That is the question, isn’t it?
Atheists have done an excellent job scrutinizing religion with the most rigorous skepticism. As in all things, the examination of our claims underneath the merciless microscope of science is necessary. The scientific method is impartial, without bias, and helps us disseminate the fact from fiction.
This has left the once-devout congregation (and often clergy) wandering aimlessly in a sea of doubt. Most religions vaguely claim that God(s) is/are in the heavens, or some sort of Utopian afterlife. Without any demonstrable evidence for these claims, many have turned to atheism, and secular morality. Neither of which are bad.
It might be wise to put forth an image and idea of God(s) that is universally applied, that is both theistic and deistic. That satisfies both our personal, impersonal, and atheistic views of the universe. It may seem contradictory to propose such a thing and most theology students are familiar with the age old question, “Can God create something He cannot lift?” The purpose of the question is to demonstrate the complexity (or impossibility) of an omniscient being. The faithful answer this simply: “He can create something He cannot lift, and while the condition remains true, lift it.”
Within the unknown, and the drive to discover it, it may be beneficial to personify or anthropomorphize the mystery. Because many mysteries have a profound impact upon our lives, our ability to relate to them in a personal way will accelerate our ability to understand them.
For example: Suppose a young man Alexander, is struggling to understand how electricity works. He knows that electricity is a “force” of some kind, and it makes things go. If he were to personify the electricity, and apply his experiences (a shock, an destroyed toy, or exploded light bulb), he might reason that the “force” of electricity was angry.
At first glance, this personification is utterly and incomprehensibly stupid. Electricity is not angry, nor could it ever be. It is patently false. Yet… If Alexander were to apply this personification to his future reactions to the mystery of electricity, what would the benefit be?
- He would be overly and necessarily cautious when interacting with electrical things, potentially preventing his untimely death.
- The investigation of the “force” would be careful, methodical, and with the warning in mind. Leading to other personifications that are, though false, accurate. Such personifications would be “powerful,” “excited,” “thirsty,” and others.
Let us consider this. Primitive humans would have done this exact thing to describe many unknowns. Lightning and fire would share similar traits. Blood and War. Beauty and Love. Thus, God(s) take shape.
Atheists are very quick to dismiss the claims of religions, but it may be worth it for them to investigate the following:
- Is the personification, in absence of measurable data, a useful tool to make rudimentary predictions? (Does dark matter seem “repellent?”) Or is the personification a useful way to communicate otherwise complex ideas? (Like atoms handling photons like “hot potatoes” and shedding them as energy levels drop?)
- Could that personification be, personal? Interactive? Unique to each person and faith, and still satisfy its usefulness in this regard?
- Have you tried prayer?
- Are there mysteries that intrigue you? Can you find a way to personify that mystery in a way that might be useful to explaining it to others?
God(s) are in these mysteries. They are personal and impersonal. They exist and don’t. They are necessary, or not. Even systems with a great deal of understanding can be anthropomorphized to aid us in interacting with it in a kind and compassionate way. Mother Earth anyone?
A critic may suggest that this simply redefines “god” in a way that is conveniently flexible and irrefutable. Thus, the argument is put forth that this isn’t a redefinition at all. This is the traditional method, the prehistoric method. This is also the method through which God(s) can satisfy their omniscience, there personal intimacy, their impersonal creative power, their existence and non-existence.
So who are we to argue, when the devout claim “God speaks to me.” He may indeed, in a way that is entirely independent and unique, but could still offer valuable insight into workings of the world. Then, also, who are we to argue when skeptics declare “There is no evidence for God.”
Specifically to Atheists:
As a confident, and honest skeptic of religious nonsense, you pour through claims and dismantle them with your swords of science. Rightly so. Lies are not tolerated. Great harm has been done in the name of religion.
Yet, have you applied personal experience or observation to religious practice? What harm could it do to try? You are invited to pray. Not to our definition of God(s), unless you feel comfortable with that. Address your prayer as skeptically and cynically as you please, with all the scrutiny such things deserve.