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Atheist Perspectives, Volume 6

By Ben Love ~

You want to believe in God. You really do. Sometimes you get…lonely. Even when you’re surrounded by a room full of friends. Even when you spooning your wife at night, basking in the love you share. You still get lonely. Why is that? Isn’t it because something inside of you longs for more? Isn’t it because something inside of you yearns for eternity? Isn’t it because there are needs within you that even your loved ones can’t seem to fill?

Your Christian friends call this yearning a “God-shaped hole.” You, on the other hand, simply call it par for the course on the human journey. After all, to be a human, as the Buddhists have said, as Nietzsche said, is to suffer. It’s not easy to be flesh and blood in a world that is cold and indifferent. We get dirty. We get hurt. We get discouraged. Sometimes we end up sitting on the side of the road with no energy to take another step. In these moments, we feel the ache. The Christians say this ache is a stepping-stone to God. (Their God, by the way.) But you’re not so sure. You think it’s more likely that this ache is merely the natural and logical residue that would and should be present any time any form of consciousness puts on skin and walks about on this planet. This planet is, after all, a dangerous place.

Still, you don’t want to be too careless and quick in discarding the possibility that perhaps this ache is indeed pointing toward something or someone eternal. And the more you think about this, the more a certain question continues to float to the surface of your mind. It’s a good question, one that should be asked. And so you ask it…

“If there was a God, how would I know it?”

You disagree with your Christian friends about their assertions that the natural world is evidence enough to conclude the existence of God. While you concede that it might be evidence enough to postulate the probable existence of an as-of-yet unknown Creator, that still doesn’t mean the natural world (i.e., the beauty of the Earth, the stars in the sky, the intricacies of DNA, the existence of laws in the Cosmos, and so forth) is evidence enough to conclude who this Creator is, what this Creator is like, and what needs to happen in order to know this Creator. You note that your Christian friends are far too willing to make a convenient leap in this regard. That is, they take the implications of the natural world and the possible/probable Creator that may come with it automatically assume that the God they happen to have faith in (the God of their particular religion, a religion they happened to have been raised in, the religion that suits them, the one that, lo and behold, they already find themselves situated comfortably in) is the same person as this theoretical Creator. You are not willing to make that leap, because in doing so you must accept the unacceptable, concede the impossible, and embrace a human manifestation of God whose actions as recorded in the Bible reveal him to be a highly inappropriate and all too humancharacter. You’ve given up trying to make your Christian friends see this, however. It’s not even that they don’t want to see it. (although they don’t); it’s simply that they can’t see it. Their faith (which is invested with self-preservation) prevents them. They can’t see that, either.

Still, if there were a God, how would you know it?

One of your Christian friends makes a statement in this regard, “You can only know a God who reveals himself.”

And, in this instance, you concede that your friend is absolutely correct. It makes sense. If there were indeed some sort of God out there, the only way he could make himself definitively known beyond the speculations that the natural world arouses is to make an implicit revelation about himself to his creations. Otherwise, all these creations would ever have is mere conjecture and bitter struggles over whose version of this Creator is correct. (Too bad that is exactly what we see on this planet, but nevertheless…)

So you spend some time thinking about the concept of “revelation.” What does the concept mean, anyway? As far as you can tell, it means that, assuming a supernatural, infinite entity exists, he would reveal himself (or expose himself, if you prefer) to his natural, finite creations in such a way as to ensure they would know about his existence. This seems logical to you, because without this kind of revelation, the creations would be left wondering, pondering, speculating, drawing conclusions which perhaps are completely erroneous, and thus living out their lives in total ignorance about the reality of their origins and, ultimately, their destinies. (This is, of course, assuming that a supernatural Creator cares enough to do so; it’s not impossible that he creates things and then willingly forgets about them, having no further interest in them. But that possibility is too depressing to contemplate.)

Having defined what revelation is, the next, most logical step is to ask yourself if the historical record of humanity suggests that such a thing has occurred. Your Christian friends chime in immediately and say that, yes, such a thing has indeed occurred. They then point to a few things: Yahweh’s dealings with Abraham, the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses, and most importantly, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The problem is, you’ve already contended with this Yahweh, and you have your doubts about Jesus. Moreover, the only “historical record” for these items comes from the Bible, and the Bible is not without its sociopolitical, dogmatic agenda. You therefore are highly dubious of your friends’ claims that these instances constitute bonafide examples of true revelation.

