Why I’m a Believer

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This is not an argument for the existence of God.

This is not me trying to convince you of anything. I, of course, understand that for any point I might make supporting my view there is a counterpoint tearing it apart. I’m not really interested in debates.

This is simply me telling you what I believe and why. Nothing more.

When I watch a show about animals or space, about life’s origins or the origins of the universe, I can get downright tingly. I can’t help being moved when I see the majesty of the heavens and the astonishing variety and complexity of life on planet Earth. Nebulae, the Aurora Borealis, spiraling galaxies, transparent fish, flying lizards, bugs that walk on water … these are awe-inspiring sights to be sure.

But, while watching these shows, I have never once thought, “Gosh, isn’t it neat what random forces can produce given enough time?”

I’ve heard the story where Matter is King. It starts like this: “Once upon a time, all matter was infinitely dense.”

That’s right, kids. Every bit of matter and space in this universe—you know, the universe that contains TWO TRILLION GALAXIES (this is 10 times more than the previously believed 200 billion galaxies)—was once so very teeny tiny that it couldn’t be seen. It had NO SIZE. Let’s not forget that each of those 2 trillion galaxies contains 100 billion stars, more or less.

So, there it was: all the matter in the universe just hiding out in nothingness, smaller than a single atom.

How’d it get there? Where’d it come from? Why was it so itsy bitsy?

No one can tell you with any certainty.

“It popped into existence from nothing, out of nowhere,” is one answer science gives. It seems to be the most plausible one out there.

Okay. So, this is different than Genesis 1 how? Oh yeah, no Creator. Now it makes SO much more sense.

The fact is, both of these ideas, the idea of God and the idea that everything came from nothing, require us to believe fairly nutty things that absolutely CANNOT be proven.

My God-view requires faith. Just as the everything-from-nothing-view requires faith.

Here’s where I admit that the idea of God is sort of whacky. I mean, if we’re going to approach it rationally, we have to ask where God came from, right?

Well, no. No, we don’t. If you’re going to propose that everything came from nothing (without any proof), then I think I get to go ahead and assume the existence of God without having to come up with an origin story.

For me, God is the one utterly inexplicable thing that makes everything else possible.

The First Cause of life must be living. The First Cause of consciousness must be conscious. The First Cause of intellect must be intelligent.

Look at the observable universe. It’s so bloody amazing.

Everything is made of invisible particles in constant motion. THAT is amazing. Your smartphone looks like it’s stationary, a solid object, but it’s composed of madly spinning particles, as are you, as am I.

That’s insane! Yet I believe it.

Interesting fact—I believe in atoms. And so, probably, do you.

But why do we believe in atoms?

Can you prove they exist? Not without an electron microscope, my friend.

Unless you’re a renowned scientist working at a super high-tech lab, you’ve never looked into an electron microscope. They cost nearly one million dollars, so I guarantee neither PoDunk High nor Big Town University have one in their science wing for you to play with on your lunch hour.

You and I believe in atoms because we read about them in a book, or maybe we saw some blurry image of one in a YouTube video. The truth is, we believe in atoms, even though they are entirely outside of our sphere of experience; atoms are an article of faith—a thing we believe in even though we can’t prove it. I understand that we’re confident that someone can prove it, but we can’t and that’s my point. We’re relying on the testimony of others, which requires faith.

Modern science, with all its impressive gadgetry and seemingly limitless cosmic imagination, still can’t give a satisfactory explanation of what human consciousness is.

When it comes to the question, “What is gravity?” our friends at NASA are forced to answer, we don’t know!

So, the most fundamental things we should understand about ourselves and the world we inhabit are fucking mysteries. Surprise!

Another thing, dear reader. I believe in God because of you. Yes, you. You are a freaking stunning, mind-blowing miracle.

Here’s something about you that maybe you haven’t thought of. You were inevitable. Just as you are. Your eye color, your height, your personality. Why do I say this?

