By Mark Hammerschmidt
Here’s the original question:
“I wonder if you could clarify something. Is it that you don’t believe in God, or that you don’t believe in a particular definition of God? As you know, I prefer the term “sacred” and find it manifest in the very core of our humanity. And, fortunately, this does not a theist make …”
Here’s my response:
My wife and I have been discussing this a lot lately as my ideas on God have been moving away somewhat from hers. It’s cool to have a spouse who doesn’t have to think exactly the same way. Sure, our foundation is the same but, as they say, the devil’s in the details.
I used to believe in a singular higher power. Not a Zeus-like person but an intelligent energy. More recently, though, my thoughts have moved toward a common energy as opposed to an intelligent energy.
I don’t think existence is necessarily by design. Isn’t it possible that it’s a natural process that is evolving through time? Does it require a magician manipulating strings and mirrors to make it possible? Is a divine creator really necessary in reality or is it just an easy way for humans to write cute stories about it? Human beings have been trying to put meaning to nature since the invention of language. Couldn’t it be that one finally finds enlightenment when he or she is able to put the stories and meaning to the side and exist peacefully within the universe as it is?
The reason that I’m struggling with it is because, like my friend Brian, I was raised Christian in a very religious household. Most of the members of my family are still very religious. So to throw out a word like “atheism” is scary because not only does it stir a negative reaction in my family toward me but also it also produces authentic feelings of sadness in my family (my mom especially) upon hearing me make such a statement. It’s difficult because I know it’s a genuine sadness that they feel (as wrong as I think they are) for the loss of my soul in their eternal family structure. And while I am at a point in my life where I have honestly never been truer to myself and never been happier, it causes great anxiety to know that the people I love are worried about me (even if they shouldn’t be).
So back to my belief in God. This is where I’ve been struggling with terms. I’m an atheist in that I don’t believe in a God being. I don’t think there is an entity out there with some form of rational brain who created the universe and watches over us and responds to our prayers. However, I do think there is something out there. I think there is a purpose to all of this, I just don’t know what the purpose is (which I suppose some would say makes me an “agnostic”). And I’m not sure that we will ever know the purpose, even after we die. And do we really need to know the purpose? Searching for purpose is a red herring. It’s a distraction from the real point of life. Like Brian says, the core of humanity is “sacred.” It manifests itself without prompting. We don’t need a religion to tell us that. We don’t need a father figure to put his hand on our shoulder in the afterlife to reassure us that we did a good job any more than we need to keep letting this God character know that we think He’s super through constant praise, recognition, and gold statues.
Philosophically, the concept of nirvana comes closest to my belief in the afterlife. However, once you put rules on paper and start dictating the pathway to achieve it, you basically give people with the predisposition to corruption easy-to-use tools to control others. We don’t need the instruction manual. We all know what to do in our heart of hearts. We might not know what we are working toward, but we all know that we get there through mutual decency.
So yes to both of Brian’s questions. While I do believe that we are working toward a final destination, I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe in a particular definition of God. I just don’t think our human brains are capable of understanding what is really out there and what this is really about. And they don’t need to be.
I do, on the other hand, believe in symmetry, and doesn’t that count for something?