7.) NO ANSWER IS BETTER THAN A BAD ANSWER.
It is true that there is SO much we don’t yet (and may never) know about how the world works, how life got started, who Jesus actually was and how the events surrounding his life (assuming he was a real person) actually played out (and for that matter, what actually went down in most of human history). There is so much that we just can’t explain based on what we currently know, especially when it comes to events (whether biological or sociological) that happened in the very distant past.
And that doesn’t sit well with us.
We humans have this beautiful and obsessive need to understand things. (Perhaps engrained in us by evolution, that we may better predict and prepare for future events and thereby promote our survival…?)
And this need has driven us historically, in the absence of clear, observable explanations, to make up explanations. Weather patterns, reproduction, disease, and so many more natural phenomena we observe have been attributed to the intervention of a god or gods. But as time has marched on and human understanding has increased (in large part due to the development and application of the scientific process) more and more of these phenomena have been moved from the supernatural “shelf” to the natural one.
Today we know that the movement of the stars across the sky is the result of planetary orbit and has nothing to do with any sort of drama being played out by divine beings. We know that earthquakes happen because of shifts in tectonic plates caused by temperature differences between the earth’s core and crust and the resultant convection of molten rock, and not because any god is angry with us. We know that babies are made when a sperm fertilizes an egg, and that children often inherit the diseases of their parents as the result of the random sorting of DNA during meiosis and the uniting of randomly selected gametes, and not because of a family curse.
At one time, these phenomena were completely mysterious and the causes anyone’s guess. Today they are not.
Today, there are other questions that stump us. How could the first protein have been made if it takes a protein to make a protein? How could multi-part molecular systems that work so intricately and elegantly have happened accidentally? How come a few rare people recover miraculously and unexpectedly from terminal illnesses? Why do certain equally rare people have visions and insights and skills that are far above and beyond what most of us ever experience?
And the list goes on.
And just as human beings have done in the past when life is mysterious and unexplainable, many of us are tempted to say, “This is evidence of God. There is no way this could happen without the intervention of a supernatural force.”
It’s the whole “God of the gaps” idea. And the problem with it is that the gaps keep shrinking, even disappearing, or at least moving to a more theoretical, distant level.
Educated, thinking Christians (and theists in general) may say that in all of our explaining, we’ve really explained nothing. Genetics may be the mechanism of transmission of traits and disease, gravity and inertia may underlie movements of the stars and planets, etc, but God is behind all of that. He created genetics and the laws of physics and set it all in motion. He may not be individually manipulating in real time the sorting and recombination of chromosomes that create each individual person, but he put the materials and systems in place that would eventually lead to the genetic combinations that would make you and me.
At this point in time, with the now overwhelming body of evidence in support of evolution and an old earth, many Christians have had to apply this same reasoning to the development of life, positing that while evolution may be the mechanism God used, he was the ultimate cause and mastermind – the one who laid the groundwork and wound the clock and knew from the beginning of time how and when bacteria and cuttlefish and giraffes and humans would come to be.
And for the sake of this argument, I can concede that. There could be that kind of God behind it all.
Of course, if that is the kind of God you’re going to believe in, there are significant chunks of the Bible you can’t accept as literal. And other parts you can’t accept at all.
At the end of the day, a “god of the gaps” is pretty much useless. For me, the current absence of scientific answers is not reason enough to believe in a god that brings with him so much baggage and cognitive dissonance. It is possible there may be something “supernatural” (i.e. forces we cannot see or detect) at work in the world, but I’m certain (for reasons addressed in earlier posts) that it’s not the Christian God.
From my point of view, it’s much better to leave the question blank and keep searching for a good answer, than to accept a bad one for the sake of immediate gratification.
And this idea of having no answer brings me to my last point…
8.) GOD AS A “FIRST CAUSE” IS NOT NECESSARY.
If you are a Christian, this idea might be one of the most difficult to wrap your mind around. It was for me.
