I was thinking, yesterday, about the positive sides of the God I used to believe in.
There’s a lot I don’t like about the God I grew up believing in until I was 28, and I’ve written plenty about it elsewhere. The vengeance of the Old Testament, the narrow-minded rules from the people in the Bible who created Him, the way theology is often used to control people, the unwarranted authority — all that upsets me.
But I have learned, as an atheist, that the fact something is true does not mean that it is necessarily pleasant. There are some truths I’ve had to encounter that are hard, and there are refuges I had as a Christian that are hard to find as an atheist.
I wish, for example, that there was a divine plan. Don’t get me wrong; there is something beautiful about not having to scratch my head about what God is doing in my life. The things that happen just happen, making for a simpler life. What’s difficult, though, is that sometimes, times are just hard. And the hard reality is that they don’t necessarily get better. When that happens, I do wish that all the bad things that happened were part of some overarching divine plan. It would give me more peace.
But…the fact is that the bad things don’t seem to be part of that supposed plan. They just seem to “be.”
And that raw reality sometimes makes me anxious, because it’s hard to be OK with the dark parts of the world that hurt people. I want to believe that they will one day go away. But there are no guarantees that this is the case, and several indications that it is not. So in a way, I pursue a hope of the world being beautiful knowing full well it will never happen. I wish I could have more confidence.
I also wish that there was a divine morality. I don’t like the kind of Christian morality I grew up with, but sometimes this world is confusing. Now, don’t get it twisted: there are things I like about the morality I like now, as there is something beautifully empathetic about determining morality by trying to carefully understand human beings and thereby determine the moral constructions that will make people happiest. Trying to fit people into the mode of the Bible I grew up with doesn’t really seem to work; it seems unrealistic, and the hard work of negotiating morality among human beings feels more embodied, real, rational, and useful.
At the same time…there are moral dilemmas that are really difficult. And sometimes, I have a difficult time trying to figure out exactly where I stand, morally, on several issues.
Those times are often deeply painful and anxiety-fueled, because I really, genuinely, want to do the right thing. I want to help people. I don’t want to be wrong and hurt them, and it’s so hard to know what’s right sometimes, especially when people on several sides of an argument have very real concerns that seem to clash against each other. It’s difficult to think about the most healthy path when there’s are clear risks on every path, and mutually exclusive, dueling principles that have to be decided between.
Sometimes, in these excruciating moments, I wish it were simpler. I do kinda wish there was a God who knew what the most healthy path was, who had a divine plan for everything that was going on, so that I didn’t have to think so hard about figuring out morality, and so that I didn’t doubt myself so often.
Unfortunately there’s not, so I continue to struggle, sometimes through anxiety and angst, trying to figure out the most moral decision when every decision often looks terrible.
I also kinda wish there was a heaven. I don’t miss the concept of hell…but it would be nice to, after a difficult life on earth, indulge in the wonder and beauty of heaven. That would be beautiful, as well.
And then there’s the concept of having a friend who genuinely cares about you who is over the whole universe. I don’t like the concept of having him poking in, nosy, like the all-seeing police. But the idea of having a friend who is all-powerful who cares about you and empathizes with you…that’s a nice feeling.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t exist. True, there are beautiful aspects of atheism, but it’s not the ideal world; it’s just the world that exists. I mean, it’s like…
I would like to believe I have a billion dollars and won’t have to work for the rest of my life, but having a realistic view of my finances makes things much less stressful for me than the frustration I’d encounter if I believed the lie. That’s what atheism is for me. I don’t just believe it because it’s the ideal way for the world to be, because in some ways…if I were to pick and choose what I wanted the world to be like, I’d be living in a different world (and with a different number in my bank account, on top of World Peace). But that world is not real, and pretending it is gives me a deeper pain. The least pain, for me, is in living according to the truth — at least, on this question. If there is a lie I still believe, it’s that we really can find better versions of ourselves, that we can construct better moral codes, and that we can eventually going to live in a more desirable world.
I know I could be wrong, but the hope in that belief enables me to get out of bed the next day. I guess that’s the closest thing I have to “faith,” I suppose.
Thanks for reading.