So really, what difference does God make?

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of this journey, I asked the question, “What difference does God make?” This is a question for theists. For those who say that God makes all the difference, or a significant difference, what is that difference? I have found, in the past, as I have attempted to answer that question, atheists and some agnostics have answered that they experience the things I attribute to God without needing a god.

The answer I have most often given, which I discussed with a friend just this evening, is hope. One of the most significant theological concepts for me, as a progressive Christian, was the notion of hope, especially as articulated by one of my favorite theological, Jürgen Moltmann. Put simply, God is the horizon of history and the driving force moving history toward its fulfillment. Many atheists I’ve spoken to also express a deep sense of hope, but instead find the source of their hope in people and the power of people to create the future they desire, without a need for God.

The question, what difference does God make? is designed to press theists to explore in a deeper way the actual meaning God makes in their lives and in the life of the world. Unsatisfied with a “god of the gaps,” I have sought to understand God as the ultimate source of meaning and the telos of human history. God has been my hope. This past year, however, I experienced some things that revealed the holes in my theology of hope, which I will share in future posts. So now what difference does God make?

Another way to express this question is captured by many readers who have asked me how my life is different having lived two weeks as an atheist. Here is my embarrassing confession: it hasn’t been very different at all.

I was never a world-class pray-er. I was never successful at having an hour long “quiet time” as I was taught to do. I did read my Bible and pray, sporadically, but I was never a consistent pray-er. For years I have struggled to understand the purpose of prayer. I am  not ignorant of the various explanations of prayer’s purpose. It’s just that none of them ever made much sense to me.

As a pastor I read and studied my Bible as a professional commitment, to prepare sermons and Bible studies, but I rarely read the Bible devotionally and for my own inspiration, in part because so much of it isn’t inspiring at all. I haven’t attended a church consistently since March so not much changed in that department in the past month either. In short, my life has more or less continued as it has in the recent past. This is revealing for a couple of reasons.

First, it demonstrates something that I have suspected about myself and other Christians I know—many of us have for a long time been functional atheists. We may confess an intellectual assent to belief in a divine being and have a well thought out theology but very few of us live as though this God exists and is an active agent in the world.

Secondly, it demonstrates, at least to me, that the difference God makes is to a great degree, a kind of life insurance policy…a modern day form of Pascal’s wager in which believers hedge their bets against the possibility that there is a God who may send them to hell if they don’t believe.

There are other reasons for a belief in God which we can explore in the future, but at this moment I am not experiencing any major practical changes in my life as a result of leaving God behind. At an emotional level there are some consequences—a sense of loss and aloneness that are not entirely new to me. Also a sense of freedom which I did not exactly anticipate. I will write more about these experiences in the coming days. For now I suspect that these feelings are mostly a consequence of the loss that comes from imagining that God, who was the ground of my being and the horizon of my hope, is perhaps just a projection of our human desires and hopes and not an actual being at all.

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About Ryan Bell

For 19 years Ryan Bell was a pastor, most recently the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In March 2013 he resigned his position due to theological and practical differences. As an adjunct professor he has taught subjects ranging from intercultural communication to bioethics.
Currently he is a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States and blogs about that experience here at Year Without God.

  • Kristen

    Beautiful!

  • istara

    I remember when this revelation came upon me, the world felt colder yet clearer. Like a winter dawn with golden light. Much more freedom, and a sense of loss. But it was a good loss, as something that needed to be shed was being shed.

    • http://donni1968.wordpress.com steenertoo

      Very well said! This is exactly how I have felt!! Thanks for the post!

    • Lisa

      I agree, the colours of our world were so much brighter and I felt like I was suddenly awake. I lost something, but it was oh so cool.

      • Phlllip

        I had the same experience. Seems pretty universal for someone losing their faith.

      • Linda Hennessey

        I think that experience is a common one when you lose your religion and enter into spirituality

      • Blanche Quizno

        For me, the final vestige of my intensive indoctrination into Evangelical Christianity from infancy to go was magical thinking. And what a sweetness I experienced when I finally was able to see it for what it was! Sure, we’d like to think that, by using a magic spell (“The Lord’s Prayer,” anyone?? “In Jesus Name amen,” anyone??) or a magical ritual or talisman we can get around the rules of reality and attain merit and results we’ve not earned, but there comes a time when we must put aside childish things. And life as a REAL adult is so much better! Magical thinking is based on irrational fear, you see, but if it gets lodged into your subconscious during early childhood, it will remain there, unseen, driving you without your awareness. This is why indoctrinating small children into religion should be recognized as child abuse – it can cripple people for life.

    • Goblinman

      istara, very well put. It’s like waking from a dream, isn’t it?

      • istara

        It really is. The timing for me was actually advantageous, because it became shortly before a close relative was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I think if I had still believed, I would have ended up trying to plead and bargain and agonise with a deity, and end up guilty or angry (since it would have been futile) As it was there was no one to blame or bargain with, simply the universe and the natural course of the world – bad luck and good.

  • Cemetery Sins

    Great post! And you’re right, there IS a feeling of freedom one wouldn’t expect,

  • http://myatheistlife.wordpress.com myatheistlife

    I was born alone, I walk alone, and alone I will die. I cannot be in your mind nor you in mine. I speak for no other and no other speaks for me. The symmetry of life is the pendulum swing of one mind travelling the arc from cradle to grave. Hope and joy and fulfillment is not reaching the top of the summit, looking back to see your lone footprints and marvel at your deed then wonder why you have to travel life alone…. no, that’s when you wander where the hell everyone else is and go back down and give them a hand to get up the hill… it’s lonely at the top, take friends.

  • http://gravatar.com/ekmartell Tryst

    I felt utterly hopeless until I realized I was an atheist. The thought that everything happened to me because it was part of some plan was the most depressing, horrible feeling. The moment I accepted that things happen because they happen, that it’s not personal, was the moment I felt amazingly free.

    • Blanche Quizno

      I had a similar experience. The idea that God intervenes in reality via “miracles” was a horrifying thought for me. I imagined I might be driving down the highway, and a 5000 ton boulder might “miraculously” materialize right in front of my car and no way for me to get around it. *smesh*

      My younger sister once thought of people’s relationship with “God” as being dangled at the end of a gossamer spider web. *shudder*

  • jaynee

    Thank you for your honesty and your voice. I agree that at the beginning there is this sense of loss, but I found myself with an unbelievable sense of freedom too. I look forward to hearing more about your experience with the various “freedoms” you will find. Also, I found the sense of loss to dissipate as I realized that although I had been told repeatedly throughout my life that things were the way they were because, “God made them that way.”….was really not true, and I found myself full of questions, curiosity, wonder, and awe. And gradually through my questioning and research I found a community of people who felt the same way I did and the loneliness disappeared.

  • http://wemovedon.wordpress.com QuestionsforChristians

    I can really relate. It was almost an anti climax for me. God did not smite me, the devil didn’t come get me and I felt so free to openly support people without to make it about God. It gave me space to just listen to people and learn about them in a way I hadn’t while being a Christian. Life goes on. Thanks Ryan.

  • charlesrolling

    I remember that freedom quite well. Along with a sense that by not pretending to believe in a god I was finally able to get on with my life.

  • Mary

    Hope…life insurance…and more. I think many people need God to tie up the loose ends in life, to fix disturbing realities. What about the people who are born into suffering and die into suffering? What about the people who are wronged and it is never made right? Some hang onto God because they just can’t sleep in a world that doesn’t end “the right way” – with justice for the bad guys and happy-ever-after for the good. Letting go of the “eternal story” was hard for me, but the results have been good. I am okay with life as it is now. Yes, some of it is just heartbreaking, and I do what I can to help. I don’t expect a superpower to come fix everything, which actually puts more responsibility on me to live my life well. But I think many people just refuse to consider living in a world without that “eternal” story that makes everything right.

    My sense of loss was enormous for some time. I guess it was similar to the void left by a breakup – an incredibly deep one of course. But after several years, it is almost gone. I have learned that a sense of connection with the world and with other living things feels similar to that old connection with God. Only thank goodness it doesn’t preach at me or require that I think and behave in a certain way.

    And I have to add – now that I don’t have a God coming in to make it all better, I love to learn about people who have really made a difference in the world, to support them and try to be like them. I’m not sure that I have more faith in humanity…it’s just that I realize we are the ones who have to improve things. We alone can choose to be awake, to be educated, to communicate and act for the betterment of the planet.

    • Deleissegues

      Very well said, Mary! It’s comforting to many people to have faith that all of the horrible things that happen have some sort of “higher purpose”,…but it does, in a way. It creates the opportunity for us to “choose to be awake, to be educated, to communicate and act for the betterment of the planet.” Very well said, indeed.

  • https://www.facebook.com/lauren.cornwell.7 Lauren Fitzpatrick

    It’s amazing to see so many others so quickly relate…just like I did!

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031794101/the-outernet

  • http://mywifecallsmeaneocon.wordpress.com TheCentrist

    Even theists need to develop a non-god centric basis for morality and existentialism. To say simply, “god says it and it’s so” is a terrible mental state. Atheists do not have that crutch, but theists shouldn’t have it either. It’s gratifying to see someone else go through a more complicated kind of intellectualism. Even if Ryan goes back to theology, he’ll be a vastly better theologian if there’s a better answer than “god” to each and every question.

  • http://people.oregonstate.edu/~dearingj/ James

    A very well written post. I’ve just spent the last several minutes trying to come up with a proper response, for example a tip about how new atheists might deal with the “sense of loss and aloneness” you mention, but I couldn’t think of anything that you haven’t probably thought of yourself.

  • John

    I love how beautifully written your post is. The world isn’t perfect, but we are the only ones who can change it. Once we stop hoping that god/s change it and start working to change it, things will change for the better. Good luck in your journey friend!

  • Deleissegues

    Courage. Just…courage. Courage to question, courage to evaluate, courage to change an ingrained mindset, courage to further discussion …. Thanks, Ryan, for sharing your journey. I find this discussion fascinating and illuminating and infinitely thought-provoking.

    I found myself questioning inconsistencies and paradoxical messages delivered by self-proclaimed “believers” and religious teachers as an adolescent, made my decision to explore and have never looked back. Since that long-ago rebellion against my family and the church I was raised in, I have researched many different faiths.

    I’ve found that I can’t seem to fit myself into any organized religion, and I am reluctant to pigeon-hole myself that way. I’m not an atheist or an agnostic either, and truth be told I wouldn’t be able to explain it if I tried. It’s still a journey, after all these years.

    Thank you for the opportunity to follow you on your journey, it’s a pleasure to join the discussion.

  • http://kch.me Ken Hood Jr

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. So often these conversations happen only in the dark. It can be hard to admit doubt in the church; I felt alienated when I lost my faith and had to hide my doubts, even though I knew (most) people would still love me.

    An hour’s quiet time? I think if you did that even once it would put you in the upper 1% of “super spiritual Christians” so don’t be too hard on yourself. I was a pray-er but it was more of an ongoing habit than a strict discipline. I gave God short prayers when I felt sad, worried, depressed, anxious, elated…basically any extreme emotion would cause me to at least send God a memo. Sometimes I prayed in tongues, but it wasn’t my preferred mode. We also prayed in the car. We drive old vehicles and I once had a very close call (not the car’s fault but my own). At the time I was convinced that the only reason I survived was because God had acted through our prayers and chosen to intervene. As a strict 5-point Calvinist prayer never fully made sense to me, but I stuck with it anyways. I was also surrounded by people who took prayer very seriously so that probably helped.

    I’ve written recently about how my thoughts on prayer have changed since I lost my faith: http://kch.me/on-prayer/

    I look forward to following your journey through the rest of 2014.

    Peace and Freedom.

    • http://kch.me Ken Hood Jr

      correction: I should say that I *felt the need* to hide my doubts, not that I had to hide them.

  • http://gravatar.com/juicypurplepen juicypurplepen

    I am greatly enjoying your posts. I have been an atheist my entire life. I have felt like an “other” a tribe less wander among the faithful. Afraid. Not of god or my lack of belief but afraid of persecution. It is comforting to read of your journey.

    What prompted me to comment was the issue of hope. I suffer from a chronic illness that has frequently brought me to my wits end. There is little known and even less treatment and certainly no cure and yet I have hope. My hope does not come from god or even other people but rather my hope comes from deep inside of me. To me hope is the pulse of my existence it motivates me to begin again each day to pick myself up again after each relapse. To carry on living my life to the fullest each day.

    Bonnie

  • Jill

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings during your journey. As a former practicing Christian now atheist, I am reminded of my own journey. Many feelings were very similar, however, two things I remember being harder for me emotionally when I realized I no longer beleived in God:

    1) The loss of heaven: Suddenly no matter how much suffering and misery there is in this life, I had to accept that there was no magic fix at the end of it all. This is the only life we have.

    I think, however, I have become more responsible and compassionate towards others as a result, as they also have only one life. So I have a responsibility for their well-being as well, and I can’t “hide” from that by focussing on their personal salvation being more important than their present-day suffering.

    2) I did pray quite often throughout the day. And even when I was convinced that I no longer believed, I would still catch myself automatically praying. I realized, however, that it was simply a learned habit, a structured way of thinking and contemplating my own thoughts and desires: I had learned to address them to God and accordingly to attribute any personal insight from these thoughts to God, and it took time to unlearn this habit, that no longer gave meaning in my life.

  • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

    Praying together boosts group solidarity. I’m curious your thoughts on the atheist money. Seems like spite money to me. Even the guy that started the campaign for the CNN atheist that lost her house said he was doing it out of spite.

    I am an atheist myself, though I’m somewhat certain nothing positive will ever materialize under that label. How can anything uplifting grow out of something that is simply an opposition to the aspirations of another group.

    The deepest irony I find in most young atheist is that they oppose religion because it singles out minority groups like gays and women, while at the very same time they marginalize Christians and Muslims. Whatever label we place ourselves under, we’ll never escape our own human psychology.

    • http://thecaveatlector.wordpress.com thecaveatlector

      Whatever Hemant’s (the guy who started the collections) motives my have been, read the comments above of fellow atheists connecting with Ryan’s sentiment. These are the people donating to that fund. It seems a stretch that the comments above were made out of spite, so it also seems a stretch that the donations were made out of spite.

      • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

        I don’t think all of them were made out of spite, but I’m sure some were. I would be curious the ratio though that kind of inquirer would be difficult if not impossible.

    • Chrys

      admstrange – I’m afraid that your idea that “nothing positive” will materialize from atheism has more to do with your own ideas on atheism than atheism itself.

      As for me, being an atheist, I certainly do not define my world views in “opposition” to religious people (of whom there are so many variants that I will never know most of their ideas anyway).

      I find it also incomprehensible that you think the help provided by strangers is motivated by “spite”, rather than compasson and a sense of justice. Spite towards whom? Who would feel better if Mr Bell did not get help?

      • converttheatheist

        “admstrange – I’m afraid that your idea that “nothing positive” will materialize from atheism has more to do with your own ideas on atheism than atheism itself.”

        This.

        The problem with the term “atheist” is that it is a statement of what one DOESN’T believe, not what one DOES. Sure, I am an atheist. I lack a belief in theistic gods. But there are lots of things that I COULD believe that are consistent with that lack of belief. To name a few, I could be nihilist, antitheistic, pagan, ethical culturalist, naturalistic materialist, deist, or some combinations of these and others. On a Venn diagram of beliefs, all of THESE labels tell you something about the beliefs that are inside your circle. The term atheist, however, is qualitatively different, because it tells you something that is outside of your circle, not inside.

        There is a class of atheist that will bristle at what I just wrote. These people will claim that belief is the problem. That what we need to do is live without belief at all, and instead simply work with provisional stances for which there are evidence. I would like to forestall such an argument by being very clear about the senses in which I use two words: belief and faith. I believe many things. For example, I believe 2+2=4. I believe this based on an exceptional amount of evidence and analysis of logical consistency. Beliefs are, in my usage, merely position statements that are at least provisionally accepted. Faith, on the other hand, describes a particular MODE of belief… a mode where a particular belief is held without regards to evidence. I contend that, within this usage, everyone has beliefs, and that atheism is a position that says what is NOT believed, not what is. And this is a vital distinction, because our behavior and outlook are more defined by what we DO believe than by what we DON’T.

        This is one of my lingering concerns about Ryan’s enterprise… it is well defined in terms of acting as though a particular belief is absent, but is ill defined in terms of what beliefs are present. It would be equally consistent with his stated mission for Ryan to live a year as an ethical culturalist or to live that year as an existential nihilist… but the two experiences would be dramatically different, and would lead to quite different conclusions about what it means to “live without God.”

      • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

        While it’s not for me to decide how atheists spend their money, the disconnect for me is how giving money to a young, decent-looking, well-educated, able-bodied person adds up to “charity.” Maybe it’s just a perception thing to me, but I could see where this could easily be perceived as an us-versus-them gesture as opposed to giving to someone that is truly in need — someone like the poor, sick, or maimed. So it feels political to me. I would have the same feeling, I think, if I saw a church giving money to a political candidate. Please don’t take this wrong as these are just my feelings and I in no way speak for “atheism” or all atheists in general.

      • Blanche Quizno

        admstrange, I give to every person on a streetcorner holding a sign. And I don’t even get a tax deduction for it!

        By comparison, I have heard Christians say they’ll give the people a sandwich, or a bottle of water, but they won’t give them money. Why not? Because they’ll obviously spend the money on drugs or booze! Such lovely and loving, nonjudgmental Christians. How many bottles of water do you suppose it takes to rent a room at a cheap hotel?

        I give MONEY and trust them to spend it however they wish. That’s a gift – once you give it, it’s theirs and no longer yours. Christians seem far more concerned with the fate of that o-so-precious money than with the fate of that person in need, frankly. Jesus said that Christians are required to give, or they’ll go to “hell” (Matthew 25). To sell everything they own and give the proceeds directly to the poor BEFORE they can follow Jesus (Matthew 19). At no point do we see Jesus cautioning Christians to only give to poor people who have no bad habits or who can be guaranteed to use the money in a way the Christian would approve of.

        Remember – you’re not that homeless person’s guardian or parent. That homeless person is not a child. We all need money to run our lives. I trust homeless people to use the money I give them in the way that’s best for them. If they need to self-medicate, fine. It’s not like we have a health care system where they can get meaningful help for chronic conditions! One guy was holding a sign that said, “Need Beer.” I gave him $5 and said, “Have a cold one on me.”

        Love means accepting people as they are for who they are. Right here, right now. Not requiring them to change – that’s not love.

      • Goblinman

        convertheatheist,

        That’s exactly how I define “belief” and “faith”, too.

        You’re also correct that Ryan’s stated goal to “live as an atheist” is too vague considering the many different ways one can be an atheist. It’s rather like an atheist setting out to “live as a theist” without specifying which theistic religion he was planning to follow.

        From his actual writing, though, he seems to be mostly focusing on what’s commonly understood as “New Atheism” even if he hasn’t said so specifically. So I think, in practice, he has a more specific and viable goal in mind.

        Time will tell, I guess.

      • http://gravatar.com/converttheatheist converttheatheist

        Goblinman wrote: “From his actual writing, though, he seems to be mostly focusing on what’s commonly understood as “New Atheism” even if he hasn’t said so specifically. So I think, in practice, he has a more specific and viable goal in mind.”

        I certainly hope that isn’t the case. Too much of “new atheism” is simply being a dick about being an atheist. The notion, within new atheism, that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises,” [1] is, in my experience, one of the best ways to turn OFF people who believe differently. The antagonistic attitude portrayed by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, in particular, serves primarily to cause believers to dig in their heels rather than enter into a dialog, and frankly goes a long way toward furthering the notion that atheists are evil people who hate God. While the specific things these three new atheists say are often quite good, the venom with which they say them is damaging.

        [1] http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/11/08/atheism.feature/index.html

      • Goblinman

        convertheatheist,

        You’re right, with the additional problem being that those writers all represent the perspective of straight white men who are all at least moderately well-off. They are exactly the kind of people who can afford to be outspoken as atheists with little risk of personal danger.

        Hopefully, even if Ryan is starting there, he’ll see that there’s more diversity out there in atheist thought.

    • Kerri

      All I can say is this: none of my comments on this blog have been out of spite, nor was my donation to Ryan. It was meant in the spirit of love and to offer a helping hand in this difficult walk we all tread together. Questioning faith is never easy, and when it results in loss of livelihood, we should always help when we can.

      Whether or not a particular gift of funds is made out of spite or not by one particular atheist should not color your opinions about the rest. In any group their are outliers, but generally, all the atheists I’ve encountered have been loving and kind, and generally the best examples of humanity around.

      • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

        I can respect that. My experiences with atheists have been very different — the vast majority of them negative. Perhaps it’s because I am engaging them online where the disconnect between a real tangible social connection can often bring out the worst in people.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “I can respect that. My experiences with atheists have been very different — the vast majority of them negative. ”

        admstrange, did you forget that you claimed earlier to be an atheist?

        “I am an atheist myself” – admstrange

        Being an atheist myself – a REAL atheist – my online experience has been that I typically find much commonality with other atheists. It’s the Christians (and the occasional Muslim – they’re far more rare) who show up with the superiority complex and the claims to rightness and truth, all on the basis of their feeeeeeelings who tend to cause problems for themselves when they interact with atheists.

        I can’t imagine what sorts of negative experiences you might be referring to. Did you get into a pissing contest with some atheist somewhere over who believed in gods the least or something??

        Really, admstrange. Do we all look stoopid to you?

    • Blanche Quizno

      “Whatever label we place ourselves under, we’ll never escape our own human psychology.”

      You sound spiteful, admstrange.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “The deepest irony I find in most young atheist is that they oppose religion because it singles out minority groups like gays and women, while at the very same time they marginalize Christians and Muslims.”

      Here’s the thing, admstrange – in the US (I’m assuming you’re talking about the US), one cannot “marginalize” the dominant majority (Christians). It’s not a matter of thinking ill of those in the majority or even making those in the majority feel uncomfortable. The majority has the power to marginalize the minority, and that’s why the majority is the one being opposed by those in the minority. And these young atheists, recognizing that they are likewise in a minority, should be commended for supporting equal rights for other minorities (instead of selfishly just being concerned about their own situation).

      It’s the difference between a white person calling a black person the “n” word and a black person calling a white person a “honky.” The second case is just a “whatever”, but in the first case, that word has a legacy of being used to render black persons less than human, as livestock that can be bought and sold just like a cow or a mule or a sack of wheat or a bale of straw. There is nothing that a black person can call a white person that carries the connotation of reducing the white person to something less than human – THAT’s the difference. Gosh, but majority privilege is a helluva drug, isn’t it?

      Since it appears that you have a deep misunderstanding of the issues at play, here is a source that might be able to help:

      “The conflation of nice and good also creates an avenue of subtle control over marginalised people. After all, what is seen as “nice” is cultural and often even class-dependent, and therefore the “manners” that matter get to be defined by the dominant ethnic group and class. For example, the “tone” argument, the favourite derailing tactic of bigots everywhere, is quite clearly a demand that the oppressor be treated “nicely” at all times by the oppressed – and they get to define what “nice” treatment is. This works because the primacy of nice in our culture creates a useful tool – to control people and to delegitimise their anger. A stark example of this is the stereotype of the desirably meek and passive woman, which is often held over women’s heads if we step out of line. How much easier is it to hold on to social and cultural power when you make a rule that people who ask for an end to their own oppression have to ask for it nicely, never showing anger or any emotion at being systematically disenfranchised? (A lot easier.)

      So if you – the oppressed – hurt someone’s feelings, you’re just like the oppressor, right? Wrong. Oppression is not about hurt feelings. It is about the rights and opportunities that are not afforded to you because you belong to a certain group of people. When you use a racist slur you imply that non-whiteness is a bad thing, and thus publicly reinforce a system that denies [people of color] the rights and opportunities of white people. Calling a white person a racist f-head doesn’t do any of that. Yes, it’s not very nice. … But it’s not oppression.” http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2012/04/the-revolution-will-not-be-polite-the-issue-of-nice-versus-good/

      Oh, and admstrange? You really sound very much like a Christian pretending to be an atheist :D Next, I’m expecting something from you about how persecuted Christians are in the US! LOL!!

  • http://thecaveatlector.wordpress.com thecaveatlector

    Ryan, thanks for sharing. And thank you everyone who has shared their similar experiences.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com quine001

    Yes, it is human nature to project hope onto mythical deities. Sad, really, because we are drowning in the richness of the Universe around us and the natural story of how we came to be. The reward of your hope is that you exist at all, against unfathomable odds. No need to hope for some imaginary afterlife, when you have already won.

    • pansies4me

      …”we are drowning in the richness of the Universe around us”…

      Beautiful thought. Thank you.

  • Michael Murray

    First, it demonstrates something that I have suspected about myself and other Christians I know—many of us have for a long time been functional atheists.

    In 2011 the Richard Dawkins Foundation had a professional survey done by Ipsos MORI of religious belief and practices amongst those who had listed themselves as Christian on the recent UK Census. There were some remarkable findings

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2921/Religious-and-Social-Attitudes-of-UK-Christians-in-2011.aspx

    such as

    Apart from special occasions such as weddings, funerals and baptisms, half (49%) had not attended a church service in the previous 12 months. One in six (16%) have not attended for more than ten years, and a further one in eight (12%) have never attended at all. One in six (17%) attends once a week or more.

  • Barb

    I can relate to all of this, but a small point you made really rang true for me. I never enjoyed reading my Bible devotionally once I started having even little questions. I tried, especially when I was trying to keep believing in the face of overwhelming doubts, but it always ended badly. I would quickly come across something and mutter to myself, “But that’s not true,” or, “That’s horrible,” or “Was God not paying attention when the writer said that?”

    Many Christian believers love the Psalms, and I’d try there. I’d read about how God protects those who love him, or how there is nothing to fear because God provides, and end up having to just put it down before my head exploded. It was very clear to me that this deity did nothing of the sort. How can I find comfort in false platitudes? Other people would talk about how much they loved the Bible and how much comfort it brought them, and I’d just feel even more weird and alone for having the opposite experience. The disconnect between the very active, involved, real, present deity of the Bible, and the reality of our world in which any deity is very much missing in action, was too much.

    The more I read (once i started having doubts) the faster I lost my faith. I quit reading during my transition from progressive Christianity to vague “Ground of All Being” theist (which didn’t last long before morphing to nothing).

  • Lowen Gartner

    What would leave you more hopeless….the idea that there is no God and that once you die, you are gone forever…..or…the idea that one or two generations after you, the human race will disappear, and thus everything you do in your life will have not lasting impact, even in the most insignificant way.

    The survival of the species and the thriving of our kin is what gives us hope and provides the greatest meaning to our lives.

  • Linda Hennessey

    To me to be without God would be like being without my best friend. Companionship defines our relationship. Nothing big and formal like sitting down daily for prayer or Bible reading although on occasion I read the Bible, The Koran, the Buddist scriptures or the Gnostic Gospels Mostly I ponder and ask questions and somehow the answers come in unexpected ways or through my inner voice. Sometimes a person will come up to me and just say the right thing or an unexpected joy crosses my path. God is not out there somewhere He is within you. A piece of Him is what gives you life and spirit. Do you know why Buddists put their hands together in greeting? It is to recognize the divine in all of us

    • John

      Well said and my sentiments exactly. It is not a matter of belief, rather one of daily experience.

    • http://usawest2013.wordpress.com Mathias

      Now try it without god. The same persons will come up to you or the same inner voice will help you. None of this is god, those are other humans helping you and or your own thoughts finding a solution for a problem.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “To me to be without God would be like being without my best friend. ”

      We smile and wink at the small child who has an imaginary friend, but frown with concern if that child hasn’t outgrown the imaginary friend by the teen years.

      We gaze warmly and benignly upon the small child who believes in Santa Claus, but there’s clearly something wrong if the child hasn’t figured that one out by, say, age 11 at the outside!

      And yet we’re supposed to regard an *adult* who still has an imaginary friend as somehow “normal”?

      When people talk of “god” “living in your heart”, what is that? Some sort of heartworm or other parasite? No thanks!

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ricardo-Williams/194880490586949 Ricardo Williams

    I’ve been in those shoes before when I discarded religion and followed god on my terms. Although the freedom felt good, it was a lonely isolated lifestyle. Religion is stamped all over this world and those who have none tend to be treated like outcasts.

    Having Jesus in my life has given me a feeling of calm and belonging.

  • http://www.sidnata.wordpress.com SidNata

    I want to thank you for doing this. I am a teetering atheist who has yet to find my footing in a territory overrun by those who would rather choose to silence my voice, than to stand securely in their own faiths while offering meaningful discussions.

    I look forward to getting to know you through your shared journey, and am ecstatic to see that someone of faith is reaching out to the rest of us who are treading the same, waters in an ocean of believers who would rather deport or eternally silence a thinking mind with a tongue to match.

    My words are in there, somewhere, and you have begun to help them find my own voice- if that makes any sense.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Keep going. You are touching so many lives.

  • https://www.facebook.com/nempie.blues Caroline Kaugher

    I too, am experiencing the freedom you are talking about.

  • http://thegoodenoughhousewife.wordpress.com HopefulSorrow

    I appreciate your honesty.