Because YOU ARE. When the universe unfolded you were already an inevitability: all the conditions being what they were, this moment in time with you in it reading this absurd essay right where you are … it all HAD TO HAPPEN. Because it did.

I take it further and say, you are an INTENTION of the universe, of the God that forged your consciousness in the infinite past.

In summation…

I believe in God because:

  1. The “purely material” answers are unsatisfactory on every level.
  2. Faith in God is no less crazy than the faith it takes to believe everything came from nothing.
  3. The marvel and awe of the cosmic universe and this living planet make no sense without an intelligent being to observe them.
  4. Everything about the observable universe is infused with intelligence, from humankind to trees to ticks, it is all bound together in an unfathomable symbiosis.
  5. If this is the one and only universe, the odds that it would come up with you and me and all this life are as good as zero. And the fact that one of science’s answer to that dilemma is to suggest an infinite number of universes (so that, of course, one of them would have to result in us, right?), smells of desperation (and not a single one of those “other” universes can be demonstrated to exist).

But, most importantly, I believe in God because:

  1. I need to.
  2. I choose to.

And that’s it, people. For what it’s worth.

I also totally respect your non-belief, or your belief in fairies, or your it’s turtles all the way down theory.

So it goes.

And amen.

Peace, my brothers and sisters.

Dear Angry Atheist

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A Christian, a Buddhist, and an atheist walk into a church.

That may sound like the opening line to a joke, but it actually reflects the reality of what’s going on in my church on any given Sunday.

My church has no religious creed or doctrine, it holds up no deity or faith as “the one and only truth for all humanity.” Those who attend are welcome to bring along the deity of their choice, just as they are welcome to bring their atheism, agnosticism, etcetera.

My atheist friends and acquaintances are very sure about what they don’t believe. They absolutely do not believe in any kind of god or goddess or spirit creating things or watching over the affairs of humanity. They do not believe in an afterlife. None of that should be surprising, as that would be the very definition of an atheist, yes?

What may be surprising to some, though, is that these non-believing folks are not in the least bothered by the fact that many of their fellow congregants do believe in God, or a goddess, or any of a variety of spiritual notions. For these atheists, it doesn’t inspire scorn, anger, or mockery. They’re not just okay with the faith of their peers, they respect, appreciate, and celebrate it.

Weird, huh? But should it be?

Is there really any good reason that modern believers and non-believers should be adversaries? I would propose that what they have in common matters so much more than what they don’t.

Our desire to love and be loved, our mutual searches for survival, connection, purpose, well-being, happiness, security, and pleasure—put simply, our shared humanity—ought to unify us to an infinitely greater degree than our various philosophies, religious and non-religious, divide us.

First, let’s tell the truth.

We all know that a lot of horrifying shit has been done in the name of some God or other. Witch hunts, crusades, wars, jihad … lots of bloodshed in the name of someone’s God. So, let’s not deny that truth.

Let’s also acknowledge that horrifying shit has been done by folks who wanted to outlaw religion: Mussolini, Stalin, Mao. Now, it’s a stretch to say these men were seeking to “spread atheism,” but it is certain their intent was not forcing people to believe in any religion’s God.

When we boil it down, deep evil is usually done in the name of power and greed—religion or non-religion are simply window dressing. That’s the truth about that.

Here’s another truth: people can arrive at either benevolence or savagery through both religious thinking and atheistic thinking.

Here, for example, is a theology that leads to evil:

  1. My God is the only truth and all other ways of seeing the world are not just wrong but an offense to my angry, jealous God.
  2. Therefore, if you do not follow my God I will have to kill you to make the world a better place. It’s my sacred duty. If I can’t convert you, you must die.

