Questions About GOD: What Are They Good For?

After some considerable thought, I have come to the conclusion that questions like "Does God exist?" and "What is God?" are completely meaningless.

Having deconverted from Christianity in 2008, I quickly got swept up in what has been, unfortunately, called "The Great Debate." Immediately after my deconversion I entered into my anti-theist phase. As I have come to understand it, leaving an oppressive and controlling ideology often leads to feelings of anger and resentment. Part of the healing process is venting one's frustrations, and sharing the abuse one has endured with others who have experienced the same and who can sympathize. This is one of the reasons I began this blog. Most often, however, such healing can only happen after a painful disillusionment.

At the time I deconverted the mislabeled "New Atheism" which is and never has been a new form of atheism but rather a resurgence of secular values, many of them hailing from the Golden Age of Freethought, was in full swing in America and picking up speed elsewhere. This resurgence was largely brought on by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the concerns raised about how much an acquired religious ideology is capable of compelling one to bad conduct such as the ones which compelled Islamic literalists to fly jets into the World Trade center towers in New York.

Not only how much do one's subscribed to beliefs compel one's behavior, but whehter or not there are detectable patterns or trends, rituals, rights, or ways of thinking which would make one more prone to being receptive to false information who wouldn't normally be is their beliefs didn't erect numerous biases that interfere with good critical thinking and evaluation.

In other words, do our beliefs, especially our religious beliefs, influence our choices, our behavior, and our very personalities to any discernible degree? I hold they do. And furthermore I think there are detectable patterns of influence.

I have found these kinds of questions to be the more pertinent questions when it comes to religion. Sadly, these kinds of questions are the ones that all too often get pushed aside in the name of religious tolerance. People don't want to ask how much do my beliefs impact my thinking, my behavior, and the way I reason through everyday problems. Frankly, thinking is just hard work. Understanding why we think or why we believe what we do, that's going the extra mile. People don't really care to be critical or evaltate their own beliefs. They have better things to do. 

It's less of a hassle to just go with the flow. But I have found this leads to the cult mentality which often manipulates people by using their religious beliefs against their better judgement. It pulls the wool over their eyes, and they feel fine doing things in the name of religion that they would decry if it weren't for the already attach notion of sacredness with which they give religion a free pass. If massive corporations weren't paying taxes and had zero transparency, didn't provide healthcare for their women employees, and discriminated against same sex couples the people would have a field day. But when a church does it, it's all in the name of God's goodness, and everyone looks the other way.

It's important to investigate why we have such biases, and how these biases come to exist. It gives us insights into the quality of beliefs we hold, but only if we can first learn to be reflective and critically evaluate our beliefs.

Questions such as "Does God Exist" are rather quite useless. As St. Thomas Aquinas once noted:

But because we are not capable of knowing what God is but only what He is not, we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not. (Summa Theologiae I, 3, prologue)

This is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know God. (Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia Dei, 7, 5, ad 14)

I guess the problem, as I see it, is that everyone who believes says God is like the elephant in the room. We can comprehend parts very dimly, but never can we comprehend the whole. I suppose the analogy is crude, because if Thomas Aquinas is correct, then we can only feel out the negative space and discern a vague form of what God might be like through recognition of what he's not. In other words, we can see what fills the space that isn't God, and rule it out.

That's a much more difficult way to go about detecting God.

In fact, it has led me to strongly feel there is no such thing as God. What inevitably happens is people who want to believe begin to fill in the negative space with their ideal version of God. 

They try to justify the beliefs they already hold because they are the beliefs they grew up with, the beliefs they were raised on, the beliefs they forged their identities from, and in many cases the beliefs they get their notion of purpose or self worth from. These are not easy beliefs to challenge, to analyse, to dismantle. 

In fact, to challenge such beliefs head on often has the opposite effect. People recoil and begin trying to find ways to salvage their faith, their belief in God, their right to belief what they want to believe, regardless of whether it is right or wrong or makes any sense.

So one begins to rationalize why believing in God is reasonable or why maintaining an antiquated and outmoded religious belief is a religious right. In the end, it is because they feel that they have the right to believe whatever they want that they no longer care to ask whether what it is they profess to belief is even a belief that has any value beyond the sheer desire to believe it. They've convinced themselves believing is important, and so they do. That's a hard state of mind to break away from. It is a lot like the battered woman convincing herself the reason she doesn't leave is because she still loves him, or even because he might still love her. They're just going through a rough patch. It never crosses her mind that he doesn't love her, because she desires to be loved. It never crosses her mind that believing he might love her might not be the best thing for her, but might lead to her ruin.

Holding bad beliefs for  even good reasons doesn't necessarily lead to good results. This is why I think it is vital we take the time to be reflective and not take our beliefs for granted.

I cannot say with certainty there isn't a God. I just don't think it's a very important question to ask. If there is, fine. If not, also fine by me.

From my study of science and history, psychology and the great works of literature I am led to believe that God is mainly a fancy of human imagination. One that has, over time, grown into an elaborate and very real experience for many people, but an experience that I have decided merely reflects human desires, psychology, culture, and the social ties that bind these together into one communal religious experience.

I guess, in that sense God is a very real aspect of life for me, because people make him real. I think the need to be recognized, be loved, and feel secure in the face of a vast, nihilistic existence is what drives people to the inclination to desire a God in the first place.

I think people who are prone to want to love, or be loved, or who feel the is purpose to life beyond life itself all will be compelled toward that inclination.

People who want answers will also be happy to go in that direction.

But people who want truth, well, they must remain open minded. In fact, I think you'll find our intellectual honesty depends upon it.

God may exist. I don't find the question pertinent, but interesting. I am fascinated by people's social and cultural ties with the concept of God. I am curious as to what the affects are of superimposing archaic religious beliefs onto modern beliefs. What kind of strange hybrid beliefs are borne out, or whether the two sets of beliefs compete, interfere, or cause stagnation. Maybe all of these, depending on the circumstances. But this is the more interesting question. Not whether or not a God outside of space and time could create space and time. That's a nonsensical question and therefore largely a meaningless one. 

This is why I find the more pressing concern should be with asking how do the beliefs I hold, and the beliefs of others, compel or influence our actions, choices, and capacity to reason? 

Likewise, what biases do we innately have? What does it mean if someone believes differently that us? What if we find there is an ideology which consistently compels bad behavior and instructs its followers to disregard the safety, freedoms, and well-being of others?  

This is the conversation we should be having. Not what it takes to believe something, but how the quality of beliefs we prescribe to influence and guide us. 

Until then, I remain yours truly,

The Advocatus Atheist


Popular posts from this blog

The Imperfect and Immoral Teachings of Jesus Christ

Conflating Atheism and Agnosticism is a Mistake

Discussing the Historicity of Jesus with a Christian Agnostic