  • Bob

    Ryan,

    I have a question for you and those following this. Do you know anyone who has left Christianity claiming that he had had a rich prayer life–more than just going through the discipline of it? Many Christians do claim rich prayer lives, but do those ever leave? What makes the difference? Why do some have rich prayer lives and others never seem to catch on to prayer or devotionals and Bible study or forms of meditation? Do you think this is just a sort of placebo effect–it works for those who think it should? Of course, why would one leave if he feels fulfilled in his prayer life? On the other hand, why is it fulfilling to some and not to others, who may eventually give up and leave? Sometimes I wonder whether we tried hard enough. Sometimes I wonder whether I’ve defined myself in such a way as to block the experience. Have I said NO to an experience to which I should have been receptive? I know that this is one of the questions Christians raise when confronted with one who leaves. I can’t help but wonder whether it could be a valid one. Have I just not learned to say YES when I should have? Can one lose a proper sense of awe through over-analysis and labeling that gives the illusion of understanding, when all we really have is an academic familiarity that is a lame/crippling substitute for real experience?

    1/15/14, 23:31 CST

    • Coco

      Actually, prayer doesn’t work as a placebo and even those who believe are not always comforted through prayer: http://web.med.harvard.edu/sites/RELEASES/html/3_31STEP.html I think one of the worst doctrines of prayer is that if it fails, the person was not sufficiently faithful. Another doctrine states that prayer only works if it is god’s will, which begs the question of the need for prayer at all?

      • Bob

        Coco,

        I’m not concentrating on the external effects of prayer so much as the internal experience of it. 1/16/14, 09:23 CST

      • Blanche Quizno

        Jesus says there’s no need for prayer at all:

        Matthew 6:31-32 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

        Nobody wants to be like “the Gentiles”!! Oh, wait – we ARE Gentiles. Nice O_O

        But Jesus also said that he would do whatever believers prayed for him to do – AND that they’ll be able to do all of Jesus’s “miracles” – AND MORE!!

        John 14:12-14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

        Where’s the disconnect? We know that’s ^ a steaming pile of lies. For a fact. Every Christian knows it, however much they want to make excuses for it. Every Christian who has tried to walk on water has drowned. No Christian has made dinner for 5,000 out of a single chicken pot pie. And no Christian has “restored” anyone’s “withered hand” or other crippled appendage. Funny how all these miraculous “healings” stopped abruptly when we developed doctors who could make valid diagnoses and various types of recording devices… Big fat lies. Everybody can see that. Why is it so hard to just acknowledge that openly? “There’s a lot in there designed to appeal to people’s greed and need, but it just doesn’t work. Any more than the Retsyn in Certs mints gives you fresh breath.”

        Retsyn, for those who don’t know, is simply their fancy name for vegetable oil.

    • John

      Bob, One can only have a rich prayer life when when there is a deep experiential connection with the mystery/divinity within and behind life. It is not surprising that religious sects with their demands for simple belief do not deliver on this. Belief comes from knowing, which requires one to free their self from ego, from others pointing and pressure and the self judgments that causes. You might just find a god in there.

      • Bob

        John,

        Thanks. I’m not sure I understand you.

        “One can only have a rich prayer life when when there is a deep experiential connection with the mystery/divinity within and behind life.”

        I think this is one way I might define prayer, and maybe that’s what you are saying it is for you, too.

        “It is not surprising that religious sects with their demands for simple belief do not deliver on this.”

        Are you saying here that the demands for “simple belief” from our institutional moorings actually impede developing a rich prayer life?

        “Belief comes from knowing, which requires one to free their self from ego, from others pointing and pressure and the self judgments that causes.”

        But that when we can free ourselves from our own ego and concerns for our personal image, we discover a certainty (knowing) that leads us to real belief?

        “You might just find a god in there.”

        And that puts us into communion with the “god” within–prayer?

        1/16/14, 19:48 CST

    • Marduk

      Bob, I suspect not having a “rich prayer life” is a symptom not a cause.

      If one is having doubts it would be only natural that prayer would not seem so profound or meaningful to them. Their doubts undermine what perceptions of efficacy may have existed previously..

      • Bob

        Marduk,

        Maybe, in some cases and some ways, but I’m uneasy with this hypothesis as a generalization. I think you may be suggesting that, it’s hard to get into prayer until and unless one submits to whatever it takes to get there and to go wherever it takes him. If we insist on maintaining too much control of something we don’t understand, we sabotage our own experience or ability to experience prayer. We can even think we’ve submitted, but still be holding out somehow so we don’t finally make the connection that we seek. Is this what you have in mind? 1/16/14, 20:01 CST

    • upsidedawn

      Interesting question. I never thought of myself as a very devout Christian, but back when I believed in a god, I did have a lot of what I thought of as conversations in my head with that deity. It’s funny that I thought of those as more authentic than formalized prayer, which seemed to be performed ritually or, on occasion, for pious public display rather than as sincere, heart to heart talks.

      Of course, I did come to realize that the supposed conversation was one-sided, having never received even the ghost of a response.

      • Bob

        Upsidedawn,

        Thanks for your response to my question about prayer life for Ryan and those following this blog. 1/16/14, 23:04 CST

    • Blanche Quizno

      Some of us are obviously better at deluding ourselves than others are, Bob.

      • Bob

        Blanche,

        We all have our special talents! :-) I enjoy your comments. They are sometimes a bit caustic, but they are clear and direct. Thanks.

        If you have noticed some of my other comments on this blog, you may realize that I have much respect for the logical, reasoning, analytical aspect of humans, and that I think that there is more to us than that that also must be recognized and “honored” somehow. When we dig deep enough into our reason, more often than not, my experience has been to find more rationalizations than reasons. When I dig into experience, I find more misperceptions than reality. My “universe” is limited, and my conclusions, even if they are consistent with something in my system, lack completeness or finality. Science can’t answer all my questions. It has its recognized limits. Yet, the human being casts about for more.

        I agree that explaining mysteries in the natural realm in supernatural terms has significant undesirable consequences. I am on board with you on that score, I think. At the same time, I sense that there is a dimension of us that roams beyond the pale of nature and science and logic. One can try to deny that all of that is real and say that it can all be explained scientifically or logically, but it remains part of our experience and commands our attention. The result is that we have religion and concepts we call god. If we don’t handle these things, i.e., this dimension of us, well, we get horrible societal atrocities and personal disorders. If we do handle this dimension well, it can be a powerful force of great benefit to society and personal health. Ignoring or denying it does not seem to me to be the best way to handle it.

        One can say of religion/god, etc. that it’s all fiction. It’s just a game we play. This may be true, but it is still very real in that it addresses a dimension or aspect of our nature that is very real to us, whether or not we can understand that dimension.

        Our communal nature leads to what most of us might consider another reality that I think may be a parallel fiction–our money system or economic system. It is a game we play. We can make it whatever we want, but we find it useful, even necessary, so we treat it as though it were reality. it’s our reality. There are real consequences and benefits to us for how we design, develop, manage, maintain, participate in the system. It is not something we can walk away from, ignore, or even deny, although, it is not real, and it could be done many different ways. (NOTE: If this analogy doesn’t help clarify for you the point I’m trying to make, then don’t argue it, just drop it.)

        When I speak of prayer or meditation, I am speaking of personal practices that have helped many people with that part of them that doesn’t work or fit so neatly in the pure logic, reason, nature box. We can get real messed up there, and many have, or we can find a deeply enriching life force.

        I see it something like, “Science grounds us in reality; religion gives that reality meaning for us.”

        1/16/14, 21:12 CST

    • Mary

      Bob, I had a VERY, very rich prayer life. I prayed throughout the day about a lot of things. Sometimes I prayed in writing, sometimes in groups, sometimes led prayer, often silently as I walked.

      That deep, emotional connection is kinda like a honeymoon. Some of us manage to make it last a long time…in my case it was more than 20 years. But eventually in a relationship you start to see things that were masked with all of the good emotions and loving words. For me, I started to see that this partnership with god was not actually helping me. I lived with chronic, debilitating anxiety (hereditary), and depression would get so bad that I couldn’t even attend church (the talk of sin and all of the lovely theological topics would inevitably lead me to sob). It got worse as I aged, even as I served in Christian leadership. It was really terrifying. I always assumed the longer I followed God, the better things would be when it came to mental peace and joy (not anything else – I wasn’t one who believed God would make life all roses and butterflies). As things got worse, I was clinging to prayer. I read the Bible MORE, not less, during this time, and it seemed everywhere I looked there were sad verses, condemning verses, and those that made promises of great things that weren’t actually happening for me.

      That was just the beginning of things unraveling. It’s one thing to realize your partner isn’t really there for you the way you hoped. It’s another to realize he lets everyone down. I would never stay married to someone who didn’t do what he promised to me AND to the people around me. Who wants to be with someone like that? It was when I started seeing how god’s promises didn’t hold up for anyone, no matter how faithful, that I just couldn’t believe he was real anymore…either that, or he just wasn’t good enough to worship.

      Don’t get me wrong, I see that a lot of people are inspired and comforted by their belief. But I fail to see a God who is actually doing anything…it’s just people feeling good because of what they imagine and hope to be true. I don’t try to challenge people on that, but I do feel sad for them. Perhaps the final straw in my own ability to believe was watching people flail around trying so hopefully (and desperately) to get God to heal them and help them. They can believe SO fervently that they will beat a disease with God’s help, even when doctors tell them that cancer is all over their bodies. It’s a drama that makes people look ridiculously pathetic because there is no one there who is going to do anything. And it makes any god who could stand there and watch that look horribly, horribly awful.

      • Bob

        Mary,

        Thanks for sharing your experience. It may be a data point for which I was searching.

        I certainly agree that it is frustrating when I try to get God to be the way I think God should be, even based on the best understanding I have of the Bible or whatever. As a result, I am searching for a god concept that fits my impression of the data better–something that resonates with me. Something is amiss, and I’m not able yet to be clear about what it is or what to do about it. That’s part of why I’m following this blog, although I find the volume of comments on it a bit overwhelming.

        1/16/14, 21:25 CST

  • http://gravatar.com/markmarshallahrens Mark
  • http://markmarshallahrens.wordpress.com markmarshallahrens
  • https://www.facebook.com/raysot Ray Sotkiewicz

    I too, experienced that feeling of utter alone-ness and hopelessness upon realizing that I was an atheist.

    Thus began another journey to find meaning, minus all the ghosts and fear.

    It took me roughly 5 years and I am happy to say I’ve never been more fulfilled, hopeful and happy in all my adult life -without- god, than with him.

    I see life for what it is… some great, cosmic accident and we’re all here to experience the universe that created us.

    I am free of the fear, the guilt, the wondering if “Finally, maybe this time, I have been truly saved!” (I’ve been ‘saved’, like… 8 times….) and yet somehow I retained my love for my fellow man, my morals, and my curiosity about life MORE in my non-belief.

    Today is a pivotal day for me… Since my early childhood I had always counted on god to reveal the secrets of the universe to me upon my death. To know that wouldn’t happen was the greatest disappointment of all. That.. life really doesn’t have meaning…maybe…..

    Being a non-believer mean’t that I would have to let go of that deep desire to know about our universe.

    But I didn’t let go and give up…. I merely followed a different path… and today I am at peace with the answers as they exist today about our universe. We are a strange, quantum-mechanical cosmic accident. I am ok with that… And amazingly, that gives my life incredible meaning! More than I ever had in sitting, kneeling, standing, sitting kneeling, standing kneeling in a brick building called a church.

    I pursued meaning with god and got nothing but radio silence.

    I pursued meaning through science and physics and my fellow man and have never been more fulfilled.

  • City

    So I’ve been reading your posts up to this point, but this is the first comment I’ve made. As a Christian, I am in full support in what you are doing and am very interested to see the results. Out of all of your posts so far, I think this post has hit me the most, but perhaps not in the way you suspect. As I’ve grown in my faith the past years, there has always been some semblance of faith. I’ve always looked at God intelligently and trying to reason my way with Him. As you said for awhile now I’ve been living as an atheist. I mean I go to church every week and I try to be a relatively decent person, but I constantly swear, put others down, and do a lot of things I’d rather not post. Basically, I act as if God doesn’t exist in the first place.

    I guess what I am trying to say is, I guess to try and find what difference God makes to me, I’m not going to try a year without God. I’m going to finally try a year WITH God.

    That probably sounds crazy cheesy, but it’s an interesting prospect.

    • Chrys

      What has God’s existence or lack thereof to do with you swearing and putting people down?

      It cannot possibly be that you behave well towards other people only because you think your God wants this? Surely you have your own views of right and wrong?

      • ForeverLawst

        Agreed. Can’t you just be a good person for the sake of being a good person? That’s what I do everyday… no god needed.

    • http://photokandy.wordpress.com Kerri Shotts

      So, by your reckoning, living without God must mean that one is mean-spirited, vulgar, and perhaps worse?

      No, no, a thousand times no. Living as if there is no God does not require this to be the only possible lifestyle. One can still live a moral, good life and still be living as if God doesn’t exist. God isn’t the source of morality, after all. In fact, as an atheist, my morality has only strengthened and improved, simply because this is the only life we get, and I wouldn’t want to destroy someone else’s life, just as I wouldn’t want someone else to destroy my life.

      Perhaps your experiment of living with God will change you. That’s fine. But don’t assume that’s the only way. And don’t put others down for not thinking the way you think. To be honest, I’m not sure much will occur, because you’ve already been living with God — perhaps your faith hasn’t been incredibly strong, but you indicated you have always had some semblance thereof. If God wasn’t enough then to get you on the straight and narrow, what makes you think it will work now?

      • Marduk

        Your post has already been rebutted admirably by the two previous comments, but I must say that i find your comment attributing amorality to atheism lacks awareness or understanding of what it entails

        Atheist =/= amoral

      • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

        Isn’t morality a product of culture? And isn’t that culture influenced by the prevailing religion? I mean society is a two way street. Just because atheists do not engage in the predominate religion doesn’t necessarily mean that they do not benefit from it indirectly if that religion makes their neighbors more peaceful, kind and generous people. A small population of children that are not vaccinated can benefit from the vaccinations of others, but if everyone goes without vaccinations all the benefits are lost.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Well, here’s the thing, admstrange. According to the Bible, Jesus frowned mightily on divorce, yet the most devout Christians have the highest divorce rates. It wasn’t so long ago that the Bible was used as justification for slavery, you know. There is no place in the Bible where it says that slavery is wrong; we had to come up with that all on our own, no thanks to religion. The Bible accepts, condones, regulates, and even orders slavery, in fact! Jesus had no problem with it, or with monarchy. But we recognize both as fundamentally abusive institutions, and we’ve outlawed them. We fought a war to be free from having to bow the knee to kings; why do we still tolerate a monarchy-based religion, and monarchy-style corporate organization?

        When the US was almost 100% Christian, we had the sweatshops, child labor, mass poverty and malnutrition and elderly people starving to death. That is why the government set up social safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and the various welfare and nutrition programs. Despite there being a church on every corner and a Christian populace, suffering was rampant through society. It took a nonChristian initiative to change this for the better. Christians seem fond of pointing to Jesus’s statement “you will always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11) as an excuse to do *nothing* to help the needy.

        Now, in modern times, we have the lowest murder rates in history. Our murder rates have been gradually dropping over the last coupla hundred years or so, when secularization set in. Under Christian rule, murder was shockingly commonplace, much as we now see in the Islamic theocracies. The Christian theocracies were no better, that is very clear.

        Under the Puritan pilgrims’ rule, you might be executed for not being a Puritan Christian – Puritans executed 4 Quakers, including 2 women, just for being peaceable Quakers (means non-Puritan).

        So I’d say that it’s the culture that’s modifying Christianity and turning it into something not so harmful. It’s the Christians who are indirectly benefiting from secular society, because let’s face it – Christianity has always had rather a nasty “Inquisition” attitude, if you know what I mean. Secular laws guarantee your right to choose a religion for yourself. Throughout its long history, Christianity has used force and cruelty to coerce people into at least the public display of going along with it.

        It sounds like you have *no idea* what a debt you owe to nonChristians! Sort of like how that silly Ray Comfort was going into raptures over how the banana is so perfectly designed by God to suit us, because he didn’t realize that thousands of years of careful selective breeding had resulted in the characteristics he so prized!

    • Blanche Quizno

      City, the reason that Christians are less moral than atheists is because Christians believe that “God” will “forgive” them, no matter what they do. No matter how BAD what they do is.

      Atheists, on the other hand, are answerable to our fellow human beings. There’s no “get out of consequences free” card in atheism, and, quite frankly, I would consider anyone who would take and use such a concept as ignoble, degenerate, narcissistic, selfish, a scoundrel, and utterly without honor. And don’t even start me on the whole ritual cannibalism abomination!

      But I digress. The fact that WE are all there is means that our relationships with others become more important to us. WE have no command to hate everybody around us as Christians do (Luke 14:26, among others), for example. And since we ourselves realize that others have feelings the same way we do, we can base our behavior upon empathy, imagining what impact our actions will have on those around us, those we care about, and even those we don’t even know. That’s why our prisons are full of Christians – they only care about themselves and their own gain.

      A recent study suggested that the more intelligent people are the ones who are able to engage in evolutionary novel behaviors and attitudes such as looking beyond genetic kinship and regarding even strangers in the category of “family” or “tribe” ( http://phys.org/news186236813.html ). It is this attitude that we need if we’re going to survive as a species, not the “us vs. them” of intolerant religion that serves to “divide and conquer”, to keep people at each other’s throats so they can’t ever join forces and find solutions to the problems of civilized society, such as the obscene and growing gap between rich and poor.

      • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

        You’re picture of religious people reminds me of Reagan’s description of the “Cadillac driving welfare queen.” Thanks for your informative post, but I got my education on this subject from Yale. Perhaps a more scientific inquiry would be of interest to you as well.

      • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

        Apologies for the snipe, Blanche. I guess condensation breeds condensation. I’m going to unfollow this blog so no reply is necessary.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Thank you for the apology – that was big of you. Happy trails!

  • Patrick

    Great post. Great question.

    I appreciate the fact that you hit on the “functional atheist” concept. It is so very true for so many Christians. I think it would be wise and helpful for us in the Church to own up to the fact that we live this way. Perhaps, then, we can free ourselves up to really explore what this whole Jesus thing is really about. A major problem I have with the American church is that we’ve transformed Christianity into a self-help, rules-based club. But a right reading of the Bible tells us that it’s really something wholly different.

    The story we see in the Bible is that God chose to be with us. And, He chose to be with us even though He knows how messed up we were. We see it in the Old and the New Testaments: He chose to be with Abraham who tried to sell his wife. He chose to be with Moses, who was a murderer. He chose to be with David who was an adulterer. And He chose to send his Son to live with the very people who killed Him. Sure, there are “rules” laid-out in the Bible, but Romans 8 tells us that they are incapable of truly making a difference–that God has a true and better difference-maker than “right living.”

    In that light, I’d like to challenge you in this exercise. I think you have tried to answer your question from the wrong end, as you tried to answer it from YOUR end–from the perspective of whether your behavior was different because of God. But what if you looked for the answer from GOD’S end? How would that change your answer? How did HE change things?

    Here’s how I’d answer:

    God made a difference in this: He *knows* us, more intimately and more deeply than anyone else could ever know us — He knows our brokenness and sin and our hurt and heartache and our circumstances and our struggles — and He chose to be with us.

    That’s the difference that GOD makes. And if we can grasp even a shadow of this concept …well, there is where we find true freedom, inexplicable peace, and honest-to-goodness transformation.

    • City

      Well said Patrick.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “And, He chose to be with us even though He knows how messed up we were. ”

      And why are we so messed up? Because He made us *precisely* this way. We could not possibly be any different, since we were made to be exactly as we are. And we’re supposed to think that “God” is somehow “special” because, having made creatures (creations) flawed and damaged, “God” nonetheless deigns to supposedly interact with Its own creations that are exactly as It made them, and THEY are supposed to feel somehow guilty for how they were made, when they had no say in the matter??

      You were saying…?

      • Patrick

        The line of thinking that you are trying to mock here…I reject it, too. I can’t tell if you are outlining some theology that someone taught you, or setting up a strawman theology to mock — I don’t know anything about your background in or understanding of Christian theology — but if someone taught it to you this way, they were *way* off, and *should* be mocked publicly.

      • Blanche Quizno

        It’s the result of looking at the information for myself, without anyone trying to impose some theological spin on it. I can’t count how many times I’ve had Christians tell me that a given passage actually means the *opposite* of what it says! Paul, for example, in 1 Corinthians 7, says that men should never touch women. Everybody should be celibate. If a circumstance makes a married person suddenly single, that person should never marry and should be celibate. And even married people are supposed to be celibate! I’ve had Christians tell me what a strong supporter of marriage Paul is. WTF??

        I object to the Christian notion that we are “damaged goods”, damaged beyond repair, all because some simpletons, who had been made incomplete and left at a toddler’s stage of development, were allowed to be entrapped by a being that was clearly more intelligent than they were, and, because they ate a stupid piece of FRUIT that had been left *right there* within easy reach, we must all be damned just for having been born human. It’s a stupid system, and it’s ALL God’s fault for setting up such a kludgey mess in the first place. There’s absolutely nothing theology can do to rescue this rotten fail of a system.

        I also object to the notion that someone else’s death somehow makes it so people don’t have to be self-responsible. That’s a poisonous, pernicious idea that robs people of their dignity, integrity, honor, and nobility, rendering them base, wretched, groveling creatures devoid of morals and ethics. No thanks.

        Notice I’m not mentioning how even God was so overwhelmed with his massive failure of an attempt to create a world that he went and drowned everything on it except for a boatload of a handful of people and some livestock. Everything about it reeks of the primitive and barbaric.

        But I’m glad that you admit that it deserves to be mocked. I’m a fan of H. L. Mencken, who said, “… the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.” (September 14, 1925)

      • http://patrickslemish.wordpress.com Patrick Slemish

        Blanche, you continue to take Christian teaching, add false “facts” and/or lay-out faulty interpretations of it, then mock that. What you’ve outlined, above, is a Christianity that I, too, would reject.

      • Blanche Quizno

        If it takes casuistic reasoning, sophistry, and torturous apologetics to wrest something positive out of the many patently negative doctrines and passages of Scripture – and it does – then we would all be better off rejecting it. Cases in point:

        Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

        Luke 19:27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

        There it is. That’s what it says. And it’s ugly. In order to make this sow’s ear into a silk purse, one must jump through many, MANY hoops. And even then the smell remains.

      • Patrick

        Wow, Blanche. Really? You picked some really interesting passages for your example: a parable and an obvious hyperbole? I’m sure you could find other, more difficult passages to cover: Like how God sent the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child in Canaan.

        But let’s not go that way…you’re not going to surprise me, as I’ve studied the hard passages and really wrestled with them all.

        Here’s what I’d like to say to you: If you choose to reject Christ and the God of the Bible, that’s your business and your choice. I won’t beat you up over it or fight you about it. However, I have yet to see you reject the God of the Bible. You have rejected the god of America, and the god of the Bible Belt, and the god of Richard Dawkins. But the God of the Bible — He’s a whole `nother God and I really wish you’d spend time exploring who HE is.

    • http://photokandy.wordpress.com Kerri Shotts

      And yet there’s not a shred of evidence for any of it. If He really chose to be with us, then this world should be a very different place. Not because of the self-help junk (it is junk, on that we agree), but because this Loving God says in his own book that he gives good things to those who believe in him. Have any Christian amputees miraculously received new human limbs? Didn’t think so. Given the miracles that the Bible says God did, why doesn’t He perform them now? Does He not love us as much? Or could it be that He doesn’t exist in the first place…

      • Blanche Quizno

        Kerri Shotts, we see in the Bible that God not only did miracles, he did them on demand to impress people! Take a look at 1 Kings 18, which is the fable of Elijah and the priests of Baal having a praying contest to see whose god exists. When Elijah says “Go!”, God provides such impressive and stunning intervention in reality that everybody who was watching, the entire audience, believed. Not from anything Elijah said, mind you. And that’s an explicit point of the tale – the whole production was to convince the audience. Doesn’t God care now? God could intervene in OUR reality in a way that would leave no room for doubt, as he supposedly did in 1 Kings 18. But he doesn’t.

        And lest anyone say that’s Old Testament stuff and, thus, not really applicable (as with everything therein that makes them uncomfortable, but remember – homosexuality is still wrong regardless!! – look at Acts 5. It’s the edifying tale of God striking a couple down dead on command for not forking over all their assets to the church. They’re both killed separately, for supposedly “lying to the Holy Spirit” (they actually just lied to Peter, wanting to keep some back for themselves – a wise move, you’d agree). We’re to believe that “God” struck them both dead “and a great fear came over everyone who heard about it.” Yeah, I’ll just BET! Nobody DARED try to keep some of their own money for themselves after that! It could be, of course, that Peter and his boys just murdered them.

        But WHY doesn’t God intervene any more? John 14:12 says that, now that Jesus is gone, his followers will be able to do even MORE miraculous stuff than HE did, but that’s clearly a big fat lie. John 14:13-14 states clearly that Jesus will do ANYTHING his followers ask him to do, and that’s likewise a big fat lie. Prayer is useless. Either God is dead or God never existed. I know which one sounds more plausible to me.

      • http://patrickslemish.wordpress.com Patrick Slemish

        “If He really chose to be with us, then this world should be a very different place.”

        Really? How do you know? Or do you really mean, “If I were God, and I chose to be with my creation, I would make it a very different place.”?

        God does promise good things to those who believe in Him. But how do you know what those good things are? Do you really know what’s best in all circumstances? If there is a God, do you really think that you would know better than Him what is good? My 7 year-old tells me “how it should be” all the time, but I happen to know that there are better things for her than to eat nothing but Butterfingers. Is it possible that God may look at your challenge in the same way I look at my daughter when she tells me what she should eat for dinner? We actually have an insight in to how He’d respond, as He addressed a challenge similar to yours in Job: Read chapters 40-41. (The best I can ever come up with is, “I have underwear older than you!”)

        Isn’t it possible that God has reason to leave the world as it is? Isn’t it possible that, rather than fixing everything, He’s chosen to just *be* with us in the brokenness? In my experience, my friends who are struggling with deep loss or hurt rarely want me to come in and try to fix their situation–they almost always just want me to *be* with them. Isn’t it possible that God has chosen this path because it’s better?

        We all scream for miracles, but I remind you: look at what the outcome of all of those Bible miracles generally tended to be: continued unbelief. Above, Blanche calls-out the Elijah story; we read in the ensuing chapters that it didn’t change the fact that Israel continued rejecting God. In Matthew 11:20-21, Jesus laments that the towns who saw His miracles didn’t come to belief. Maybe God decided that there’s a better thing He can do.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “God does promise good things to those who believe in Him. ”

        Really? I thought it was the opposite:

        “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6

        In case the terminology is a problem, “chasteneth” refers to “punishment in order to correct,” and “scourging” is what the Roman soldiers supposedly did to torture the jesus before the supposed execution.

        “God blesses those who Patiently Endure TESTING and TEMPTATION.” James 1:12

        What’s the problem already? Doesn’t God supposedly have a “plan” that he already knows the outcome of?

        Psalm 139:16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

        That means that all this “TESTING and TEMPTATION” is just pure sadism and liking to see people squirm.

        “Some time later God tested Abraham.” Genesis 22:1.

        We all know how THAT turned out – Abraham had to kill his only son by his wife! That’s the original story, which we can see many traces of in what’s left – two go up, but only one comes down, Abraham is praised for not withholding his son, and Abraham goes off to a new city to settle. Sarah? WHAT Sarah??

        Paul wants to get in on the testathon:

        “For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.” 2 Corinthians 2:9

        Add to that the book of Job, where Job, who was sinless and had done no wrong (this is explicitly stated in the text), is chosen as a target for sadistic torment just because God had a bet with Its butler. So Job’s children are *killed*, Job is ruined, and even Job’s health is destroyed, leaving him in constant, chronic pain. All so that God can win the $1 bet with Its butler.

        And when Job passes the test (there’s that word again), he’s “rewarded” with NEW children, including PRETTIER daughters! And this supposedly leaves Job completely satisfied with the situation. I’m sure Job was glad to be able to help God win that $1 bet.

        I’ve known REAL parents whose children died before they did, and they grieve those children until they have no more breath left in their bodies. There can be no substitute or replacement. The fact that we’re to believe that it’s somehow moral or ethical for God to KILL Job’s children, so long as he replaces them at the end with PRETTIER daughters, shows that whoever was writing this disgusting little fable had little understanding of parental love or devotion. Job is depicted with the same detachment and lack of concern that Solomon showed in threatening to slice a baby in half. Solomon, who had HUNDREDS of wives and concubines and THOUSANDS of children. Of course ONE child wouldn’t matter to him, especially a stranger’s child!

        It’s quite offensive.

    • Goblinman

      Patrick,

      No. Sorry, but no.

      God isn’t simply like a parent or a friend. As the creator of the universe, God is also in some way responsible for every bad thing that happens to us. If all he’s going to do is “just be there” for us, he’s the worst kind of friend possible. He has the ability to help in a more direct way–or even to have prevented the bad things from happening in the first place. You paint a picture of a God who is intolerably uncaring and lazy. Even FEMA is better at helping disaster victims.

      And besides, what about us atheists? You’re saying God has apparently decided we don’t need any “help”. Forget miracles–that version of God cares so little about humanity he can’t even be bothered to prove to everyone he even exists. You’d think if he really cared about helping us he’d try a little harder.

      And, again, sorry to be rude. But if you’re going to use God’s love as evidence he exists, you need to start with better proof of that love.

      • http://patrickslemish.wordpress.com Patrick Slemish

        First of all, you’re trying to force my post to be what it’s not. I’m not trying to prove that God exists. This post started with His existence as an assumption. I was simply describing something that God (who is assumed) has done that makes a difference.

