God’s presence is felt, not proven

March 3, 2011


“That which is without quality cannot be measured, the invisible cannot be examined, the incorporeal cannot be weighed, the limitless cannot be compared, the incomprehensible does not admit of more or less.” — Gregory of Nyssa (fourth century Christian philosopher)

“I am that I am.” — Exodus 3:14

Occasionally, I manage to tick off an atheist.

It is not something I set out to do. Usually it results from some passing comment reflecting my belief that God is. As in a recent column on Lara Logan, the CBS reporter sexually assaulted in Egypt. I wrote that she is “deserving of our compassion, our empathy and our prayers.” This drove a reader named Patricia to her keyboard.

There ensued a brief colloquy whose highlights on her part included: “Please stop the superstitious nonsense.” And, “Keep the public naive and stupid.” And, “An atheist is absent of belief and willing to change their position when evidence is presented. When you mention prayer, you are acting as an evangelist promoting an irrational act.”

And here, allow me to establish that I support the right of people to believe — or not believe — as they wish. Indeed, if you’ll forgive the cliché, some of my best friends and co-workers are nonbelievers.

This would include Terry Jackson, a Miami Herald editor who died of cancer two years ago. I remember telling him I would pray for him. “I’m a pretty hard core atheist,” T.J. warned, but he added that he would take any help he could get.

I always thought there was a lot of grace in that response. It’s a grace that is usually missing when atheist readers question me on issues of faith.

Indeed, I find myself struck by the similarity between certain atheists and fundamentalists. Meaning the ones who can always tell you exactly what’s on God’s mind and even what He had for breakfast this morning. God did this, they say, because He didn’t like those people, did that because that country ticked Him off. Funnily enough, God’s likes and dislikes always seem to exactly match theirs.

There is a certain hubris in them that is mirrored in the declaration that God does not exist because our telescopes cannot see Him nor our equations prove Him. It was only a minute ago, as the universe measures time, that our kind was scared of fire, so our faith in our tools to now definitively disprove God is as arrogant as it is amusing.

Show me evidence, says Patricia, and I will reconsider. She makes the same error fundamentalists make when they try to force schools to teach from the book of Genesis: She imposes upon one discipline the standards of another rather than assessing it on its own terms — like a rap fan declaring Mozart invalid because Mozart had no beats.

To put that another way: God is not proven. God is felt. I know the subjectivity of that will give Patricia — and others — fits. Deal with it.

Last year, writer Marilynne Robinson published a book, “Absence of Mind,” whose purpose was less to prove the existence of God than the possibility of God. In a lyrical, profoundly thoughtful dissent, she took issue with the notion that because what is felt cannot be quantified, it is somehow invalid. Feeling is, after all, the most common of human experiences. She questioned “this defining of humankind by the exclusion of the things that in fact distinguish us as a species.”

And yes, I know: T.J. died despite my prayers. Why? demands the skeptic. I don’t know. When I see God, I’ll ask. The thing with me is, I’m OK with “I don’t know,” OK with the humility those words require, OK with what I can only feel and never prove by the tenets of science.

One of my favorite gospel songs says, “Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.”

I believe that. If that belief offends someone, I’m sorry.

But not really.


NEthingUsay 3 years ago

AMEN for this discussion! "God is not proven, God is felt." How could you believe until you have felt His grace?

You are forgiven, but please update your comment should you truly have a divine experience in the near future; you'll know when it happens.


Brent Garner 3 years, 1 month ago

Tolerance seems in short supply these days. The unbeliever wants the believer to be silent. The believer wants the right to be heard. Mr. Pitts expresses and geniunely held and charitible belief and a reader castigates him for using his column to allegely promote a belief in God. It seems that increasingly those who do not want to hear about God or religion are more and more adamant about silencing those who believe. These unbelievers demonstrate the same intolerance as the religous bigot who loudly and promenently proclaims that all are damned except himself and those like him. Both are strident, vexing voices. Yet, both have the right to be heard. Those who disbelieve are entitled to disbelieve. Those who do believe are entitled to believe. The problem comes when one or the other seeks through court action, legislation, economic sanction, or any other coercive force then a very bright red line has been crossed and if that crossing is NOT opposed by all good people then intolerance and ultimately tyranny win the day.

