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Why God? Why?

Smart people I know and love frequently pop out with some sort of “I believe in God” statement. If it’s not God, it’s some other gods or goddesses or numinous something-or-other(s), or an unspecified spiritual component to the universe. It’s like people can’t conceive of an existence without the supernatural.

I used to be that way. I have distant memories of that desire to find the entity behind it all, to relate to something far larger and smarter than me. I remember thinking I’d never want to live in a world without magic. I wanted to believe. Needed to. Desperately.

And then… I didn’t.

It just went away. It gradually faded out. I got busy with other things, set the existential angst aside, stopped seeking the Divine so ardently and then not at all. And my need to believe, my certainty that some divine intelligence created this universe, vanished without me noticing. I had to have my attention drawn to the fact I’d become an atheist when I wasn’t looking. And I laughed, and shrugged, and went on with my life.

That need for the divine, for magic and mystery, has more than been fulfilled by reality. Nothing has been as phenomenal, nothing has given me a greater sense of awe, than this universe – and the fact that we tiny, insignificant products of mindless evolution are smart enough to figure it out. Sense of wonder: in hyperdrive. Mind: permanently blown. I can’t even imagine ever wanting, much less needing, religion or what most people mean by spirituality ever again.

Carl Sagan on the wonder of the universe, via Atheist Memebase.

Carl Sagan on the wonder of the universe, via Atheist Memebase.

 

 “Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing univers, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy.” – Carl Sagan

I know that people who tell me there must be something more to the universe feel compelled to believe it, but I can’t feel their compulsion anymore. It’s so distant I can only empathize on an intellectual level, relating to this as a fact, but part of me is continually astonished by that need. It doesn’t matter that I felt it once. It’s like thinking store-bought strawberries are delicious, and then tasting a luscious, sun-warmed, vine-ripened, hand-grown and carefully selected strawberry straight out of the garden: those store-bought strawberries will never taste so good again. Then someone tells me how much they long for good strawberries, looking on their smart phone to see if there’s a grocery store anywhere in the area, while we’re standing in a field full of the best strawberries ever grown. And they admit these are pretty good strawberries, but one of the stores must have better ones. I’m just boggled.

George Perkins Marsh, via Thinking, Questioning, Seeking.

George Perkins Marsh, via Thinking, Questioning, Seeking.

 Wherever modern Science has exploded a superstitious fable or even a picturesque error, she has replaced it with a grander and even more poetical truth. – George Perkins Marsh.

All of these concepts of the divine are so impoverished compared to reality. The gods are cheap trinkets, glass bead goddesses and tinfoil creators. When you approach myth and legend as stories people tell, they can sometimes be fun and inspiring and thought-provoking, even life-changing – but to claim them as capital-T truth destroys their value. This universe is so much more immense than any god could be. It doesn’t need magic, or a spirit force, or anything other than its blind, unthinking self to be magnificent. And those who think natural processes are worth less than a so-called intelligent designer haven’t given any thought to how much more awesome it is to realize that plain ol’ physical processes did all of this on their own. Every jaw-dropping thing you see needed no help from a deity. That, my friends, is the true magic.

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left only with art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That’ll do for me. – Lynne Kelly

And once I realized that, the need for deities or any divinity vanished. Gone. Finished. Surplus to requirements and dumped like the dead weight it was. Contrary to previous concerns, the universe didn’t shrink when that happened. It expanded. It increases exponentially virtually every day.

I went from Why, God, why? to Why God? Why would we need such a thing? What good does it do? Why bother, when the universe doesn’t need it and we’re better off without it?

Realizing this set me free of the fear of God. Once that bond was loosened, the others unraveled.

Realizing this set me free of the fear of God. Once that bond was loosened, the others unraveled.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

-The Epicurean Paradox

Your turn, my darlings. If you feel so inclined, share your stories about leaving the supernatural behind for the natural. Tell us what filled that void so many are afraid will never be filled when one tips deities into the rubbish bin. What’s life like, now that you’re not convinced you’re missing the Divine?

Comments

  1. voidhawk says

    People who claim ‘there must be more to life than this’ are utterly without imagination or wonder.

    You are a collection of billions of living things all co-operating and competing to construct a structure endlessly more complex than the most intricate machine man has ever developed, and we are just one of billions more of these structures working together, living together and loving together on one seemingly insignificant speck of dust orbiting one of more than a sextillion stars, each of them burning for billions of years, forging the very elements which make you you before dying and being reborn in a beautiful cycle of creation and desruction which will go on for aeons longer than the history of our species. Even as the stars themselves ade away, the universe will create new wonders to be seen by no eyes – atoms larger than galaxies, light-house like beams of energy illuminating the endless darkness from the cores of those dying suns.

    There has to be more to life than that? get real.

  2. says

    Wish it were so easy for everyone. Mine was a lot more dramatic – a realization that dawned while raising 3 kids, and I’m afraid it resulted in some bad times for them. But like you, I look back on the religious me, the one who went to a Christian college to prepare for the ministry, and who had a pastoral internship in the deepest fundy sinkhole in North Carolina, and wonder; “Who was that guy?”

    And feel a sense of loss equal to the life investment. Not the loss of god (good riddance to bad mythology) but of irreplaceable time, and family relationships. Thanks a lot, Christianity.

    But hey, I can still partially make out the Greek inscription. So that’s something.

