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Opinion

Opinion: A seeker has questions for God

July 8, 2013

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I was standing in line with God, buying tickets to see Monsters University. He’s a big Billy Crystal fan.

“So,” I said, “have you heard about these religious atheists?”

God gave me a look. “Is this a joke?” He asked. “Like, two rabbis and a duck walk into a bar?”

“No,” I said. “It’s a story that ran in the Washington Post recently about religion in America. It was fascinating. Turns out 12 percent of those who say they don’t believe in you nevertheless pray. Some of them pray to something they call a ‘universal spirit.’ It also said 18 percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their lives.”

“Really?” said God as the line edged forward. “So where’s this coming from?”

“It was from a Pew study that came out in October. For some reason, the study didn’t get much traction, but the Post story has been making noise all over the Internet. People are blogging about it, tweeting about it.”

“I hadn’t heard,” said God. “My Internet’s been down.”

“So anyway, I said, “about these religious atheists …”

“What about them?”

“You don’t think it’s weird? They don’t believe in you, but they pray?”

“To this ‘universal spirit’?” said God.

“Yeah.” We edged forward again.

“Why should that bother me?” asked God. “I am a universal spirit.”

“But it’s hypocritical,” I insisted. “The story even talks about atheists who mimic religious practices, who gather in so-called ‘godless congregations’ on Sundays to, I don’t know, meditate and reflect.”

“This annoys you?” God waggled His fingers at a toddler who was staring at Him.

“A little,” I conceded. “Just seems like they’re trying to have it both ways. Heck, some of them throw hissy fits at any passing mention of you. If I write some innocuous line — ‘Lord, have mercy,’ let’s say — suddenly, I’ve got atheists out the wazoo.”

“Sounds painful,” He said, “atheists out the wazoo.”

“I’m just saying: If you believe, believe. If you don’t, don’t. Make up your mind.”

“You think it’s that simple? It’s not. Faith and doubt do not oppose each other. They define each other, like light and shadow.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s deep.”

“I have my moments,” said God.

We got to the window. “Two for Monsters,” I said. God showed his AARP card and got the senior discount.

“Here’s the thing,” said God as we lined up at the snack counter. “I designed you to seek me, to feel a need for me. Some people — that 12 percent you’re so fired up about — maybe they don’t find me in what you call ‘religion.’ Maybe that means they’re missing something. Or maybe religion is.”

“What if they don’t find you at all?”

“Finding is important,” said God. “But seeking is important, too. Seeking teaches patience, opens your mind, shows you your own limitations. That’s where wisdom begins.”

“But come on,” I said, “universal spirit?’ Doesn’t that sound cheesy?”

God shrugged. “I’ve been called worse. Besides, have you seen the things some religious people do, supposedly in my name? They blow things up in the name of God. They stone women in the name of God. They fight in the name of God. They hate in the name of God.”

He looked sad. “I wish, more often, they would hug in the name of God. Serve in the name of God. Heal in the name of God. Make peace in the name of God. I would like that very much.”

We got to the snack counter. I ordered popcorn and a cherry Icee. “He’ll have water,” said God and when I looked at him, He said, “I gave you good, strong teeth. Why do you want to rot them?”

The kid behind the counter handed the water bottle to God, who handed it to me. “Don’t forget to recycle,” He said. “My oceans are not garbage dumps.”

I sighed. “Yes, universal spirit,” I said.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

This poll finding really isn't very contradictory, and only seems so because of how many pejorative assumptions the term "Atheist" evinces.

First, we need to remember that Atheism literally means "without belief" and that those who self-apply that label are often only stating that they don't subscribe to more traditional theologies and/or concepts of an interventionist God. The term is not synonymous with a-spiritual, and many such people do belong to liberal religious congregations. Many Unitarian Universalists are Atheists (that denomination welcomes the full spectrum of believers and non-believers), but they still congregate for the purposes of fellowship, intellectual/spiritual exploration, and service to show their values and love for humanity.

And these people who reject the concept of a traditional deity, whether they call themselves Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Free Thinkers, etc. can nonetheless meditate and try to summon inner peace and strength by a process some of them might still call "praying." This may include some general appeal to the infinite, the unknowable, the forces that govern the universe. It only becomes hypocritical when a person who claims disbelief in an interventionist god starts to petition for a personal favor. Yes, such non-believers would be obligated to draw the line at the Santa Claus stuff, but as human beings we do have an innate capacity to sit in quiet awe of the universe around us, and theists do not have an exclusive claim to that activity simply because they have popularized it more narrowly as worship and petition of an anthropomorphic god.