If you don't want to believe, then don't. If you don't want to hear, then don't listen. A little respect both directions would be a good thing!


jd 3 years, 1 month ago

you atheists sure are a cranky bunch


Larry Miller 3 years, 1 month ago

"I am as certain that god does not exist " You should do some research on that subject. Of course, it takes a lot of time and a lot of work. Much easier to ignore the evidence.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 1 month ago

"And yes, I know: T.J. died despite my prayers. Why? demands the skeptic. I don’t know. When I see God, I’ll ask. The thing with me is, I’m OK with “I don’t know,” OK with the humility those words require, OK with what I can only feel and never prove by the tenets of science."

No, the real hubris is the certainty that not all things can be explained by objective, natural phenomena.

The real hubris is dismissing the idea that one day we might know answers to questions that are now mysterious.

The real hubris is dismissing that things we do not understand now may one day be knowable, and instead prematurely and without evidence answering the question by invoking god.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 1 month ago

"they are certain there is no God, and that anybody who believes in God is some sort of idiot."

As I said, I am as certain that god does not exist as I am that unicorns, fairies, middle earth, the FSM, phaetons, Superman, Thor, Zeus, etc. do not exist.

And yes, I do think that those who believe something in the absence of any objective evidence are idiots.

How on earth do you decide what to believe? How do you choose between god and any other book or movie you have seen about a fantasy world or any other work of fiction?


ScottyMac 3 years, 1 month ago

I notice that, in reference to God, "him" and "he" are capitalized both here and in the atrocious letter from that lunkhead that ran the other day. I thought AP Style says to use the lowercase when using personal pronouns in this context. Doesn't the Journal-World use AP Style?


ophiuchus 3 years, 1 month ago

Any meatball can spin a self-refuting definition of God; all that is required is the boiling of a little pasta. And that's the real problem, isn't it? Defining God? We've had A LOT of definitions; we're trying to pare them. Traditionally, God has been rather... man-like. And perhaps not surprisingly, for before the advent of decentralizing perspectives... outward, inward... insane ward... we simply were the greatest thing we'd conceived. Problem is, the more man-like the God, the more easily displaced from His lofty perch. (Rumor has it that man is created in the image of God, and, so, while its inverse may be deity defeating, it yet holds hope for an ascension of man.)

There is a problem, however, which precedes God. And that is consciousness, itself. Why EVER should consciousness appear within an inanimate, mechanistic universe—some cruel cosmic joke which binds each of us to our respective corporeal fates? As if it weren't strange enough that the dance of starlight through stardust (starlight solidified) should give rise to the diverse expressions which we call life, there is the additional uniquely human estrangement from the universe which is awareness, and self-awareness (... and self-^awareness).

You can dump energy into into a system until chaotic standing and evolving recursive waveforms appear, but when the wave which forms is cognitive/reflective... well... then you have the stuff that God is made of (and the stuff, apparently, of which we're made).

And if a unifying theory (presently) requires that that weakest of forces, gravity, be wrapped through eleven dimensions—one day, eleventy-leven?—then in how many dimensions inaccessible to ourselves do we find expression? How many not unlike that dreamworld to which we nightly return? How many stretching infinitely beyond this existential moment in time?

More than a feeling, I have an inkling a smattering within the spattering insight beyond this half-light...

O M G .


jafs 3 years, 1 month ago

According to my dictionary, atheism has 2 definitions:

  1. A disbelief in the existence of deity.
  2. The doctrine that there is no deity.

The 1st definition is clearly where folks like verity are, and isn't really an issue - some folks believe in God, and others don't.

The second is where those like ywn are, and is more of an issue - they are certain there is no God, and that anybody who believes in God is some sort of idiot.

Despite the many very smart people throughout history who have had some kind of faith.

By the way, I don't give believers a pass either - those who are certain they are right make the same mistake - belief, by definition, is not the same thing as knowledge or certainty.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 1 month ago

"So you know to a certainty that God, or something like that, doesn't exist?"