        Also, I never said — and never would say — that the totality of God can be summed-up as a “parent or a friend.” Nor did I say that being with us is “all he’s going to do”. I just said that “being with us” is the difference that God makes. Don’t make like I laid-out a comprehensive and systematic theology in one post. You’ve got to limit my post to the limited topic it addressed.

        As for your specific challenges to the things I didn’t say… We’ll have to tackle those another day. I wish I had the time to get into it, but I need to run. But I’ll leave you with these questions (and this won’t comprehensive, either):

        1) Is it better for a parent to let their kids struggle with difficulties — even if that means they might get hurt? Or is it better if the parent jumps in to make the world perfect & safe for them?

        2) Is it better for a parent to let their kids discover how to solve a math problem on their own? Or better to complete their homework for them?

      • Goblinman

        Patrick,

        1) You’re really equating things like people dying from natural disasters with “tough love”? That’s like a parent letting their kid learn the hard way why they shouldn’t play in traffic. They can’t learn anything if they’re dead.

        2) Is this parent also planning on tying the kid up in the basement and beating them if they get the answers wrong? Because then it might be nice if they helped the kid out a little first, yes.

        If I sound angry, it’s because I don’t like doublespeak: “I love you, that’s why I have to hurt you” is not love. “You’re free to make any choice you want, but I’ll punish you if you make the wrong one” is not freedom.

      • Patrick

        Goblinman (I just realized what your name is, and I really like it! I wish I woulda been more clever),

        You don’t sound angry at all–you’re positing some good, meaningful –and heartfelt — comments. Stop apologizing, you’re fine.

        Let’s start with #2:

        (I need you to know that I know that there are a host of presuppositions behind these statements. We can address those another time, but I’d rather skip straight the part where I address your specific challenges)

        I would say that God HAS helped us out. Not only is there ample evidence in the physical world that He exists, but He sent His Son to live with us, and He’s given His Word to us to “help us out.” From what I gather, you’ve rejected that evidence, and that’s your prerogative. But your rejection of the evidence (or the conclusions Christians draw from the evidence) doesn’t change the fact that the evidence is there — and that means that God HAS has helped us out.

        And if He’s helped us out, but in effect we say, “Go pound sand–I choose to live my life apart from you,” then the Bible tells us that … God gives us that wish. It also happens to say that living apart from God through eternity is terrible (though it doesn’t say that God ties us up and beats us). That’s why He sent His Son–to free us from the eternal “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That’s love.

        As for #1…

        My statement there was poor. I’ll blame it on the fact that I was racing to my next thing. I see now that it reads like I was equating death by natural disaster to tough love, but that was not what I was trying to say. I won’t try to defend it (it was too poor a statement), but ask for a do-over…

        I understand how you can state that God is “responsible for every bad thing that happens to us.” That is a logical and reasonable conclusion. However, I would argue that if you add in a couple additional elements to the story, reason can lead us to a different conclusion.

        We need to understand that when God created us, he desired to be in a mutually intimate relationship with him. And in order for that to be a genuine relationship, He had to give us the option to *choose* to be in that relationship. So, He provided a choice: to stay in communion with Him or to elevate ourselves as gods ourselves (again–SOOO many presuppositions behind these statements). The Christian believes that we chose to elevate ourselves, and that this choice brought consequences. These consequences include famine and floods, murder and mayhem, and on and on it goes. My point is that God has allowed us to walk in the world we asked for — primarily so we can find our need for a savior (we’re all looking for one — even if it’s not a deity).

        Now, here most folks would generally say something along the lines of, “A loving God would protect us from the death and dismemberment consequences — even if it makes sense that He had to let us face consequences at all.” But, remember, His greatest desire is for us to *choose* to be in communion with Him, and (knowing humans like I do) I bet He figures that if He shielded us from ourselves, we’d just walk around believing that things are just fine and dandy when we’re in charge (In another time we can talk about an honest look at how that’s working out — we act like we’re the King and the world is still all screwed up).

        I think it pains God to watch us suffer like we do. And if He can get frustrated, I bet He gets frustrated with the fact that He can’t force us to choose that which He knows will bring us ultimate peace and freedom…because if He forces us, it won’t be genuine.

        So He’s patient. And He lets us struggle and suffer under our choices–waiting and waiting for us to respond, calling to us and “wishing” that we would respond to His love. But the Bible tells us that He’s not passive in this waiting — that He took definitive action by stepping into this world, and being with us in it. He’s suffered with and for and along side us — and I’m talking about more than just dying on the cross; I’m also talking about weeping and hurting along with us in the broken world we live in today.

        Now, you may think this is all a lot of hoo-haa, It is a mind-blowing proposition. But that’s what I believe and that’s how I should have responded to you earlier.

        There’s a lot in there for you to go after — I’ll let you choose where to go from here. Thanks for listening, and give me your best shot.

      • Goblinman

        Patrick, you mentioned evidence. I should point out that, despite my earlier posts, my being an atheist is entirely about the evidence (or lack thereof, in my case), rather than my concerns about God’s character. Such a discussion remains relevant, though, because the universe simply does not behave particularly benevolently, which makes the idea of a benevolent God problematic.

        There’s also the problem that I, like many atheists, don’t find the “evidence” for God even a little bit convincing. To be clear: I’m not turning my back on it–I’ve studied the issue fairly extensively. It’s simply seems silly. (Hence the “invisible pink unicorns” and “flying spaghetti-monsters”–those things actually seem about equally likely as God to us). So, either God has decided I’m not someone worth helping, or has done a terrible job making his case. You’d think that, since he made the entire universe in the first place, just proving his own existence would be the easy part–any human can do that just by showing up.

        So, to reiterate, I’m not choosing to “live apart from God”. I’ve looked hard for evidence, and I didn’t find any. This, apparently, is the wrong answer, and disqualifies me from the above-mentioned mature relationship with God, which, in turn, gets me and people like me the whole “eternal wailing and gnashing of teeth” bit. I’m pretty sure I’d be pretty angry with God at that point.

        Now, on to the death and dismemberment: You say God gave us a choice: a mature relationship with him, or, uh, death and dismemberment. Sure, he’s omnipotent, but we made the wrong choice, so it’s totally our fault he hits us. Don’t get mad at him, though, he might threaten to kill himself again.

        That “mature” relationship is so text-book abusive it makes my skin crawl. If he was an actual person in a relationship with another actual person, I would have to restrain myself from setting him on fire.

        You know what would be some good evidence that God exists? If we lived in a universe without all that death and dismemberment. It’d be like, sure, you might disagree with his stance on body piercings, but at least you’d know he wouldn’t up and tsunami your home town because of it. He’s actually doing worse than the American government (which only aspires to omniscience, but I digress).

    • Blanche Quizno

      Sure, he chose to be with Abraham, who tried to sell his wife, actually his HALF-SISTER, TWICE! And God saw to it that Abraham was richly rewarded both times – he didn’t even have to return the purchase price! That’s a dandy scam, isn’t it? Obviously, the fact that Ol’ Abe was selling his sister/wife didn’t bother God in the least. Yeah, that’s some impressive moral/ethical backbone I’m seeing there.

      Sure, he chose to be with David, who was an adulterer. And he KILLED David’s infant son to punish David for being an adulterer! That sound like a good buddy to you??

      No thanks – I don’t want a psychopathic maniac like that around me!

      And since you brought up Romans 8, why not point out that it clearly says that SOME people are “predestined” to be “saved”, while the rest are “predestined” to be “punished”, and that this decision was made before anybody was even born, on God’s whim? Horrifying!

      This theme is expanded on and made more explicit in Romans 9, where it clearly says that God makes some people for the express purpose of having someone to punish, and that somehow this one person being tortured will “glorify” the one he chose to “save”, even though neither did anything to earn or deserve such a destiny, and nothing we can do to change our categorization. It goes so far as to say that we aren’t even allowed to point out the rank injustice of such an insane system!

      See, SOME think of a world where God intervenes as “better”, because they are certain that they stand to benefit. Given the shockingly capricious “god” portrayed in the Bible, which acknowledges that this being is criminally insane, I would think that belief in such a god would render someone likewise insane. There would be no reasoning with this criminally insane being and no counting on it – it had changed its mind plenty in the Bible, demonstrating that sure, you can cravenly grovel and crawl before it, hoping it won’t stomp you, but in the end, there is no assurance that it won’t.

      Do you care to try my thought experiment? You, as a Christian, believe that you’re destined for a big fat reward. But you probably claim you’re not in it for the goodies, I’m guessing. Now suppose that God alerts everyone in the world, to your satisfaction, that He has now changed the rules – he intends to allow only non-Christians into “heaven” and he intends to torture all Christians forever in “hell”. Just because he can. He’s God, after all – he can make any rules he likes, right? So now what happens to your belief and devotion? Does it change, with this knowledge?

  • Anwar

    What difference God? For me there is this: hope that humanity will be judged. I personally might otherwise despair at the world’s perpetual violence, pain, injustice. I act against this great evil, but there is no end to it… Hope for a fair and just judgement someday has made a difference for me (an aside: no guys I don’t think burning in hell forever for stealing a cookie or whatever would be fair, that’s just not my theology but I’ll spare you the details). Also, I have hope that this beautiful planet, marred by humanity, will be restored and freed from our curse someday. Every time I see animals suffering or land or river ruined, again I am driven to take what action I can, but inside I also hold on to hope that these burdens will be lifted from all of life someday (or at least my faith tradition invites me into such a hope). These are the first two things that come to mind and they are often in my thoughts. Of course my inner life does not matter to anyone but me, the reassurance I can give to my secular humanist friends who might see all of this hoping business as futile is simply the work that I do. Our values overlap massively: freedom of conscience, human rights, the preservation of the Earth, etc. And yes, the actions for good taken by my fellow man also give me reason to hope :) Anyway THANK YOU for your candid post, Ryan. I can actually relate, to some extent. It is kind of you to share your journey.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “For me there is this: hope that humanity will be judged. I personally might otherwise despair at the world’s perpetual violence, pain, injustice.”

      So you want to see people harmed. You want to see people suffer. That’s real nice O_O

      Here are some facts for you. People who abuse children were abused themselves as children. So do they deserve to be punished for their own victimization that twisted their psyches? Serial killers all share one detail in common – they were mercilessly beaten as children for the smallest infractions, often surviving their own intended murders. And they deserve to be punished? What of children who were starved and tortured, who grew up so twisted that they sought to harm others? They deserve to be punished, right? And what of what was done to them that caused permanent damage to their ability to think and feel?

      What of those Christians who say, “If God didn’t exist, I’d have no reason not to rape, steal, torture, and murder”? They betray that, if they did not believe something bigger than them stood ready to stomp on them, they’d easily and eagerly harm their fellow human beings. Do they get a pass for their willingness to harm just because their belief that something else will harm them holds them back?

      What use is a moral compass in such circumstances? Is false belief a virtue if its only purpose is to stop psychopaths from harming everyone else? Does that make the psychopath anything other than a psychopath? Does the chain that restrains the rabid and vicious dog make that dog into less of a dangerous animal? Or is the rabid, vicious dog still a rabid, vicious dog despite the chain that restrains him?

      • Anwar

        “So you want to see people harmed. You want to see people suffer.” Wow! NO! You misunderstood and clearly do not know me. I want justice for those who have tortured, who have harmed children, who have caused suffering and have done this evil of their own will. Regarding people who have themselves been harmed and act in response to that… how can I make any statement about that? No man could fairly judge the life of anyone. But somewhere, at least I believe, somewhere is a Being with perfect awareness and perfect judgement. My hope is that mercy and justice will find their rightful homes as each individual stands alone and is judged for the choices they have made given their own circumstances. Such a thing is beyond me to say the least. Truly sorry for causing such agitation.

      • Blanche Quizno

        The point is that the ones who have tortured, who have harmed children, who have caused suffering and have done evil were “primed” to do this by having it done to them while they were themselves small and helpless. And this tends to go back (and forward) for generations. Abuse truly runs in families.

        Wanting to punish demonstrates a simplistic view of reality AND the desire to harm others. There’s no two ways about it. Some people are so damaged that it is unsafe for the rest of society to have them around, but they should be placed in a secure facility where they will be treated humanely, given opportunities to socialize and learn, and to be rehabilitated to the fullest extent possible.

        If you haven’t seen this short video, about a facility for violent criminals in Norway, I hope you’ll take the minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4beUC3-ckw I found it very moving – it brought me to tears.

    • http://photokandy.wordpress.com Kerri Shotts

      @Anwar, A fair judgment is so subjective. What if God were to decide that what’s fair for you is not the same thing you envisioned?

      As to the recovery of this planet, I have higher hopes that mankind will get their #@$! together and clean it up ourselves. This world can be a paradise, and it doesn’t require God to get it there. (In fact, hopefully it doesn’t — since He’s not out there to help.)

      • Anwar

        Yes, the point is that I believe God will decide what is fair. It doesn’t matter what I envision. Frankly I don’t envision in the particular and never have. I just live and do whatever I can to ease suffering and to avoid causing it. And when I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of, say, the plight of the Syrian people and the chaos of violence there… I throw what resources I have at it, but you know the money/time/effort of a single person almost immediately vanishes into the magnitude of the need. I know people within the country are being tortured. I have worked a long time in the human rights community and read of the senseless and sadistic things people are capable of. It is infuriating that the victims could not be protected. So for the madman who can not be restrained, or the secret cruelties that would forever go unanswered – yes it is my hope that there is a judgement. Some call it karma. Some call it an unnecessary and a futile faith. That is their right.

        Regarding the planet, I too hope we get our @#*$& together. And I hope you are taking action towards that end. If you are, thank you.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Anwar, you said that you believe God will decide what is fair.

        How is “hell” ever fair? How is infinite punishment for no purpose but sadism, with no hope of changing problematic behavior for the better, fair? How is infinite punishment for finite crimes fair or just?

        We human beings have a concept of “punishment fitting the crime.” Why would someone like me, who looked very carefully at Christianity, both from within and from without, and found it not convincing deserve to be punished? Does God not want me to use the brain and reason He supposedly gave me? Why did God give me a brain that can’t believe in gods (the concept is frightfully childish and silly) if my eternal fate and ultimate happiness rides on being able to believe in gods?

        Does God just hate me?

  • Vini Marques

    I can totally relate. After 25 years as an engaged SDA believer, from birth, I found it astonishingly simple to let go. I remember thinking that if I were to ever become an atheist it would have to be under this insurmountable process and pain, but… No, not really. The things that made me “me” didn’t really change.

    I, too, felt a sense of loss: loss of fear and of the blinders that kept me from seeing the world as it really is. And I also gained a lot: the freedom to make my own decisions without having to consider the obscure desires of an invisible master; a much more inclusive and positive outlook toward my fellow humans; a newfound appreciation for science and wonder… Among other things.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Anwar

      “appreciation for science and wonder…”

      Right there with you, brother. This feeling of awe at an encounter with the universe, or with each new significant scientific discovery about ourselves and the world around us is something we all share because we’re human. Belief in God is not necessary for joy and wonder at these great mysteries, and I don’t believe that matters. Yet I take your indirect criticism of Christianity to heart when you say you had to banish God from your mind before gaining a more positive outlook toward your fellow humans. Perhaps I worded that too strongly. Anyway I am sorry. And frustrated because I can imagine that happening. It is a shortcoming of many conservative traditions, believe me, and it isn’t necessary. It is time for the faith traditions to burn their paper tigers and just get to work. There’s a lot of good work to be done in the world by people who care, no matter the covenant to which we have bound ourselves.

      • Blanche Quizno

        It can be awe-inspiring, astonishing, even breathtaking when you are a believer and you feel you glimpse a world set up according to a plan that benefits YOU, down to the coordination of the traffic lights so that you get all greens when you’re running late. The feeling that there is a god out there who is so vitally concerned with YOU that it is arranging your environment, the way a child might arrange the furniture in a dollhouse, to draw you toward your own best outcome. I know; I’ve felt it – both as a Christian and as a pseudo-Buddhist. In both cases, it was the result of being in thrall to magical thinking, to choose to see reality in that way because it kept at bay the fear that I couldn’t make it by myself, without some sort of supernatural crutch. I outgrew magical thinking, finally, and I’m a strong atheist now (and a critical atheist – see a description of various flavors of atheism here: http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/smith.htm ). But I still remember how it felt. It’s a helluva drug, I’ll tell you what!

  • Lisa

    Congratulations on the brave journey you are taking. I’m a recent atheist (2 years), having been raised a pretty strict adventist, sev school etc….then moving to a moderate christian…then believing in god but not attending church, then dabbling in new age…to a year of full on spare time research into “does god exist”.

    It ended with – probably not, we best get on with looking after our planet and its inhabitants and not expecting a being from space to come and save us from ourselves.

    I went through quite a lot of grief initially, as I was a true believer…therapy, tears etc. But at the same time everything seemed so much clearer and life seemed so much more intense and wonderful, like, this is IT! I lost the protection of angels, but also the threat of demons too…such a massive weight off, that there’s no longer a need for a crutch…

    I remember at the time, that this poem made me weep with gratitude and grief in equal measure.

    I woke up to an empty room

    No more angels watching over me.

    No more demons to be held at bay

    by the invocation of

    an Anglicized version

    of a Hellenized version

    of a Hebrew name

    I woke up to an empty room:

    Just a room. Four walls, ceiling, floor.

    Just a room. Nothing more.

    I woke up to an empty room

    and embraced the solid air.

    I woke up to an empty room and knew myself

    awake.

    Copyright © 1999 Secular Pagan

  • http://nfocus4youblog.wordpress.com nfocus4you

    2 Thessalonians 2

    King James Version (KJV)

    2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

    2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

    3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

    4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

    5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

    6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

    7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

    8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

    9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

    10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

    11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

    12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

    13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

    14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

    16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,

    17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

    • Coco

      Has it ever occurred to you that your god doubted? Had he not, you’d be Jewish and would know how to distinguish the false prophets you were warned about in the bible. Doubt is a strength, not a weakness.

      • Coco

        *Not know how*

      • http://nfocus4youblog.wordpress.com nfocus4you

        You are correct. I am an old woman :) and have seen my share of doubt…I have just reached a different conclusion than you. G_D bless ;)

  • Blanche Quizno

    “this God exists and is an active agent in the world.”

    Mr. Bell – Ryan, if you will – how can you reconcile “God’s plan” with the concept that, by praying, Christians can motivate God to intervene in our world and, thus, abrogate Its “plan”?

    Psalm 139:16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

    Against such a backdrop ^ what possible motivation can there be for intercessory prayer? God set it all up – it’s all going according to plan. GOD’s plan. And who are YOU, o lowly wormy man (or woman), to ask God to change Its plan just for you?? WHO do you think you are??

    Matthew 6:31-32 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

    You don’t want to be like those disgusting GENTILES, do you? Oh, wait – you already are! So what’s the point of prayer if, as it says in scripture (above), God already knows what you need before you even realize you need it?

    It apparently means that, though God knows what you need before you need it, God does not want you to *have* it. And THAT is what you need to see if you can accept.

  • JO

    Well i did not want to burst your bubble, but I knew nothing would change as i have done this before, actually my entire church experience from the age of 8. I found hat when I stopped doing all the rituals I was a better person less temptations to do wrong, the Pastor told me it was because then Satan was not worring about me, as he knew i was his. So five years ago I came to the conclusion that both good and bad represented the same person, he person was the Creator, but the creator had mastered his bad side, and we as humans could do the same with the Creator help, and I stopped believing in Satan, well the church members and pastor have problem with me, because when I go to church i am really disturbed to hear all this talk about the power of Satan. It proves that the Pastor and church have not got an idea of the Creator. So Ryan with my non-believe in Satan i was left with only God, but i checked up the meaning of the word God and its root, Germanic for Gott Wotten so decided the God depicted was Wotten. So i stopped believing in God. So I came to your church, and found you, after I had studied the life of Christ, I met a Pastor who was genuinely trying to be like the Christ in the bible. You restored my faith and now I am praying for you, not that you change your mind, but that you find your true path of light, and continue to follow, and that you don’t get discouraged. bu while your religiosity wanes your spirituality will grow even as a Atheist. Now Ryan be encouraged, and keep faith with yourself. Then u will find the answers you are seeking. Inclaire S.

    • Anwar

      “the Pastor told me it was because then Satan was not worring about me, as he knew i was his.”

      your old pastor was a @&*#&@(&$

    • Blanche Quizno

      The Gott depicted was, indeed, Wotten – and no doubt a wascally wabbit as well!

      • Anwar

        Hello Blanche I am posting a small reply to your comments here because I am not able to elsewhere (conversation threads got too long). You appear upset by the concept of an eternal hell (naturally) and seem to think I believe in such a thing. Not all theists think alike. I, for one, do not believe in that. Also the whole stoplight thing… I’m pretty sure that was an overstatement made for effect :) but in any case I can’t imagine going through life like that. Magical thinking is useless at best. Anyway I’ll stop posting now. My original post was just a thinking-out-loud attempt at answering the question “What difference does God make”. I took a shot at answering what difference He makes for me as a person of faith. I should have chosen clearer words on the whole “judgement” thing, realizing that most people assume that to believe in God is to believe everyone else will burn forever. That would naturally make any positive statement about such a thing come across as… well… intolerable. Rightly so. Cheers :)

      • Blanche Quizno

        Good morning, Anwar. Yes, I’ve had similar problems with putting posts where I wish. And my “wascally wabbit” commentary was just being facetious! By “stoplight thing”, I think you’re referring to my comment that hitting all green lights when you’re running late can be interpreted as “favor” from “out there” – I was describing “magical thinking,” and it wasn’t so long ago that I was still in thrall to it (damned intensive indoctrination into Evangelical Christianity from infancy!) and I, myself, used to think that way. Been around plenty of Christians who do likewise, though I agree with you – what a trivial thing for a “god” or any supernatural force to involve itself with! Why not just leave on time??

        I realize that more – and growing – numbers of Christians are rejecting “hell”, but the studies show that, as of 2008, 59% of Americans still believe in “hell”, compared to 74% who believe in “heaven”. So that’s over HALF of Americans still believing in “hell”, which is still pretty damn high.

        Which brings us to another question. Christianity, we’re told, is the religion that best captures a “relationship” or whatever with the god they believe in. Some 30,000 different sects, and each believes it’s the only one that’s got it right. How much can Christianity change and still be Christianity? If you don’t believe in “hell”, do you have to erase the Gospel passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus says those who aren’t kind and caring toward the needy go off to “eternal punishment”? What of that story in Luke 16 about Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom (ugh – nasty visual) and the dead rich man saying, “…for I am tormented in this flame”? How much can a Christian excise from the bible and still consider it “the Word of God” in any meaningful sense? Or is it more “I’ll just believe whatever I like and call it ‘Christianity’ because Christianity is popular in the culture where I live”?

  • aksak

    Dear Ryan, from my point of view (other side of the Atlantic, with roots very far north) what strikes me is how public the religious business is in the US. Everybody goes to “church”, even the atheists!

    I come from a background with a (christian, protestant) State church, albeit one that nearly no-one goes to regularly. However, baptisms, confirmations, weddings an funerals are a *very big deal* and nearly always celebrated in church (yes, the State church).

    For us, religion was very very private. It surfaced a little bit around the confirmation, when almost everybody attended preparatory classes and camps, promised in church to take god into their lives (because their families had been preparing the reception and expensive presents for weeks), only to disappear again.

    So I’m in the happy situation of not having to prove my faith to others all the time. I have had periods in my life, when I’ve felt perfectly atheist. More recently, I’ve enjoyed going to church the few times I’ve been for weddings, baptisms, etc. I can’t tell you why I enjoy it because I haven’t analysed it as fervently as you seem to do, and most certainly, I won’t tell anyone anyway, as it’s *my own private business*. Funny enough, it took me nearly 50 years of life before I fully realized how liberating this practical religious freedom is.

    I wish you all the best in your journey, in your country where freedom of religion is the law, but where it nevertheless seems you have to demonstrate openly your belief all the time!

    • Blanche Quizno

      aksak, you have no idea! If you go to some of these towns in the Deep South, in the Bible Belt, you might well gain the impression that church is the biggest industry there!

      It’s funny how, in some countries, there is a state religion but most people are honest atheists, while in the US we have no state religion but faux Christianity – people are so afraid of the word “atheist” that they present themselves as “Christian” even though they feel no obligation toward that religion or its institutions.

  • https://www.facebook.com/andrew.watson.50746 Andrew Watson

    I was like that once, the functional athiest. My father is a Southern Baptist pastor. Iv’e been in church since 9 months before I was born. I got saved and baptized at age 7. i was always the good kid, who obeyed the rules and did what he was told, but it did not mean anything, it was just stories I believed it largely because the people who I respected and taught me it believed. when I went to college and got away from the church I was finally confronted with the Idea that I needed to know why I believed, not just what I believed. I didn’t know. All that stuff kind of fell apart. I saw other church kids do the same thing, and crash and burn because they couldn’t handle it. I had a philosophy proffesor who really challenged me, made me think all my beliefs through, not just why I believed Christian things, But why I didn’t believe others. I read every thing I could get my hands on, from all sorts of sources. Bertrand Russell, David Hume, Richard Dawkins, Darwins origin of species, Neitchze ,Carl Marx, and lots of others, as well as Christian Buddhist and Muslim sources as well, I would purposely go back and forth, reading authors of opposing points of view. All this time I was at a Christian college and even involved in mission work through the school, but it seemed so fake. The book that finally helped me was Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I realized that If God was real, then he was an objective reality outside myself, and If he wasn’t what my parents and my teachers and what everybody else thought really didn’t matter. That sounds so simple, almost, stupid, but it helped. I was sitting in class with the professor I mentioned and we were talking about prayer. He confessed that he didn’t pray at meals anymore because he did’t not really mean them, so why bother. without thinking I asked “well why not just make an effort to mean them?” As I thought about it, I decided to that myself. make and effort mean everything I do, not just go though the motions.If nothing happened, if nothing changed, I would know God wasn’t there. But it did change. Not over night, not all at once. but I found that the more I gave, the more I got. I wasn’t just me making up meaning, I felt like I was getting more than gave, Like God was giving Back, doubling, tripleling, quadrupling my efforts.. This is what prayer, what bible study is to me personally. It is like there is a new flavor, a new texture to what I had perceived before. Its’ like I had all the puzzle pieces of my life, but now they fit into place. it’s not always sunshine and roses, I still have struggles and doubts, theology sometimes feels like a barbwire maze of the mind. But I feel like I know God, like I can trust him, even if I don’t or can’t understand every thing about him or why he does what he does. From reading this forum I see that that a lot of people here went the other way,that they had a similar crossroads and that this didn’t happen for them. All I can tell you is what happened for me.

    • http://photokandy.wordpress.com Kerri Shotts

      All I can tell you is the reverse happened for me. And so now I’m an atheist.

      As to knowing God — Christians put God in an awful tiny box when we claim to know him, don’t they? This all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, eternal God, and anyone thinks they can truly know his mind?

      • https://www.facebook.com/andrew.watson.50746 Andrew Watson

        Of course l don’t mean know as understand, I mean know as a person I have relationship with, like I know my mother, my wife or best friend.(none of whom I understand at many times):-)

      • Blanche Quizno

        But – correct me if I’m wrong, Andrew – your mother, your wife, and your best friend all exist. Everybody can see them. You can talk to them and they talk back, and everybody can hear it. Amirite?

  • http://drownthenoise.wordpress.com neelsred

    Thank you, Ryan. I’ve enjoyed following your journey so far and I look forward to what’s still to come. I have a general suggestion, something that you might find beneficial (sorry if I’m repeating things that you’ve already thought about)… Apart from reading just Nietzsche, you should consider reading as much about all existential-philosophies as you can.

    All the best!

  • mck9

    You haven’t said much yet about your theology of hope, but so far it sounds like a variation of: “I believe because believing makes me feel better.”

    Of course, your feeling better has absolutely no bearing on whether the belief is actually true. As for me, I would rather accept an unwelcome truth than embrace a comforting falsehood. Apparently not everyone feels that way.

    The question “What difference does God make?” has at least two quite different meanings.

    One meaning is: “How does believing in God affect your state of mind?” That’s a question about human psychology, and has little or nothing to do with the existence of God.

    The other meaning is: “How would a world with a God differ, in a discernible and demonstrable way, from a world without one?” It’s another way of asking for evidence.

  • https://www.facebook.com/steve.kane.330 Steve Kane

    That’s better, thank you. I was starting, as i freely expressed, to doubt you.

    Did you read my opinions on the vital(to me) difference between the alternative renderings of “Credo”. “I believe” or “I trust”.

    For an English speaker “I trust” happily just sits there with no further addition.

    Speaking for myself “I trust”.

    When I find myself elaborating to specifically on that I feel a kind of “falling away” a “making of graven idols”.

    When I want o address something – I address “something”

    Frequently I feel “awe and wonder” – for the experience i am having of “this world”

    Wether there is some link between how or what “I trust” and that “something” I occasionally address and what stimulates “Awe and Wonder” in me no longer seems to matter, except that frequently they come together in another being with whom i converse – a real being – usually a human, could be a girl at store checkout; my wife; my doctor; a friend in need; a friend, I in need; a responder, interlocuter in my head, sourced in a real person, recently interacted with, or long dead.

    Does this mean i believe in the God of SDAs, or the Bible ? – most likely not, He sounds disfunctional.

    Does this mean I believe in god at all, or just “this world”. Even if there are beings in it at the edge of our understanding – like angels or fairies perhaps, who says they need to be evidence for God or a Creator, let alone a hierachy, that we are dependent on to “rule” us.

