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I do not believe in god. And I don’t know if there is anything that can make me believe in a god short of god making his presence known to me in a way I couldn’t deny. He seems disinclined to do anything of the sort. But I’m not going to let that stop me. For the remainder of this blog post, I grant that there is a god, or at least good reason to think so. Here we go…
Acknowledging there are good reasons to believe in a god does not get us to the god of the Bible, not even close. Here is a site that lists hundreds of gods. And it acknowledges that the list is far from complete. I could be mistaken. But I believe these are only gods worshipped today.
I’m not sure why all of these gods should be rejected as a candidate. And how do I sort them? Should I just start at the top? Go by alphabetical order? I’m pretty sure I don’t have enough life to examine them all. So how do I stop? Is it when one of them seems to have a coherent story that makes sense of the world? What if that is the first one? Should I stop then? What if two or more meet that criteria? Oh, dear! This is turning out to be more difficult than I thought.
Christian apologetics do not get a person to the Christian god. At best, the good ones get you to some sort of first mover: a concept I don’t have a problem with. I don’t believe it. But I also don’t find it problematic. Any of the gods in the above list could be the first mover. You can make a good case for the Christian god. But apparently, you can make a good case for any of the gods. My proof is that modern people are actually worshipping these gods. So the case was good enough for them.
I think to get out of this mess, we are going to have to grant more stuff as I can’t find a way to reason past the obstacle of too many gods from which to choose. So that we can move forward, I will grant that the god I have discovered is the god of one of the abrahamic religions. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really help all that much.
Do I study the Jewish bible, Christian bible, or Muslim bible? They each say different and conflicting things about god. Judaism was first. Christianity borrows from Judaism. Islam borrows from both. Just to be inclusive, LDS borrows from all of them. I see no reason to privilege Christianity as the true revelation when it received neither the first revelation nor the last.
To get to the next heading, we are going to have to make a further grant. Let’s just say it is the Christian god. Now what?
Reason or reality
This will be quick. We can’t actually make any progress until we clean up the mess I made earlier. What exactly are we granting? Are we granting there is good reason to believe there is a god, or that in reality we know there is a god?
While granting reasons to believe makes the most sense, it leaves us in a type of paralysis. We have no way of determining if it is actually true. This is no good as no call to action can resolve the issue. So I feel another grant coming: I grant that I have certain knowledge that the Christian god exists.
I also acknowledge that this presents problems I can’t resolve. For instance, how did I obtain that certain knowledge? The method of obtaining that knowledge might dictate a particular course of action. It might also lead one to assume that when I gained that knowledge, I also took the time to get other important questions answered. So the grant will be that I know the Christian god is real. But I don’t know anything else. Now what?
Worship or not to worship
For the moment, I am skipping the question of good god or evil god. Assuming he is a good god and he definitely exists, do I become a follower having no further information I can confirm?
I am averse to worship. It seems a god who wants to be worshipped is not worth worshiping. And a god who demands it is worthy of scorn. A good god simply would not demand a free being worship him. I have an ego. But I am not megalomaniacal. I know that because I do not want to be worshipped. I get uncomfortable when people pay me a complement. God wants you on your knees before him. I simply can’t relate to that.
I could definitely believe in a god I wouldn’t worship. I consider the devil a god. So if we also grant his reality, it is easy to picture a kind of god we wouldn’t worship. And it doesn’t even have to be an evil god. It could just be a non-interventionist god. There is no reason to worship a god who simply doesn’t want to be involved.
The Christian god is unappealing because he wants, even demands worship. This is kind of a dealbreaker for me. I don’t naturally want to worship. I want to give credit where it is due. I will even thank a person profusely, even embarrassingly. But I stop well short of a lifetime of worship.
There is another problem that will be covered more fully in an upcoming podcast. But it bears mentioning here. How do I worship a god that, in my heart, I really don’t want to worship? Is it just a matter of works? Can I just go through the motions? What are the motions? This is something I can’t grant my way out of. Knowing the Christian god exists would not cause me to worship him.
To love or not?
This is a similar but worse problem. One can at least go through the motions of worship. But love cannot be so easily contrived. As I understand it, one is commanded to love the Christian god. I cannot love anyone who demands I love them. True love cannot be commanded anyway, not even by an all-powerful god. True love can only be freely given by someone who genuinely feels it. That is not me.
Can I pretend to love god? Would that work? If not, then it is on god to woo me and convince me to fall in love with him. I don’t know how he could accomplish this. I don’t like what I know of him. And I’m not really looking for a love relationship. Can’t we just be friends? Maybe we could start there.