Yes, to extent that a complete lack of objective evidence is certainty. As certain as I am that unicorns don't exist. That fairies don't exist. That banshees don't exist. That Middle Earth doesn't exist. That Thor doesn't exist. That Zeus doesn't exist. That Superman doesn't exist. That phaetons don't exist. That the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist. Ad nauseum.

The real point is that believing in something that has no basis in objective reality is messed up.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 1 month ago

It amazes me how a normally rational person like Pitts, who usually argues points on reality and evidence, can so easily slip into fantasy when it come to religion. He almost seems to revel in this little slice of his life that is divorced from reality.

This is the true danger of religious thought. When what you decide you believe is based on fantasy and not reality, you can start believing some pretty messed up stuff, and acting on it. No one can convince you otherwise, because your decision making process was not rational or objective.

It almost seems like Pitts and other god-heads just love to wallow in irrationality and fantasy and wear their irrationality and fantasy like a badge of honor.

It is almost as if they are saying that I am so open-minded that I can be led to believe anything, as long as I feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Count me among those atheists who judge that believers are intellectual light weights, deniers of reality, and seriously misguided.


KansasPerson 3 years, 1 month ago

Benjamin Franklin used to donate money to people who wanted to build a church, whether he agreed with their faith or not, just because he believed that firmly that this was, or should be, a country where people should be able to believe what they want. That's a fine example of the best kind of philanthropy in my opinion. He was supporting not the detailed doctrine of any one faith, but the overarching concept of people being able to worship (or not) however they wished. Why can't we be like that?


somedude20 3 years, 1 month ago

Charlie Sheen for "God" in 2012!!!!! Could "God" smoke a 7 gram rock to his/her head? I think not! In the name of Keith, Ozzy and the holy bumper ..............., snort


gardencrazy 3 years, 1 month ago

I kind of believe ,maybe either way.With the work i have done,sent many either to meet thier maker or whatever else is out there-Just have returned from overseas-looking for a buddy,somebody who likes to hunt ,hike and spend time on the water-fishing also. I have seen god myself,wounded several times-,That will make you beleive in a hurry-I learned how to pray....


Agnostick 3 years, 1 month ago

The Spaghetti Monster's presence is felt. In my belly. Usually as I'm walking out of Olive Garden.

If I get the all-you-can-eat pasta bowl special, then I usually feel the wrath of the Spaghetti Monster.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 1 month ago

"...and don't a better connection to God than the people in the Middle East. Sad that we allow those who believe in sky gods to rule our world. "

So is allah a sky god too or not?


beatrice 3 years, 1 month ago

The thing I like about athiests is they never come knocking on my door asking me if I would consider not accepting God into my life. They don't even leave flyers on my door when I'm away.

Nobody living has a real clue, hence there being so many different religions. People born and raised in Western Europe and North America aren't smarter and don't a better connection to God than the people in the Middle East. Sad that we allow those who believe in sky gods to rule our world.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 1 month ago

A question for believers: How did you decide which god explained the warm and fuzzy feeling you have inside?


Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 years, 1 month ago

I gain a lot of amusement from the various responses in this thread. My work for many years has taken my areound many churches over my lifetime and several things have become pretty apparent. God exists in the minds of people. God is a quasi-rational explanation of the unknown, the unexplained and the unprovable. It is a matter of faith and is a personal issue. If anyone asks me if I believe in God my response is "What theHell business of yours is THAT?"
I do believe there is an unknown force and power of the Universe, this did not all happen at random. But I do not believe in a ficticious kind old bearded man sitting on a cloud passing out "blessings" and "thunderbolts" Some do. That is fine with me. As for church organizations, these are social networks and community centers with various goals. Mostly to gather a group of like minded folks together for a community celebration of their beliefs and that is not a bad thing. What amuses (and annoys) me is that many church organizations will loudly proclaim their love and support of mankind and humanity, and then shunn those who do not believe as they do. Try going to a Catholic communion without being a card-carrying member. They profess to follow Jesus and help the poor and downtrodden. And then spend hundreds of thousands (millions?) of donated dollars on huge self-serving edifices, family life centers, private schools to keep out the undesirables (mostly in the south, blacks and latinos) and even imaginary institutions of higher education (Oral Roberts, Liberty University ad nausium). There are those enterprises who seek to gain solvency advertising themselves as "Christian dating", Christian counselling (read indoctrination)" Christian gas stations" (What WOULD Jesus drive?) yadadadadada. I once observed a heated lunch room conversation between one of the devoted "belioevers" who was greatly offended by news reports of the discovery of ancient human-like remains. He was highly incensed that this did not square with his ingrained belief that the world was created in several days and that science was a tool of the devil.(another fabricated image of "religion")