And here is an atheistic philosophy leading to evil:

  1. Humans are nothing more than smart apes. Love is an illusion brought on by chemical reactions. Morality is nothing more than a social construct. The survival of the most fit (or simply my personal gratification, regardless of the harm it may cause to others) should be the only appropriate guiding principle.
  2. Therefore, if misusing or even exterminating a person or an entire group of people (Jews, Tutsis, the infirm, the mentally inferior), helps to ensure the survival (or gratification) of the superior person or group, it is not only permissible, but wise. Any other way is self-annihilating sentimentality.

Here is a theology that leads to love:

  1. Life is from God, God is love, and all people are children of God.
  2. Therefore, the highest thing I can do is love life and people.

And an atheism that leads to love:

  1. We get just this one shot at life, which makes it a precious gift of immeasurable value.
  2. Therefore, the highest thing I can do is love life and people.

I have to admit, when I read social media “pile ons” where atheists are bashing Christians for being ignorant, backward, hateful hypocrites … it makes me very sad. Not because there aren’t Christians who fit this description (there certainly are), but because it is such a narrow-minded, thoughtless approach that discounts the millions and millions of magnificent, loving, compassionate, intelligent, luminous beings that would call themselves Christians (or Catholics, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Whatever Religious Persuasion).

It’s not religious people that suck. It’s people that suck, some religious and some not.

In the same way, there are people you’re very glad to have as friends, neighbors, and co-workers because they’re kind, thoughtful, smart, funny … some of them are religious, some are not.

Being a human being on planet Earth is hard. Even under the best of circumstances, this life is going to beat the shit out of you many times, make you physically ill, disappoint you, and break your heart. Inevitably, it will kill everyone you love and, unsurprisingly, it will kill you as well. If a large number of people need belief in God to get them through this life, are we really going to fault them for it? And what about the many millions on the planet who will only know poverty and suffering until the day the die. How inspiring do you imagine they find atheism?

When can we start being grown-ups? When will we learn to live and let live, to find respect for one another—regardless of philosophy—to be a core value?

It shouldn’t really be so hard, should it?

If you’re angered by intolerant religious people, are you helping your cause by being an intolerant atheist … or have you become the enemy through emulation?

Look, I have a kind of faith but I have no problem with those who don’t. In fact, I think they’re quite courageous. Because they are facing life and heartbreak and illness and death simply on their own inner strength! No “teddy bear” of faith to curl up with at night. I don’t envy them. I couldn’t do it. I have no wish to try. But I do admire them for living their convictions, truly. Not just saying that.

I would just like to see them not act like assholes. Of course, I’d also like to see religious people not act like assholes.

Can we just do that, people? Would that be so hard?

RESPECT

Peace and love to all (flavor to taste with the philosophy of your choice, brothers and sisters).

Thanks Science, Thanks Religion

Nature is amazing. The stars. Animal life. Microscopic life. Forests. Oceans. 

Science has done astonishing things with its ability to deconstruct nature, explain it to laymen (sometimes in terms we mostly understand). 

Science is useful when its analyses lead to good medicine and a more thoughtful approach to the use of natural resources.  

But science is forever USELESS when it comes to the things that we yearn to know. Most of what truly matters to people in life remains entirely outside the domain of its relevance: love, friendship, the “high” we experience in an encounter with literature or film or music or any kind of art that moves us, the transcendent sense of awe we feel before nature, the search for purpose. 

Such pursuits are not the job of science, never have been. When we try to make science a God, we have made a horrifying error bound to result in things like sterilizing races we deem as inferior or using unwitting people in tests without any thought to the morality of doing so. 

Yes, the USE of science can accomplish great moral good too. Feed more people. Teach us how to live sustainably. But scientific principles, when applied, are only as “good” as the souls of the people behind their application. 

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The same is true of religion. Its application is only as good as the hearts of its leaders and adherents. Religion can spread brotherly love or divisive rhetoric. It can elevate us or turn us into groveling idiots. 