Furthermore, you can’t help but draw some logical conclusions about the concept of revelation. Assuming there is a God, and assuming that we are his creations, and assuming that this God wants us to know about him, and even further assuming that the eternal destinies of heaven or hell are added to the picture, it becomes imperative on behalf of this God to be straightforward, effective, and as a precise as possible in delivering his revelation. The revelation would, you deduce, come in one of two ways. Either this God would physically make himself present for all the world to see (by far the most effective method), or he would issue some sort of message, one that was accessible, verifiable, and which left little room for doubt and confusion if indeed the immortal souls of his creations and the eternal destination of those souls are riding on it. A true God, you reason, would not dick around with his revelation, nor hang about in the shadows while his creations fought over the confusing and perplexing nature of the revelation, nor confirm it for some who ask and ignore others who ask, nor couch the message in such blatant mystery and contradiction as to cause many of his creations to mistrust the message and reject it completely, nor give his creations the weighty responsibly of making sense of such an incongruous message while bullying them with the threat of hell looming in the background should they draw the wrong conclusion.

Moreover, you reason that if this God wants everyone to know him, he should independently reveal himself to everyone. Such an entity would know the natures of his creations, and he would therefore understand that if he only revealed himself to some people and then commissioned them to go out and spread the message, many people wouldn’t trust the information. They would call it hearsay, and they would be right in doing so. Such a God would also understand the nature of his creations enough to know that many people would misuse this revelation for personal gain, that some would lie about it, that some would subtract from it or add to it in order to corrupt it and politicize it. Therefore, the only fair and reasonable conclusion is that if a God wanted to reveal himself, he would have to do it independently to each person. Otherwise, when Tom stands before this God on the day of reckoning and has to explain why he didn’t believe, Tom could rightly say, “Well, God, you revealed yourself directly to Dave, but you didn’t do that with me. You wanted me to take Dave’s word for it. But I didn’t trust Dave because he had a history of lying about other things. If you had come to me directly, we’d be having a much different conversation right now.” And if God were to send Tom to hell after that while keeping Dave in his company, we must assume this is an unjust God who should beopposed.

Your Christian friends reject these logical conclusions and retreat to the same argument they always give: “God has revealed himself in the Bible, end of story.”

If that is indeed the case, you can’t help but feel that God dropped the ball. If the Bible is indeed the “word” of this God, it should be as consistent and as perfect as the author supposedly is. But the Bible, you know, is hopelessly conflicted. Many differing groups use the same parts of the Bible to account for their opposing beliefs. Many people read the Bible and come away thinking that they have no idea what to believe. Many people read the Bible and note some peculiar behavior there, behavior they’re not as quick to casually dismiss as their Christian friends are. You consider all of these things, and reason that if God chose to reveal himself through the Bible, and if the Bible is therefore the definitive revelation for humanity, then God purposely left too much room for doubt. But this doesn’t fit with what you logically know a true God would do.

“God can do anything he wants,” a believing friend tells you. “He’s the Creator. He can orient things in any way he chooses and you just have to deal with it.”

This, you know, is not so. If God is God, then he must be incapable of violating himself. This means that he actually is beholden to behave in a certain way. He is actually bound by his own nature, bound to act out of that nature, never to betray it (this creates other problems for you, though, because a God shouldn’t be bound by anything, even himself; logically, though, you know he must be—this constitutes a paradox). As such, you know that a God could not deliberately circumvent his own desires by making it as hard as possible for us to believe in him. A truly loving and kind God who actually does wanteveryone to be saved would make believing in him something everyone could do, something that should be relatively simple. And there is nothing about the Bible that is easily swallowed. In fact, the Bible is as unpalatable a piece of human contriving as anything you’ve ever encountered.

Thus, as far as your conscience has taken you, you cannot say with any authority that a Creator has revealed himself to humanity. You’d like it to be so, but it simply isn’t. Not yet, at least. And if a Creator hasn’t done so by now, it would seem he isn’t going to do so. That means he either doesn’t exist, or exists but is uninterested in us. Either way, atheism still comes out as the best stance for you.

You want to believe in God. You really do. But you don’t want it bad enough to sooth your own ache by embracing that which you know is wrong. You’d rather have the truth and go on aching than be placated with a lie.

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