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Atheist Perspectives, Volume 3

By Ben Love ~

You want to believe in God. You really do. The Universe would seem lonely otherwise. To think of all that vast empty space with no Great Architect behind it all feels somewhat …upsetting. As Pascal said, “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens” you. 

It would be nice to know that someone bigger than all that empty space exists, someone who has control of things, someone who gives meaning to what would otherwise seem like pointless nothingness. Nevertheless, so far you’ve not had much success in discovering who that Great Architect might be, or even if one exists at all. It seems likely. But likely is a far cry from a certainty. And your efforts to turn over every stone have not led to you believe you can conclude anything definitive.

The things is, you’re man of evidence, and while you know that extremism in any one direction is probably not the best policy, you can’t help but feel that one can never be too careful when it comes to evidence, especially when it pertains to a matter that has bearing on the choices you will make in life, what you will believe, and how you will live. Evidence, in this matter, to you, cannot and should not be weak or subject to all kinds of wild interpretations. Your honor tells you that the evidence for God, if it exists, needs to be straightforward, easily accessible to any curious human being, and as close to indisputableas it can get. You’ve heard Christians say that they only need to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists (and that Jesus himself is indeed that one true God), but you are aware of the fact that the reverse also works—that you can also be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that God does not exist. Reasonable doubt, then, loses any weight it might have had, and the evidence therefore must be, as you have already observed, as close to indisputable as it can get.

So far, you’ve not uncovered any evidence that fits the bill. Your Christian friends are amazed at this. “Look around!” they say. “Look at the sky! Look at the mountains! Look at the stars! All of creation is screaming that there is a God.” You, however, are not so sure about that, and even if you were, you would have no way of knowing which of the theistic perceptions of God is accurate. You have already ascertained that it cannot, could not, be the God of the Bible, Yahweh. Your Christian friends disagree and assert that because you lack faith you cannot see that all of the problems that led you to dismiss Yahweh are actually quite reconcilable from the correct perspective. This is nonsense to you, and you know it. You know that the truth is quite the reserve. The truth, in fact, is that the faith of these Christians prohibits them from seeing the deeds of Yahweh from the correct “correct perspective”. The lens they think is their trump card is actually the lens that blinds and binds them. That much you know.

Still, one of your Christian friends urges you not to dismiss Christian faith so quickly. He says that the best way to see indisputable evidence for the existence of God, specifically the Christian God, is to watch him at work among his people. By “his people”, your friend means “believers”. And so, even though you have your doubts, you promised yourself to leave no stone unturned, which means that you will indeed spend some time surveying and observing these people who calls themselves followers of Jesus.

You do this by attending several Christian churches over the course of a few months. You make no judgments just yet and resolve to sift through the data when you’re finished. To that end, you take notes during your visits to these churches, documenting what you see, what you hear, and how you are treated.

Next, you decide to see what Christians do and how they behave when they’re not in church. Since you know that both your neighbor and your brother-in-law are devoted Christians, you hang around them for a while, paying close attention to their conversations, their reactions, and the testimony of their lives. You know that two Christians do not adequately represent the believing population as a whole, and so you also spend many evenings in Christian chat rooms online, again paying attention to the way Christians talk to each or to nonbelievers who wander into their chats rooms out of curiosity. Again, you take notes.

Finally, you decide to interview ten random Christians from ten different churches. You do this by advertising your request on the Internet, and after some finagling, you manage to secure ten separate interviews with various believers from various theological backgrounds. And, once again, you take notes.

When it is all completed, you look through your notes and a common theme immediately jumps out at you: there are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. Hardly any of them agree on some basic beliefs, let alone the trivial ones. Your time attending the various churches showed you that differing sects of Christians have differing ideas on what it means to worship their God, and how that worship is performed. This would make sense to you if you were attending churches in different countries, where diverse cultures would account for such dissimilarities. But the churches you attended were all within blocks of each other. One church believes in one aspect of theology so fiercely that their entire identity as a denomination is based on that belief, and yet a church two blocks away not only rejects that same aspect, they consider it heresy. You note that the members of these two churches look down on one another and rarely, if ever, mingle. One of the churches you visited was in the process of splitting down the middle because a portion of its members were remaining faithful to the pastor, who had been caught having an affair, and another portion of the members were demanding his resignation. You took notes on the sermons that were preached in these churches, and, to the best of your ability, you’re not sure you can piece together exactly what it means to be a Christian. One denomination has one definition, another has a second definition, and a third seems to have no definition at all, they just think everyone is in the club no matter what they believe. You begin to wonder, if these people are the indisputable evidence for God, how could this God be so divided?