    Personally I am free – to trust, wonder, converse; neither “obedient to God” nor an atheist because atheism implies dependence on a negative. I have nothing to deny, I am dependent only on Sky and Earth and all other beings, that is sufficient – in them I believe – in them I wonder, with “that” I converse.

    I have a feeling that, due to being an intelligent person, and due to the inherent absurdity of the SDA cosmology,

    you never “believed” – you “cooperated”, “complied”.

    Now you need “unfettered experience”. But please don’t rush into the arms of the “New Agers” – there is so little of what I am trying to describe to you in that. Science, physical, natural and social, is enough; art – and a child’s trust and wonder – spiced by an adult’s experience. Perhaps you might read William Blake. The “nasty” too merits gloved attention. “Universal niceness” is not, in my experience, “trustworthy”.

    And never despise sex.

    • https://www.facebook.com/steve.kane.330 Steve Kane

      Apologies for typos, I have risen early and have yet to have breakfast. :-)

  • Thomas

    First I read about your “try”, I was sceptic. One more christian trying to make atheists look like fools. But now I find that you are an honest man. Than you.

    What I would like to know, is that has your opinions about atheists changed? How do you now think about all the thigns you were told, atheist are like.

  • foodoogeek

    I grew up in a non-religious family. I occasionally visted the churches of friends. I once asked my mom if Jesus was real and she answered me in much the same way she answered my question about Santa Claus. Something like “he’s real if you believe he’s real.” From then on I assumed that everyone who believed in God and Jesus were somehow clear that this was a symbol for something. It wasn’t until I was 22 or 23 when I realized that there were really really people who believed in an actual 3-dimensional character called the devil, and an actual character called god. I admit I still find it mind boggling sometimes.

    Do you / did you believe in an actual 3 dimensional being called God?

    There’s a deeper question I’m really aiming at… I’m struggling with how to put it into words. God as a being seems like a static state to me. You even use the word fulfillment… Like there is some perfect end-state that will be attained later, but not now,… Which sort of implies that now is not particularly good enough or satisfying. There is a living-in-a-future-I-may-not-be-around-to-see which…. Doesn’t feel very alive to me.

    Is it out of the question to imagine God as a quality that seems to draw humanity (on the large scale) toward greater inclusiveness and kindness (it may not seem like it when you look at the news, but we are living in THE most peaceful time in the history of humanity ever)?

    I read another piece in…. Shoot… Well in some online magazine in which you were quoted as having said that as of the first of the year, if a friend were to become sick you wouldn’t pray with them/for them, but you would do something practical. What about being with the person? Prayer may not actually arrive at the doorstep of a god that responds, but prayer can be a form of being with another human being in their suffering (even if that prayer goes nowhere but from your mouth to the receiver’s ears. They hear that you understand their suffering and in that understanding they are not alone in the very lonely time of being sick…. If that ain’t a miracle I don’t know what is)… Being fully human is a quality of being that doesn’t depend on a future perfection. It is present and kind…. That is God…. Or maybe just beautiful and brave (I don’t know). Being with someone may not be practical, it isn’t “doing” something, but somehow there is one less alone person.

    I’m rambling.

    My question is how does God as a non-entity/principle sit with you?

    Also have you ever read Bishop John Shelby Spong’s work? I highly recommend “Jesus for the Non-Religious.”

    Wishing you well,

    Stephanie

    • Blanche Quizno

      Stephanie, the reason no intolerant religion can draw humanity toward greater inclusiveness and kindness is because intolerant religion is the product of civilization – it is foreign to our natural state. The purpose of intolerant religion is to unite disparate peoples under a common banner into an “us”, from whence they will unite against “them”, whoever “them” turns out to be. Notice that, throughout the Bible, the only government system presented is monarchy. And monarchy is the supposedly ideal organizational scheme, to the point that God Itself orders its realm thusly!

      If you read Jesus’s parables, what the words actually say, you’ll find that most of them are about an all-powerful ruler/boss/owner/master who does terrible, abusive things to any of his hapless underlings who fail to please him. He assaults them, beats them, cuts them into pieces, even kills them! Jesus had no understanding of the basic concept of human rights; that is a concept you won’t find anywhere in the bible.

      We’ve outgrown monarchies – no one now will imagine going back to such a patently unjust system. But it was the norm for thousands of years! Still the blink of an eye in our species’ tenure on this planet, though.

      Civilization’s religions support the stratification of society and defend the kleptocrat classes – nobles and clergy – that produce nothing and simply take from everyone else. Civilization’s religions provided divine justification for the “right” of the king to rule as he pleases, and in return, the king handsomely rewarded the clergy. One hand washes the other. That’s why, in the French Revolution, the formerly downtrodden common people killed nobles AND clergy.

      Even now, in the US, churches are excused from paying their fair share of taxes, resulting in the rest of us having to pay an average of $1000 PER FAMILY to make up the shortfall. Our government is missing some $71 BILLION because churches don’t pay their fair share. That is just plain wrong. Churches are parasites that damage the health of society. If they had any sort of concern for the rest of us, they’d insist on paying taxes. And if they can’t stay in business paying taxes as all the other businesses must, well, they deserve to go out of business.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Jesus: “And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king — bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.” (Luke 19:27)

      • Goblinman

        Amazing how Orwellian the New Testament is, isn’t it? God in the Old Testament is at least a little more honest about the fact that he’s doing what he wants because no one can stop him.

  • http://sermonsinstones.com Amy Zucker Morgenstern

    Dear Ryan,

    Thank you for this post. I have two thoughts, which are related but whose relationship would take pages more to explicate. I’ll just put them out there.

    (1) Something Rilke wrote to the “young poet,” Franz Kappus, who wrote to him for advice, seems to speak to your doubts:

    And if it frightens and torments you to think of childhood and of the simplicity and silence that accompanies it, because you can no longer believe in God, who appears in it everywhere, then ask yourself . . . whether you have really lost God. Isn’t it much truer to say that you have never yet possessed him? For when could that have been? Do you think that a child can hold him, him whom grown men bear only with great effort and whose weight crushes the old? Do you suppose that someone who really has him could lose him like a little stone? Or don’t you think that someone who once had him could only be lost by him? But if you realize that he did not exist in your childhood, and did not exist previously, if you suspect that Christ was deluded by his yearning and Muhammad deceived by his pride – and if you are terrified to feel that even now he does not exist, even at this moment when we are talking about him – what justifies you then, if he never existed, in missing him like someone who has passed away and in searching for him as though he were lost?

    Why don’t you think of [God] as the one who is coming, who has been approaching from all eternity, the one who will someday arrive, the ultimate fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting [God's] birth into the ages that are coming into existence, and living your life as a painful and lovely day in the history of a great pregnancy? . . . .

    As bees gather honey, so we collect what is sweetest out of all things and build [God]. Even with the trivial, with the insignificant (as long as it is done out of love) we begin, with work and with the repose that comes afterward, with a silence or with a small solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without anyone to join or help us, we start [God] whom we will not live to see, just as our ancestors could not live to see us.

    Okay, now, I don’t believe in any kind of anthropomorphic deity. But Rilke is a poet and I read this more as poetry than theology. I like the idea that we are creating the holy (or, perhaps, failing to, by our cruelty and indifference). It makes so much more sense than believing that there was once nothing except one perfect being, who then created a broken, sad, unholy world, over which He watches without interfering, or selectively interfering, or something.

    (2) I stopped believing in the God I was taught about because He created the world, and I looked around and thought, “This is the best you could do?” It’s a beautiful universe, but does it have to have people in it who throw babies into the air and catch them on bayonets? I couldn’t imagine any final judgment that could render justice to those who committed torture, or those who suffered it. (What do you give in the next life to a toddler who was tortured to death in order to punish her parents, as so many have been? What could possibly make it up to her? A lifetime pass to Disneyworld, and no suffering ever again? Why not just spare her the torture to begin with?) And if a free-will argument lets God off the hook for human evil, that still leaves natural suffering. A person dying of cancer is being tortured to death by the Creator of cancer. Why do we have to suffer so much?

    I couldn’t believe that God cared for me without concluding that God didn’t care for the children who died. If there were such a God, I didn’t think He (or She or It) was worthy of being worshiped.

    Now I live in a universe that is indifferent to my existence, but that state of affairs doesn’t feel bad the way a heavenly father who ignored or hated some of us felt. The universe has its physical laws, and gravity is very useful, but sure hurts a lot when we lose our footing on a high cliff. It has its creatures, which eat each other to survive: we eat cows, cancer eats us. That’s a universe that is beautiful AND full of pain, but the pain is not inflicted by someone whom we are supposed to love and believe loves us. Without the need to justify a God, the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” is simple to answer: “Shit happens.”

    It is a very joyful existence. And it certainly doesn’t require that I live without a religious community, as some commenters think. I lead one!

    • https://www.facebook.com/steve.kane.330 Steve Kane

      Thank you, that was a good quote, and your commentary sound in my eyes.

  • John

    Ryan, I appreciate your pilgrimage toward Truth. You can only approach Truth by living in absolute honesty. Your journey is not through the dichotomy of naive belief or atheism: rather, it is to open yourself to the vast spectrum of possibilities, to have respect for all stages of the journey, and to find what perspective is comfortable to you and engages you in exciting spiritual growth. Peace, John

  • Phlllip

    “a sense of loss and aloneness that are not entirely new to me. Also a sense of freedom which I did not exactly anticipate”

    Wow, that is insane. This is exactly the sort of feelings I felt (and other decoverted Christians) when I was losing my faith. If things keep going like this wouldn’t be surprised at all if he lost his faith.

    About the ‘hope’ part. Who cares about hope. Yeah, you can have hope in our fellow men/women whatever that means, But do really need hope at all? I find it a strange need and I’m quite find as a non-believer without it.

  • https://www.facebook.com/peter.veitch Peter Veitch

    My first year during which my god belief left me was just awful. god abandoned me by possibly not existing for the very first time, over that year i had have never felt such aloneness. It was way more uncomfortable in the zone where i didn’t know of o was a believer or not. my theist friends started to sound like they were talking to fairies in the garden, I didn’t know any open and out atheists, I didn’t know whether I would end up as one. four years out and the joy of being freed from superstition is finally kicking in. ( about time !) 

  • antheahawdon

    I think what I missed most when I became an atheist after being a life-long Christian was the sense that no matter what happened it was all part of God’s plan. God had a plan for me and that was a great big security blanket to wrap around me. Life felt a bit cold and alone without that thought for a while. But that’s all it was – a thought.

  • https://www.facebook.com/jeffhowden Jeff Howden

    Your careful articulation of loss and unanticipated sense of freedom from living without god is precisely what I felt, too, when I finally stepped away from faith. For me, that loss wasn’t so much a bad feeling as it was a good feeling, much in the same way you feel a loss when you end a terrible relationship that caused you to be inauthentic and the unanticipated freedom that came with that good loss.

  • Yo Tiger

    I had always questioned a many thing of my faith. I was raised Catholic, had attended several various Christian churches, looked and studied other religions, but never really found any answers. Most of the time I felt guilty even thinking such questions. Before long I came to the realization that my moral standards were often above what I’d been taught (seeing so much hypocrisy and prejudice from believers). But it wasn’t until major life events before I was able to come to the realization that I truly didn’t believe. And then it was extremely freeing. I was actually able to answer a lot of questions I had through science and reasoning without the fear of being punished eternally.

    As much as God may provide hope to some people, I think just the opposite is also true and many people feel doubt, fear, and despair. And those that just believe they’re “saved” no matter what seem to be filled with a sort of superiority or hatred for anyone else (from my experience). I’ve talked with some friends who have opened up and expressed this as well, yet still frightened not to believe, but feel that it has warped their sense of life.

    My atheism has come at a cost though. I’ve lost several friends and it has become a wedge with others. And even for myself now, it’s hard to believe I once believed these things. It has opened me to appreciating life more. We don’t know what’s next for certain, but we do know that we get this life and that could be it. There’s absolutely no guarantee of another and that makes it quite a bit sweeter. So many people I know just toss responsibility to the wind and “place it in God’s hands”, and that seems irresponsible to me now. I appreciate my health more. And I think above all I want to leave a greater legacy to my children. There’s no struggle to “save my eternal soul”, but living a worth while life and making a real difference somehow-not for God, but for me, for my children, and everyone.

    • Jeanne Kennedy

      Wow-well said. I never thought of it before but I can see how this “letting go” of certain beliefs can make you appreciate life more. Lots to think about here.

    • Victor

      Your story is very similar to my own.

      Well said, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for sharing.

    • Barb

      Yes, exactly. I’m always puzzled when people think atheists should be walking around with a hangman’s noose, looking for the nearest tree. Life certainly doesn’t have to be meaningless, just because there is no meaning imposed from the outside. Bringing some joy to someone who is struggling, doing a kindness for a stranger, just trying to make the world a little better for my children, these all bring plenty of meaning and contentment to my life.

      I drove myself nuts trying to fit what I saw in the world with the concept of a deity as taught to me by Christianity. It. Just. Didn’t. Fit. Now that I no longer have to reconcile the problem of evil and the hiddenness of god with an all-powerful, loving, intervening deity, life makes so much more sense. The amount of mental energy I used to put towards trying to reconcile what couldn’t be reconciled, can now be put towards much more useful purposes.

  • Michael Murray

    At the risk of sounding like a pedantic atheist let me make a point I am sure Ryan is aware of. Even if believing in gods did make a major difference, even if it was a sad fact that humans savagely tore each other apart when they didn’t believe in gods that would have no impact at all on gods existence. It doesn’t matter how much you want or need to hold the winning lotto ticket it doesn’t affect you chance of doing so.

    • Vini

      Great reminder. The usefulness of a belief is an entirely different discussion than whether or not that belief is actually true.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Daniel Dennett, in his “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” book, makes a distinction between “belief” and “belief in belief.” The first is, of course, people who are believers in whatever religion/god(s). The second, though, is the idea that there is something virtuous and valuable in god-belief. I just learned over Christmas that my husband’s grandmother, 93 years old, has “come out” as an atheist, but she says she wouldn’t want to live in a community where most everyone wasn’t Christian! She obviously has “belief in belief”.

        This is really evidence of successful marketing rather than anything else. In the US, “Christian” is used to mean “good, noble, upstanding,” as in “a Christian woman” or “a Christian home.” At the other end of the spectrum, “atheist” is often considered synonymous with “wicked, amoral, immoral, perverse, deviant.” Such is how the privileged majority influences even the language we all use!

        Given that all the studies show that the most Christian of the developed democracies, the USA, is also the most socially unhealthy and dysfunctional, I think we can safely reject the idea that Christianity is “good for society”. It is the countries with the highest proportions of naturally occurring atheism (not imposed by the government, as in North Korea), that have the most healthy societies, societies most closely approaching “cultures of life”. See http://www.americanhumanist.org/hnn/archives/?id=219&article=7 :

        “God would be an atheist: Why can’t we all be Japanese?

        Several weeks ago, a ground-breaking study on religious belief and social well-being was published in the Journal of Religion & Society. Comparing 18 prosperous democracies from the U.S. to New Zealand, author Gregory S Paul quietly demolished the myth that faith strengthens society.

        Drawing on a wide range of studies to cross-match faith – measured by belief in God and acceptance of evolution – with homicide and sexual behavior, Paul found that secular societies have lower rates of violence and teenage pregnancy than societies where many people profess belief in God.

        Top of the class, in both atheism and good behavior, come the Japanese. Over eighty percent accept evolution and fewer than ten percent are certain that God exists. Despite its size – over a hundred million people – Japan is one of the least crime-prone countries in the world. It also has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy of any developed nation.

        Next in line are the Norwegians, British, Germans and Dutch. At least sixty percent accept evolution as a fact and fewer than one in three are convinced that there is a deity. There is little teenage pregnancy , although the Brits, with over 40 pregnancies per 1,000 girls a year, do twice as badly as the others. Homicide rates are also low — around 1-2 victims per 100,000 people a year.

        At the other end of the scale comes America. Over 50 percent of Americans believe in God, and only 40 percent accept some form of evolution (many believe it had a helping hand from the Deity). The U.S. has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, and homicide rates are at least five times greater than in Europe and ten times higher than in Japan.

        All this information points to a strong correlation between faith and antisocial behavior — a correlation so strong that there is good reason to suppose that religious belief does more harm than good.

        At first glance that is a preposterous suggestion, given that religions preach non-violence and sexual restraint. However, close inspection reveals a different story. Faith tends to weaken rather than strengthen people’s ability to participate in society. That makes it less likely they will respect social customs and laws.

        All believers learn that God holds them responsible for their actions. So far so good, but for many, belief absolves them of all other responsibilities. Consciously or subconsciously, those who are “born again” or “chosen” have diminished respect for others who do not share their sect or their faith. Convinced that only the Bible offers “truth”, they lose their intellectual curiosity and their ability to reason. Their priority becomes not the world they live in but themselves.

        The more people prioritize themselves rather than those around them, the weaker society becomes and the greater the likelihood of antisocial behavior.”

        Welcome to Christianity O_O

  • WW

    Sounds like breaking up a long-distance relationship. Not much different, just no one to talk to on the phone every night. At least, if that person with whom you were having a relationship was completely imaginary, and instead of talking on the phone, you were just pretending to talk on the phone.

    • Blanche Quizno

      Hey, did you see that “Twilight Zone” episode where that elderly disabled woman is getting creepy phone calls at night? From a grave??? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Call

      From what that article ^ says of the short story this episode is based upon, I’m thinking it sounds oddly similar to “The Monkey’s Paw” (or, “Never ask for ANYTHING or you’ll get a big whack instead” – thanks, Christianity!)

      • Robert Balaban

        Blanche, your trust in logic is a show of faith by itself. Logic use to be the reason we believed the sun orbited the earth. By our perspective we observed the sun rise in the west, rise above us and then set in the west. A perfectly logical person observing this would conclude that the sun must be revolving around the earth. It was not until we were able to change our perspective from outside the earth that we were able to learn the truth that we were in fact orbiting the sun. Do not think that any perfectly logical argument leads to truth. Unless you believe your percpectve is all seeing, in which case you already believe in a God, it’s just yourself.

      • Janine

        Robert Balaban, what a bunch of rubbish you posted. Logic and knowledge are the enemies of faith. Also, mankind knew the sun did not revolve around the earth well before “we were able to change our perspective from outside the earth”. Unless, of course, you believe in ancient aliens, since Aristarchus of Samos (310BC – 230BC) who became the first astronomer to propose a heliocentric model of the solar system.

  • Linda Hamilton

    I think you’re already there. You just need to do this year long experience to give yourself permission to do, what in your heart you already know you have to do. Which is to allow yourself to accept what your intellect already knows. When you have been mentally and emotionally manipulated since childhood, and everyone around you has been too, it’s very difficult to stand up a say, “This is bullshit”. I have no doubt what conclusion you’ll eventually come to because to accept anything less than atheism would be to discredit all the possibilities that lie ahead for you by narrowing your endless opportunities and boundless potential down to one linear restrictive way of life. What a slap in the face of life! What kind of god would give a person so much ability and then ask them not to use it. That seems rather “sinful” to waste.

    • http://gravatar.com/jupiterkansas jupiterkansas

      That’s what I was thinking too. You have to realize that everyone is born an atheist, and belief in God and all of Christ’s teachings are taught to us from an early age. You would think if there was a God, we would be born knowing that fact, that it would be readily apparent to everyone, just like the noses on our face.

  • skinskan

    I think a lot of the problems that people have with God is that so often ‘he’ gets lost in the various religions that people subscribe to. So many people have so many different opinions about their truth about who/what God is, and what God should or shouldn’t be doing for us. We mostly miss the point and don’t ever really know God at all. It’s our expectations of God that cause us problems, especially when he seemingly doesn’t deliver on them. It could be one of the reasons why so many of us turn away because it gets too confusing to try to understand God. Let’s face it, we never will ‘understand’ God, how can we? if we could, we would have no need of God at all, which obviously for many people seems to be the answer.

    Living without God is easy. It’s living with God that is the challenge. I suppose we have to ask ourselves why choose the challenge? …and we can only answer that question for ourselves as individuals.

    So what difference does God make? Everything and nothing…you will always find information to support whichever side of the fence you sit on (I say this, having sat on both sides of the fence).

    • SMGA225

      I appreciate your answer! And, I wonder which side of the fence you are now on?

      (and why does there have to be a fence!?)

      • Skinskan

        Well you are right about the fence..I suppose it was the best way I could articulate what I see people do – choose one side or the other. I’m not saying I agree with it but we make it that way.

        I believe in God. I know others will disagree but I like my life better with God in it than not.

      • Blanche Quizno

        What are your god’s characteristics? Can you describe your god for us?

    • Billzbub

      skinskan: “Let’s face it, we never will ‘understand’ God, how can we?”

      The reason God is so hard to understand is because there is no evidence of his existence. If there really were an omnipotent force that could violate the laws of physics at will, we would see evidence of it. There’s no way that a god like that could remain hidden from our thorough investigations.

      The reason “So many people have so many different opinions about their truth about who/what God is, and what God should or shouldn’t be doing for us” is because there are no observable effects God has on the universe, leaving each person free to make up whatever they want based on their personal anecdotes about things they don’t personally understand.

      • Skinskan

        You know…I can’t disagree with your logic – it’s exactly the logic I would use and did as an aethist and I won’t bore you with the detail but sometimes as I’ve discovered logic doesn’t always satisfy.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Ah, Skinskan. Another Christian who claims to have been an atheist. Except it’s spelled “atheist”, not “aethist” – it’s not a variant on “aesthetic”, you know.

        Can you please tell us what convinced you that “gods” exist? How did you go from lacking belief in gods (“atheist”) to believing in gods (theist)? And how did you choose which god(s) to believe in? How could you be sure that the god wasn’t Zeus?

        The truth does not always satisfy. That doesn’t give us license to just start making things up.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “There’s no way that a god like that could remain hidden from our thorough investigations.”

        An astonishing number of Christians believe not only in god(s), but also in demons, devils, and demonic possession.

        How could we fail to detect these presences through our scientific experiments?

        I’ll tell you something, if you turn in a chemistry lab report that says, “My experiment failed because demons interfered”, you’ll get an “F.” No one acknowledges the existence of “demons” or any of that other nonsense outside of religion (which has never relied on evidence or even logic). When the Black Death in the middle ages and cholera in the 1800s were decimating the populace, the church recommended “prayer, fasting, and humiliation” – across denominations. By the pandemics of the 1800s, people who didn’t care what the church said investigated using logic and reason, and figured out that cholera was spread via sewage. Public sanitation programs enacted on the basis of these reports (NOT on the “prayer, fasting, and humiliation” nonsense!) made cholera into a non-issue. Plus, we discovered that cholera is caused by a bacterium, not by “God’s punishment” for “sin”. How primitive!

        Joke for you: A priest, a rabbi, and an iman walk into a bar. Bartender says, “What’s yer poison?” They all three reply in unison, “REASON, of course!”

    • Goblinman

      Skinskan,

      By your own logic, atheists are more authentically “living with God” than any theist because we actually follow through on not assuming to know what God wants.

      To elaborate, the problem with your line of reasoning is that it provides a logical dodge when confronted with hard questions about God: When it is convenient for you, you can claim to know what God wants. When you encounter anything challenging, you can claim God is unknowable. That makes God into a chimera: his truth can be whatever you want it to be at any given time.

      You’re doing the same thing with your stance on logic itself, by the way: you’re gladly using it when it supports what you already believe, but once it starts contradicting you, you abandon it.

      • skinskan

        Hello Blanche,

        Apologies for the spelling error but just to give you some context before you condemn me as an illiterate moron…I was typing on my tiny iphone keypad (and I have large fingers!) on a train on my way to work and without my glasses, so if that was my only grammatical error then I did not too bad…could have been worse!

        Your question about how did I come to believe in God? I wish I had a simple answer for you Blanche, some eureka moment that I could produce and say ‘see it’s true I have the proof!’…. but quite honestly I don’t and I can’t lie and say it is black and white. For me personally, my ‘god’ journey has been a far more gradual and subtle process over the years (not one I even initially was interested in or considered) of numerous small and large moments where I have felt and if I were to give you an example out of the context of my life it would look stupid (which you could say well it is stupid) but when taken as a whole (i.e. my life), to me it makes sense. It’s a personal thing for each of us.

        How did I choose which God to believe in? Well, I suppose like many I started with my own culture and background and for that you have to go back to childhood and what your parents start you off with. Strangely enough my own parents weren’t actually that ‘religious’ so I don’t know where I inherited my initial God interest from. You’re right, it could as easily be Zeus but I choose the word God to name the ‘existence’ that I believe is there. For me, it is a label that names but does not define.

        What is truth? You say yours and I say mine…but from our own individual stand points we are both right but isn’t that the joy of discussions like this? We debate, we learn, sometimes our positions are changed, sometimes they are reinforced but as long as we all move forward in a spirit of learning and with an open mind then I can only see that as a good thing.

      • skinskan

        Hello Goblinman,

        Thanks for your comments, I always genuinely enjoy hearing what others have to say, especially about such a heated topic as Ryan has opened up this year. You may well be right that atheists live more authentically with God because you don’t know what he wants. So I’m not sure what camp that puts me in because I can’t say what God wants yet I believe. Where’s the logic in that?

        If I had to make a stab at saying what God wanted I would say quite simply love and that is what I’m drawn to as an individual. I believe God wants a genuine, open love from us and we do this by loving ourselves and others as best we can. This is obviously not the preserve of believers as I’m certain you know about love just as much as I do. So, why do I need God to do that? For me it is simply that I feel there is more to me than just me and I suppose that God is the name that I give to that feeling.

        You say that….”When it is convenient for you, you can claim to know what God wants. When you encounter anything challenging, you can claim God is unknowable. That makes God into a chimera: his truth can be whatever you want it to be at any given time.”

        I’m not sure that I say or do any of that. There are questions about God that remain unanswered for me. I have not yet reached a point where I can say I know it all and that I’m certain of my ‘truths’ and ‘logic’, In fact, anybody who claims that makes me nervous as we should never be set in stone as human beings. I question what I believe and sometimes I don’t have the answer. I research both secular and non-secular references and opinions, compare information and then see how my beliefs hold up against it. God is no chimera (for me). What do you think God’s truth is?

        Let’s face it, if I had all the answers I’d be the one worshipped! Does not knowing challenge my belief in God. Sometimes but for me personally a blind faith would be worse than no faith.

      • Goblinman

        Skinskan,

        Good answer!

        You asked: “What do you think God’s truth is?”

        For me? Unknowable. I think that’s the only honest stance to take on a question of that magnitude.

  • NuAgnostic

    Would the sheep that have been fleeced to pay your salary do so if they really knew how you believed? It looks like you have been a wolf in sheeps clothing for some time. I really like what you are doing. It is very liberating to finally get your life and your beliefs on the same page.

    • Blanche Quizno

      They’re ALL wolves in sheeps’ clothing, NuAgnostic. Didn’t you realize that??

  • http://gravatar.com/scottspeig scottspeig

    This question ought to be irrelevant in some respect as to the more important question Does God Exist?

    I find it sad yet unsurprising that you haven’t experienced much difference since if you were leading more of a discipleship life, regularly interacting with the Holy Spirit, you would never have embarked on such a stupid journey in the first place since unbelief would be far from your mind!

    I will however carry on praying for you and reading your posts with interest.

    May God have mercy on you and your family. God bless,

    Scott

    • LenKoz

      I really enjoy when someone who is completely locked into narrow-mindedness calls someone willing to look at the wider possibilities “stupid”. Tell me, in your delusional world, do you actually hear the holy spirit speak? If so, you may want to see a mental health professional about that. Please do not pray about it because prayer doesn’t actually do anything since it is effectively the same as talking to yourself. I won’t ask god to have mercy on you but I will ask that you have mercy on yourself.

    • Tim Patterson

      Hi Scott.

      I find it ironic that you not only appear claim to know the single reason of why Ryan’s relationship with Holy Spirit apparently isn’t “working” and then throw in the judgement of calling his journey “stupid”.

      In your comment “I will however carry on praying for you…”, I wonder, are you really praying for Ryan or are you praying that Ryan changes to fit your idea of what is “correct”?

      In addition your comment “May God have mercy on you…” smacks of a belief that Ryan is already condemned and somehow God will change Its mind because you prayed for his mercy.

      Could it be that Ryan actually knows best for his relationship with God; actually more than you do? I think so.

    • Billzbub

      scottspieg: “I will however carry on praying for you…”

      I am curious. Do you think that your prayer will have an affect on this situation?

    • Sheri

      Scott:

      Which God are you talking about? Yahweh the Bible God? The one that killed millions of people in the Old Testament?

      http://www.debunkingskeptics.com/DebunkingChristians/Page22.htm

      What a “loving” god you follow.

    • j.d.

      lol, why does it always sound so passive-aggressive when christians say, “i’ll be praying for you” ?

      • Arquinsiel

        Because it is?

      • Cora

        When people say “I will pray for you”, I read it as f*ck you

      • andrsib

        When you say “I will pray for you” you imply that there’s something wrong with me and you want it fixed. This IS offensive. Dan Dennett said once that he would be tempted to respond something like “Oh, thanks, but will you also sacrifice a goat?” But instead he would say, “Oh, okay. I forgive you.”

    • Todd Kinley

      “regularly interacting with the Holy Spirit”. Yeah, we call that a symptom of mental illness … unless you pretend you are “intercating” with an invisible god. You do realize that mental illness can express itself exactly the same way don’t you? We just medicate or hospitalize the ones who act on their interactions in unacceptable ways or claim to heve heard the voice of god or the holy specter. You are one misunderstood interaction away from a school shooting …

    • Goblinman

      Scott, you’re saying this to a former pastor–a man whose livelihood depended on him believing in God. I’m pretty sure the “you didn’t try hard enough” argument doesn’t work here.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “I will however carry on praying for you”

      Scott, I was once in an online discussion with a Christian who told me that he would have his entire church pray that their god would 1) kill my family members, 2) destroy all my possessions, and 3) ruin my health – all so that I would praise his “Jesus”!

