The terrible behavior of the god-believers is a convincing evidence of the non-existence of a morally influential God. Believers loudly legislate each others’ behavior, imposing their made-up gods’ made-up codes on each other (and the rest of us). And believers in gods constantly embarrass the hell out of each other.
It’s a shame there isn’t a real god behind all of the shouting, the offense-taking, the in-the-name-of-killings, whippings, wars, and blasphemy laws, sitting up above it all, shaking his divine head in disgust. The way the world is going, we could really use a god.
Miss Burke, my Kindergarten teacher, was young, pretty, caring toward me and all my friends, and best of all, single! (I always took my childhood crushes way too seriously.) Sadly, I left that school after third grade, and Miss Burke didn’t come with me to my new school. Adding insult to injury, she got married and lived in a house with the man who bested me in a home cloyingly close to where I had to walk to and from my new school. Every day, I had my wounded feelings revived as I mourned having loved and lost. (Waaaaaay too seriously…).
When my Kindergarten crush on Miss Burke dissolved, I never felt the need to publicly or privately ‘reject’ a relationship which had existed only inside my imagination. In the same way, I never felt the need to make any kind of announcement that I have rejected my relationship with Jesus. Which relationship, I figured out, was only in my imagination.
For whatever reason (I’m not sure I’m willing to guess), in the few years since I’ve come out atheist, I have experienced a motivation to behave ethically and morally far beyond that which two and a half decades of Christianity ever provided.
My denomination was the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was not your average pew-warmer, either. Within 18 months of my baptism at the tender age of 20, I had embarked on a year-long foreign missionary teaching assignment, been ordained a local elder in that mission’s church (at the ordination ceremony, when the pastor read to his church the biblical requirements of an elder, he literally skipped over the verse in 1 Timothy 3 which states that the elder must not be a recent convert; I swallowed hard and kept smiling), and had preached sermons and taught lessons more than many elderly members who had been Seventh-day Adventists all their lives.
These past few months, I’ve become more interested in how I know, than what I know. While facts play a big role in the formation of my values and beliefs, the primary concern is summed up in my title, How Do I Know?
How did I decide that my favorite set of values are ‘right,’ as opposed to all those ‘wrong’ values? How did I settle on my particular list of ‘good to know’ facts, and how do I test and retest their reliability in the real world?
To me, what commends the thinking and reasoning and explanations of scientists is not that they are very certain of the claims they make; it’s that they most often are the exact opposite of certain. Scientists are notoriously averse to drawing conclusions with an air of certainty, instead usually bathing each statement in a thick coating of qualification, moderation, and pensive hesitation. It’s as if the most dangerous way to behave within scientific circles is to behave as if you just figured something out to a mathematical certainty, even if you have done so. ‘Embrace doubt and skepticism’ seems like the unwritten code of science. The first impulse of the researcher upon making a possible discovery or breakthrough seems to be to turn to colleagues and say, “please prove me wrong.” Which, of course, is true, because of the importance of falsifiability and criticism to the scientific method.
I’ve been thinking about what it was like to be a comfortable Christian church member; remembering the soothing feelings of belonging to a morally superior movement with a great commission directly from the throne room of Almighty God.
The high I experienced from just mingling with younger generations (as teacher, supervisor, chaperone, worship leader, etc.), reveling in their energy, soaking up their contagious attitudes of earnest, idealistic hopefulness and utter confidence in the Bible and the happy future it promised us– it reinforced the superiority complex and pride because the “high” was “natural,” not from supposedly satanic substances. And it felt good to know we were superior and to be proud of that lofty status.