You also couldn’t help but notice few disquieting facts. First of all, you know the butcher from the market down the street. You know him well. You know he’s an ongoing adulterer, child-abuser, and habitual liar. Yet you saw him in one of the churches with his hands raised in the air, tears streaming down his face, thanking God for having changed him into a “new creation”. You are bothered by this because you know in your heart he is no "new creation"; he’s the same old piece of shit he always was. Also, you were bothered by the fact that many of the church leaders asked the congregations for money, urging them to give of their financial resources in order to bring “God’s love to the needy.” Yet all these church leaders drove luxury cars, wore designer suits, and seemed to have hearty waistlines. You couldn’t help but wonder how much of that money was actually finding its way to the needy, if any.

Your time spent among your Christian neighbor and your Christian brother-in-law did not help to shed light on your aim; in fact, this only served to heighten your confusion. Your brother-in-law, who loves to act pious and righteous, couldn’t keep his eyes of the pretty young girls who kept walking in front his house. He would even comment on what he’d like to “do to them” if he ever got them alone sometime. The man is married to your sister, for crying out loud! But when you ask him about Jesus, he can gush out the theological talk to no end. And when he prays with you, as he loves to do because it makes him feel especially devout, his prayers are longwinded and filled with reverence and gratitude to God, and promises of purity and godliness, two things you've never seen any evidence of in his life. Your neighbor was a bit different. He was actually a very loving man, a very kind man, and seemed to take his faith very seriously. As far as you could tell, his life and his actions seemed to match up with what he professed to believe. You appreciated that. However, you couldn’t help but be aware of one fact: your best friend, who is an atheist, is also a very loving, kind, generous, genuine, caring man. This leads you to believe that people are either loving and kind, or they’re not. What they believe likely has nothing to do with it.

The Christian chat room was a disgrace. Here there was nothing but bickering, name-calling, fearmongering, intimidation, judgment, and vicious language. Some people weren’t even actually conversing with anyone, they were just posting various scriptures from the Bible. Other were discussing the minutiae of Christian theology, and arguing over it heatedly. Some were discussing their hatred of gay people, Muslims, or just anyone who was even slightly different from them. Allusions to “hell” and “punishment” were common. No one seemed interested in being "righteous"; they seemed interested only in being "right".

Finally, your interviews with the ten different believers left you with a headache. You asked them all the same questions, most of which involved what they believed, why they believed it, and what it meant to them. Here again you were astounded by the stark diversity that characterized these Christians. It seemed as if you were talking to ten people from ten different religions, not ten people from the same religion. Two of them disagreed fundamentally on what it meant to be “saved by Jesus”, and yet both of them used the same passage of scripture to support their assertions. When you mentioned this to each of them, you were given the same answer by both: “We are the true followers; they are not.”

Thus, having spent some time investigating all these various believers, and having concluded that they are all hopelessly divided and that none of them seems to embody any kind of indisputable evidence for the existence of God, you go back to your Christian friend who originally initiated the challenge. You tell him your findings and your conclusions.

“What you have to understand,” he says, “is that not everyone who believes follows.” You inquire as to what this means, and he tells you that mental assent to a certain creed might make someone a member of the Christian religion, but it doesn’t make them an actual “follower of Jesus”. When you ask what does make someone an actual follower of Jesus, he says, “Love”.

You remind your friend that you yourself highly prize the virtue of love, and that you make it your business to be as loving as you can be. How, you ask, does that separate you from the Christian who defines himself as a true follower by his love, since you and he, nonbeliever and believer, can both possess love?

Your friend thinks about this for a moment and then says, “Well, I guess it’s faith that separates you. The loving Christian has faith. The loving nonbeliever does not.”

You politely indicate, then, that love obviously is not the deciding factor that makes a person a follower of Jesus since non-followers of Jesus can be just as loving. It seems to you that, once again, “faith” is the deciding factor. All roads, you note, seem to come back to faith when the question involves the Christian God. But this puzzles you, because each one of the Christians you observed, spent time with, and interviewed all professed faith in God and in Jesus. And yet your friend tells you that not all of them are actual “true followers”. And so, as far as you can tell, you still cannot pin down what makes a human either a member of the Christian religion or a “true follower of Jesus”.

And then it hits you. There are no true followers. There are only members of a religion, each group of which seems to think they are the true followers, each group of which seems to have their own criteria by which they define what makes a believer a "true follower". The obvious conclusion, your reasoning mind tells you, is that no sect is any better, truer, or more valid than any other, regardless of how significant and unique they seem to think themselves to be. All of them, with their various similarities and differences, fall under the same umbrella: believers in God and in Jesus, whatever that means to them individually. 

You have not found God here. You’ve not even found anything dynamic, praiseworthy, or even remotely attractive. What you have found, however, is a squabbling population of hopelessly divided, increasingly confused, and all too immoral believers who base their entire lives on delusions; delusions they dress up with theological jargon and call “faith". The indisputable evidence for that is overwhelming.

Thus, your journey continues, and therein lays the adventure…