People can be beautiful and noble. Sadly, they can also be really fucking dangerous. Power in the hands of people is the most dangerous thing of all. In the guise of religion or atheistic totalitarianism or socialism or communism or democracy … humans having power over other humans is the great bugaboo of all suffering and tragedy. 

And this boils down to intent. Do those in power want to minister to the people or manipulate them? Do they want to serve them or make them subservient?  

These are moral questions, not scientific ones.  

So, thank you science … for heart transplants and AIDS treatments and flat screen TVs. 

Thank you religion … for prayer that brings connection to the sacred, for the dissemination of ideas that lead us to give to others, to love mercy and to seek justice and peace. 

Just watch your hearts, atheists and theists and agnostics. This is where all future hope will come from. This is where our doom will come from.  

Consider well what manner of thought and belief you deposit and nurture therein.

(This post inspired by another blog post: https://writerswithoutmoney.com/2015/08/04/the-surgeon-on-the-mount-or-science-the-theology-after-god/comment-page-1/)

 

Dear Mr. Spong

I have a feeling I’d like you if we met. Perhaps we’d chat over a cold beverage (something imported, let’s say from Holland). We’d talk about life and death and spirituality and science and man’s search for meaning.

Since that’s a very unlikely proposition, I am instead writing this letter that you’ll never read. Because I can.

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You, sir, I will necessarily concede, are a whole lot smarter than I am. Your level of formal education far exceeds mine, as does your extensive life-experience and study. The accomplishments of your career are significant and impressive. I would have no prayer of winning a philosophical argument with you, and I’d probably hesitate to try if I were in your presence. I’m sure a lengthy talk with you would be fascinating, enlightening, and a pleasure for me.

But, since you aren’t here to gently decimate my arguments, I am going to argue with you. In a friendly, respectful way. I hope you don’t mind.

At the beginning of your book, Eternal Life: a New Vision, you go very much out of your way to convince the reader how plainly obvious it is that we (humans) are a product of many accidental events.

I have to propose that this is not plain at all. I have to suggest that there is an entirely different way to view our arrival on planet Earth … as quite dramatically and irrevocably inevitable.

It’s not that complicated an argument, really. It can’t be. Because, like I said, I’m not that smart.

Let’s start with a simple illustration.

Suppose Billy bats a baseball intended to land somewhere in the vicinity of his friend, Tommy (presumably so that Tommy might catch the ball and throw it back). However, when bat and ball meet, the ball’s trajectory sends it flying into and through Billy’s neighbor’s (Mr. Johnson’s) living room window.

As it turns out, Mr. Johnson is a very reasonable fellow and, when he catches up with Billy and Tommy (who have run off out of sheer terror), he assures them he is not mad and only wants them to talk to their parents and get the window fixed. More interestingly, Mr. Johnson excitedly invites them over to his house to take a look at something he tells them is, “Really quite spectacular.” That something is the hole left in his window by the ball. As they stand before it, the boys’ mouths drop in amazement.

The hole in the shattered glass looks precisely like the profile of Abraham Lincoln’s head and torso. Uncanny. Beyond improbable. A freak accident if there ever was one.

Or is it?

Yes, you might make a lengthy, complicated argument stating that any of countless, tiny adjustments in Tommy’s throw, Billy’s swing, the wind, the ball, the bat, the curvature of the Earth (you get the idea) … and that hole would have looked like any other random hole in a glass window. And you would be right.

However.

Your point is moot. All of the circumstances and nuances of nature and that moment were exactly what they were. And, from the beginning of time, that outcome—the one that left an Abe Lincoln-shaped hole in Mr. Johnson’s living room window—was absolutely unalterable and completely certain. Put another way: because that event did happen, it had to happen.

Now, apply this notion to humanity’s rise from amoeba to ascendance.

All those events, those “accidents” you describe so eloquently? That infinitely dense ball of matter (the “cosmic zygote,” if you will), the arrival of one-celled living things, sea-life making its way to land, the fall of the dinosaur, the evolution of a primate to modern man? Because those things did happen, they had to happen.