Well, I know full well that this is pretty meaningless to many, but religion is a creation of man, people who put on their pants pretty much like we do today, who were seeking answers to a lot of questions and failing to find them, created a lot of myth, legend and supposition that a lot of people have taken to heart and believe fervently that God exists in their world and does speak to ministers who are after the contents of your pocketbook.


Romans832 3 years, 1 month ago

The headline of Pitts' column says "God's presence is felt, not proven." I'm not hear to argue whether the existence of God can or cannot be proven. But is God still God if His presence isn't felt? I'm thinking about those who experienced "the dark night of the soul." Sometimes the feelings of joy and intimacy are wonderful, other times God seems a million miles away. (Heard the expression, "Your prayers don't seem to get any higher than the ceiling?") Paul, in II Corinthians 5, is talking about the glory awaiting us in the afterlife and says, "We walk by faith, not by sight." But I think that pretty much describes the life God calls us to here and now... When we can't see/feel His presence, when we cannot "hear music in the air," what keeps us pressing on? Sometimes all that is left is faith. Like the man whose son Jesus healed, our response may well be, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."


sourpuss 3 years, 1 month ago

If people cared about loving and caring for other people half as much as they loved and cared about God, maybe we wouldn't need to pray to God so much?

Just a thought.


Paul R Getto 3 years, 1 month ago

Probably a good time to run this one out again: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." Richard Dawkins

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Stephen Roberts.


ibroke 3 years, 1 month ago

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. -----


voevoda 3 years, 1 month ago

Leonard Pitts expressed his own belief in God, without saying that anybody else needed to share his theological tenets (which he did not specify), or even his belief in a transcendent power. He objects to being ridiculed because he made reference to his faith in an opinion column.
So how do the posters on this forum respond? Non-believers proceed to ridicule believers, including Leonard Pitts. For what reason? As Leonard Pitts put it, "I support the right of people to believe — or not believe — as they wish." Why isn't this good enough for non-believers? Some of the believer-respondents use the column as an excuse to ridicule their usual targets, who normally would include Leonard Pitts. As Leonard Pitts put it, "Funnily enough, God’s likes and dislikes always seem to exactly match theirs." Most respondents have missed the point of the column entirely.


verity 3 years, 1 month ago

People seem to often misunderstand what being an atheist means.

It doesn't mean that I think I can prove that there is no god/gods. A negative is generally impossible to prove. It means that I don't believe there is a god because I see absolutely no proof or reason to believe that there is.

At least that's what it means to me. I would like to hear from other atheists what their definition is.

I think Pitts is wrong on this one. Like someone said, too warm and fuzzy.


TheYetiSpeaks 3 years, 1 month ago

It's funny how atheists are so convinced of their intelligence and unbending in their beliefs, while accusing their antithesis of the same. Atheists claim they don't believe in gods. I posit that atheism is very much a deistic enterprise. They have deified themselves. Their intelligence is supreme and their logic is infallible.....I suspect neither of these things will comfort them as they lay dying. Don't get me wrong, they can believe what they want and I'm not in the business of making anyone believe what I believe. That's just my opinion.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 1 month ago

Funny those who claim to know there is no god are generally the same ones who know for sure we are experiencing man-made global warming (among other things). Well, not "ha-ha" funny but....

....and that's considering these same folks know (or willfully dismiss) the fact that NOAA removed thousands of temp-monitoring buoys from typically colder waters over the past two decades.

