Home > Uncategorized > God never existed. Now where do we turn?

God never existed. Now where do we turn?

So, there is no God. Nor demons of any sort. Now what do we do?

First let’s look at we know isn’t the case. We do not exist because God created us out of whole cloth. He is not why there is Light, nor “firmament”. Marriage does not exist because God made it so, and neither is the allocation of power in society God-designed. Finally, if we have something approximating “free will”, it’s not because of Him. These facts are a mere sampling, of course.

Perhaps religion does not matter even to most believers. After all, very few people wear WWJD wristbands. People care about love, and money, and happiness; they would rather play laser tag than devote every minute to missionary work and prayer, which they would do if they truly believed in the infiniteness of God (see here an argument why).

It’s important, especially to the newly de-converted, to note this: it’s not that we killed God, He was never there in the first place. If something that seems magical turns out not to be real, it it takes mental effort to remind oneself that it wasn’t killed off–even though it might feel like something has died (see this comic)–because the idea was only ever just an idea. That’s why it may feel, to those who lose their “faith”, like a hundred beautiful stories have been blasted into oblivion and that, to give a twist on a common phrase, what has been unseen cannot be seen again.

On closer inspection, none of these stories should have ever made sense. The distinctions between light and dark, animals and plants, man and woman–none of these distinctions are black-and-white, but they are presented as such in the stories of Genesis. Not only do the these explanations have all the subtlety of a five-year-old’s view of the world, they’re not even explanations, they’re non-explanatory. God created it, STOP. That’s the explanation, STOP. It doesn’t apply just to origin stories: anytime “God” is called upon as an explanation for something, what you’re seeing is a semantic stop sign, the social signal for you to “stop that thinking right there, young man!”

As Jason Cooperrider put it in the inaugural issue of Think!Utah (the Utah Coalition of Reason newsletter), “God is useless when trying to tell a story about how the universe came into being and what it is”. In fact, without science, some questions would never even have been posed–questions that illustrate the inadequacy of religion in modern life. It is not obvious that some questions even exist to be asked. Who knew that life is so complicated, made of so many parts; that 90% of the cells in your body are bacterial cells and that countless organisms call your body home? Who knew that you’re made of mostly “empty space”, or perhaps more accurately forces of physics that are alien to our intuitive understanding of matter? Who knew that you can perceive something, or remember something, and conduct objective tests that show your perception (or memory) is wrong and can’t be trusted?

But now that we know the simple stories are false, where do we turn? (And now that we know the world is complex and fascinating, what do we do?)

The answer is, naturally, pursue science and rationality. In general, that could work, but some sciences are better than others, e.g. evolution. And some treatments are better than others: We need stories, science popularization in the style of Carl Sagan, because stories give meaning and can fill the same place in one’s mind as religious ones. Science (and even rationality) is not good enough, of course: We also need humanist values, strong, positive humanist voices to articulate the superior moral alternative.

This is a question meriting much consideration, but unfortunately I am out of time for today (and alas, I must publish every day).

What science (and/or treatment) do you think could both serve as an effective anecdote to religion as well as a partial substitute? Do you think the focus ought to be more on critical thinking / rationality? And do you know of an especially good articulation of humanist values? Leave a comment.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Hmm. Humanists have a complicated and sometimes dark history of perpetuating many of the same prejudices, social divisions, and overly monist-style explanations that many of the religions they have sought to replace are guilty of. I never meet a humanism that *really* squares itself with the pluralism central to liberalism in a way that satisfies me, and one that did would probably either be too “religious” or not very religious at all (either way I’d suspect it to fall on either side of your purpose and not right on the mark). Maybe you should check out Unitarian Universalism? Might be interesting.

    Rationality is a fantastic tool, but I think there is also value in transrational/a-rational actions and attitudes. By that I mean sometimes we behave and feel in patterns that are interrupted or destroyed by too much objectification (and that they are not always worth getting rid of). You gotta live life from the inside too, but I say “transrational” in the hope that people do still become a lot more rational for much more of the time (as opposed to “prerational”) but that they also choose to be/act otherwise–I think this is morally important. Example: maybe kissing a loved one’s photograph isn’t irrational in the sense that it does do *something* to make you slightly happier (or whatever), and you do want to be happy, but that’s not at all what you should be thinking about when you do it… I’ve encountered in friends too many strands of crude science or logic worship who think this type of thing is somehow meaningless and worthless… there’s even a weird kind of masochism in it.

    I do totally agree that most religious people don’t actually live like their religions are true or comprehend what the real (extreme) implications of their beliefs are.

    I also believe in the prevalence of “mystical” experiences [speaking from experience after involvement in Buddhist traditions employing meditation technologies] even if their content should not be taken to actually imply metaphysical and ontological truths about the world around us… heck even trying to get a subjective truth out of our most bizarre experiences and hallucinations is hard or sometimes meaningless, but I do believe that we have deeply embedded webs of symbols, myths, and stories that are psychologically relevant and personally helpful and very fascinating. Yay @ Jung/Campbell.

    • August 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      And to be clear, I do assume you agree with the some or much of the second paragraph.

      And, as I do partially concede to and share via the great black and white glory of Wikipedia:

      “Critics of antihumanism, most notably Jürgen Habermas, claim that while antihumanists may highlight humanism’s failure to fulfill its emancipatory ideal, they do not offer an alternative emancipatory project of their own. While Habermas accepts some criticisms leveled at traditional humanism, he believes that humanism must be rethought and revised rather than simply abandoned.”

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