  3. rq says

    While my actual belief in god faded out, with a few significant signposts but no Big Bang of Atheism, I’d always been able to reconcile god with nature somehow. But now that the belief has gone out, I feel no desire or need to reawaken it, for much the same reasons as you: as I once said, it’s so much more Awesome to think that everything here on earth and in the universe is self-assembled, rather than some giant hand came out of the Nothing and built it or planned it.
    As for what filled the void? That’s hard to put into words, but I have two favourite videos from Symphony of Science that do a fine job of describing my feelings:
    We Are Star Dust: Seriously – if I am already an integral part of the universe right down at the molecular level, why should I go seek unity with some mysterious higher power? The universe is as big as it gets, and with science, we reach out to it…
    and
    Onward to the Edge: This one I find especially poignant for the Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote at the end:

    When I reach for the edge of the universe, I do so knowing that, along some paths of cosmic discovery, there are times when, at least for now, one must be content to love the questions themselves.

    It nearly makes me cry every time, because it’s so true – there is so much out there that we don’t know, that we won’t find out in a single life-time, and it hurts not to know… but the questions must be asked. And we know the answers are out there.
    If we keep asking Why, god? I’m afraid we’ll never receive an answer at all.

    So, what is life like? Beautiful. And fearless.

  4. petemoulton says

    My religious days, such as they were, ended by the time I was ten. None of the biblical stories ever made any sense, even to a ten-year-old, but when I asked adults about them, they just told me to have faith. What that meant to me was that the stories (really? a talking snake?) didn’t make any more sense to them, but they continued to believe them in the hope that someday they would. It didn’t take much of that to learn to distrust everything an adult told me until I’d had the opportunity to check it out for myself.

  5. says

    I have some very specific comments I want to share about this post (and not in defense of religion, either), but I’m afraid they’re too lengthy to post as a comment. I’m going to get my thoughts together and send them to you.

  6. says

    I remember a day quite a time after I accepted my loss of faith. I was in Banff National Park staring out from where I stood on Tunnel Mountain at what I would once have thought of as God’s magnificent creation, and instead of seeing something put together by God, I saw something awe-inspiring. Every thing down there was incredible. The myriad paths through evolutionary history that led to such a remarkable set of unique living things… I think that was the first time I really got it, and it was a moment full of what I had formerly thought of as that spiritual bliss, but now recognize as awe at the amazing world I live in.

  7. says

    @3. Same here, except my epiphany came about age 8 at Vacation Bible School, where the nice lady told us a story about all the animals and the big boat. My 8-year-old skeptic’s brain said “no way”, and it was all downhill from there.

    For a while, I tried to believe in various forms of woo. I was an “you can’t possibly know” type of agnostic for a while. I was a “god is to us as we are to amoeba” deist for a while. But never a “there was this guy Jesus and if you believe in him you’ll live forever” Christian. That shit’s just way too far-fetched. If I ever had that level of credulity, it was gone about the same time I gave up belief in the Tooth Fairy.

    The outsider’s view of all of the stories now basically informs me that anyone who claims they know what a god is, and in particular what it wants, is either a complete charlatan or a complete fool (well meaning or otherwise). I don’t think there’s a third option.

  8. machintelligence says

    Yet another born skeptic here. I remember my father asking me, around age 10, “Don’t you believe in God?” I wish I could recall what I said that elicited that question. I do remember thinking “Of course not. Does anybody?”

    Nevertheless I attended Sunday school and earned my 8 year pin (50 weeks attendance per year.) Bible stories struck me as fairy tales for adults. It was obvious to me that God had been created in the image of man and not vice versa. A few weeks after confirmation (so that I could claim to be responsible for myself), I announced that I would no longer be attending church and would have nothing further to do with religion. That was over 50 years ago.

  9. unbound says

    A bit more of a meandering story for me than others. I was raised in a strong Catholic family with my maternal grandparents being very staunch Catholics and even one uncle on my mom’s side that is a pastor. So, being raised from infancy in that environment, Catholicism was just part of everyday life growing up.

    As an older teen, I started questioning things that didn’t match between my education and some of the more traditional aspects of Catholicism (e.g. I remember one ceremony where the priest mentioned the world was 6,000 years old…I was told he was just being traditional and not to worry about it, but it still bothered me). This was still in the 80s, so it wasn’t easy to get questions answered (certainly not where I was raised), so I just kept living with doubts.

    As a young adult, I was probably on the edge of becoming atheist, but shortly after getting married by the justice of the peace (the Catholic church closest to me had a real ass as a pastor), I found a rather modern, much more liberal Catholic church a bit further away that kept me more positive about the church.

    Then, a couple of issues hit that took the religion out of me completely. The first was when I met a young earth creationist. He was a nice enough person, but the ideas he was trying to push on me (he was a fellow engineer that got transferred to my section) were nothing short of insane coming from someone in the mid/late 90s (I didn’t need the internet to tell me that). What religion taught him, an otherwise educated person, showed me how things could go way too far. A few years after that was the second event…Cardinal Law.

    Cardinal Law taught me that the Catholic church did not actually care about being moral. Here was someone who was caught that did terrible things (no need to recap here) with no real repercussions. I waited patiently to see something come of it that year, and then when he (and a couple of others) were flown to Rome, I was expecting it to hit the fan. Here was a slam-dunk crime that should result in the cardinal being not only removed from office, but also excommunicated. But the pope just slapped them on the wrist. At that point, I fully realized that the one primary key of the Catholic church (that they were the source of morality) was nothing more than a lie. And if that one paramount aspect of the church was lie, then everything else about the church simply had no value to me.

    As I looked around for alternatives, I realized that it was just more of the same. There really isn’t any meaningful difference between the various religions. Which really left me with one choice that, deep down, was something that I’d known for a long time…