May God Bless.


yourworstnightmare 3 years, 1 month ago

Disappointing drivel from Pitts. We as humans feel a lot of things, including the warm and fuzzies. Ascribing these to god's presence without objective proof of god's existence is a logical and intellectual fallacy. Fantasy, in other words.

Unicorns and trolls give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, too.


average 3 years, 1 month ago

I can neither prove nor disprove a God. Lacking any better explanation for why something and not nothing, I tend to fall slightly toward deism.

But, the universe is over a decillion cubic light years in volume, billions of years old, and we're one of 100 billion humans that have inhabited this tiny rock in that vastness.

It takes a whole, whole lot more of that "certain hubris" Pitts talks about to look at that situation and, with exactly no evidence to support it, conclude that said Creator loves you very, very much, intends for you to believe X, Y, and Z, etc.

Sorry, but if you think God cares about you in that sense, you might need a narcissism checkup.


mmmkisses 3 years, 1 month ago

"The thing with me is, I’m OK with “I don’t know,”"

This statement seems insincere coming from someone with “faith”. Gods are invented, in part, because we need explanations for the things we don’t understand. Believing in a god provides the explanation when an acceptable explanation cannot be found through science or reason.


BloodBot 3 years, 1 month ago

When you meet Jesus, you will be amazed that he is like no other, and like no concept you have come up with nor heard. If you seek Him, you will find him. I encourage you to ask God if he is real that He show himself to you, and then stand back and be ready for an amazing adventure!


autie 3 years, 1 month ago

“I am that I am.” — Exodus 3:14

"I am what I am and thats all what I am."------Popeye 3:16


ignati5 3 years, 1 month ago

There is entirely too much Bible-thumping in these columns lately. Even Leonard Pitts feels obliged to take his turn at the crank of this particular bolony mill. Best leave religious witness to the clergymen, whose motives are usually transparent and whose theology may even be sound in some cases.


Getaroom 3 years, 1 month ago

As if anyone needs your blessings. There must be a mirror in your place somewhere, check out the guy looking back at you and recognize that your posts are as racist and bigoted as any. Your comments about Pitts and Obama are proof enough. Cold empty hearts? Always have a second look in the mirror before you cast your stones.


andrew55 3 years, 1 month ago

"The fool has said in his heart there is no God...." Psalm 14:1.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 1 month ago

Finally something Pitts and me can generally agree on. And to those with empty, cold hearts, may god bless you.


pace 3 years, 1 month ago

Boy everyone is so wrong. The is a god and he is real and he phoned me. He explained that wall street and bankers were largely to blame for the current economy. I asked him why he didn't do something to reveal that to the people. I said some people thought it was because teachers were asking for pensions and others that it was because of the two guys in Western Kansas wanted to get married. He said, no it was mostly wall street guys and some bankers. I asked again, why didn't he reveal that. He said he did but the government misfiled the papers and he even told the press but they were busy covering Lindsey and Charley someone. I wished him luck, he wished me luck and said we would talk again.


KUrolls 3 years, 1 month ago

I know for a fact that there is not a god anywhere in the universe. Science explains this.


conservative 3 years, 1 month ago

Sorry but that "feeling" you have could just as easily be one of the tentacles of the flying spaghetti monster reaching out to you. Belief in organized religion is mostly just an intellectual lie that allows a person to not have to take responsibility for figuring out how to solve their own problems. I won't dismiss the possibility that some more powerful being created our universe, however if that happened i have no reason to believe such a being cares if i spend an hour a week praising him in some randomly assigned building once a week. More likely we are more akin to bacteria in a forgotten petrie dish forgotten in the corner of the lab.


Floyd Craig 3 years, 1 month ago

well I believe in god I feel so sorry for those who dont he is real not a mith


Gene Wallace 3 years, 1 month ago

Your "God" does Not exist in my spiritual reality. Keep him in your home and place of worship and not in my face. I will do the same with my deity images and aspects. Freedom of Religion and from Religion means All Religions and Spiritual Realities.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 1 month ago

"If that belief offends someone, I’m sorry."

I'm not offended, Leonard. Just not convinced that your "feelings" can in any way overcome the logical contradictions inherent in any belief in an all-powerful, omniscient, supernatural being.


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