I’d lived all of my conscious life with the assumption that SOMETHING was behind all of this crazy amazing-ness we call reality. Even if we could figure out how it all happened, no amount of time or scientific observation could ever help us figure out why, and in my mind there HAD to be a why, or, as philosophers and theoretical physicists call it, a “first cause.”
And this assumption is held by Christians and theists of all kinds, and probably most people who have lived. Everything we experience in life has a cause behind it, so we conclude that the universe must also. It makes sense to us on a gut level.
We just feel that there must be a reason for the existence of the universe, especially a universe that is so vast and intricate and amazing and incomprehensible. And for Christians, that reason is God.
But here’s the thing. If God is the reason behind the universe, he must be even more vast and intricate and amazing and incomprehensible. So, if we stick with our thinking, there must be a reason or cause behind him, too, ad infinitum.
At some point, you must accept that something just IS. That he/she/it exists without cause.
And I realized that it makes much more sense to accept the universe as the self-existent Thing than it does to push the problem back one layer onto a concept (God) for which we have no objective evidence and which conflicts with observed reality on so many levels.
Now that I see things this way, I can hardly remember what it was like to think otherwise, kinda like looking at a Rubin vase sort of picture. But I tell you, it was a huge leap for me to make at the time…
…perhaps the hugest of them all. (I will have to dedicate a post in the near future to address this, I think.)
But for now, I need to wrap things up.
While I continue to value many of the teachings of Jesus, I am not a Christian in the traditional sense. And never will be one again, most likely.
And I promise you it’s not because I don’t want to be.
Life is freaking hard and painful and unfair and overwhelming. And it was comforting beyond words to believe that all the pain and grief of life was somehow going to be made right one day, was somehow going to be worth it.
To be certain that good would inevitably triumph over evil…
To know that when Mom died, when Dad died, when my sisters and brother died, that they would not be gone…that I would be reunited with them forever in a place of perfect peace and joy…
To trust that abused and starving children would be greeted with love and nurturing and warmth and home when they passed on…
To believe that one day I would have a perfect body that would never get sick, never be in pain, never get old or wear out…
To always have someone to talk to when I was feeling alone and confused…
It made life more tolerable, and less overwhelming, and easier to keep living on certain levels, and it was a loss, I can assure you, to have this life-long foundation dissolve underneath me, along with the free, open, honest and vulnerable relationships I’d always been able to share with my parents up until this point.
There is still a lot of love between us all, but now there is pain, too. Now there is awkwardness. Now there are walls.
I would give anything to have family be the way it was when I was still a Christian. Family was my thing. It was my happy thought; my reason to get up in the morning. It was what I most valued. It still is. And I hope that someday everything will be okay somehow, but I don’t know that it will.
The point is, my life would be a lot easier and a lot happier in a lot of ways if I could believe again.
But the funny thing about belief is that you can’t fake it.
People always talk about Pascal’s wager as if it’s really an option. But I don’t get that at all. If you are just believing perfunctorily, God’s gonna know it. Saying you believe does not make you a believer.
Either you believe or you don’t. And you can’t control whether or not you do.
You can control the information you take into your mind, to a certain degree. And that is what happened to me. I quit controlling what I let in. In my search for truth (which I was initially convinced would lead me back to God and a deeper understanding of him) I opened the doors of my mind wide.
And a flood of new information rushed in.
And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see things), learning is irreversible. I can’t un-know things that I now know (unless I suffer a traumatic brain injury or we invent the neuralizer Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had so much fun with in Men in Black.)
And these things I have learned in my recent history, that I didn’t know before, are many. While I have given a brief overview of basic, foundational reasons I no longer believe in the Christian God, there are many, many more details and facts logged away in my mind that have lead me to this conclusion…
And it is those same facts that have helped me form the framework of the wonderful and beautiful new things I DO believe.
Someday soon I will share them.