On a sleepy summer Sunday it is only natural to think thoughts about God. And I have to include Jesus and Christianity in all of that meditation. After all, as a boy I attended Sunday school on Sunday morning in the Rowan Methodist Church and then would attend the Sunday service with my mother and father, brother, and two sisters. We would sing songs from the Methodist hymnal.
But here’s the kicker. Over time I have studied and learned science, how the world really works, and how people really act. I have noticed that most of the most intelligent writers, scientists, and thinkers are atheists and agnostics. I have had to make my peace with these things;
- There is no life after death.
- Jesus may not have been a real person.
- If he was real, he had very little in common with the Jesus we worship.
- Jesus doesn’t need to be real to have value in my life.
- There is no white-haired old man sitting on a throne in heaven.
- There is no heaven.
- If there is no heaven, then there certainly is no hell.
- We are all connected… even those of us who don’t live on this planet, in this galaxy.
So I guess, that makes me an atheist who believes in the existence of God. And because of this moronic oxymoron, my thesis now has to be; Even atheists have a need for religion.
Yes, when it comes to religion, I am an idiot. Just like all the rest of you are. Mark Twain once said something like, “Religion is the firmly held belief in what you know ain’t so.” That misquote, of course, is taken entirely on faith from a vague memory of a passage in the short story “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven”
Of course, I am not saying that I find no value in religion. I was associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses for almost twenty years because that was the religion my wife clings to. They are a Bible-based religion with a strict literalist interpretation of scripture who are expecting the end of the world, this “wicked system of things” at any moment now and go around knocking on doors and giving away free Bible literature with their own Truth professionally printed to save as many of the unbelievers as possible. Don’t get me wrong. I have never really fully accepted what they believe. But I have freely participated. Their belief system makes them some of the most loving, self-sacrificing people you could ever meet. They are non-violent and believe in helping everybody no matter how far they have to bend over backwards to do it. There are very good things in the Bible about living a moral life that are absolutely true and will make you and your children into better people. But here’s the most important thing about living that kind of life. If you are doing it for the promised rewards of eternal life, then you are doing it wrong. The goodness you do in this life and the love you both give and receive is the only heaven there is. Hardship taken on as a sacrifice to a loving God gets you nothing but the feeling that you have done the right thing. But let me assure you, that feeling is a treasure greater than fine gold. That mental state you create for yourself is the whole point and purpose of religion.
I do realize that liars are the people most likely to say, “Believe me…” before telling you something is true, but believe me, I don’t expect you to accept my cold clinical dissection of what religion is in my world view. I want you to believe whatever you believe is true about Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, or Budda… or nirvana or existentialism or science. I accept you and love you for who you are. The important thing is that we are all connected. Most religions make us nicer to each other and make us more loving and kind, as long as we are not allowing ourselves to fall victim to the dark side that exists in every religion. When your religion tells you to hate something, especially when it tells you to do something to punish that something you hate, especially especially if that something you hate is another person of some kind, then that’s where Eve is biting the apple, that’s where all the trouble starts.
Don’t let atheists tell you they don’t believe in anything. I hear Neal DeGrasse Tyson talk about being made of star stuff and teach about the connections we have with everything in the universe. Listen to him yourself on Cosmos talking about the wonders of science and the human quest to know, and tell me if you don’t hear hymns to God in his reverent explanations. He just knows God in a different form than you do.
So here is my humble conclusion on a sleepy summer Sunday morning when my meditations drift back to a boyhood of telling Jesus jokes in the down-time during Sunday school. I am an atheist who believes in a loving God. And even atheists need God in their life.