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fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

I should also note that this God sounds much more forgiving and tolerating of the Doubting Thomases of the world than most evangelical and other fundamentalist churches assert Him to be. I appreciate the sentiment that "Faith and doubt do not oppose each other. They define each other, like light and shadow." I could quibble about doubt being assigned the negative role of shadow, but the overall message, that the two naturally coexist and can offer healthy counterbalancing in the same human mind, is a truth that can't be stressed enough in our culture war-weary society currently held back by so many of these false dichotomies, both religious and political.

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Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 3 months ago

Excellent column and one we should all take to heart not only the believing part but in every aspect of life. How many of us could be asking ourselves questions about how we treat our bodies, our minds and our spirits? Do we see the ocean as a garbage dump?

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verity 1 year, 3 months ago

Fiddleback, generally I appreciate your posts---but have a quibble with "this God sounds . . ."

I would say this God/god has no more relevancy than any other. In my opinion---and from the study of the history of religion---humans create god (and religion) in their own image. While a god of vengeance seems more dangerous than a god who would go to a movie with us, why do humans need this outside validation? Why can't we take responsibility for our own actions?

And it's not doubt that I have. That makes it sound like I'm not sure about what I believe or don't believe. I am very sure.

I don't mean this as an attack on you or what you said or an attack on other's beliefs. It's meant (1) to clarify what I am as an atheist and (2) a plea for people to look to themselves for what they are, rather than justifying themselves through something outside of themselves, therefore not accepting responsibility.

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fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

I fully agree with your quibble and observations. "Doubt" is indeed a word only relevant to the spectrum of believers with some amount of faith; it does not describe the confident non-believer with neither faith nor doubt. And Pitts' God clearly condescends when he regards Atheists as still a part of the faith/doubt spectrum, and still "seeking" him in their own way outside traditional religion.

My compliment was merely to point out that as far as man-in-the-sky fantasy projections, this one at least seemed relatively humane and embracing of human complexity. Baby steps...

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gr 1 year, 3 months ago

"That makes it sound like I'm not sure about what I believe or don't believe. I am very sure."

It's good to be sure of oneself. Of all the knowledge that man currently knows, what percentage would you say you know.....

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verity 1 year, 3 months ago

Are you then sure of nothing?

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gr 1 year, 3 months ago

Well, I'm not sure.... ;)

But I'm pretty sure that making a global statement such as that God doesn't exist which by implication means there is no other creator other than random chance is making presumptions about knowledge which I do not possess and of which is only a very small fraction of what others possess.

By the way, most things I've always been told, I am finding out are not true. Have you not experienced that? It should give one pause before stating they are sure about anything.

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verity 1 year, 3 months ago

I didn't say, and have never said, that I'm sure God/god(s) doesn't exist. Obviously that's not something that can be proven. I am sure that I don't believe there is a God/god(s). So, yes, I am sure of what I believe.

The reason for me being so adamant about this is that so many people who are not atheists try to define what atheists are or believe or don't believe---or we are defined by the loud-mouthed atheists who get the attention of the media and who may reflect poorly on the rest of us.

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verity 1 year, 3 months ago

I don't disagree with most of what you said, except that you put words in my mouth. I'm sure you didn't mean too---oops, there's that word again.

Am I allowed to be sure about what I believe?

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gr 1 year, 3 months ago

"reflect poorly on the rest of us."

Atheists, I presume. Isn't the definition of an atheist who believes there is no God while and Agnostic is one who believes it can't be determined?

"I didn't say, and have never said, that I'm sure God/god(s) doesn't exist. Obviously that's not something that can be proven. I am sure that I don't believe there is a God/god(s). So, yes, I am sure of what I believe. "

I am not sure of how I'm putting words in your mouth. But then, you do seem to contradict yourself so one of those would match. You said you never said God doesn't exist. Then you say you are sure you don't believe there is a God. Does this mean that God may exist but you are sure you believe He doesn't? Which if this is what you mean, then it would mean you are not sure on the existence of God. Only that you are kind of sure of what you believe, but that it could be wrong....

Is that what you are saying, that you are "sure" you believe there is no God, but that He could exist?

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fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm not trying to answer on Verity's behalf, but thought I could attempt some clarification:

A universal negative such as a deity's non-existence is not conclusively provable. I can't prove that some distant planet is not inhabited by pink unicorns. But I consider the chances so infinitesimally remote so as to be certain that I don't maintain any belief that they exist. In this way, a person can be certain of his/her non-belief without assuming any burden of somehow proving the negative...