      Can you imagine? What sort of mental malfunction would presume that I would praise something so obviously evil and malevolent? How could anyone connect all that horrible ick with “praise”???

      But aside from that, what a stunning example of Christian love, eh?

      “I’ll pray for you” indeed O_O

  • Sandrine

    For me this only shows that you never truly knew God. You have never really met Him and you have never really experienced Him supernaturally. Your faith in Him was just intellectual, you didn’t really become a new creature (as the Bible puts it). You were never really born again, born from above.

    So you have never really been a true Christian… because being a true Christian is not doing the Christian things… it’s not going to church or having Christian friends.

    Calling yourself a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian.

    And I am telling you this as someone who probably is in the same boat as you. I “left” God after my father passed away, and have been struggling with faith and my beliefs. For me the problem has not been so much about doubting His existence, but some other issues…

    I, however, hope that I will find my way back. Because I remember what it was like when He was real in my life. I remember some experiences I had with Him that were not imagined.

    I hope you find your way back to Him too. Or your way to Him, for the first time. For real this time.

    • Dave

      This is really just the No True Scotsman fallacy in paragraph form.

      • Sandrine

        The Bible speaks of being born again, or this supernatural experience of spiritual rebirth. So you become a Christian only after you had that experience. You can’t become a Christian by being born into a Christian family and by being raised in it, you can’t become a Christian by attempting to, by going to Church, by following the list of commandments, by being baptized, not even by leading a virtuous and “Christian” life.

        It’s the other way around: you have to be born again, from above, spiritually. You become a new creature, a new creation. You must have that supernatural experience.

        Then you are a Christian.

        Only then.

        If you never had that experience, you have never met Him. You have never been a Christian.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        If you can’t become a Christian by “attempting to” (i.e. asking God for this miraculous rebirth), how do you get that? Why is God withholding this miracle from some of us?

      • Sandrine

        Ruth,

        He is not withholding this miracle from some of us.

        By “attempting to” I meant that you can’t become a Christian by working for it. Because God’s forgiveness is a gift. We just have to take it.

        We can’t be saved by being good and we can’t become Christians by calling ourselves Christians and by going to church.

        We have to truly REPENT and accept this free gift.

        That is how you become a Christian.

        Like I said in my original post, I am also struggling with my faith… but I know some Christians, I can see the spiritual fruits in their lives. I can see the peace and happiness that they have. It’s sad really how doctrines, bad teaching and people who call themselves Christians but who are not real Christians can make us doubt God. But I am confident that those who truly seek Him and search for Him will find Him in the end.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        It’s one big ol’ circle. Once you’ve repented and accepted this “free” gift, then what? Some supernatural change is supposed to occur? What if it doesn’t? Does that mean you didn’t do it right?

      • Sandrine

        I don’t think that it can NOT occur.

        When you truly experience deep conviction of your sins and see yourself the way God sees you and experience His mercy, love and forgiveness… can you stay indifferent?

        The problem is, our doubts and intellectuality can stand in the way… We have to open our hearts to experience this. It’s supernatural.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        How does one experience his mercy, love and forgiveness? How does God see me?

      • Sandrine

        He sees us as sinners, deserving to be cast away. We are all sinners, and we all need a Saviour.

        That is why God became a man and took our sins and paid the price instead of us. By accepting this gift, we experience forgiveness and salvation.

        Like I wrote before, it’s a supernatural experience so you can’t understand it intellectually, not fully. Not until you experience it.

      • Sandrine

        *we all need THE Saviour. (sorry, English is not my mother tongue.)

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        I’ve seen myself as a filthy rag, a worm, a wretch deserving of death. I’ve accepted the forgiveness of an invisible being, and considered myself saved. I’ve read my Bible every day and had what I considered to be a deep and rich prayer life.

        I no longer consider myself saved because I no longer believe there is any such thing as the Christian God. I came to believe my prayer time to be an exercise in futility. I was merely talking to the ceiling and my voice came ringing back in my head. I have earnestly sought out this God you are speaking of and have not found him.

        Have I not found him because I didn’t seek the right way?

      • Sandrine

        I don’t know your heart. God does.

        I don’t think that your prayers were unheard.

        But who are we to demand that God answers the way we ask Him to?

        I, too, had prayers that were not answered. But I had some that were answered… sometimes differently than how I wanted them to be.

        • Blanche Quizno

          Sandrine, “But who are we to demand that God answers the way we ask Him to?”

          Read the bible once:

          John 14:12-14 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

          You just acknowledge that this is a big fat lie ^ – you said yourself that you’d had prayers that weren’t answered. Yet the scripture says “IF YE ASK ANY THING IN MY NAME, I WILL DO IT!” There’s no “once in a while” qualification to it, is there? And these are the supposed words of the supposed Jesus! So why is this in the Bible? We KNOW this is outright false. And the passage before it? Ridiculous! What Christian can walk on water, raise the dead, feed 5000 people with a single chicken pot pie, or do even BETTER tricks than Jesus? None, that’s who! This is obviously false – no two ways about it.

          So what does that say about the credibility of the Bible as a whole? What does that say of the credibility of Christianity?

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        Incidentally, I had this same reasoning when it came to God. My reasons for no longer believing in him have nothing to do with unanswered prayer or not having a prayer answered in the way I wanted it to be. My reasons for no longer believing in the God of the Bible came through, ironically, Bible study and studying the history of the Bible itself.

        I’m very skeptical of a God who requires me to leave my brain at the door and operate only on good emotion and good feelings toward him while at the same time being told I must not operate only on emotion and feelings. I’m well aware of the requirements of faith. Shouldn’t even a supernatural salvation stand up to intellectual scrutiny?

        It is simply duplicitous to be told ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, salvation is something that can only be experienced in a supernatural way, you can’t know unless you’ve experienced/felt it’ while at the same time being told that faith in God is not a blind faith.

        I, too, experienced some prayers answered the way I wanted them to be. But what does it say when millions remain “lost” when clearly it’s the will of a perfect God for them to be “saved”? Free Will? Fallen world? Usually the simplest explanation is the best explanation. The odds are if I pray for thousands of things that some number of them are going to happen. With or without a god. If I throw enough pennies into a wishing well, statistically, some of my wishes will come true.

      • Sandrine

        What about very specific prayers and answers to those prayers?

        I find it hard to believe those could be mere coincidences, at least such specific prayers that I received answers to. Those were very specific and answered the same day!

        I have my doubts, I am trying to find my way back to God… But I have never really struggled with believing in His existence.

        It’s not enough to just believe that He exists, of course.

        The devil also believes. And trembles. (The Bible tells us.)

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        “What about very specific prayers and answers to those prayers?”

        I really can’t speak to your specific prayers or answers to those prayers.

        What I can say about my prayers. By the very nature of them being specific they require specific answers. Now, certainly a specific answer could be one of any number of things, but specific nonetheless. So if you have a specific situation going on that would require a specific prayer no matter what the answer you could attribute the answer to God.

        If it was answered in a way that I liked…well…Praise be to God! If it was not answered, or I couldn’t perceive an answer, God’s answer was to wait. That one is really useful; God is teaching patience. Lastly, if it was answered in a way that I did not want, or was unsatisfactory to me, whatever it was just wasn’t in God’s plan.

        In this dynamic, you see, specific answers – no matter what day they come on – are, in my estimation, coincidences. Odds are that every now and again something specific you want or need is going to happen.

        I’m certainly not trying to talk you out of your faith or contribute to your doubt. The things I’m saying may even serve to strengthen your faith. Who knows? Some of us who had a strong faith who have de-converted have had experiences that, at the time, seemed supernatural and life-altering. The point I was trying to make was that answers like “God works in mysterious ways” and “It’s supernatural; you have to feel it to believe it” when weighed in the balance are…lacking.

        It’s good if that works for you. I’m glad, really. Just don’t expect that to be a very convincing answer for anyone else.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Sandrine, one of the things about “prayer” is that the person who is praying for something specific is always already doing everything in his/her power to make it happen. Guaranteed. S/He simply lacks the self-confidence that his/her efforts alone will be adequate to achieve the result s/he wants, and thus, s/he thinks s/he needs this “crutch”, the imagined intervention of a supernatural being, to grant the result in question.

        Why do you suppose so many people get the sort of thing you’re praying for without having to pray? What do THEY have that YOU lack? Does your god-belief cripple you in some significant way? Why would God want to help a loser?

        Do you REALLY think God would bend reality just for YOU? Do you REALLY think God would abrogate Its “Plan” just for your petty little desires? Do you REALLY think that God would intervene in the world so that YOU can have what YOU want, while there are scores of innocent children starving to death and dying from malaria and AIDS? Do you just not think about that, because I can’t imagine how you could live with yourself, begging “God” for something comparatively trivial, knowing full well that this is the same “God” that could fix all those problems without the least bit of effort on Its part, and yet It chooses not to.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “I, too, had prayers that were not answered. But I had some that were answered… sometimes differently than how I wanted them to be.”

        Sandrine, have you considered that perhaps God just doesn’t want to help you or that God won’t let you have what you want?

      • Sandrine

        “You just acknowledge that this is a big fat lie ^ – you said yourself that you’d had prayers that weren’t answered. Yet the scripture says “IF YE ASK ANY THING IN MY NAME, I WILL DO IT!” There’s no “once in a while” qualification to it, is there? And these are the supposed words of the supposed Jesus! So why is this in the Bible? We KNOW this is outright false. And the passage before it? Ridiculous! What Christian can walk on water, raise the dead, feed 5000 people with a single chicken pot pie, or do even BETTER tricks than Jesus? None, that’s who! This is obviously false – no two ways about it.

        So what does that say about the credibility of the Bible as a whole? What does that say of the credibility of Christianity?”

        Actually, no… This verse doesn’t mean that God will fulfill all your dreams and desires :). We have to know how to pray and receive. If you pray and doubt, you will not receive. If you pray for something that is clearly not God’s will, you will not receive. There is no Christian on Earth who has ever interpreted this verse like you because this verse doesn’t say that.

        There are so many instances in the Bible where God didn’t answer someone’s prayer… Because it is not enough to just pray, to just ask. Even Jesus Himself wasn’t able to perform miracles when He visited his hometown. Why? Because of the lack of faith. Faith is something more than just vaguely believing that God might… maybe… perhaps… hear you and answer you. Even Jesus Himself prayed to God in the Gethsemane garden and His prayer wasn’t answered – because God will not answer all prayers.

        Who can perform miracles? Well, the lack of faith is precisely why there are so few miracles happening today. And yet there are those that actually do perform miracles in Jesus’ name. Even raise the dead.

        There are people of such faith… maybe they don’t live in the West, but there are many preachers that we have never even heard about. Recently I heard about some from Asia for example, whose ministries are filled with signs and wonders just like in Biblical times.

        Google about Christianity in China… about underground churches there and the miracles they experience. Along with persecution, of course. And the Church in China grows larger every day!

      • Sandrine

        “Sandrine, one of the things about “prayer” is that the person who is praying for something specific is always already doing everything in his/her power to make it happen. Guaranteed. S/He simply lacks the self-confidence that his/her efforts alone will be adequate to achieve the result s/he wants, and thus, s/he thinks s/he needs this “crutch”, the imagined intervention of a supernatural being, to grant the result in question.”

        I was talking about my personal experiences with prayer when it WAS answered. If you insist, I can tell you what it was about. One time I was feeling quite depressed because of something that happened. I asked God to help me. I went to the service and as the worship was going on, one person had a word from God, a prophecy. It was very specific and it was for a female… as he said that out loud, the heaviness I felt lifted and I knew this was for me. It was very specific to my situation. I was ok and happy instantly. The other prayer was when I asked God a question about my future. I didn’t tell anyone this. I went to a church (it wasn’t my church) and the guest preacher there asked if anyone needed a prayer. I decided to step out along with many other people. When he came to me, he told me the specific thing that I asked God about my future. Just like that.

        To me that was definitely God’s answer.

        Still is.

        (Oh, and many years after that, the prophesy really did come true… so there you go.)

      • Sandrine

        “Incidentally, I had this same reasoning when it came to God. My reasons for no longer believing in him have nothing to do with unanswered prayer or not having a prayer answered in the way I wanted it to be. My reasons for no longer believing in the God of the Bible came through, ironically, Bible study and studying the history of the Bible itself.

        I’m very skeptical of a God who requires me to leave my brain at the door and operate only on good emotion and good feelings toward him while at the same time being told I must not operate only on emotion and feelings. I’m well aware of the requirements of faith. Shouldn’t even a supernatural salvation stand up to intellectual scrutiny? ”

        Ruth,

        I also studied the Bible and the history of the Bible, so I am curious as to what exactly in the Bible or in the history of the Bible has crushed your faith?

        I do know that many theologians have this experience while studying theology… many go through a period of doubt and even a period of being faithless.. But I know many that overcame that. I even know one pastor who admitted to his congregation that he lived without faith for one entire year, preaching to them and preaching to himself, trying to find his way back. He did, and his faith was even stronger afterwards.

        I don’t understand why it is easier for you to stop believing than to seek to find answers.

        I am not sure I could live without believing in God.

        This life is meaningless if there is no God and nothing beyond this brief earthly life.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        Sandrine,

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_New_Testament_canon

        That was a starting point. From there I also studied about the Alexandrian and Byzantine texts and the differences between them. I don’t want to write a book here but a simple Google search can provide you with a lot of information about the actual authors(or more specifically, lack thereof) of scriptures. Many of the the books attributed to specific authors were not authored by them. The fact that there are no original texts is bothersome to me. I know some people overcome that but, again, the way they do so is unsatisfying to me. I also know that many don’t overcome it. They end up where I am. To be clear, though, it wasn’t just this that caused my disbelief. It was this among many things.

        Who says I didn’t or don’t seek to find answers? But it’s foolish to continue to believe something that there is so much evidence against it just because I or you or anyone else wishes it to be true or because I’m afraid it might be true.

        I was sure I couldn’t live without God either, that life had no meaning or purpose without him. I thought I would surely crumble and die and for a time was thrown into nihilism. To my amazement I didn’t break. In fact I feel I have a much fuller, happier, and more meaningful life now than I did with God.

        When I realized this was the only life I’m going to get I began to live in the moment, take things one day at a time, and truly savor the life I have instead of always looking forward to a better one. I don’t mean ‘eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow I may die’. I mean I began to really treasure the people in my life, learn how to weed out the people I don’t need in my life, and treasure the experiences I have now. I learned to love more deeply, more genuinely, and accept people as they are, not as I wish them to be.

        Maybe this brief earthly existence is meaningless for you without God and the thought of an afterlife. The thought that this brief earthy existence is all we get made it all the more special to me.

    • Todd Kinley

      So for you Sandrine the real test of christianity is how much bullshit you accept without scientific proof? Good one. That should be helpful to Ryan. Don’t get too edumacated up there fella or you might find nothing left to just chalk up to faith since book lernen can’t splain it.

      • Sandrine

        The test of Christianity is does your life show real change? Where is the proof of your faith? Is your faith visible in your life?

        “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

      • Todd Kinley

        You are describing experiential proof. The old I know he exists because I feel his presence kind of argument. I have had lots of experiences some good some bad but none of which prove that there is a personal god.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        Some of the most loving people I know are not people of faith.

    • Sandrine

      *we all need THE Saviour. (sorry, English is not my mother tongue.)

      • Blanche Quizno

        “we all need THE Saviour.”

        Really. And why is that? Is it because God set up a really screwed up system in which “justice” is nothing but a joke? Is it because we’re damned just for having the misfortune of being born human and no way to get out of it unless we accept this insanely ridiculous premise that someone MUCH BETTER than we are somehow had to commit suicide (even though that’s a “sin”) and pretend to be dead, though knowing full well “he” was immortal and, thus, had *nothing* to lose, and we’re supposed to pretend we’re eating someone’s flesh and blood?? THAT’s the only way to get out of a completely unjust, cruel, and sadistic eternity of screaming, writhing agony?? Why don’t we all just go completely insane together??

        I think your English is just fine :)

      • https://plus.google.com/102339234849614789634 Matthew Lawrence

        No sir, God did not screw up the system. The Bible describes that we chose to be autonomous and think that we are own ‘gods’ without the Creator God. With this, God could have let us die (not eternal torture, but simply death/nonexistence) but God didn’t. To uphold the Law, God would satisfy the justice of breaking the Law and living as if there was no Creator God and also show mercy by His own lovingkindness by dying on the cross. The immortal had much to be lost and that was the intimacy and presence of the Father. This is a very loving act and Jesus loves you too! Jesus can redeem our mind and our rebellious ways. We all have fallen short but we have a a Savior who can save us.

        • https://www.facebook.com/steve.kane.330 Steve Kane

          Goodness, the tortured logic you get into to justify your abusive “parent” figure. Why not just accept that you have “Stockholm Syndrome”, not the “Love of God”.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

      • Blanche Quizno

        What a torturous mess of unintelligible gibberish. It’s just plain primitive and silly – can’t you see that? We’ve outgrown the primitive god of primitive people. :Your “god” couldn’t even imagine democracy – all it supposedly condoned was monarchy. And I DON’T see us going back to that – we fought a WAR to free ourselves from THAT tyranny! Your “god” couldn’t see that slavery was wrong, yet we’ve outlawed it. We’re WAY better than your “god.” Your “god”, your “jesus”, had no understanding of basic human rights. But WE do. Time to put aside childish things, don’t you think?

        I don’t need any “saving”. That’s ridiculous. But you know what? Believe whatever you like. Believe yourself a lowly worm that is so worthless and wretched that you are required to feel unending and overwhelming gratitude for a story about some comic book character that ended up getting caught by the authorities and couldn’t get out of his own execution, dying a criminal’s death (because he was a criminal). Yep, worship that criminal’s corpse hanging limp on a cross. And then EAT IT!!

      • Larrice

        No sir, you are unintelligible. You start with nothingness and end with nothingness. Please do not think that you can have any intelligible talk without God. God is the precondition for your intelligibility. To argue otherwise is absurd. You can continue acting autonomously without God but it is foolish. Enough said.

    • http://gravatar.com/thephyseter The_Physeter

      You say, “We have to truly REPENT and accept this free gift. That is how you become a Christian.” You are asked what you say if someone repents but doesn’t feel the supernatural conversion, and you reply, “I don’t think that it can NOT occur.”

      Then only a little later you say: “But who are we to demand that God answers the way we ask Him to?”

      Don’t you see what you are doing to yourself? You say in one breath that God will respond in a very specific way if we honestly pray. Then in the next breath you say we cannot make demands on God.

      You sound a lot like how I was thinking for a long time. You say a person must supernaturally know God, and that’s what makes you a Christian. You say you don’t experience this yourself, but you see others do it so it must be real.

      I have spent most of my life studying the Bible, and I even went to Africa as a missionary. I didn’t do this because I thought I could earn my salvation through my own effort or through good works. I studied and served because I wanted, desparately, to know Jesus personally. I believed he was telling me to go to Africa, so I thought by going there I would get to know him better.

      I will try not to make this too long, but what I found was I began having experiences that seemed fake, but people were telling me they were real. I was taught how to “trust” that I was “hearing God,” even when what I was “hearing” seemed to come from natural causes. I began to think maybe that’s all anyone else experienced too, when they say they experience the supernatural.

      So I said, “What if I’m right? What if there is no God?” And I was terribly depressed for a while. But in time, I found both spiritual and intellectual freedom that I had never dreamed of.

      I feel for you, I really do. I think we’re a lot alike. So remember this: the Bible says in Jeremiah 29:13 that “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” It doesn’t say you *might* find him. It doesn’t say other people will find him, and you should trust them. It doesn’t say you will find him *unless* you aren’t good enough. It says you WILL find him. So if you seek him honestly but still find nothing—it might not be you that is the problem. It might be him.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        You just said what I was trying to say, only better. In the Bible God promises certain things. When those things don’t happen who is the problem? I’ve decided, for me, that it is God. The reason we don’t hear him or see him might just be because he isn’t there.

      • https://plus.google.com/102339234849614789634 Matthew Lawrence

        The Bible states that “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”. God has evidenced and is evidencing Himself to you everyday and every picosecond that you are living. The fact that you have a mind, a heart, a soul, and strength is sufficient evidence. For example, without God, where do you get the existence of the Mind and the Soul that you innately use and appreciate everyday?

      • Blanche Quizno

        Nope. Not happenin’. Perhaps YOUR “heart” is deceiving YOU – ever consider that?? Funny how you churchies declare that you’re the only ones who can perceive clearly in what is clearly an impenetrable morass, without realizing you’ve been caught in your own argument.

        And what if Amaterasu is the only REAL god(dess)? What if it’s really Chaak the rain god? Just DON’T call him “Chuck”, whatever you do!!

        Sorry, but I see no reason to give your “god” any special ranking – there are plenty of better gods around. If I’m going to believe in a god, it’s going to be Odin. Valhalla for me!!

        If not for Odin, where do you get the existence of the Mind and the Soul that you innately use and appreciate every day? HUH??

      • Larrice

        Blanche, if that is the existence of your mind and intelligibility, then you are not an atheist. Again, you lose. My position is the God of the Bible. I have plenty of evidence. For you. you have infinite skepticism, you can’t trust your mind, you continue to adopt a failing naturalism, materialistic, relativistic, nothingness. You have no basis for your intelligibility. Plenty of evidence cannot, I repeat cannot persuade you to when you at the heart are rebellious and want to be your own god.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Okay then! I’m obviously in an emotional, rebellious *phase*. Praise Odin! :D

        Say, why do you suppose Christianity is in decline worldwide? The church is hemorrhaging members, and the biggest generation in history, the Millennials, 77+ million strong (larger than the Baby Boom with only 75+ million) is the least likely of any generation to be found attending any church. What do you make of that?

        Churches are paying to send missionaries to the most uneducated, poverty-ridden, war-torn hell-holes on the planet, while church members are living cheek to jowl with apostates and atheists. Why do you suppose no “missions” are being sent to the developed democracies? Is it because you can’t sell Christianity to educated people? Because you have to have really vulnerable, suffering populations in order to sell Christianity? What do you think about predatory marketing practices?

  • Jeanne Kennedy

    Perhaps the reason you are not feeling a great loss now is because you have been gradually leaving the relationship for a long time. Some of us have experienced this when a parent or relationship is dying. We said our goodbyes gradually. The end comes as a relief. It is still sad but a relief.

    • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

      Interesting point, Jeanne. I agree. Relationships also change over time and aren’t what they once were.

  • Susan Humphreys

    My first reaction to your comment that God gave you hope was to ask “Hope in what or for what?” Hope in avoiding death? Hope in having all your problems solved, of never having to suffer? Hope that things happen for a reason, not just accidental, that there is someone in control, pulling the strings, guarding the good and punishing the wicked? Perhaps you need to explore what you mean by HOPE (what you actually Hope will happen or not happen if you believe or don’t believe in God) than maybe you can understand why Atheists have Hope without believing in God.

  • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

    The array of responses you’ve gotten are exactly what I would have expected. They range from, ‘I know what you mean, I’ve been there’, to ‘I hope you find your way back; I’m praying for you’, to ‘You weren’t really a believer to begin with’.

    I had what I thought was a rich prayer life. When I prayed I definitely felt something and what I thought was God speaking to me even though my prayers for myself and others were rarely answered. It could be said that those prayers were not his will, but let me say I know when I was praying a selfish prayer and when I was praying the will of God. The Bible tells us what his will is; that none should perish, that all should have eternal life, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Even some of the so-called selfish prayers, like healing, or for abuse to stop one might think would fall in the category of his will.

    I’m not certain that any of my prayers were answered. I haven’t seen any evidence of such. You’d think I would. The only prayers that I feel certain were answered were for me to feel close to God, to feel his presence. So, in that sense, you could say I had a rich prayer life. When I heard God speak to me it was scriptures or principles from the Bible I felt God leading me to apply to my own life. I comforted myself that prayer was supposed to change me and not necessarily anyone else. Until I realized that the voice I heard was my own, the presence I felt was a deeper sense of myself. Not any God. In any other instance when someone says they hear voices in their head we’d call them insane. But bring God into it and it’s spiritual.

    I prayed and wished and hoped for and waited for this Holy Spirit. You could almost say I pined for him. Nothing. So for all of you out there who say , ‘you were never really a Christian, you don’t know what it’s about’, I call shenanigans.

    • Todd Kinley

      Ruth, I have been calling bullshit on the praying to a personal god thing for decades. I never felt more silly than when I realized that I had been praying to god for decades. In reality I had only been talking to myself.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        Me too, Todd, me too.

    • Barb

      Hear, hear! Many believers think their deity would never be hidden from someone earnestly seeking it. Because that wouldn’t fit with the concept of a loving deity, right?

      So if someone says they earnestly sought this deity and came up with nothing, either the seeker is correct and the believer’s theology has to change, or the seeker is mistaken somehow, and the believer’s theology is safe. Guess which one almost always wins!

      We seekers just haven’t found exactly the right prayer, spell, behavior, action etc. (which changes depending on what you say you already tried). Once you do “X”, then this deity will no longer be hidden. And if the deity is still hidden, then you just didn’t do it quite right.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        All the while the Armenians are telling you can’t “do” anything to get salvation, it’s a free gift. But if you aren’t saved it’s because you didn’t “do” it right. The Calvinists telling you either you’re chosen or you’re not. Since you’re not saved you must not be one of the chosen. Sorry for your luck.

      • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

        I think the whole message of Christianity to me for a long time was You Just Didn’t Do It Right. Strange for a religion that says all you have to do is believe and have faith.

      • Blanche Quizno

        The only good thing about the Calvinists is that, if THEY’re doin it rite, they don’t bother you about religion. It’s all God’s responsibility whether someone is going to be in one category or the other, and no one can do anything about it. No one is even allowed to CHOOSE! It’s a completely involuntary, imposed process that has *nothing* to do with us.

        So the self-identified Calvinists who badger people to convert don’t really understand their own belief system. THEY’re doin it rong.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Ruth, it’s “Arminians.” Not people from Armenia :)

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        Really, Blanche? I typed a lot of stuff. If that’s the only spelling mistake you found, praise Odin! :) I must be doing something right. You know, as opposed to rite. Maybe a Freudian Slip?

    • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

      Me. Me too.

      I know when I was praying a selfish prayer and when I was praying the will of God. The Bible tells us what his will is; that none should perish, that all should have eternal life, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Even some of the so-called selfish prayers, like healing, or for abuse to stop one might think would fall in the category of his will.

      If Christians would just realize this, there would soon be no Christians at all. It’s so simple, and so obvious…yet Christians always hide behind that “Not God’s will” excuse as if that somehow excuses everything.

  • https://www.facebook.com/marthie.leffin Martha Leffin

    I think my deconversion made a huge impact on my life – but that was after I realized and understood I was an atheist. My perspective on preservation, health, poverty, charity, everything has been magnified. When I was christian I was under the notion that “god would fix it” and that “global warming is a hoax”. Well, understanding science, I see that there are so many big issues that religion ignores because it would deny that there is an omnipotent god. I feel so much more passion about these issues, than I did about any religious issue. I love equality, because we all evolved from the same single celled organisms, and we all adapted to suit natural selection. Anyways, I hope you don’t continue to feel that there are no changes. I hope that you realize the impact that humanity can contribute, and the value in doing all you can as an individual.

    • Janine

      Well said, Martha! EVERYTHING got better when I became an Atheist. I loved more deeply. I cherished each day more. I had deeper, sweeter relationships with my loved ones. I accepted people as they are, and stopped judging them against an impossible goal…this included stopping the self-judgement and condemnation that christianity had taught me since childhood. I stopped waiting for heaven, and truly started living this one, beautiful life and all that it involves. Godless it GREAT!

  • https://www.facebook.com/david.opderbeck David W. Opderbeck

    But Ryan, to ask that question is really to beg the question. You exist. You got up. You’re breathing. You’re able to think and to feel and to ask this question. You _care_ about the answer to that question, about what is “true” and “real.” _That’s_ the “difference” God makes. The difference between “existence” and nothing.

    • mnb0

      God of the gaps, the lamest there is. You don’t know how and why “existence” iso nothing, hence god. That god is not any better than Zeus or Thor causing thunder and lightning.

    • Goblinman

      David,

      Actually, you’re only avoiding the question. That reality exists is not what’s being debated. The question is “how”.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “_That’s_ the “difference” God makes. The difference between “existence” and nothing.”

      I exist, David, and I need no gods. I have no use for such childish nonsense.

      Boom.

    • https://plus.google.com/102339234849614789634 Matthew Lawrence

      Great point David! These atheists pertend that God doesn’t exist but have no justification for their minds existing. They evidence God in every breath, thought, and word.

      • Blanche Quizno

        No, we don’t! We evidence Quetzalcoatl!

        Go ahead – prove me wrong!

      • Larrice

        If that is the precondition of your intelligibility, then you are not an atheist! Congrats, you just turned to a Quetzalcoatlist! Hurray, you gave up your atheism.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Yippee! All hail Quetzalcoatl!

        Still not Christian O_O

      • Blanche Quizno

        Still got no use for any poseur “jesus” O_O

      • Blanche Quizno

        Do you still think you’ve won something?

