Not even God could make Me Religious

May 20, 2011

Atheism has nothing to worry about, not even from God. Let the End of Days arrive. If there is a God, there’s still no good way to persuade reasonable people to get religion.

Nonbelievers don’t see enough evidence for God. We do hear plenty of believers saying that God’s going to prove us wrong. Should fresh warnings about the immanent End of Days and Armageddon make atheists nervous? Some among the faithful are already heightening their taunts. When God shows up soon, you skeptics will have to change your tune, and get religious real fast!

Well, no. Not even God could help me become religious. God could “make” me religious, like it could make me into a banana, but that’s not the concern. I really doubt there’s anything God do to persuade me. There are atheists in foxholes already; I’d be an atheist in heaven.

As my book The God Debates (www.goddebates.com) explains, available evidence can’t justify belief in a theistic God. But let's go further, playing out the scene where God manifests all Its glory. This supernatural God is so impressively and infinitely perfect, the story goes, that people instantly bow down with dutiful worship. Not me, though, no matter what a God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam does right in front of us. What could a God do to display perfection? For example, God could never show that It is all-powerful. God might convince us that It made our universe, but that’s hardly enough to prove that It could do anything and everything, and it wouldn’t even help if God makes more universes right in front of our eyes. God couldn’t prove It is all-knowing either. God might accurately predict every single event for our entire lifetimes -- a very impressive feat -- but that's not a demonstration that It knows everything. After all, such deeds could be performed by a less-than-perfect God. Some credulous people may hastily conclude that It is perfect, but not thoughtful skeptics.

God couldn't authenticate a perfect goodness, either. This universe is poor evidence of a supremely good plan, with so many natural disasters, horrible diseases, and human frailties. If God assures us that some tragedy was actually a good thing, then God has a very twisted meaning for “good.” I won’t applaud any cosmic scheme if I have to start confusing good and evil. Let God tell me, You wouldn’t come to Me unless I made you so weak, so Thank Me -- I reply, “Good thing my mind is strong enough.” If God next tells me, You wouldn’t exist unless the Holocaust happened, so Praise My Works -- I reply, “Better I had not been born.” I can hold on to my ethical principles, while God’s are so questionable.

Sure, when a powerful but imperfect Being performs magic for me, I’d admit its existence. Yet acknowledging a Power is hardly getting religious about it. I don’t worship the sun, after all. Being religious is more about engaging in a relationship. As far as we could tell, we’d be dealing with some cosmic Wizard flaunting impressive powers, good intentions, and modest results. I can’t see why an atheist would get religious over that. Think about what this Wizard might want from us, and what sort of relationship could be possible.

Maybe this Wizard wants exclusive worship and praise and obedience. This atheist would not bow down before some Wizard even if It says that It loves me, It has a great plan for my life, and I can’t do better by myself. I’m not a child, or anyone’s tool; and no one needs a jealous stalker. I want to freely guide my own destiny, since that’s where any meaning to life is enjoyed. Warnings of bad things happening when I stray from the wizardly plan are threats to take seriously, but my reluctant submission forbids a healthy relationship with It. This Wizard could zap my brain with “soul control” to transform me, yet however gracefully done, automatic religiosity is another kind of enslavement. Childish dependency, fearful subservience, or dumbstruck awe should no longer inspire religiosity in anyone.

On the other hand, maybe this Wizard intends creation as a gift of unconditional love, and wants us to live our lives without any wizardly designs, intrusions, or judgments. I could have some respect for that. But then I'd go on to take care of this life, since that’s still my responsibility. My attitude toward a hands-off Wizard would not be religious, but rather like my reverence toward nature: something deserving my gratitude, but not my submission or imitation. Some think that trust in a Wizard’s Love is the path to world peace. Actually, we ought to get along with mutual respect because we have responsibilities to each other, not to some Wizard. Let our ideal of love suffice to inspire us, if we trust our own power to change the world.

Either way, whether a demanding or a distant Wizard shows up, there is no good reason to be religious. If we are dealing with a Demanding Wizard, then a religious life is an enslaved life. If we are dealing with a Distant Wizard, then a religious life is an irresponsible life. Neither is worthy of me, or anyone else.

God can’t make me religious, sorry -- so fantasizing about End Times won’t help. Others among the faithful deny that God would ever manifest Itself, chastising atheists for demanding divine evidence or clear conceptions of God. How silly of us atheists to suppose that religion has any clarity! Don’t we realize how no one can fully understand the Unlimited Being? Actually, that’s what atheists have always been saying. The God you are worshipping is limited to whatever clouds your own mind.

Perhaps these religious mystics, fellow skeptics really, have stumbled on how religion really works. Why would a God, if one exists, expose itself to looking unworthy? A devious God can keep people religious by revealing very little to humanity. Shrouded in mystery, a God inflates in the human imagination to infinities which the human intellect could never match. With their imagination and faith in charge, religious people can willingly do anything for their God. Anything at all, like righteously congregating into churches and religiously hating others over disagreements about something that no one really comprehends. Does anyone need more evidence of this senselessly tragic drama, which is apparently the finest plan for humanity from a Mystery Wizard? Decent self-respecting people should want nothing to do with It.

What does this atheist say if brought before God? “Not worthy enough, God, not worthy enough.”
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