Jesus takes the further step of conflating love and obedience. He says that to love him is to keep his commandments. I can’t think of too many people I sincerely love, and who are in a position to give me commands that I must obey. In the military, I suppose a person can love their commanding officer. But it would be awkward. If the commander orders you to leave him behind because he is injured, love would compel you to disobey him. Obedience is not a sign of love, but acquiescence.
We can tolerate on command. We can appreciate and obey on command. But we can never be compelled to like or love a person on command. So the fact that this god believes he can order us to love him taels me that he does not understand how humans operate.
The god of the Bible wants to marry you by gunpoint. Love him or die. Those are not good options. We know he is real and that we have to love him. I feel stuck, trapped with no way out. Can I fool him into thinking I love him? Probably not. Should I fake it till I make it? That sounds like purposely giving myself a case of Stockholm syndrome. That’s no good. Loving god feels like a dead end.
Getting to know him
Just knowing that he’s real does not get me any closer to a relationship with him. For that, I need to get to know him. Unfortunately, he is still an invisible being who does not talk to me or manifest in a tangible way. So what method would I use to get to know him better since a traditional conversation is out of the window?
Unfortunately, I believe we are at another dead end. All I have to do is look at how well Christians know him. The bad news is they don’t seem to know him any better than I do right now. They claim to know him. But they cannot demonstrate intimate knowledge of him. As a Christian, I thought I knew him. But as it turns out, I didn’t.
I could study the Bible and try to learn more about him that way. But I have already done that at a level much higher than the average seeker. It didn’t help. I have read the Bible like a conservative scholar, a liberal scholar, and a simple devotee. It doesn’t help. I still end up with more questions than answers.
Still, small voices do nothing for me because I can’t distinguish the voice of god from my own internal dialog with myself. I can’t rule out the possibility that I received direct guidance from god at some point in the past. But I have no way of distinguishing it from my own guidance. So it does nothing to help me get to know him better.
There is always prayer. I did quite a bit of that. And I can say that did very little for me. I got to know myself a little better with regard to my fears and insecurities. But I never came to know god. Acknowledging his reality would not do anything to help me get to know him. I don’t know how to solve that particular problem.
Beyond worship, love, and knowledge of Jesus is discipleship. To please god, you have to be a follower of Jesus. Unfortunately, I don’t know what that means. If I don’t get my marching orders from voices in my head or other internal feelings, the only place I can think to look is in the Bible. But that means following the Bible is the same as following god. And I do not know how to follow the Bible. It is far too confounding a document for me.
the Bible is also not a document that guides us in realtime. It does not tell us what career is right for us, or whether or not we should go for that promotion. It does not tell us which political system is best, or how we should vote assuming that is even an option for us. It would be nice if it gave us useful guidance on what to eat or how best to take care of the environment. For all those practical things, we seem to be on our own.
Does following god mean supporting Trump, being against gun control, homosexual equality, egalitarianism, trans? Should I be vegetarian, pro death penalty, anti-abortion? I simply have no concept of what it means to follow Jesus in any meaningful way.
What should I do as a Christian that I am not doing now? Is it essential for me to go to church? How often? Which denominations are okay? Do I have to give money to the church? Do I have to ask god’s permission before I do things? How will I know his answer? I’ve been baptized. Do I need to be baptized again? Did I need to be baptized at all?
Knowing that god exists does not answer any of these questions. According to the Bible, there will be those who thought they had the answers. They were believers who were active in the church. They had miracle power as confirmation of their faith. Yet god will say that he never knew them. How do I make sure I avoid that fate? I have no idea. I just know that believing in god doesn’t clear it up.
Conclusion: Now what?
Granting god doesn’t help. I have laid out a few of the reasons why. Now, I call upon the Christian to tell me what they think I am supposed to do. I temporarily grant your god though I don’t actually believe. Now what?
Is there a prayer you want me to pray? I can assure you I have already prayed it. But I will be happy to pray it again on air. Is there a church I need to attend? Be specific and tell me how long I should attend and what level of participation I need to achieve. I will consider attending if it is possible. Is there some mantra I need to repeat to help convince me of the reality of god? Is there a book I need to read that I haven’t read, or an issue I need to study that I haven’t already studied? Let me know.
What I am saying is that granting god is as far as I can go. I still don’t grant that the Bible is the word of any god. Must I grant that as well? I don’t grant that the Christian god is good by my definition of goodness. I do not believe in either heaven or hell. So granting god doesn’t get me very far. Where do I go from here? I can’t wait to read the suggestions.
And that’s the view from the skeptic.