      • Goblinman

        Matthew, this needs to be dissected step-by-step:

        “These atheists pertend that God doesn’t exist”

        We’re not pretending. We actually believe that. This isn’t a game.

        “but have no justification for their minds existing.”

        We believe minds are generated by brains. There is a great deal of research that still needs to be done on the subject, but what has been found so far concerning human consciousness doesn’t at all resemble the classical mind/body dualism proposed by most religions. In fact, moving consciousness into the realm of the spirit (or even God) is only pushing the question of it’s nature back another step, not answering it.

        In any case, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not God exists. All you’re doing is attempting to fill in a gap in humanity’s collective understanding by saying “God did it!” To which I can just as easily say: “God didn’t do it!”

        “They evidence God in every breath, thought, and word.”

        If, as we believe, God does not exist, then no, we don’t. That’s the flaw with both your argument and David’s. Your answer to the question “How do you know God exists?” is: “Because God exists.”

        That’s not an answer. It’s just obnoxious.

  • http://postmodernfaith.wordpress.com Kurt Struckmeyer

    Our belief in God is predicated on two human needs. First, we need to understand the universe—how it came about, how it works, what it all means. This is primarily an intellectual need. When faced with the mystery of the cosmos and with things we simply cannot explain, God is our answer. Second, we need to feel that someone greater than us cares for us and looks out for our welfare. This is a psychological need. When faced with pain and suffering, with emptiness and despair, with tragedy and death, God is our answer. God will walk beside us and comfort us, like a loving parent with a child, loving us unconditionally.

    • Todd Kinley

      I am going to call bullshit on this one. “God” is not the answer. When my two year old daughter drown he was not there. His guardian angels were not there. The devil was not there. When we struggled with her loss god was not there. There is no god. Because let me make this clear. If there is a god and we pray to him to protect our chiildren from harm, and that son of a bitch stands at the edge of a swimming pool with the power to save a child as she drowns and he does nothing, then he is no god.

      • http://postmodernfaith.wordpress.com Kurt Struckmeyer

        Todd -

        I’m very sorry for your tragic loss. You misunderstand my comment. I’m not saying that God is the answer to my questions, I’m saying that God exists in the human mind primarily for these two reasons. I also don’t believe in God, but I’m trying to understand why others do.

      • Todd Kinley

        Yes I can see that is what you meant. I made my comment for Ryans sake. I am not aiming it at you personally. The concept the man invented god to satisfy “two human needs” may be true but it doesn’t work. That is the bullshit part of it.

      • Mary

        Todd, I am so sorry for your loss. It’s hard to even imagine. I work with cancer patients (many who believe in God and pray to him), and I’ve seen so many faithful people die despite living generous, caring, strong lives. I came to the same conclusion you have. If there is a God standing there watching all of these people pray to Him and letting them die in agony (for whatever “higher purpose” we ascribe to the situation), many of them leaving their young children behind and never having lived some of their best years, then he is no god that I would want to associate with. And I pity those who do (but I never say so).

      • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

        @Mary:

        One interesting aspect is how belief in a god means such different things for different people. For some people, praying and praying to a god that does not answer would be painful and devastating, and a terminal illness might drive you away from God. For other people, praying and asking God to take care brings them great comfort, whether the prayer is answered or not.

    • Lizzy

      Kurt,

      Your explanation is compelling. It is human nature to both seek understanding of the universe whilst the soul longs for eternal love…. Intellectual and psychological needs… Both human conditions, I think that is a perfect explanation.

      It’s particularly struck a cord with me. Do some people lack this psychological need? Perhaps the need becomes also physiological? I would be interested to know if any research has been done in this area.

      • Lizzy

        ****as in the effects of the psychological yearning, and the comforting loving influence of a God may effect a person physically – the outcome would be interesting. How would an atheist differ to a believer in times of great stress? Would there be a difference at all?

      • Blanche Quizno

        I think you’d find that atheists are just as likely to approach great sense with grace and equanimity as theists, if not more so. Although I must qualify: The only thing that unites atheists is that the lack god-belief. That’s really not much to build a demographic upon – there are no rules for people to follow (or claim to follow). We can’t even count on atheists to not believe in the supernatural – that’s fair game so long as there aren’t any gods involved.

        However, those I have known who aren’t in thrall to magical thinking and the idea that the supernatural has some sort of awareness that can be bargained with, in order to persuade it to use its limitless power to bend reality for our convenience, tend to be more accepting of what happens. They don’t have the delusion that their belief entitles them to special treatment from the universe.

        On the other hand, I have seen a great many Christians profess their impatience to get to the superhappyfun afterlife they claim to believe is awaiting them and be “face to face” with their “savior”, yet they cling to life with every ounce of energy they can channel into their grasping, bony fingers.

        For example, about 10 years ago here in San Diego, there was a story about a devout Christian man who held an absolutely anti-abortion it’s-a-baby-at-conception position, who had Parkinson’s or some other degenerative disease. The medical community had done its utmost, and he was in decline. So he’d made plans to go to China, where he would be injected with cells taken from aborted human fetuses! Wow – wild contradiction with his stated beliefs, right? Well, he claimed that he’d prayed and that God had told him this was a great idea. What are the odds that his god WOULDN’T approve what he’d already set his mind on doing??

      • Blanche Quizno

        I meant “great stress” instead of “great sense” >.<

    • Goblinman

      Kurt,

      You’re only speaking for yourself. I found my intellectual need better satisfied with atheism than God, and I do not feel any psychological need for there to be someone watching out for me.

      More importantly, neither of those “needs” have anything to do with whether or not God actually exists. Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so.

  • Susan Humphreys

    What difference does God make? You are right that is the basis for Pascal’s Wager. There are lots of problems with his wager which I won’t go into because there are great articles on the web, just google “Pascals Wager” and you can read all about it and the many flaws with his thinking. One problem with his wager is he assumed that God (IF there is one) can be fooled, that he would be too dumb to tell if anyone was sincere and that he wouldn’t be offended by those who thought he could be fooled/conned! So in his reasoning it is better to believe and be saved than to not believe and be assured of an eternity in Hell. From some of the posts here I think there are many that claim they have found God and aren’t quite there yet. They are trying to fool themselves and God. But all that aside ONE reason some believe is that they are truly afraid of DEATH. They want to be saved, have life everlasting and are convinced that the only way to be saved is IF they believe the RIGHT beliefs, attend the RIGHT church, practice the RIGHT sacraments (sprinkled rather than dunked in baptism or vice versa), follow the letter of the law and I might add make everyone else follow the letter of their law…….There was a great book in 1986 “If Grace is True, Why God Will Save Every Person”, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I think they are both Quakers and they are writing from a religious perspective, they do believe in God. They address the fundamental problems with Christian Theology about salvation. Their premise is that IF God is PERFECT as most Theists believe he would love everyone equally, saint and sinner, believer and non-believer, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Morman, Muslim, Jew, Infidel…… AND he would show forgiveness and compassion for ALL equally. The reactions many fundamentalist Christians have is, “This can’t possibly be true, why believe in God if everyone will be saved?” Why indeed? Men’s problem is they claim God is Perfect in every way and then they endow God with all of their own human imperfections: he is jealous, narcissistic, judgmental, vindictive, quick to anger, he has favorites (loving me and my group better than everyone else), they want God to forgive them their trespasses but to refuse to forgive the trespasses of all others (their enemies). The biggest problem, I think is that the HOPE doesn’t match the HYPE! And by Hype I am metaphorically referring to the Doctrines and the Dogmas, the Theology!

    • Arquinsiel

      A little ranty, but points well made and taken.

    • http://ejugghead1970.wordpress.com ejugghead

      Well stated!

    • Blanche Quizno

      Nice post, Susan! It’s always mystified me how we humans are expected to love and forgive our enemies, but God never loves or forgives his… Or that “love” in Godspeak can mean “wanting to harm you beyond your most frightful nightmares”. That’s for the scenario where God loves us all so very very much blah blah only begotten son (that’s David in Psalm 7, BTW) blah blah everlasting life blah, but “hell” exists and most people will go there (“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it”). What’s the point, then? When you love someone, you want to protect that person from harm (which is why we don’t actually love our military personnel). Yet damning someone to the eternal fires of “hell”, for all eternity – how is that “loving”?? And considering that many sects of Christianity hold that as the fate of those who look at Christianity and don’t find it convincing, it’s truly insanely fascist.

  • Jon

    Not to sound pedantic, but the question isn’t “What difference does God make?” but “What difference does belief in God make?” As several commenters have noted, belief in God has resulted in innumerable deaths and horrors. However, on a practical level, it has often resulted in a rejection of science, such as the science of biological evolution. This in turn has practical implications, for if people understand it, they might not abuse antibiotics, antibacterial soaps, pesticides, herbicides, etc. Belief in God often results in a rejection of homosexuality and the right of gay people to marry whom they love. Belief in God often results in a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body in the name of “right to life” while perversely supporting the execution of convicted murderers. I could go on, but these illustrate my point that belief in God and a morality based on pre-Enlightenment religious texts has serious practical implications, not for all believers, but for a vast majority. Shedding belief in God and its accompanying “morality” frees one to adopt a more rational ethical code, as well as to accept the findings of modern science.

    • Jon

      Correction: “Belief in God often results in a rejection of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body…”

    • http://ejugghead1970.wordpress.com ejugghead

      I agree!

  • Hans G. Koornstra

    I can only witness to the fact that God is not just theology or rules of religion. When I read what Ryan writes, I miss a great thing. To me the greatness of God is that through Christ He gave me peace. That is the indestructable peace that is with me. I feel very privileged. It is by grace that I have received this. God has accepted me, forgiven me and given me an assurance. Yes, I do not know what the future holds or whether there is eternal life after this, but to me now it is more important what is and what I have received.

    • mnb0

      “To me the greatness of God is that through Christ He gave me peace.”

      I never needed any fairy tale to give me peace. So that’s not a difference either.

    • http://ejugghead1970.wordpress.com ejugghead

      How do you know for sure that Christ has given you peace? How do you really know God has accepted and forgiven you?

    • Billzbub

      Hans, I agree with what you said, that God gave you peace through Christ. However, there doesn’t have to be an actual God or Christ for that to have happened. You experience your peace because you believe God and Christ exist, not because they really do.

      For me personally, I finally experienced peace when I realized that God does not exist and why so many people think that he does. It felt like all these puzzle pieces floating around in my head finally settled into a picture that made sense. One reason I am so excited about this blog is because I think a lot of other people who have those puzzle pieces floating around that just won’t settle will see how Ryan and others assemble the pieces and finally experience a life without the cognitive dissonance of trying to believe something that can’t be proven.

    • Blanche Quizno

      “To me the greatness of God is that through Christ He gave me peace. ”

      That’s nice, Hans. I’m very happy for you!

      For me, it was realizing there are no gods and no christs that gave ME peace. Are you happy for me as well?

  • Robert Balaban

    I couldn’t help but notice extreme similarities with some of your mentioned internal struggles with some of the ones I have. I was an athiest all the way through my freshman year of college to the extent where I would attempt to convince my Christian peers that there the idea of a God was silly. I am now a Christian but still deal with many of the same troublesome thoughts in my head that I did when I was an athiest. Your dialogue is one that has occurred many times in my own mind and since you have my email address if you would like to know how I answer some of those troubling questions feel free to email me. I love sharing my thoughts on the topic. I am a very scientific thinker as a chemical engineer with both parents having their PhDs and a sister currently working on hers. I am the only one in my family who is not an athiest now so I know the thoughts and culture very well. Please contact me as I would love to discuss it with you.

    • mnb0

      You may have been an athiest but have you been an atheist?

      • Robert Balaban

        What can I say, I’m an engineer, not an English major haha

    • Blanche Quizno

      Robert, atheists don’t believe that gods exist. How did you go from not believing that gods exist to believing that gods exist? Just wondering.

      Also, I wonder how, when “adopting” a god (where previously you had none), did you choose between all the possible gods out there. Why not go for Odin or Zeus? Why not choose Quetzalcoatl or Chemosh? You could have chosen any god or gods you liked! Why not Allah? I find it just a bit interesting that you went for the dominant/majority belief system that you were immersed in from birth (the culture still surrounds you regardless of your family’s beliefs) – we ARE social animals, after all, and the bigger the group we belong to, the more secure we feel.

      • Robert Balaban

        Blanche, explaining why I chose the God I did would take a lot more than I can write on here. It wasn’t simply, “Oh I believe in a God now and it seems like the Christian God is the most common so I guess I should believe in that God.” I have a very logic driven brain which needs reasoning for everything. There was a time I thought it was impossible for there to be a logical reasoning for the existence of a God, let alone the Christian God. The main way I would answer that is that all logic is limited by it’s perspective and my perspective changed pretty dramatically. To explain how it did would take an entire essay to write which I don’t really think is appropriate on here haha. Yes I am still surrounded by a culture that I feel somewhat isolated from since I am the only one in my family that believes in a God but they do respect my faith, they just don’t understand it and in the society I grew up in and still am a part of, believing in a God is a sign of ignorance or stupidity which can make me a bit self conscious about my faith sometimes, but I still arrive to the same conclusion that I believe in a Christian God. This is after many many conversations with atheists who are way more intelligent than myself who are unable to convince me otherwise.

      • Robert Balaban

        Also, I’m aware atheists don’t believe God’s exist. I didn’t believe that any God’s existed and that the idea of a God was something people created to help answer questions we didn’t have answers for, then when most of those questions were answered with strongly supported scientific theories it evolved into something to give people a strong purpose in their life. So I did not believe in a God before

  • Cec

    I also experienced the feeling of loss that you describe, I did not choose to live without god in a sence that it was a conscious decision but just drifted away. I guess I was a follower and then one day started to invistigate what I was following. I read about the Crusades, the life of Paul and other books about ancient history about the church especially my church which was Catholic. I read about the founding of the modern churches such as the Mormons,the church of Scientology and believe that it was all formed on hokes pokes, kind of magic. I read about the founding of Christainity and the founding of Islam. There is a common thread running through all these churches and it seems to be faith to believe something we cannot see. We have concrete proof there was a Roman Empire, but no proof there was a man named Jesus. We know Mohammed exhisted but he couldn’t write anything down. Mormon founder didn’t keep the magic plates or the seeing stone that smith uses. I mean who wouldn’t keep such important artifacts, what better proof. The shroud of Turin has been proven a fake. But preachers will say , you got to have faith. I still have a feeling ,I call my soul feeling that there is a God. There is something more than a few years on this planet. There is a longing to find out what it is. Maybe your journey will help me .

    • Blanche Quizno

      Is wishing you could personally live forever something powerful enough to cause a god to exist?

  • Todd Kinley

    What difference does god make? He makes it rain … no he doesn’t. He causes the tornado to miss your house … no he doesn’t. He keeps your children safe from harm … no he doesn’t. He feeds the hungry … no he doesn’t. He heals the sick … no he doesn’t. He puts in place benevolent rulers … no he doesn’t. He raises the dead … no he doesn’t. He helps your football team to win the championship … no he doesn’t. He answers prayers … no he doesn’t. He guides us in our daily lives … no he doesn’t. He gives us hope for eternal life … no he doesn’t.

    What difference does god make? None. What difference do his followers make? Violent domination and destruction. Suppression and repression of science and free thought.

  • Vesper

    I think the truth in this blog is that “faith” is not about what you do, or do not do. Faith is about what you feel and believe. Faith is not an intellectual exercise. Faith is what motivates you. Faith is not “religion”. In my opinion, Christ disliked one group more than any other….the religious (Pharisees).

    You can take away my bible, my Christian friends, my prayers, my church family…but my faith remains. (I know this because I have done this).

    I truly consider my faith a gift and if it is a crutch…I’m grateful for it…we all could use help these days.

    • Cec

      Faith in what though? Faith in the modern world. Faith that we will all do good saving the planet? I feel the same as you do but don’t know what I have faith in.

    • mnb0

      See Kierkegaard.

    • Mary

      If faith is a gift, and if it is not given to some people (as apparently it is not), then you worship a most interesting god. Especially if he sends the people he doesn’t give faith to down to the netherworld for some eternal flames.

      I used to believe that faith was a gift too. Then I realized, after I lost mine and just couldn’t believe anymore, that if faith is indeed a gift from God, then he has chosen to no longer bestow it upon me. If he would do that for ANY reason, then I’d rather not worship him anyway. Call it a mutual parting, but of course since he’s in control he can just burn me for it. Or not – if he doesn’t really exist.

  • Cec

    I read the book, the title slips my mind now, about the death of Pat Tillman the NFL football star killed in Afghanistan, it chronicled the journey of his mother to deal with it. She would not accept the fact that he was killed by friendly fire. She would not believe the inquiry reports or accept the apology of the men involved. In the end we the readers are told its because she was an atheist and could not accept her own belief that she would never see her son again. There was no continuation of the journey in an after life.

    • Blanche Quizno

      Actually, what you are describing sounds more like how the Tillmans were maligned by the military – it was military leaders who claimed that it was the Tillmans’ atheism that caused Pat’s mother to never give up and to keep pressing for justice and truth instead of obediently and submissively accepting the lies she was told by the military which tried to cover up the fact that outspoken atheist Pat Tillman may well have been executed by Good Christian US troops.

      What would it have looked like if she WOULD accept the fact that he was killed by friendly fire? I think you’re *quite* mistaken here – she was told he was killed by enemy forces. The US military lied about the circumstances under which he was killed. But she pressed because of inconsistencies and errors in what she’d been told, and discovered that her son was killed by friendly fire. To the best of my knowledge, she accepted just fine that he was killed by friendly fire – she continued to challenge the military on its lies and deceptions. Here we have a David in the form of this one small woman, taking on the Goliath of the US Military, despite being slandered and maligned by military leaders. Yet she never gave up on the cause of justice. How is that wrong? What would she have done if she’d been a Christian, pray tell?

      It was Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich who suggested that the Tillman family’s atheism was what was causing the family to “have a hard time letting it go”, when “it” was actually the fact that the military had LIED and MISREPRESENTED the facts of Tillman’s death. He was trying to make it look like their persistence in getting to the bottom of it was some sort of emotional problem that WE CHRISTIANS don’t have, because we have us some jesus.

      Here, refresh your memory on the facts: http://www.skepticblog.org/2011/09/13/pat-tillmans-atheism/ and http://www.futureofthebook.org/mitchellstephens/archives/2006/07/pat_tillman_non.html :

      ‘Pat Tillman was an American professional football player who, after September 11, gave up a million dollar contract to fight “for his country” in Afghanistan. He was killed by “friendly fire,” though the US military managed to hide that embarrassing fact for almost five weeks. Tillman’s family has been pressing for an investigation. Now there is a report that the selfless Tillman was an atheist, or at least a non-Christian, which has some in the Army upset.’

      Here’s what his mother had to say:

      ‘Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we’re not Christians, and the reason that we can’t put Pat to rest is because we’re not Christians,” Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother, said in an interview with ESPN.com. Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion.

      “Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady,” she said sarcastically, “But it is because we are not Christians.”

      After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, “Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn’t lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble.

      …The Tillman family has continued to try to push through layers of Army bureaucracy for answers, about both the death of their son and the appearance that Pat Tillman’s Army life, and death, might have been used for political purposes.’

      So it really looks like Mrs. Tillman’s atheism motivated her to seek justice for her son and the truth for us all. She never had any problem with her lack of belief, not that I’ve ever heard of. She had a problem with deception, lies, and misrepresentation, which I like to think we’d ALL have a problem with. But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Christians believe everything they’re told, no matter how bizarre. It certainly appears that way. Christians are fond of telling us all how miserable and unhappy atheists are because of their unbelief, and how much happier and fulfilled Christians are because of their belief, but then they tell all these whopping big lies that are so easy to prove false! Could it be that the Christians are simply desperate to try and make atheists look bad, because they know they’re hemorrhaging members and no “revival” of god-belief in sight?

      Or is it more that Christians have so weak a grasp on reality that they believe their lies are truth?

  • Mr. Bauld

    this stinks of a desperate attempt at a book deal. in one year, you can write that book, exclaiming what you “learned” and how “god is desperately needed”, but that atheists “are human too”.

    if you want to know how atheists live moral and ethical lives without a god, maybe you should just interview them. that too will get you a book deal.

    • mnb0

      So what? How does that make Bell dishonest or anything?

      No answer? You’re pathetic.

    • Todd Kinley

      Hey, Mr. Bauld and Ryan. If it is true that you are donig nothing but gathering matrerial for a book, then I want my share if I am quoted. I declare all of my posts to be copyrighted. Ha!

  • mnb0

    “God as the ultimate source of meaning and the telos of human history.”

    That’s the big difference with me. For an atheist like me there is no external meaning in life and in The Universe, nor is there a higher purpos in human history. Give the Earth another five billion years and human life will be exterminated. That is such a huge number that I cannot even begin to imagine what it will look like.

    I am satisfied and happy with humbler things: the meaning I myself give my life, the goals I set myself. And I’m proud to say that I have done a pretty good job, despite all my flaws and blunders. I have made a difference for some of my fellow-humans.

    “it hasn’t been very different at all”

    It’s highly probably because I’m a Dutchman, but neither my decision to become an agnost (I was 13 or 14) nor my decision to call myself an atheist hasn’t made any difference. So I’m not surprised.

    Yes, I have attended several services since then: catholic ones, protestant ones, islamic ones. Sometimes I was even moved. It never has made an impact though, not even temporary. I never have experience a holy spirit or something.

    “the difference God makes ”

    Today I spoke the vice-director of my school, a muslima. Because of a medical blunder she has lost a sister very recently. I paraphraze: “One must not think too much about it, that is unsettling. There must be a reason and Allah knows.” I did not reply, she knows I’m an atheist and that it doesn’t work for me. When my father was killed my attitude was different. But I understand that she has found comfort in her belief. That might be an important factor as well.

  • Susan Humphreys

    This is for Todd Kinley, don’t blame religion for the evils of men. Bad people will use anything to further their purpose and any “religion” in the broadest sense of the word (adherence to a doctrine or dogma or party line) can be misused to sanctify and justify bad behavior. Republicans do it, Environmentalists do it and so do religious people and Atheists. As the posters demonstrate here there are “good” people that are believers and “good” people that have rejected beliefs and moved onto what I think is a higher level of being or spirituality or living, whatever you want to call it. It is a level that is free (to an extent) of doctrines and dogmas and embraces self-determination, self-motivation, self-assurance, self-respect, all the self skills that lead to living an authentic and productive life.

  • mcvec

    As a cultural Catholic, and having studied other religiond, I never felt comfortable with the word “Christian”, rather I preferred the term “child of God”, which did not separate me from other faiths, such as Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. Lately in my exploration of “God”, I’ve found that I see God as an essence, rather than an entity or a being. For me, I just feel that God is a synonym for Love. Therefore, I guess I’m a “child of Love”, as we all are.

    • Blanche Quizno

      That’s a very nice perspective, mcvec :)

  • Susan Humphreys

    I should have added to the above post before the believers jump all over me……. I didn’t mean to imply that Believers can’t also live authentic and productive lives just that Atheists/non-believers have found a way that works for them. There are many paths through the wood and each of us has to find and follow the path that works best for us.

    • Blanche Quizno

      All the religions of the world are like a big buffet. You can take whatever looks good to you, and as many and as much as you like. If none of it appeals to you, you don’t have to take anything! In the end, the only thing that distinguishes one belief system from another is how well it matches up with a given person’s needs.

      There is no “one size fits all” religion. Absolutely impossible. Imagine if someone were to insist that HIS favorite flavor of ice cream was the most objectively tasty in the whole world. NOW imagine that this person states that anyone who does not agree that his favorite flavor of ice cream is, indeed, the most tasty deserves to be tortured forever!!

  • susan

    I understand why so many of you bash believers the way you do. Some of us have acted dreadfully believing erroneously that we were doing the right thing. Some of us use the Bible incorrectly and fight against science and reason, but please don’t believe that all believers are right-wing hyper conservatives. I am a progressive liberal Christian. I support a woman’s right to choose and yes, I believe in evolution. I also believe in God. Yes, I pray regularly. That does not make me insane. It means I believe there is a force in the world wiser than all of us and I feel connected to that power in prayer. God is not Santa Claus. I do not come before him with a wish list and expect him to fill it. I come before him a sinner in need of redemption and a friend seeking communion. Yes, believers suffer, and Jesus suffers along with us. Being a Christian does not free one from suffering, from being human. It does mean growing in a relationship with God. His presence in my life gives me peace and joy, and the community of believers to which I belong teaches and supports me. I acknowledge that I could live my life ignoring God or denying His existence. Really, it isn’t that hard to imagine – there are so many people all around me who go along perfectly “happy” without recognizing a need for God. There was a period in my life during which I did not believe, but I am happier and feel more whole when I do. If believing in God makes my life richer and more beautiful to me, why do you feel the need to belittle me for that? Why must you assume I am deluded or insane? My experience has been that God exists and is active in my life. I understand that your experience has not been the same as mine. I respect that. Why can’t you also respect me? Because there is no proof? There is no proof either way. Do you believe in love? How can you prove it exists or does not exist? If all you have ever known is pain and suffering, you might argue that love does not exist. If you have experienced love you believe it exists. I have experienced both love and God. I believe they exist.

    • http://adamstrange.com admstrange

      There is no excuse for bashing anyone. I think both sides do ourselves and future generations a great disservice by perpetuating the myth that religion and science are in a natural state of conflict. This never had to be the case. Dawkins and company do the world a great injustice every time they put forward this fictitious declaration of war.

      • Corwyn

        Ever notice how it is always the other side that starts the war? Not the pope that tried and imprisoned Galileo, nope. Not religions trying to get their dogma put into the science classroom, nope.

        No religion NEEDS to be in opposition to science. But any religion (or any group) which has unchangeable dogma which addresses any part of reality, inevitably will find itself in opposition to science. Even one that takes all of current science as its dogma. This is a natural consequence of science changing to match its perception of reality, and actively trying to find places where that perception is incorrect.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Remember where admstrange claimed to be an atheist? LOLZ!!

    • Blanche Quizno

      I can respect you just fine, susan, so long as you keep your beliefs to yourself and don’t try to convert me or treat me shabbily once you realize I don’t have an imaginary friend.

      “Do you believe in love? How can you prove it exists or does not exist? ”

      This is the sort of nonsense that sets you up for some trouble, you see. What godbelievers look like to me is like the woman who decides Tom Cruise is secretly in love with her. Tom Cruise is thinking about her all the time and sending her coded messages in his various interviews and through his movies, and it’s only a matter of time before she and Tom Cruise can be together they way they both dream of. She knows it. She can feel it.

      What you’re describing is THAT kind of love. People who fixate on distant movie stars feel the love, too, you know.

      Now, if you’re talking the kind of love we feel when we see something we love, like a beautiful flower or a vivid sunset or a cute kitten, you’ll notice that doesn’t take anyone else’s input. We can feel these emotions all by ourselves. And if we’re imagining some ideal love relationship with some ideal lover, we can imagine that, too. When someone appears to be putting an inordinate amount of time/effort into imaginary relationships and then insisting that it’s real, what do YOU call such a person?

      How would YOU deal with the lady in love with Tom Cruise I described above?

  • Budence

    Interesting experiment – but as one who had a marginal devotional life already (something many Christians probably have), who had a fairly comfortable life, I don’t know that you’re the best “case” for this experiment. If Mother Teresa or Dietrich Bonhoeffer did the same experiment, I wonder if the results would be different.

    • Corwyn

      Read her diaries.

  • DJ

    Ryan,

    Your latest post, only confirms what I’ve suspected about your version of “Christianity”. A politicized version of Christianity is not true Christianity. True Christianity is an abiding union with God in Christ. You admittedly spent very little time in personal devotion or quiet time and prayer. There was no intimacy between you and God. He has always been a stranger to you. His provisions and promises are for those who are in covenant relationship with Him. Those who deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Him (Jn.9:23). These do not have an agenda, they surrender their agenda.

    You ask what difference does God make? The difference is a life that is spiritually dead and separated from God, as the scriptures call the “Old Man”, and a life that is spiritually alive and in union with God, the “New Man”, ie…a new species of mankind wherein God dwells. The version of God that you aligned yourself with is a creation of your own mind to fit your own agenda. It resembled Christianity in form, but it is a counterfeit. You did not enter into a relationship with God; you entered into a religious institution in order to “change it from within” (your words from a recent interview). You did not have a “pastor’s heart”, you were not “called” of God to become a pastor or teacher, but only went into those fields to change things up and to conform Christianity into something more appealing to you. You had degrees, ambition and an agenda. You did not have a taste of God; you only knew “of” Him, you did not know Him.

    Those who are lukewarm in their relationship with God have never known God. It is exactly as you have described being a “functional atheist”. You were simply mislabeled. You will likely find that you are being more honest with yourself and others simply by abandoning your counterfeit faith, and embracing the spirit of the world. It is that “half in/half out” lukewarm version of Christianity that creates the tension and disillusionment. You offer up prayers when you need your bell hop idea of God to do something for you, and when He doesn’t, you blame Him and become embittered. Due to the fact that you were never born again and remained unregenerate, you mythologize the spiritual warfare all around us. As a result, you are ignorant of the adversary’s wiles in his attacks upon you, your family and your sphere of influence, and have not the tools, nor the understanding as to how to stand in the faith against such attacks. “My people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Unfortunately, rather than press into God and dig deeper, asking the difficult questions while remaining obedient to His word, you have decided to “shrink back”. “…the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb.10:38) What I have found is that God does encourage the hard questions, but He responds to the genuine seeking soul whose desire is to grow in Him. He does not commit Himself to those who are so half-hearted and double minded. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8) But you’ve chosen a different tactic. I have no doubt you will find life liberating without the tension of trying to live a half- hearted Christianity, but had you abandoned your own agenda and fully surrendered to Almighty God as He reveals Himself in Scripture and in the spirit and soul of one who is born again, you would also eventually break into an experience of freedom in Christ. The difference is night and day, darkness and light, death and life. We are all born into this world and the spirit of this world is familiar to us, and so it is not difficult to be grafted back into a tree that is of the same nature as the branch, it will feel quite natural and familiar.

