Let me start out by saying I’m an atheist. Am I absolutely sure there is no God, no supreme being looking over us? No, of course not. Contrary to some opinions, that doesn’t make me agnostic. I hold the possibility of God to be so remote as to be inconsequential, but I don’t for a moment think I possess all knowledge on the matter.
I would also add that I am a hopeful atheist, not only confident in my lack of belief, but assured that it is ultimately the belief system most in the world will come to. When we as a society cast off our gods, we can finally grow up as a sentient species.
So, do I hate God, when I don’t even believe in him? Yes, absolutely – I despise the idea of God as described by religion. Call him Yaweh, Allah, or any other title you wish to ascribe. The idea of God is just as vile as any actual existence. And if he is a real being, my hatred becomes all the more justified.
But hate is such a strong word, you might say – yes indeed. Why do I feel so strongly?
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words…
The caption below the picture attached to the article explains the scene, but here it is again. A young boy, dying from famine, is trying to crawl to a UN food station about a kilometer away. He isn’t going to make it, and a vulture is stalking him.
Fundamentalists of all stripes will attest to the power of prayer, to the power of an intercessory God to move in the lives of people when called upon.
Did this boy not pray? We don’t know – did he perhaps pray to the wrong God? Did no one in the world pray for hungry children?
Can not the God who parts seas, destroys the world through flood, raises the dead, and professes to be creator of all we see manage to feed a starving boy? If he can, and doesn’t, he is despicable. If he can’t, he is a fraud.
As the photo caption says, the picture won a Pulitzer Prize. Shortly after winning, the photographer committed suicide. It’s not known exactly why – although guilt over the boy in the photo seems a likely explanation.
I’m also reminded of a story told by an elderly Ukrainian woman about losing her son during Stalin’s forced famine on the people of Ukraine in the 1930s.
The Babushka speaks about having to look her dying son in the eye, and tell him no, he couldn’t have the beet root. She had to choose to give it to her healthier child in the hopes of survival. Her son’s eyes dimmed, and he faded away.
She was in all likelihood Orthodox, and probably prayed daily – to no avail.
Now I know all the arguments that will be brought out in defense of the deity. “God works in mysterious ways,” and “we can’t know the mind of God,” or maybe “God had a higher purpose for them.” We would never try to excuse the same type of behavior from a fellow person, why are some so willing to give God a pass?
If God could claim to have created everything and then sat back, allowed events to flow as the might, that still wouldn’t absolve him, but it could be at least a viable argument.
But that’s not what God or those who follow him claim. God is seen as an active participant in the world, answering prayers and interceding on behalf of the faithful. And that belief is also contemptible.
When the faithful claim miracles on their behalf, they are elevating themselves above the less fortunate. They are, in essence, claiming a right to divine intervention for everything from traffic to sports. The trivial in their life suddenly becomes more important than a young child dying from cancer or hunger or war.
When a person says “God answered my prayer,” I automatically dismiss whatever comes next. I know they are wrong. And I would argue it’s even worse if they are right. If God will allow himself to be troubled to clear traffic ahead of someone running late, to help a person on a test, or cure a cold, he by default makes himself responsible for all of the unanswered prayers.
And some of them he chooses to ignore indict him as either pathetic ideal or wretched overlord. When Tony Dungy, former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, said they won the Superbowl by doing it “the Lord’s way,” I wanted to climb into the television set and punch him in the face. Celebrities and the wealthy who claim to owe their success to God are saying “look at me, I’m important to God.”
When someone like Glenn Beck tells you his rally is divine providence, he is telling you his movement is God’s working in our lives. Yet the same God cannot alleviate the suffering of a dying child.
The desire we all hold for meaning in life can explain why so many people are drawn to religion. Easy answers to those questions that once seemed impossible to know. I am by no means indicting all people who are religious.
On the contrary, some are fine individuals. It’s their belief system that is flawed and ultimately evil. Good people can be very wrong. I once struggled to find meaning in faith. I can say, without hesitation, that my decision to leave it behind was one of the most liberating of my life.
And of course just liberating yourself from the heavy yoke of religion doesn’t mean you will be a better person. But at least you will understand that our society and how it treats the least among us says something very strong about us. The religious right likes to say we would be lawless, killing, raping, etc, with no regard for consequences.
I beg to differ. I think when we leave behind dogma we can find within ourselves the capacity to work to lift all. Regardless of what Beck and company say, it’s very much about collective salvation. For as long as one suffers needlessly, we are all the lesser for it.
I’ve been told I will be sorry one day, that “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess.” Maybe I will succumb to some unimaginable torture and do just that. If I am wrong, and there is a God, I hope I have the strength to express my true feelings.