I find the whole trend as fascinating as I do annoying. I can’t get my head around why anyone in their right mind would dedicate the necessary time required to read a few hundred pages written by a man they don’t know about why he doesn’t believe in “the God concept.” If a girl down the block wrote a book about why she doesn’t believe in big foot, would we care? We have been talking and writing about why we do or don’t believe in the God concept for thousands of years. We have also invented thousands of names for this God, whether real or imagined. And through the millennia we have invented hundreds of religions and religious and ceremonial practices around these various Gods. None of which have ever helped us in our pursuit to prove or disprove these Gods’ existence.
We can no more debate with any degree of success the existence or non-existence of a “God” than we can the equally evasive concepts of “the ego” or “the id” or “the sub-conscious” or “the afterlife” or “the soul.” They are all intriguing concepts but neither provable nor disprovable. Ideas such as reincarnation, human beings having “souls,” astral projection, near death experiences, a spirit world, the list goes on and on. The minds of human beings are filled with ideas and concepts that remain no more than that: ideas. Ideas are not necessarily bad things. But they certainly are not real except in the fact that we may or may not be able to one day measure their existence with brain scans or more advanced technology. Even when we are able to prove the existence of ideas themselves, which we inevitably will at some point in the future, that does not imply that we will be able to do much more with them other than to know that so and so has one. It certainly will not mean that we or he or she will be able to prove their idea has any merit or truth to it.
It always annoys me a tad when someone tells me that they are feeling a little unbalanced and are thinking that they “might need to get their chakras aligned.” A good friend told me a few months ago that a psychic told her that if she worked really hard and mediated everyday she could have her “fifth chakra” balanced and empowered within five years. I was aghast. She made the comment so casually, with such certainty and conviction, as if chakras were as well-researched and proven a commodity as bread or milk or cheese.
Of course there are also vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and angels too. Brilliant ideas. Interesting ideas. But hard to prove or disprove. So most simply don’t go there. Though some do. Vampires have been all the rage for hundreds of years. And angels for thousands of years. Though no one has yet to capture one with their cell phone and post it to YouTube. That will certainly be the day for us all. Talk about “millions of views.” Think of the instant celebrity for that lucky bastard.
The idea of a Loch Ness Monster captivated my attention for at least a day or two when I was a youngster, but I certainly wouldn’t read a book by someone now trying to prove or disprove the existence of a Loch Ness Monster. Now if someone manages to yank one up out of the deep one day, I’ll be the first to forward that news link to friends and family the world over, but until that fateful day, I just have no interest in listening to someone pontificate about it.
By the end of my sophomore year in college as a budding young philosophy major I resolutely decided I was done being a philosopher. Or better put, I would be a philosopher for life, but I was done majoring in the art of debating the improvable. Much to my professors’ disappointment. They thought I would make a fine philosopher. But I switched majors to World Literature which I felt offered me a little more in the “real” department ironically enough. In those first two years we were introduced to many fine concepts. “Freewill versus determinism, the understanding of fallacies, the proper use of a killer syllogism. It was valuable learning. But I still did not think the study of things improvable was a worthy pursuit for a life well lived. At least not my own.
One of the assignments I remember that really nailed the coffin shut for me was when we were studying the philosophical dilemma of trying to prove whether or not WE existed or not. This is in academic circles a very real and seriously taken philosophical dilemma and one that hundreds of thousands of books and papers have been written about; both trying to prove and disprove the theory. Descartes attempted to prove this ancient dilemma by proclaiming “Cogito, ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.” One of the most famous philosophical utterances of all time. And one that many a man has used to prove to himself that he does indeed exist. (Which is of course inherently a joke in and of itself. If you are trying to prove anything to yourself, chances are YOU probably fucking exist. So leave it alone already.)
If I had stayed a philosophy major I would have proven my own existence to my professor by simply walking up to him and slapping him in the face a few times and asking him in the process if I existed or not. We can safely assume that eventually he would have had to give in, proclaim my existence to get me to stop slapping him, and given me an A in the process.
When people ask me, both religious and non-religious alike, how I can feel this way and still claim to be “spiritual,” have faith in a God, and regularly practice a religious faith tradition – currently a Christian-Buddhist fusion – I respond by saying “How can you practice being an honest, moral, good decent person without knowing or being able to prove with certainty that it’s necessary to be this way? You ARE an honest, decent, good, moral person aren’t you?” Many attempt to live this way. One would wish that more did… But still, many do, and for what reasons specifically other than that it simply feels like the right thing to do? What more can they say? We have no proof that there is any real need to be honest or moral or kind or decent or ethical. Nor can anyone for that matter give a real proof regarding why they might be spiritual, religious, or attempt in their daily lives to connect with a higher power in the universe.
Of course I also tell them that I love, cherish, and have a very close and special connection and relationship with a God. Or at least I BELIEVE I do. And therefore I believe in the “God concept.” But that connection and the inherent belief in it that follows is very hard to even fully fathom, let alone put into words. And it is certainly not something I can prove to anyone other than to relay certain stories or anecdotes from throughout my life that have seemed to be slightly peculiar or coincidental, serendipitous, transcendent, synchronistic, providential or Divine in some way.
