your actions in the world.

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