Yes, this stance does allow for whatever minute possibility of such a thing's existence, but it is hardly a major concession or logical shortcoming on the non-believer's part. Any burden of proof belongs solely to the believers arguing the positive, that a supernatural deity exists. For believers to counter that non-believers can't prove non-existence is not only an obvious and facile deflection from their own lack of proof, but reveals their failure to 1. understand this basic logic regarding positives and negatives, and 2. accept full responsibility for their total leaps of faith.

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verity 1 year, 3 months ago

Thank you, fiddleback. You put it very well.

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gr 1 year, 3 months ago

Well I understood the possibility of someone could be wrong even though they are sure of what they believe. For instance, I could be very sure that I don't believe there are pink unicorns. But at the same time, I cannot say that I believe there is a possibility they may exist. For that would be saying I have doubts about my surety. Which would mean that I am not sure about what I believe.

Either I am sure about pink unicorns or I am not sure about them. I could very well be wrong, but I do not have any doubts that I am wrong. This is what I'm addressing. Either verity is sure about his belief or he isn't. Which means he is either sure God doesn't exist or he isn't sure about it. He could be wrong, but he can't believe he could be wrong as that means he isn't sure.

And I agree with your burden of proof statements. By me saying God does exist, it is my burden to prove He does exists. I cannot prove it. I can give supporting evidence. Likewise an atheist can give supporting evidence He does not exist. As said, "Obviously that's not something that can be proven." It's a faith statement.

The burden of proof would be like the global warmists saying those who deny it has to prove it doesn't exist. The burden of proof rests with those who reject the null hypothesis.

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jafs 1 year, 3 months ago

You're missing the fundamental difference between belief and knowledge.

One can be certain of one's beliefs without thinking they're the same thing as knowledge.

So, yes, verity is sure that she doesn't believe in God, but also understands that doesn't mean she knows for sure that God doesn't exist.

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fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

I think you're derailing in assuming that non-belief means that one can't acknowledge the remote possibility. These are not mutually exclusive.

"I cannot say that I believe there is a possibility they may exist"

The word "believe" doesn't belong there. Because universal negatives can't be proven, the remote possibility of a God or pink unicorns is innate, not a matter of belief. What is a matter of belief is whether you personally invest in that remote possibility or whether you do not based on lack of evidence and overwhelming odds. But acknowledging this remote chance does not contradict non-belief, just as a believer's acknowledgment of potential (and likely) non-existence does not contradict or betray his belief. It only reveals his awareness of what his leap of faith means, and that he makes that choice as a thinking adult rather than an oblivious child.

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fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

I think you're derailing in assuming that non-belief means that one can't acknowledge the remote possibility. These are not mutually exclusive.

"I cannot say that I believe there is a possibility they may exist"

The word "believe" doesn't belong there. Because universal negatives can't be proven, the remote possibility of a God or pink unicorns is innate, not a matter of belief. What is a matter of belief is whether you personally invest in that remote possibility or whether you do not based on lack of evidence and the overwhelming odds against it. But acknowledging this remote chance does not contradict non-belief, just as a believer's acknowledgment of potential (and likely) non-existence does not contradict or betray his belief. It only reveals his awareness of what his leap of faith means, and that he makes that choice as a thinking adult rather than as an oblivious and unquestioning manchild.

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Liberty275 1 year, 3 months ago

Radical Nihilism allows you to believe anything even though it is all lies. You merely acknowledge that everything is meaningless, then you choose whatever set of ethics you want. It's like a buffet. Have an eggroll.

God(s) is (are) never considered.

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bevy 1 year, 3 months ago

OK am I the only one who pictured Morgan Freeman in the role of God while reading this? One of the few columns Pitts has written that I actually enjoyed reading.

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Liberty275 1 year, 3 months ago

"“I hadn’t heard,” said God. “My Internet’s been down.”"

LOL. God has WOW!

Anyway, you aren't an atheist until you learn not to pray.

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riverdrifter 1 year, 3 months ago

I'll worship the sun. And Joe Pesci.

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fiddleback 1 year, 3 months ago

Pesci, a vengeful god indeed...

" Worship how? I mean, worship like I'm a universal spirit? Like I created you? Like I gave you a soul? Like I'm here to hold dominion over you? How da' [heck] am I worshipful? What da' [heck] is so worshipful about me? Tell me, tell me what's worshipful..."

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