Again, yes, I know, if the sun were in another position, if the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out …

But this is conjecture on what might have been, nothing more. It’s like arguing that the team that won the Super Bowl would not have won if only Quincy the Quarterback hadn’t thrown that boneheaded interception in the fourth quarter. (He did. It’s done. Get over it.)

The fact is that, hyper-complex cosmic circumstances being what they were, mankind was most assuredly inevitable. You, dear Mr. Spong, were inevitable. Precisely you. Exactly as you are, with your height and eye color and hair color and temperament and potential for intellect. You had to be born. As did I. And my neighbors, and their ill-tempered wiener dog, Puddin’.

This doesn’t necessitate God in any way. Ours may indeed be a purely material world. Blind matter, and a universe without intention, making absolutely sure that you and I (and all our ancestors) came into existence. Conditions being what they were, we couldn’t not happen.

And yet. No. I don’t buy the random non-intention of that scenario. Not really. Maybe that’s the truth of things. But it sounds wrong, doesn’t it? There’s a cause and effect problem of epic proportion there, in my estimation.

And this is where I invoke God. Not because I can prove God. I can’t. No one can. But I would suggest that the idea of God is (at the very least) no more absurd than mindless matter incrementally building the human mind, leading to consciousness and ultimately self-consciousness. The cosmic zygote came from … where again? Exactly. You don’t know. No one does.

You pick your unlikely conclusion. I’ll pick mine.

Religion is a different matter. I’m not talking about religious ideas of God (that would be a separate and more dubious undertaking, though I certainly have my beliefs); I’m talking about God as the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover. The one utterly inexplicable, irrational, incomprehensible thing that explains everything else. Here at least, as crazy as the notion may sound to some, the cause is sufficient to produce the effect. In a purely material creation you have to have a virtually infinite string of inexplicable materials and events where the spinning of spontaneously-appearing inanimate particles leads to living beings who contemplate their mortality, write poetry, compose symphonies, transplant vital organs, and build ships that carry them into outer space; beings who sing and dance, laugh and weep, hope and despair, love and hate, create and destroy. Fascinating accident, indeed.

Or is it?

B.Y.O.G.

It sounds a little crazy, I know: Bring Your Own God to the party.

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But, in fact, we do already.

Even if you go to a church where very specific theology is taught, very specific creeds invoked … I can guarantee you that not every member/attender embraces every word of what comes from on high.

We come into church service with slightly different versions of God informing our faith.

As Rob Bell says, “We shape our God, then our God shapes us.” (Love Wins, p 97)

Exactly right, Mr. Bell.

In my church, the Unitarian Universalist church, that truth is not just acknowledged, it is encouraged and celebrated. The Baptist sits between the Buddhist and the atheist. Each is pleased to let the other believe what they do (or don’t) believe.

When I look back on the evolution of my faith, I can see that I have moved toward a God that continues to become less and less punitive until, finally, “he” (the language of accommodation) isn’t a punisher at all, but full only of compassion and grace, light and love.

Faith is a weird thing. It surely can divide us. The divisions can be lethal, tragically. Or our desire for “higher truth” and “enlightened selves” can lead us to a place of magnificent unity and community. It would be my prayer that this is The Way we choose…

Namaste.

 

My Memoir Has Been Published as a Kindle Book, Available Now!

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Description:

Would a loving God eternally punish people who don’t believe the right things? Or, as author Jim Wormington puts it, “If light is the only color in your divine box of Crayons, how can the picture you draw be so full of darkness?”

Wormington’s memoir, “Rob Bell Saved Me From Hell,” is the chronicle of his spiritual evolution: from rigid, oppressive Fundamentalism to expansive, liberating Universalism. It will encourage you to smile and challenge you to think.

Is it possible to “get the hell” out of your religion without losing your faith? Could it be that God’s love and compassion are greater than you ever imagined?