    • http://ejugghead1970.wordpress.com ejugghead

      How exactly does one form a covenant with an unseen & unheard god?! And how can you prove that god has answered your prayers and/or accepted you?

      • DJ

        ejigghead, I know these things because God Himself has declared these things to be true, and His Spirit bears witness with my Spirit, that I am a child of God.(Rom.8:16)…we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.(1 Cor.2:12) I trust in the word of God which declares that “I am accepted in the Beloved” (Eph.1:6)“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”(Hebrews 10:16) I know He answers my prayers, because my prayers are answered by Him…

        • http://ejugghead1970.wordpress.com ejugghead

          How has he declared any of these things? Has he literally spoken to you? Do you trust and take the written words of a man/men to be the infallible word of god?

          • DJ

            ejugghead, I believe the Bible. The Holy Spirit likewise bears witness with my spirit and I experience the life which Jesus describes as “rivers of living water”. I do not hear “audible” voices, God speaks within the spirit in a way that is difficult to explain to someone who does not have the Spirit of God within them.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “ejugghead, I believe the Bible. ”

        DJ, let’s take a look at what the Bible says:

        John 14:12-14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

        That ^ is false. Demonstrably false. It’s simply NOT TRUE! Everybody can see that’s a load of hooey. Rubbish. Hogwash. We all know it. So the Bible is obviously unreliable.

        • DJ

          Blanche…we’ve already had this conversation. Move on.

      • Blanche Quizno

        So you, by your own admission, believe something that we can all see is obviously false. What are the rest of us supposed to think?

        And HAVE we had this conversation?? I must have missed it. How do you account for your abject failure to manifest the “fruits of the spirit” identified and promised in John 14:12-14 by Jesus himself?

      • Blanche Quizno

        “I do not hear “audible” voices, God speaks within the spirit in a way that is difficult to explain to someone who does not have the Spirit of God within them.”

        “But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14

        “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” 2 Timothy 2:26

        Since “da debbil” can take anyone captive any time “it” wishes (according to Scripture) AND make anyone think “it” is “an angel of light”, I suspect your source of inspiration may well be a bit more, well, DIABOLICAL than what you believe!

        Can you prove it’s not Satan fooling you? Of course you can’t!

    • John

      “…you would also eventually break into an experience of freedom in Christ.”

      Do I understand you correctly if I say that this freedom is the kind you feel when you surrender to reality and to the truth?

      • DJ

        John, when a person is trying to live as both a Christian, and a non-Christian, he is a “house divided”. Because of this, there is tension and conflict. It is not surprising to me that an atheist would find a sense of freedom returning to the flow of the spirit of this world. It is more difficult to press on in God, but once some progress has been made in the deeper life, the Christian likewise experiences a freedom because the inner conflict has been resolved. For a regenerate born again Christian, this is reality and truth.

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  • betsey riedl

    When my husband and I left the catholic church, we felt a loss and an aloneness, too. We realized this was because we no longer belonged to a ‘group’, other than our families, who still attended church. Then we felt the freedom. The freedom for us, though came with a responsibility. The responsibility is that we are now on our own, we do not believe in a higher power that may or may not come to our aid (in the form of answered prayers). So we shouldered that together and guess what? We’ve found that in the five or six years since we’ve left the church, we talk more, we are more open to new ideas and interested in what the other person thinks.

    I hope you can work through this ‘alone and lonely’ time to discover what lies ahead. Thank you for this interesting post .

  • Susan Humphreys

    DJ why would anyone want to become like you? You seem to think that ONLY those that follow your path can experience “the light” rather than “darkness”, that those that reject your path are “spiritually dead”. I know Hindus and Buddhists and some Muslims and Jews and Christians and Atheists….by watching and getting to know them, by reading their sacred texts and learning about their beliefs, I can see the “goodness” and “not-so-goodness” in people whatever their faith or non-faith, I can see those that have found their peace and contentment and those who haven’t and some are religious/believers and some are non-religious/non-believers. It isn’t what religion a person follows or whether a person follows any religion, what MATTERS the most are our day to day actions, how we treat our fellow man, are we authentic/honest with ourselves and with others, and how we treat the planet. For me God doesn’t matter people do. Your belief or non-belief is between each individual and ytheir God or their conscience (what we might call their higher self)!

    • DJ

      Susan, I am simply responding to Ryan’s inquiry from a Christian perspective. I have not asked anyone to “be like me”. Its obvious that God doesn’t make any difference to an atheist. It was not intended to offend you.

      • Susan Humphreys

        But you see DJ what we say does offend people. I wasn’t offended by your words, I am long past being offended by anyone, but I hope you can see how some people are, how your words imply to others that you don’t see them as being as good as you. Is there a way you can express yourself and simply say this is how I found my light or my peace without implying that others that don’t follow your path don’t have light or peace in their lives? Notice how in my posts I keep trying to say this is how I see it, not this is how it is. I don’t always succeed but I keep trying to show that there are many ways, many paths that we can chose to follow with none being Superior to NOR Inferior to any other. They are all just different and different in my opinion is good!

        • DJ

          Susan, If I was directing my comments to you, I could understand why you would feel offended, however, as I indicated, I was speaking to Ryan. Having read most posted comments on this list, Christians have been called “delusional”, “needing psychiatric care”, and “uneducated” as well as other not so kind adjectives. I appreciate that you are careful not to join those who have no problems insulting people of faith, and I likewise am careful to do the same. But as much as atheists believe Christians are deluded, born again Christians believe atheists are deluded so its a wash. There is no need to take offense. When I speak to you directly, as I am now doing so, I will take care that I exercise diligence to tread lightly and politely.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “But as much as atheists believe Christians are deluded, born again Christians believe atheists are deluded so its a wash. ”

        John 14:12-14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

        DJ: “ejugghead, I believe the Bible.”

        There appears to be much more evidence about which side is deluded, DJ. Unless you’d care to walk on water for us, or go to the morgue and bring all the stiffs back to life, or feed 5000 people with a single chicken pot pie. Remember, Jesus HIMSELF supposedly said you’d be able to work even GREATER “miracles” than HE supposedly did! And yet you can’t. What is the reason for it? Is it that you have no faith whatsoever, despite your insistence? “By their fruits shall ye know them.” Or is it that the Bible is full of false promises and outlandish claims?

  • http://gravatar.com/janetgh janetgh

    wow! well said.

  • http://gravatar.com/ludwig44 ludwig44

    Those who say they are not one of “those kinds of believers” bother me more than anything else, and have both before and after my departure from 45 years of deep Christian faith.

    There is no more ‘wacky’ or less ‘wacky’ way to believe a thing accepted on a ‘spriritual’ level.

    People of faith who don’t respect some other people’s beliefs which are, like their own, based on a spiritual rationale should, imo, embrace the fact that their own is no different.

    The differences they often point to, such as being more loving or in touch with morality that makes sense to our human sensibilities, seems to me only proof that theirs is of human creation — its moral framework makes sense to them with or without its God.

    Those with a path that seems to make less “sense” actually seem to have more “evidence” (ignoring for a moment that evidence is actually seemingly impossible) that it doesn’t just come from their own brain, but instead from some external being they cannot understand and which commands behavior that may even seem wrong to us as mere humans.

    And for those whose sense of God could be accepted by anyone, maybe they are using the word to mean something very different from the traditional view of God — something more like “life force” or “everything.” When watered down to that extreme, how is it even different from simple lack of belief?

  • Susan Humphreys

    I wonder Ludwig44 if most people that claim they believe in “God” can even describe what this God is, what he/she looks like, if he is a he and not a she or not both at once, what powers/abilities this “some thing” has or doesn’t have. Theists are those that believe in a personal God (that has their best interest at heart), that looks somewhat like them (we are created in his image the Bible tells them) and it also says he is all knowing and all seeing and all powerful and SOME claim that HE is perfect in everyway AND perhaps most importantly that HE intervenes when he feels moved to do so in the affairs of men–rewarding the just, punishing the un-just, causing disasters to teach others a lesson. The earliest Hebrews refused to give God a name, knowing that as soon as they did, humans would give this “power” human characteristics and this “power” would lose some of its mystery and majesty. Other religions have avoided this anthropomorphic trap and simply refuse to mention this “power” or “higher force” (Buddhism, Taoism) and some have equated this “power” or “force” with the Breathe of Life that animates the world (Chi in Chinese philosophy). Some see this “power/force” within all things (the pantheists) and some see this power/force as having many faces and many attributes (Hindus) the Theists see it as being totally separate and remote from what it created. Who is RIGHT and whom is WRONG? And as Ryan Bell asks, what difference does it make?

    • Blanche Quizno

      Buddhism doesn’t acknowledge anything that is *out there*. The Buddha put such discussions strictly off limits because Buddhism, as a pragmatic philosophical system, focused on what can be tested and known. He refused to answer questions about gods, the origin of the universe (why can’t it have always existed?), or what happens after death. The Buddha’s focus was ending suffering, and his methodology was to teach people how to understand the workings of their own minds so that they could move beyond being motivated by delusions to crave and cling and set themselves up for misery. “Attachment causes suffering.” ALL attachment. Doesn’t matter what it’s attachment TO. Until we realize we don’t need external assistance, we suffer.

  • NomdeB

    I am particularly interested in efforts to “live without god” because I was born and raised without god, so living without god is as natural to me as breathing. The idea of god just never occurred to me. God and religion was a “cultural” thing practiced in various ways by the people I met around the world in my travels, in the same way they ate different foods. I just don’t see a need (nor have ever had a desire) for god as an explanation, a support system, an inspiration, etc. in my life. Human decency, the natural world, creativity, imagination, love, all these things and more provide me with a full and rich life. Also, my mantra is “question authority” so god and religion wouldn’t have worked for me anyway, even if I had been inclined to try it. ;) From my point of view, there are good and bad believers and non believers and belief in god or specific religious teachings have nothing to do with it. There are so many sources for ideas of how to live a good and productive and valuable and rich life. Religion is one of those sources, but by no means the only source, nor a better source. I believe in being open minded, thinking for myself, applying empathy and logic to life… god just isn’t necessary. And I totally don’t see any evidence for god’s existence. To me, “mysterious ways” and “we can’t know his purpose” only means, we’re trying to explain away all the evidence that doesn’t fit with the existence of god(s).

  • Luke

    Hi Ryan,

    I am a 49 year old believer in Jesus Christ who has worked side by side for almost 14 years with a man who is agnostic and a member of Mensa. We have had wonderful dialogue over the years and neither of us has “converted” the other. I don’t think it’s my job to convert him anyway. (1Ch. 3:7) When I first met him, I asked him if he was an atheist or an agnostic. He said, “Since I can’t prove God doesn’t exist, I guess I’m an agnostic.” I’ve always appreciated his response, but I think this even shows how the definition of the word atheist has softened over the years.

    Are there things that frustrate me about his belief? Sure! When things go really wrong he shakes his fist at the sky. And for someone who feels all things are relative, he spends a lot of time being angry about something. And for someone who believes in tolerance, he doesn’t tolerate those he considers intolerant. And when things go really wrong and he says G** d***, I wonder if he realizes it makes no sense. (And as a stickler for detail in writing, he wouldn’t tolerate the fact that I started four sentences with “And”.) Do I wish we could share what I believe? Of course I do! Ultimately, for each one of us, it does come down to “Is there a God, and am I accountable to Him?” If I’m wrong, then I’m just wasting my time. If he’s wrong…

    I’m sure some would say that if you choose not to believe then the end of the story is different, but I’m not willing to take that chance. (Rom. 14:11, Phil 2:10) Every time your blog hits my inbox, Ryan, I will pray that God will reveal Himself to you this year in ways you could never imagine. (James 1:5-8)

    Luke

    • Susan Humphreys

      Don’t you think your time is valuable Luke? Your comment that if you are wrong you are just wasting your time is one of the fallacies of Pascals wager. You assume there are only two choices believe in Christianity or don’t believe in Christianity, if you are right you gain everything, if you are wrong you lose nothing. There are many choices out there, perhaps one of those others is RIGHT. OR perhaps none of them are right.

      There is a great poem by Sir Richard Francis Burton: “All Faith is false, all Faith is true; Truth is the shattered mirror strown in myriad bits: while each believes His little bit the whole to own.” Each of us picks up and holds a piece of that shattered mirror and when we look into it what do we see? A partial reflection of our self. And I would add almost no reflection of that greater world that surrounds us. By limiting yourself to Christianity or nothing you are missing out on the rest of that wonderful world full of great WISDOM that is out there.

      • Luke

        Or “perhaps” the choice I’ve made is right. Susan, I agree that my time is valuable and that there are many choices. I’m not looking for choices, I’m looking for answers and I’ve found them in Christ. What fascinates me is the fact that if I would absorb all of the wisdom you describe and still choose Christ, my choice would still be viewed by many as less than someone who chose anything but Christ. The difference between Pascal and myself (regardless of my use of “if”) is that I know I’m not wasting my time. Another wise man said, “Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.” John 17:17

        If the best truth the world has to offer is a broken mirror, I’ll keep what I have.

    • Blanche Quizno

      Luke, I realize you’re very happy with your belief system – it obviously suits you well. Have you noticed that there are others with different belief systems that they’re just as happy with, that obviously suit THEM just as well as yours suits you? There are also atheists who are very happy without god-belief, and that suits them perfectly as well. So we obviously can’t take a single person who’s happy with his belief system and somehow extrapolate his contentment into some sweeping statement that his belief system is the only valid one or that no one can possibly be happy unless they share his belief system.

      Now, back to Pascal’s Wager. Notice that it is set up to favor Christianity. Let me change the rules just a hair. Suppose that the only religion that got it right was that of a tribe in Africa 15,000 years ago. And let’s further suppose that this tribe was wiped out in an epidemic, a flu that jumped from some local host (warthogs) over to humans, with devastating results. That was the only religion that was correct.

      But God is still God! Now that the proper worship system has vanished from the face of the earth, God, who is also still a jealous god, is extremely annoyed at people who embrace the obviously false religions that are all that is now available. In fact, their devotion to these false belief systems twists God into a murderous rage! God is terribly offended at how these phony baloney belief systems misrepresent him, you see. The only people that don’t completely honk God off are the people of nonbelief, the atheists, because they aren’t actually *doing* anything wrong. Thus, if you aren’t an atheist, you’re going to hell!

      How do you like Pascal’s Wager now?

      Oh, and anyone who does not actively believe in gods is an atheist. Agnostic is a position on knowledge, and we’re ALL agnostic, as there is no information to be had on matters of belief. Even the most devout Christian will say things like “We can’t know the mind of God” and “God works in mysterious ways” etc. These are statements of agnosticism – no knowledge is possible. But either you believe or you don’t believe. Regardless of your position on what’s knowable, if you believe, you’re a theist, and if you DON’T believe, you’re an atheist. Simple, huh?

  • http://teleogram.wordpress.com teleogram

    I was raised atheist, so atheist patterns of thought and atheist challenges have always been a part of my mindset. Skepticism remains important to me intellectually, even today. However, if pressed, I’ll say that I believe in something, rather than nothing (who or what the something is, that’s trickier. No religious tradition has ever seemed more convincing than any other).

    The difference between believing and not believing, for me, is negligible these days. However, I went through some very dark times in my life, and those were the times when I began to ask god for help, and to receive help when I asked for it.

    This is not proof, not the sort of thing that could convince a non-believer, anyway. For me, though, it would be the height of arrogance to dismiss the strength and hope I received in those hard times as no more than brain chemistry and superstition. When I have truly needed god, god has been there. It mattered when I needed it to matter, and I have faith that if and when I experience that level of need and ask for help again god will still be there.

    • Sara

      It sounds like god comes when you call him and goes away when you don’t need him. It sounds like you control god.

      • http://teleogram.wordpress.com teleogram

        Sounds like you know everything there is to know about strangers and their relationships with the almighty. Wish I were so clever.

      • http://teleogram.wordpress.com teleogram

        Sorry, that was glib, I know. But, the truth is quite the opposite, you know. So often I’ve wished for as strong a feeling of connection with god and god’s will as I had in those darker times. But, it’s not something I can force or wish into being. When I was truly in need, god was there. Now that I’m not, I have to muddle through as best I can. The faith part is my belief that if things were ever as dark again, and if I humbled myself and asked for help again, the same help would be there for me. That’s the best I can explain it. If it’s wrong in your view, well, you’re not really what I’d consider an authority, not being god yourself, you see.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Maybe you just need more suffering in your life. Is the feeling of connection with god important enough to you that you will seek out privation and suffering just to experience it? THAT is the question. People do what is important to them.

  • Larrice

    Mr. Bell, I remember my search for meaning and truth and hope your own journey serves to bring you Truth! I hope that you start with the fundamentals, namely your foundation for your tools that you will be using in your journey. How are you going to trust your senses, the existence of your mind, the existence of the external world, the laws of Logic, the law of Induction, the Law of Uniformity, the consistency of your reasoning, the moral laws, and so on and so forth? There are tools that you a priori will need to justify in order to start the journey and I hope you will start with these fundamental questions.
    Mr. Bell, when I see a former SDA pastor coming to conclusions opposite of me, it lets me know that we all have the freedom to choose and we must not assume the pastor has our well being or is the main arbiter of God’s Word. We must study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that has nothing to be ashamed of, rightly dividing the word of truth.
    Mr. Bell, how can Jesus in which through Him, in Him, and to Him we have our very being and to which all things consist be individually and autonomously pushed aside to ourselves as the main arbiter of truth and being? This perplexes me. Ryan, are you your own god then? Did you create the world and are you the justification for your life, your mind, the laws of the universe and logic? What is your foundation? Do you believe in Naturalism, materialism, and relativism? Is this your foundation?

    From what I’ve been reading and gathering, it seems you have studied yourself out of a faith by engaging in empty philosophies that lead the very elect to fall. How can you move to a starting point of nothingness and chance?

    Practically and sadly, many live the Christian walk unexamined, but as a Pastor you should have led the flock to the more sure word of prophecy and faith (assurance of things hoped for the evidence of things unseen). I’m sure you understand the utter Laodicean state the church is in, the consumerism and idols that we follow in society-I’ve watched some of your sermons-but how can you turn back on God? Do you know how wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked your are without Him? God gives you your mind, body,soul, and strength so too who do you attribute these to without God?

    Not sure if you have looked into these things, but be it as it may, you will see the difference God makes. I don’t want to presume that you understand the gospel and the truths explained in the Bible so if you want me to explain it to you, please let me know.

    • Cora

      Larrice, you’re a bigoted ignoramus. I am a lifelong atheist and I am NOT “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” without your mythical skydaddy. Have you any idea of the vastness of the universe? Your ego has you imagining some creator spending his time concerned about you and planet Earth? Really? Your god is small, a small little tribal god … fitting for your mind.

      • Larrice

        Ad hominem is all you got.

      • Blanche Quizno

        uh..,Larrice?

        YOU started it O_O

    • Goblinman

      Larrice, you said:

      “How are you going to trust your senses, the existence of your mind, the existence of the external world, the laws of Logic, the law of Induction, the Law of Uniformity, the consistency of your reasoning, the moral laws, and so on and so forth?”

      What’s interesting to me is that I asked these exact questions on the path that eventually led to my atheism. How is it that we can know anything for certain if we cannot trust our own minds?

      What’s even more interesting is the thing you left out of that list: Faith. If logic itself is suspect, surely faith is, too. Faith, after all, is a sensation–and senses are the first thing on your list.

      No, your suggestion to Ryan doesn’t go nearly far enough. You would have him hold, at the center of his inquiry, a box which cannot be opened–one spot, in a sea of uncertainty, that must be assumed to be certain. Open the box.

      Nothing can be trusted. No senses, no thoughts, no words, no iota of presumed logic, and certainly no faith–clenched like a fist against the chest.

      Human beings are made of words: a babbling prose, ceaselessly running in our minds. And all words are lies–they can only imitate truth. Therefore, all we can know are lies, and we only cease lying when our minds stop.

      What is faith, but words we tell ourselves are truth?

      • Larrice

        Goblinman,

        I agree with you that we cannot trust our minds in a purely naturalistic world and account of our origins. The only way is with God. Faith in this God, when practiced, and rightly understood is not a blind faith or one of uncertainty. It is an assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. All that you have said cannot be said with certainty or knowledge. You have come to a self-defeating conclusion just like the phrase “all things are relative”. With your understanding, you are telling a lie as well. Thus, in your worldview, your words are relegated to no certainty, no truth, and lies.

      • Blanche Quizno

        “It is an assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. ”

        I call that “wishful thinking.”

        “Thus, in your worldview, your words are relegated to no certainty, no truth, and lies.”

        Fine. But YOU claim to have some degree of certainty, don’t you, Larrice? Based on what? Your feeelings? Well, there are people of every religion and even political affiliation or whatnot who feel their focus with the same degree of certainty YOU do. Why should we believe that YOU are right and THEY are wrong? You can’t all be right, can you (pl)?

      • Goblinman

        Larrice,

        If you cannot trust your mind, you cannot trust your faith. And, if your faith is not blind, then it must rely on some logic and evidence from the “naturalistic world”.

        (In fact, the purest of faith should be not merely blind, but under full sensory deprivation, and in the mind of someone who had never encountered a single word of language or the slightest glimpse of another creature. Certainly, reading anything such as the Bible could not be allowed.)

        And again, you’re correct: I much prefer uncertainty to certainty–it’s more informative. My words, too, are indeed all lies, as that is the nature of words. They are useful, but never true.

  • https://plus.google.com/116918021468579927058 TheManjuel

    at the bottom of it all lies: nothingness. pure nothingness. nihil. that’s what life comes down to seen solely from humans’ perspective. and only once we realise this, can we start creating “new values on new tables” (thus spoke zarathustra).

    or can we? isn’t it more like Sartre’s “Huis clos”…? is there real freedom? and where does it lead to, in my own life and in other’s? what is the essence of being human?

    • Zondervrees

      Good questions… But is ‘god’ a satisfactory answer to any of them?

      And is ‘nothingness’ a negative concept?

  • Lorelei

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ryan. I love your idea of “God as the ultimate source of meaning and the telos of human history.” I, too have struggled to find a way of thinking about God that makes sense. I finally came to the belief that God, if he/she exists, is the source of all good – love, hope, compassion, peace. But I do not believe God withholds these things from anyone, or requires anything from us in order to provide them (except perhaps our willingness to receive them).

    • Blanche Quizno

      So when people do not receive what they need, it’s because they are not “willing to receive them” from “God”?

      How does THAT work?

  • http://gravatar.com/bronxerdoc bronxerdoc

    This is a good post, Ryan. And it helps put me a little more at ease regarding the sincerity of your journey, especially when you reference Pascal’s Wager and “god of the gaps”. It shows me you are at least beginning to understand where many of us are coming from because you are taking a rational approach to why some would believe in gods, rather than starting with an assumption that such gods exist and making a futile attempt to prove the beliefs wrong (you can’t prove non-existence of imaginary beings). Start with why one WOULD believe in such beings, particularly the gods of your specific religion, and ask yourself if the reasons are truly a result of a rational thought process or are they just the result of submitting to the local superstitions of the culture you happened to have been born into.

    For example, look hard at how the bible you used to study was created and came into being into what it is today (whichever one you used among the many versions out there). Look at the process it took over centuries of determining what books would or would not be included, of extensive editing/inserting/deleting, of alternative translations, etc. Ask yourself, would this really be how a divine being or beings would get their word out to their creation, or is this more consistent with cultural superstitions?

    Since you are/were a christian, look at the process your church went through to come to the conclusion that Jesus was the “son” of the god of their belief system, and furthermore that this somehow still represented a form of monotheism. Does it make more sense that such a being or beings would depend on a set of his creation, in a very localized area of his creation, nearly 300 years after such an event happened, to figure it out through discussion and vote, just hoping that the majority would get it right, OR is it more likely that these were just local cultural superstitions?

    And sticking with christianity, ask yourself why news of such a monumental event as the crucifixion and resurrection, and the supposed forgiveness of mankind’s sins (which makes no sense, by the way, especially when looked at in conjunction with the flood tale), would just be spread to the rest of the world by word of mouth (and force) over the next two thousand plus years. If you lived, for example, in China in the year 33 AD, you would have no clue that such a thing had ever even happened. Isn’t it just a bit more likely that these were just local cultural superstitions and not just that a divine overlord has an odd way of spreading his “word” to his creation?

    I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I am glad you are not just throwing your hands up and saying, “well I guess his ways are beyond me”, while simultaneously convincing yourself you are somehow questioning your beliefs. Truly questioning your beliefs involves asking yourself why your beliefs are not just local cultural superstitions. I look forward to watching you go through this process.

    • Blanche Quizno

      Interestingly enough, bronxerdoc, the cross was not even an early symbol for Christianity. Take a look, from one of the early church fathers (150CE – 215CE):

      “And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical Lyre, which Polycrates used, or a ship’s anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the apostle, and the children drawn out of the water. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleavee to them; nor a sword, nor a bow, following as we do, peace; nor drinking-cups, being temperate.” Clement of Alexandria, “The Instructor,” Vol. I, Book III, Chapter XI, translated by W. Wilson, Vol. IV in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh, Hamilton & Co., London, John Robertson & Co., Dublin, 1867, 1869.

      I have no idea what he’s referring to with “the children drawn out of the water” – probably some early belief/story that got excised as orthodoxy was being established.

      As you can see, no mention of any “crucifixion.” This was an idea that was folded into the belief system much later, possibly as late as the 7th Century CE. The reason the Dark Ages are so called is because there are no texts from that time period. There’s a reason why the texts are gone – the Catholic Church destroyed them so as to better create its own backstory (remove all sources that would have conflicted with it).

      What Constantine adopted was the religion of the Ptolemies of Egypt – they’d been using the “chi-rho” as their standard since about 300 BCE. There are coins from the Ptolemaic Dynasty that clearly show the “chi-rho” – this was not Christianity. And naturally, one imperial belief system was embraced and endorsed by a fellow emperor – that’s how religions spread, between ruling classes. When St. Augustine went over to England, did he go to the suffering serfs? Of course not! Why waste his time?? He went straight to the court of King Æthelberht!

      What people think of as Christian history was deliberately created by the Catholic Church to give itself a noble backstory and ancient pedigree. But “Jesus” was a latecomer to the system. Bishop Melito of Sardis (died ca. 177 CE) stated that Christianity came “from the barbarian nations” and was adopted into Rome in the reign of Augustus (27BCE-14CE). Bishop Melito also reveals that all the emperors supported and protected this belief system, except for a couple of notable exceptions – Nero and Domitian – and then only briefly. He notes several instances where emperors specifically forbade anyone to take any action against Christians.

      So much for the claims of Christian “persecution”! No wonder the church wants to just forget all about the early church fathers!

  • https://plus.google.com/117261873128202156537 John Prescott

    There are so many posts. I’ve not read them all. My quick reaction to this is that Theists “Hope” that there is an afterlife and that something will make their life better either now or after death. Non-theists tend to view “hope” as opportunity to exercise their own will and to motive those around them to make a better world. One allows a person to ascribe responsibility to a deity. The other, oneself.

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  • John

    I do not have hope. I have optimism. And the reason I have optimism is because of reality.

    Many religious people have the impression that the world is getting worse, but that is not the case at all.

    • Blanche Quizno

      The world is better than it has ever been. Murder rates are lower than they’ve ever been, and certainly lower than at any time when the Church held sway! Say, did you realize that, for every 10 years of additional life expectancy, church attendance drops 15% – 17%? A study found that result – and it’s the same within Islam. It’s no wonder Christians want everyone to think the world is going to hell in a handbasket – their very survival as a business depends on it!

  • Cath

    So many people talk about a rich personal relationship with God. I’ve never understood the purpose of prayer. If, as Christians say, God knows everything that we are thinking, and what our needs are, then why do we need to ask him? If he has, as we are told, a plan for us, then what is the point of asking for him to change it?

    Why, also, if God has this personal relationship with everyone who prays, then why does he seem to have different conversations with each of them, and always seems to confirm what they already thought?

    I would be far more convinced of this if everyone who prayed got the same answer about contentious issues.

    • DJ

      Cath, I can appreciate the confusion. The problem lies in the fact that there are pastors and teachers who are in Christian leadership positions , that are, what Ryan termed “functional atheists”. Therefore, the congregants are not encouraged to “be holy as God is holy”, there is little evidence of the Spirit of God within the various churches, and denominational walls of separation, set up by the pride of men, contributed to an overall confusion in the visible church. People became “slothful” in their study of the Bible and in prayer, which is communion with God.

      Jesus spoke of a parable regarding “wheat and tares” and that these were to grow up together until the end, when He would separate them out. Sadly, many of the Tares are actually the pastors. Many true Christians have withdrawn from the visible church, but continue to meet in smaller groups without a designated leader. The short answer, is not everyone who claims to be a Christian has the Holy Spirit of God. They live divided lives, and are not encouraged to press on into the deeper life.

    • https://www.facebook.com/Ruth1940 Ruth Walker

      I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. ~ Susan B. Anthony

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  • http://lukeaustindaugherty.wordpress.com Luke Austin Daugherty

    I remember the first day I woke up in a “godless world.” It was like someone I loved deeply had died. But, after some adjustment, the real people in my life became even more valuable and I am as happy and content (if not more) than ever. Keep up the great work on the blog!

