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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

riverdrifter 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I'll worship the sun. And Joe Pesci.

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Liberty275 9 months, 2 weeks 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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Ray Parker 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Our Creator gave us many ways to resolve our doubts. Examine the inner workings of the eye, the ear, a single cell, or a single galaxy. Examine the design of a woodpecker or a bee. Examine the accounts of those who walked and talked and ate with Christ after His resurrection. Ridicule is not a way.

Jehovah

Jehovah by parkay

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bevy 9 months, 2 weeks 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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verity 9 months, 2 weeks 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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Leslie Swearingen 9 months, 2 weeks 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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fiddleback 9 months, 2 weeks 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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fiddleback 9 months, 2 weeks 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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