One day a few years ago a pastor that I admire and look up to very much commented that “One does not find God. God finds us.” He asked us to stop and think of the ramifications of this idea in our own lives for a moment. Besides the fact that I nearly idolize this man, for his insight, his brilliant mind, his passion for the Divine in all things, his tender open heart, and his example as a human being, I still found his statement and question very apropos to my own personal experience of “God finding me.” It was, in essence, exactly what happened to me. Something I have already spoken about in the past. It wasn’t that I was not seeking, it was just rather unexpected and sublimely more impactful and transcendent an experience than I expected it to be when “God found me.” Something I will never forget. And quite probably something that will keep me a believer in the God concept for the rest of my life. And also keep me attempting to connect more deeply with He/She/It as much as I can as well.
When friends in my business ask me how I can possibly believe in a God – for there is no more secular nor liberal place in the world today than in the arts and entertainment business – I always respond that I completely understand and relate to the atheist and agnostic identity. I wore it for years. I dig it. It’s a very cool, practical, logical, and intelligent place to live. But for better or worse it is not a luxury I am able to afford now. God simply wouldn’t allow it. He found me alright. Yanked me up by my hair and dragged my ass into being “a believer.” The Divine showed itself to me in a way that I simply could no longer deny. There wasn’t really a lot of choice in the matter at first for me. Eventually I came around and deliberately decided it wasn’t such a bad idea to take it on. (Still doesn’t mean I can prove this “Divinity’s” existence though.)
Some have asked me over the years if I don’t feel a moral imperative to share my belief in a God with others – much like Mr. Dawkins or Mr. Collins have done — so that others might be “saved” or live better lives. But I tend to shy away from such actions unless specifically requested by someone to tell a story or two or to relate to them why I have found a relationship with a God beneficial to me. I don’t necessarily believe that all humans need to be “saved,” and even if some do, I certainly don’t believe that there is only one way to save them.
I must admit I get a little hot and bothered under the collar by some of my peers’ insistence that we need to “save” the “souls” of people for the sake of their existence in the “afterlife.” Since we haven’t as of yet been able to prove the concept of this “saving,” nor the “soul” idea, and neither the “afterlife” concept, why go there at all? I prefer to save people here now who need actual saving here now. If someone loses a home and all of their belongings I do feel some unexplainable need to help save them the hardship by lending a hand to rebuild their home for them. Or in times of good money I like sponsoring kids in dire need when a mere $30 a month feeds them that entire month and that amount is far less than I spend on Frapucinos anyway. If we can afford Starbucks, Jamba Juice, or Netflix, or even cable or satellite TV, then certainly we can afford to keep at least one other human being eating enough food to stay alive month to month. That’s “saving” to me. We’ll leave the “afterlife” to those IN the afterlife. They’ll let us know if they need saving. So far they haven’t spoken up.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind sharing. In fact I enjoy doing it; in those situations when asked to do so. It is after all an amazing experience to live life with a sort of conscious and unconscious understanding, knowing, and feeling that we have a direct line with something awe-inspiring and powerful that is forgiving, all-good, and deeply understanding of our fate in life. I find the belief to be a healthy one. But just because that applies to me, I would never presume to believe that would apply to everyone else who shares the planet or solar system with us. I know plenty of people who have no such belief system in their conscious mind or thought processes and who lead admirably moral and exemplary lives. More so than myself, some of them. So…
That is another aspect to this ongoing debate that is irksome. Humankind’s relationship with a Divine power is a very personal thing. Something only each and every individual themselves can relate to or understand. And that includes those who choose to NOT have a relationship with any Divine power as well. For surely that is as much of a relationship as one who prays everyday to something. An atheist is still a theist. Not intelligent enough to be agnostic. Not wise enough to shut the hell up; very similar to evangelicals or extremists who give more thought-out Christians or Muslims a bad name by their blind ambition to convert those who do not agree with them.
We could go on and on of course, which is the nature of philosophy, and theology. A never ending dialogue about things guessed and conjectured but essentially, by their very essence, and inherently man-made and improvable. Fun and intellectually enticing and titillating, but rather wasteful of precious human energy if indulged in too much – especially if we are going to eventually get down to the real tasks at hand like using the best of what we have to make the world a better place in the short time we are here together.
It is not that “The God Delusion” is an illusion per se. It is simply an idea that has been around for tens of thousands of years. Nor is the pursuit of “The Language of God.” Both concepts and pursuits are as real as the inventors of the ideas, the authors of the books, and their respective readers care to make them in their personal lives. Sort of like “life after death.” Not a bad idea at all. In fact, I would submit that it is quite the comforting thought. But certainly not something one can prove or disprove, and certainly not something to spend a lot of time writing or reading about as if from some secret knowledge or impassioned faith. Better to get on with the living of the “life before death” and leave life after death in its proper place – AFTER death.
If it ever is to occur that one of the millions of us who die each year should ever find a way to communicate with those of us still “living” certainly they will be so kind as to let us know that “life after death” does indeed exist. While they’re at it, they can also confirm or deny for us the idea of the soul, reincarnation, chakras, free-will versus determinism, the astral plane, the spirit world, and even vampires, angels, and big foots.
In the meantime, current statistics tell us that every 3.9 seconds of every single day someone who is living among us dies from either starvation or thirst on our small planet. For those who have a God, by all means PRAY. But let us also not forget to roll up our sleeves and take action. Mother Theresa, a celibate, dedicated, penniless, female-priest of the Catholic faith tradition taught us that valuable lesson. For all the prayers to a God in the world that we can muster, we still need real-world action if we are to make real progress as the fledgling Gods that we are ourselves in THIS world. But a little prayer here and there certainly won’t hurt either.