  • Susan Humphreys

    DJ, Jesus also said that “by their fruits ye shall know them”. What do you think fruits mean? Their words, their actions, what they claim they believe or what we see in how they live their lives? Can a person who persecutes homosexuals (deny them the right to marry) be a TRUE Christian? Can a person who stands outside a family planning clinic harassing the women that enter be a TRUE Christian? Can a woman use contraceptives and be a TRUE Christian? Can a man cheat on his income tax, or a business partner or patron and be a TRUE Christian? What do you think makes someone a TRUE Christian and someone else a fake or a fraud?

    • DJ

      Susan, the scriptures state that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal.5:22) a person who lies or cheats is someone who is still in bondage to sin, whether they are a Christian or not. It is possible to be a Christian, and be blind to a particular sin, until the Holy Spirit brings that sin to their attention, and there is a conviction of it. Then, there is a choice to make…does he love his sin, more than He loves God? If he chooses to continue in sin, God will persist for some time, before He withdraws Himself, and there develops a controversy between the person and God. Where as once they enjoyed fellowship and the abiding presence of God, their prayers seem to hit a brass ceiling and go unanswered. this the Lord does to bring His child to forsake their sin. the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer is to sanctify the believer, and make him holy so that there is a greater degree of union with him, because without holiness, no one will see God. Those who do finally forsake their sin, experience the forgiveness of God and a return of the sense of His presence. those who refuse to part with their sin, continue in limbo and lose their sense of His presence. God is very patient, and will sometimes wait years for that person to forsake their sin…but if the person is impenitent, He will give them over to the desires of their heart, which is their sin….they cannot serve both sin and God. Now as to whether someone who disagrees with you and expresses that disagreement in a democratic-republic is behaving as a Christian, I would answer that it is their civil responsibility to make their views known. How they conduct themselves is a matter that they would be answerable to God.

      • Susan Humphreys

        So DJ I am trying to comprehend your reasoning so bear with me. A person that exhibits and expresses “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (shall we just call them “virtues” here for short) is one that has gained the “fruit of the Spirit”. AND I get the impression that you think that one who has gained the “fruit of the Spirit” is holier than those who have not gained these ‘virtues’ and possibly though I am not sure here, and having these “virtues” would be a sign that he/she has been touched by or gained the Holy Spirit and is a True Christian and should be able to have made the connection to God because as you said, the “Holy Spirit’s work in the believer is to sanctify the believer, and make him holy so that there is a greater degree of union with him, because without holiness, no one will see God.” Am I right so far? So if someone exhibits these virtues and still can’t establish a connection to God what are we and they to think? That they are fraudulent or that God is fraudulent?

        Obviously that “fruit” is available to Hindus, Muslims, Mormons and Methodists , Buddhists and Baptists , Wiccans, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, people that follow American Indian traditions, well shoot anyone since there are many from all these other groups that exhibit and express those “virtues” in their daily lives even though they aren’t practicing or pretending Christians and some reject any concept of the Divinity of Jesus or in some cases reject any concept of a Theistic or Deistic God. So there is no reason to become a Christian or to believe in God to gain these ‘virtues’, the “fruit of the Spirit” as you put it.

        Now this isn’t to say that there might or might not be other reasons to become a Christian or other reasons to reject Christianity. I am just saying that these “fruits” only tell us whether a person is a basically “good” person, a “not so good” person or a really “awful” person and have nothing to tell us about whether a person is a “good” Christian or a “not so good” Christian or a charlatan.

        Now I agree with you 100 percent that as you put it, “It is possible to be a Christian, and be blind to a particular sin.” I do suspect that we and many others will disagree as to what is and isn’t a sin! One of those sins I think is Hubris, Self-righteousness, Pride. But that is for another time.

        • DJ

          Susan, I think that is the longest sentence I’ve read in a long time, and I honestly don’t know what your point was. Please don’t go beyond what I actually say. If you need me to clarify, ask me directly rather than jump to conclusions. You asked me what ” fruits” meant, and I gave you the Biblical definition. As to what else you were saying…you lost me. It didn’t make any sense to me.

      • Todd Kinley

        Hey DJ, mumbo jumbo maka maka blah blah to you too. I remember when what you post here actually made sense to me. Now I read it as unmittigated bullshit.

        • DJ

          Todd, you’d have to be a bit more specific as to which comments you find difficult to believe. Please do keep in mind that I am not here to try to convince anyone to believe as I do, I am here as interested in Ryan’s experience as you are, perhaps for different reasons, but aren’t we all? I don’t mind an honest inquiry about the Chrisitan worldview and I will answer to the best of my ability in order to give you insight concerning our perspective. I remember having questions regarding the Amish, for example. I asked an Amish man why, if they didn’t believe in having phones in their home, that he wore a pager? He told me that they have a common phone for the neighborhood and are not opposed to the technology of the phone, but did not want the phone to be constantly interrupting their lives ringing at the whim of whoever is calling, regardless of what the circumstances might be in their home. They did not want to be at the mercy of a ringing phone interrupting their lives, so set it outside to be used when needed…he wore a pager in case a family member might need to reach him. Since he explained that to me, it made more sense to me. My phone is constantly ringing, and usually when I’m in the bathroom! His idea wasn’t so far fetched, and i think of him when that happens. Opening the doors of communication is how people come to understand one another. I don’t understand any of the hostility, if people are sure of their choices, why the hostility? Why be insulting? Agree or disagree… What exactly is it in some people that gets so riled just at the mention of Jesus Christ?

      • Todd Kinley

        DJ,

        as I stated, I once believed as you do. It all made sence. All of the statements like “The Holy Spirit’s work in the believer is to sanctify the believer, and make him holy so that there is a greater degree of union with him, because without holiness, no one will see God.” actually made sence to me. I knew that I needed the indwelling of the holy spirit to make me a new man and that righteousness came from faith and that faith was a gift …. blah, blah, blah … Now all of this mumbo jumbo makes no sence at all. What the hell is a holy spirit? What the hell is holines? What the hell makes me holy? This is all just a bunch of bullshit. Look at these ridiculous statements and understand them on face value. Are we to really believe that an invisible being inhabits our bodies and that this habitation creates a different personality that does good or that is capable of physics defying activities like raising the dead or healing the sick? That without this alien habitation I will not be allowed to travel through time and space and see the all powerful all knowing god who is not currently visible to me for some reason? What in the name of sanity makes you or made me think that this was some kind of truth that allowed us to understand the universe? This is all bullshit … and you know it. Deep down inside you know all of this mumbo jumbo that you and I can express in magical words is all a lie.

        And you want to know why I am insulting and hostil. After decades of proselatizing for jesus and now decades more of trying to spread common sence and reason, I have lost all of my patience. I really don’t care what you think of me. I really don’t care that your feelings are hurt. I just want you to be aware that your magical words don’t mean a damn thing to me. Other than that you are deluded.

        • DJ

          Todd, people, no matter how much they try, cannot be holy. I cannot make myself holy. I might try to be like Jesus, but eventually, if I am to be honest with myself, in comparison with Jesus, I fall far short. In fact, I actually hinder the work of God when I “try” so hard. the Bible says rhetorically “can a leopard change his spots?”. Much of what God does in His people, is to show this about themselves. I fail at the very first commandment that I am to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my strength and with all my mind…what I’ve learned is that I am in my own way. Our greatest opposition to the Holy Spirits work in us is “pride” and “self”. We are suppose to deny ourselves…impossible to do in our own strength. What I’ve learned in my own experience is that God doesn’t expect us to. He just wants us to see this about ourselves, and invite Him to do this work within us. The work is often imperceptible, but over time, we discover that having yielded to the Holy Spirit, and confessing when we haven’t, that He is molding us to be like Jesus. We have no interest for the things of the world, and become most interested in the things of God. He does the work to even put the desire in our hearts to want the work done. Then it isn’t “me” working, but God working though me and within me. As long as I am in the way, doing my own thing, or trying by my own effort, I hinder the flow of His Spirit through me. It is a process…every born again Christian is somewhere along in that process…even Paul the Apostle said that he had “not yet arrived”,and I will plainly confess, neither have I.

      • Todd Kinley

        By the way DJ, the Amish allegory is not a good one. For one thing I was born in Lancaster county Pennsylvania and I grew up around the Amish. I hate the Amish. If you want to know why, read my blog http://dailyrant-todd.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-05-04T10:12:00-05:00&max-results=60

        And how does the beeper story even make sense to you? Wouldn’t the beeper go off everytime the phone rings? Doesn’t that defeat the stated purpose for having it? It is as stupid as the idiotic rules the jews have for shabat. TRust me, the adventists have a list of idiotic rules as long as the jews so I know what I am talking about.

        • DJ

          Todd, you missed my point. I didn’t say I agreed with his thinking, but that now I at least understood his line of thinking it how it could be that someone who doesn’t have a phone in his house, has a pager…that is what now made sense to me. That helps me understand the “way” he thinks. I’m not a fan of many of their practices nor their theology. I’m as opposed to overbearing rules and regulations as you are. But to each his own…I don’t hate anyone, never mind a “group”. Odd that I thought of that Amish guy and our conversation which occurred in Lancaster Pa, a place that you are so familiar with and have dedicated a hate blog to. Don’t you think that’s odd?

      • lambchopsuey@yahoo.com

        “Todd, people, no matter how much they try, cannot be holy. I cannot make myself holy.” – DJ

        Jesus seems to disagree with you:

        “Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?’ And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” – Matthew 25:37,46

        I expect your comeback to be “But ‘righteousness’ is not the same thing as ‘holy’!!” So I’ll save a post and ask you, in advance, to define the two terms and explain how they’re different in any meaningful sense (in terms of “salvation”).

        “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” – James 5:16

        Guess THAT ^ is another big fat lie, then – right?

        • DJ

          lambchop, Christians are positionally righteous in Christ, and are referred to as such. holiness is separated onto God, and the Holy Spirit does the work of this sanctification process so that the righteous become fully sanctified vessels. Why is it that you have such poor manners? do you ever ask yourself why you feel you must attack people of faith? How intolerant of you….certainly unkind.

      • Blanche Quizno

        Hey Todd! I want to go read your Amish rant, but the site says it’s for “invited guests only” :(

        I is a sad panda :’(

      • Blanche Quizno

        “Susan, the scriptures state that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal.5:22)”

        Please explain that to your fellow Christian ken humphreys on these threads, DJ. He has been libeling me and maligning me with calumnious accusations. Hardly uncommon behavior from Christians, though, however much they like to quote bible verses. You yourself were insulting and maligning aesthete2, if memory serves.

        Physician, heal thyself!

      • Blanche Quizno

        Not humphreys. parkhurst. ken parkhurst. No capital letters.

    • Blanche Quizno

      Susan: “DJ, Jesus also said that “by their fruits ye shall know them”. What do you think fruits mean? Their words, their actions, what they claim they believe or what we see in how they live their lives? Can a person who persecutes homosexuals (deny them the right to marry) be a TRUE Christian? Can a person who stands outside a family planning clinic harassing the women that enter be a TRUE Christian? Can a woman use contraceptives and be a TRUE Christian? Can a man cheat on his income tax, or a business partner or patron and be a TRUE Christian? What do you think makes someone a TRUE Christian and someone else a fake or a fraud?”

      DJ will not answer you. DJ has taken a vow of silence.

  • Saoirse Munteor MacTire

    I’d like to comment on what you wrote, Ryan and not get too deeply involved in trading comments with your followers.

    I am a practicing Witch, and therefore a theist of sorts (no, that does not include Satan, no matter what you have heard), and I too have said the very same thing. “What difference does God make?”. In my long evolution toward witchcraft and paganism, I had to confront the fact that, like you, I did my bible studies and my Catholics prayers and rituals because they were expected, not because I felt any need to or was drawn to devotions like that. There was a particular period in my teen years when I tried to do this, but a lack of communication from that Deity always bothered me and whatever devotion I had dwindled.

    In my own head, to this day, I wonder if Divinity truly exists outside of my own Intimate Universe or outside the Consensual Universe of a group or church or gathering, in the way we expect Divinity to do. How much is it my own mind’s meanderings and what is Divinity’s pundits? I have a theory that Divinity doesn’t exist outside of our own minds, and that of course includes our own belief systems, no matter the religion or lack of religion. Our minds are the seat of everything we experience and everything we think and therefore do, so if our Intimate Universe provides the individual form of reality, then Divinity exists or does not because of our mind construct.

    Your mileage, as always, may vary.

  • https://www.facebook.com/Ruth1940 Ruth Walker
  • Cora

    One difference is that you’ll view the good and bad in life as due to statistical probability and not the whim of a capricious god. When a tornado goes through a community, a number of homes will be destroyed and a number will not. It is not determined by whether you said the right prayers or missed a Sunday service. It’s not a miracle or a curse, it’s just the numbers. It’s the odds, not the gods.

  • Minerva

    Thank you for your honesty. I completely understand why you might feel a sense of freedom after coming out of the closet and saying these things publicly.

    I was raised UU, and when I was a teen just starting to think about going to church instead of Sunday school, I read some booklets our minister had printed with the text of some of his sermons in them. The first one I remember reading was titled, “When Adam Created God.” It was about the longing people feel for connection with something greater than themselves. At that age I was fascinated (and quite confused) by the philosophical idea that Creation might have worked the other way around, and that God might actually have come into existence (in some objective sense) because people believed in him. At the age I am now it all seems just a little bit silly.

  • Blanche Quizno

    I was a UU for about a year and a half. A UU Buddhist atheist. UUs are good people.

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  • Peter K

    “Put simply, God is the horizon of history and the driving force moving history toward its fulfillment.”

    What do you think is hope without a deity?

    What is on that horizon you think?

    Do you think there is an endpoint to history?

    Can humans recognize what is better or worse without depending on some ordained destiny?

  • Helen

    Ryan,

    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school for 12 years, and am now probably an agnostic. You raised a point here that I first noted in high school. Many of the people around me were religious in name only, or maybe on the holy days as well. Otherwise their professed religion did not inform their daily lives. I have met a handful of people from different faiths whose beliefs did influence the way they lived and navigated the world and I have a deep respect for those people. The hypocrisy I see in the others and was starting to see in myself is what finally drove me from the church and organized religions in general.

    Good luck on your continuing journey!

    • Inclaire

      What differnce does God make to me none, as I do not now norever have been a God follower, to me God was that white man the whites had created to tread on my people.

      Jesus now the teachings of Jesus have made a great difference to my life. Jesus taught me to forgive the evil whites and Pastors who had no faith but was using fear of God to keep my people subjugated to white authority in a world of injustice created by whites. Yes the teachings of Jesus makes a difference to my life, and studying the beatitudes have kept me going especially the text which says” Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and say all manner of evil for my sake, rejoice and be exceedingly glad for so persecute they the prophets which were before you.” Math 5vse 22. Ryan u are gifted, u helped me find my faith so I am praying for you now that you are having your own journey, it happens to us all, but you are making it, so it will change the world of others, as there are many who need to give deeper thought to their adherence to doctrines. I found the Saviour Jesus, and I don’t care if he is God I love his teaching of Love.

  • Phyllis Clay

    Dear Ryan,

    Since your interview on CNN, I have thought of you everyday. I am attempting to process your reasons for taking this journey without God. Personally my hope is in God. I know that he has been with me through the good times and the bad. My hope is that when I have my “Job” experience, he will be there for me. No, Ryan, this is not my hope, this is my assurance.

    • damonkaswell

      Phyllis, I’m curious what you mean by “know” in this context. You “know” that God has been with you how, exactly? The reason I ask is that as an atheist, I have trouble seeing how someone can make such a claim of knowledge without empirical experience. If you “know” because of a feeling, how do you go about ruling out other gods as the source of the feeling, or demons playing tricks?

  • https://www.facebook.com/bruce.nadeau1 Bruce Nadeau

    Thank you Ryan! This is what we have been asking for and thank you for finally sharing.

  • http://musingsoftheamusingmuse.wordpress.com musingsoftheamusingmuse

    Even as a child in Catholic School, I found it strange that people could place so much faith in someone or something in whom/which they were told to believe. I played along with the prayer times, church twice a week and felt like a liar the whole time because I never believed. I had faith in people and animals, not a grand notion of “God”.

    I know I’m a good person, and I believe most people are good, because they ARE – faith in a god has nothing to do with it.

  • JAB

    I went to your church in Hollywood two times and liked it very much. I am a bit troubled by your journey though. Although I think it is fine to pursue religious beliefs and find ones own truth, I question making money on this experiement. I understand that someone else started a donation page in your honor, but now I see you have a donation lilnk on this blog. I fully undestand it being tough to lose three jobs with two kids to take care of, but what did you expect. You were a pastor and Christian teacher who wantted to “try out” athieism, do you think they were going to let you keep your job?? Why should we send you money? You should have contemplated the consequences this decision was going to place on you financially, especially having children to raise.

    You say you are surprised this went public, but now it seems like you are enjoying the attention and now, the money it is bringing your way.

    I have a question for you. Was there ever a time in your life when Jesus made himself real to you? If he never had, then you were never a true believer to begin with and if he had made Himself real, then why don’t you try to go back and remember that time.

    I have another question for all athiests, What if you are wrong??

    • Saoirse Munteor MacTire

      Hmm…a question for all Christians; what if YOU are all wrong? No matter the morals, virtues or being “good”, what happens if the Bible was written by men and not a god? What happens if it was a mythology like most other religions have at its core? All the belief in the world will not make it fact, although I do believe that it becomes real in your Intimate Universe and in the Consensual Universe of others who think the same way. But real and fact are two entirely separate things.

      As far as I am concerned, even if I was wrong and there is that Christian heaven waiting for me. I will know at the point of my death that I lived the best life I could have. That is the only thing that really counts in the end, and until you have looked death in the face, you will not be certain of anything.

      • JAB

        I have looked death in the face! You say the only thing that counts is living the best life you can. Well, that is what we all should strive for. Christianity teaches love your neighbor as yourself. What better lesson is that.

        If I am wrong and the Bible was written by man, then there is nothing lost on my part by believing. I would have lived a good life trying to help the poor, my family and other’s and will then be in the same situation as you.

        However, if you are wrong and the Bible is the inspired word of God, then what??

      • Blanche Quizno

        ” Christianity teaches love your neighbor as yourself.”

        So why, then, are Christians the worst at demonstrating that?

        Christianity teaches division, a sense of smug superiority, self-satisfaction, complacency, irresponsibility, self-interest/self-involvement/selfishness, and shunning. THOSE are the lessons Christians seem to take to heart.

        “However, if you are wrong and the Bible is the inspired word of God, then what??”

        Well, I’ll have to be pretty darn smart and clever to choose the right one out of the 30,000 different sects of Christianity, most of whom claim to be the only “True Christians” and who denounce all the others as “not REAL Christians”, then, won’t I?

    • Cat

      “What if you are wrong?”

      Why then I figure Bacchus will have a good laugh when I show up in the afterlife, and clap me on the back and say he sure fooled me, and I’ll admit he sure did, and then I’ll have to give renewed attention to the concept of wine-tasting….

      Wait, what? You didn’t mean that? What you really meant was what if I’m wrong and also, out of the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, it’s *your* particular belief that is right?

      Why then I’m completely screwed. The Universe is run by a God who tortures throughout eternity anyone who doesn’t admire him, and I can’t admire a torturer, so He’s going to torture me throughout eternity for being a decent person.

      On the bright side, we do know that for whatever reason he never interferes in the physical world, so I can still defy this God of Torture by reducing human suffering in the real world. Doing good *and* making the God of Torture grind his teeth–win–win situation. Go me.

      So that is what I do, just in case I am wrong.

      • Blanche

        I’m with you, Cat. Better to piss off a supernatural psychopath and keep my integrity and honor than prove myself to be a pathetic, squirming, groveling piece of crap hoping that, by abasing myself and rejecting both my humanity and my noble birthright as a human being (a being far greater and more noble than the abrahamic “god”), I can curry favor with this insane, capricious, untrustworthy, sadistic maniac. Just because I’m so afraid because of some stupid, childish fairy tale that is way beneath a mature adult’s consideration. Some things are not worth trying to bargain with (a lost cause), and the Abrahamic religions are a prime example.

  • Pingback: What Difference Does God Make? | Through a Glass Darkly

  • cypherknot

    That sense of freedom, you don’t get it if you are just pretending to live without god.

    • Goblinman

      He’d better really mean it, then!

    • Blanche

      Cypherknot, I feel greater freedom as an atheist than I ever felt as a Christian. What do you think about THAT?

    • Blanche Quizno

      cypherknot, as I look at your post (above), I’m reading it differently. If what you’re suggesting is that Ryan will be unable to experience the sense of liberation that comes with being god-free by simply going through the motions (stopping the Christian activities and rituals), you’re right.

      So long as he believes, he may well find that his “experiment” makes him even MORE stressed, as he might not be able to shake the dread that, by embarking on such a project, he’s pissing God off and God’s going to smite him. Christian indoctrination involves a lot of fear (see “hell”) and since most of this is poured into small children’s heads before they have developed the intellectual capacity to think critically and question what authority figures are telling them, these children accept it as true and go about life with those assumptions buried deep within their subconscious, but nonetheless driving them onward.

      If Ryan’s belief has this subconscious element – and I would be *shocked* if it didn’t – then no, he’s not going to be able to BE an atheist in any meaningful way. Oh, I’m sure he’ll have new experiences and grand realizations, but he’ll never be able to go all the way, any more than he could experience what it’s like to be a black man in the Deep South or a woman in an abusive relationship. All he can do is observe.

  • JO

    five years ago, I decided that i was not born in sin nor sharpen in iniquity, and that there was no Satan. I knew and loved the Creator of heaven and Earth who created me a wonderfull human being with great capacity. I worship every morning in praise and thanks giving and love. No God just the Creator.The freedom i have experienced, since and the peace of knowing i am created of love to love.I put sin and all that talk behind me, and everytime I go to church I feel uncomfortable with all that talk about the enemy and the devil, i feel churches are worshiping a false god Wotten . They need to get to know the Creator of the heavens and the earth, that is so liberating.

    • Blanche

      Yeah, that’s all very nice and whatnot but if you need a source outside of your own fantasies and wishful thinking, you know, to corroborate your fantasies and wishful thinking, what have you got? The bible, which describes a primitive, bloodthirsty god that capriciously abrogates its own supposedly “eternal”and “permanent” covenants on a whim? Not a source of confidence in my honest opinion. But if you’re happy with it, go for it!

    • Goblinman

      JO,

      The ideas of sin, Satan, and hell really are dark marks on Christianity. Even as a non-Christian, they’ve always struck me as sharply at odds with the supposed love of humanity that is usually claimed as the religion’s selling point. They, respectively, promote guilt, hate, and fear.

      If your current church is making you uncomfortable, you could maybe consider looking into Judaism or Unitarianism. Both have the same God (basically), but without the emphasis on sin and evil. Could bring some peace of mind, without requiring you to go full atheist!

  • https://www.facebook.com/gneeman Garry Neeman

    A practice I had witnessed from time to time during my decades as a born-again Christian is that of praying for “travelling mercies”. That is, praying to God and asking that those being prayed for would arrive at their destination without suffering misfortune – or at the least, without suffering serious misfortune. You probably wouldn’t bother if you were just going to drive down to the shops and back, but you might if you were setting out on a lengthy highway journey.

    The hope of avoiding misfortune was based on the belief that God was both able and willing, and would intervene to protect the travellers.

    So, if those prayed for arrived at their destination intact, this was proof of God’s goodness and His blessings. But what if misfortune did strike? What if the car was wrecked? What if someone was injured? What if someone died? Well, God has His plans and purposes.

    Do we know if the rate of fatality and serious injury on the roads varies for Christians who pray, for Christians who do not pray and for those who are not Christians? Probably not. Could this be the subject of future research? Maybe not.

    My expectation is there wouldn’t be any difference. That is, outcomes over time would be the same whether you thought God existed or you thought God didn’t exist.

    • Blanche Quizno

      I dunno, Garry Neeman – we all know that the jesus fish is internationally recognized as the symbol of bad drivers O_O

      • Janine

        Blanche, you just made me literally LOL! Thank you for ending my workday with a laugh. I appreciate your comments here, and have really enjoyed reading them. Thank you!!

  • http://gravatar.com/diegopgh Diego Nunes

    I hear you, man, I also tried on atheism for a year, but it was 2013 for me and I’m still doing it. I was a born-again Christian for over 13 years when I became an atheist and that has been the best thing that ever happened to me, I must confess.

    At first, it’s way too scary to realize that there is no sky daddy watching over me, who’ll reward me for my good deeds and who will help me when I’m bummed out.

    But it’s also liberating to find out that you don’t have to fear anyone or anything for who you are. You don’t need to be feeling guilty because you thought of something that might be a sin.

    I guess the question “what difference does god make?” has a fairly easy answer to it: it makes no difference at all.

    You can be a good person without God (morality), you can be a happy person without God (purpose), you can explain the world without God (science). And you can still enjoy the best things life has to offer: philosophy, arts, music, literature, poems, friendships, family, love, inner peace… It all comes frome THIS world and it is all possible for those who control their minds and their actions.

    In atheism there’s no fear and no guilt. You don’t have to ask for forgiveness to anyone but the people you hurt, you are not in sin just because some naked dude ate an apple given from a talking animal, you don’t have to worship a dictator cosmic invisible dad who’ll torture you for eternity just because you don’t like him..

    I’m an atheist now and I would not be a Christian again even if iGod really existed. My life is much better now and I hope yours will be too.

    I’m really enjoying you blog. Keep it up!

  • https://www.facebook.com/teresa.blalock Teresa Banner Blalock

    I read the blog post, and I read a lot of the comments ( most of which have nothing to do with the post). I do not understand how a person can just decide to “live without God” for a certain period of time . Ryan is treating his belief in God like a food or an activity. I could completely understand if he “lost his faith”, had a change of ideas, decided there is no God.. many people have had this epiphany. The supposed journey Ryan is taking to live one year as an Atheist… just how does that work? Is it like a married couple taking a year off from marriage, just pretending their spouse doesn’t exist? Or maybe a parent taking a year off from parenting, leaving their children with a caretaker and forgetting they exist? I’m more or less speaking rhetorically, I don’t expect anyone to have any answers. This guy’s intent feels “off”…. I think the only thing he is looking for is some time off from work with his readers subsidizing his “journey”.

    • Blanche Quizno

      It IS peculiar, Teresa. From what I’ve read from/about him, he’s been feeling conflict with his Christian beliefs for some time. As one poster somewhere on this blog has pointed out, his points of pride are where he goes against the Bible, God’s teachings, and his church’s rules/regulations. So he’s feeling the pull toward the Dark Side – BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! He’ll soon see we’ve got the hottest women. But he won’t care – he’s MARRIED!! Anyhow, I think he’s sort of decided to go the Full Monty and see if he develops any regrets or if it just feels like an enormous weight has been lifted.

      Of course, it could all be a publicity stunt in anticipation of future Christian stardom – book, speaking tours, etc. WE’ll never know – unless he remains atheist, in which case he’ll still be eligible for stardom of a sort…

  • http://gravatar.com/workmike Mike Marks

    Atheism is great for people who can embrace the concept of limitless possibilities and many gray areas. There’s a lot of optimism and hope in a world without God. At the same time, atheism offers nothing to people who are in trouble and in need of clear answers and direction.

  • Well-Wisher

    It doesn’t sound like you’ve left God behind then, so much as that you’ve admitted that you weren’t as close to his side as you were pretending, all along. You’ve “FOR A LONG TIME” been a functional atheist. The difference is that now you’re admitting it. Which is good, my dad always said step 1 is admit the pain (it doesn’t have to be pain – honesty is the point). This reminds me of the GK Chesterton quote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” So, it seems to me that you just DON’T HAVE ANY WAY OF KNOWING what difference it WOULD make to actually act as if God were an active agent in the world – to have a vital prayer life – etc. Right? I don’t have MUCH more way of knowing than you do, because, I’m not a WHOLE lot better. But I’ve prayed enough to see glimpses of it making a surprisingly big difference. And, I would certainly have committed suicide before now, if I didn’t believe in God. So, there is a difference.

    • Blanche Quizno

      Not really, Well-Wisher. You can SAY you would have done this or that, but since we don’t have a control “you” who wasn’t a god-believer to compare to the god-believer “you”, there’s only your idle speculation on the table, and I for one am not interested in such a waste of time. The fact that you toss that hack Chesterton at us tells me everything I need to know.

  • http://yellopigisfree.wordpress.com yellopig

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned the notion that “hope”, being the ultimate item flying out of Pandora’s box, is the very ultimate of horrors. Hope seduces us to imagine and await a better future, a better circumstance coming, indeed on the way. Hope makes suckers of us all.

    My manager at work would say: “Hope is not a plan”. In other words, hope is not a thing that will get us from here to where we want to go. My experience of religious folks is that they’re happy waiting for “god” to fix things for them, and taking whatever crap actually comes to them, with “hopes” that “god” will make it all right in the end.

    Yes, God is great at giving us Hope. But we can’t eat it, and it won’t shelter us in the dark night.

    • JO

      As I tag along Ryans journey, it have inspired me to some interesting thoughts. I am coming to the conclusion that the problem is with the concept of a

      god, whose main characteristic is judgement of the adherents.

      To my understanding worship is not demanded or coerced it is given freely because of appreciation. There are no judgement, Just love and awesome wonder which brings forth worship and praise and thanksgiving..


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