My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?
–Psalms 22, quoted by Jesus on the cross.
Many years ago, I turned away from organized religion. It was not an easy decision on my part, and learning to live with that decision has been an ongoing process in my life ever since. When people speak of religion, they often speak of the people who provided examples of how to lead their lives, and the people I knew who taught me their faith were among some of the finest people I’ve ever known. I’ve often wondered what they’d say about how I turned out. I can’t imagine they would be happy about it.
For anyone who thinks it’s easy to turn away from the religious faith one was raised in, it’s not, particularly in a society which actively vilifies and dehumanizes those who do not adhere to the dominant faith, be they Muslims, Scientologists, Atheists or Agnostics. It would be much simpler for me to attend a church and continue exhibiting the trappings of a religion I no longer accept, except that one of the lessons I was taught was to be honest, and I refuse to misrepresent that aspect of my life. The process has included learning about other sets of beliefs as well as reading other people’s opinions on the religion I was raised in.
One of the works I found most helpful in formulating my way of thinking was Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine, in which he argues in favor of a non-interventionist creator-god, and against the excesses of the organized religion of his day. Paine’s technique in Age of Reason was to use the bible to refute the bible, pointing out contradictions and inconsistencies throughout the work. Members of the modern, right-wing Tea Party, who claim Paine as a kindred spirit, have obviously never read the full canon of his work. Another influential work was The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julien Jaynes. Jaynes puts forth the premise that early humans experienced auditory hallucinations as the prefrontal cortex was developing, which they misinterpreted as the “voice(s) of god” and that schizophrenia is a modern day relict of that. While these works were helpful in finding my footing after I turned away from the religious beliefs was raised in, it was inconsistencies in those beliefs which first set me on the path of searching for alternatives in the first place.
The problem is that when one becomes invested in a system governed by an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful and all-loving entity, then one is at a loss to explain why tragedy happens to otherwise undeserving people. Two devout Christians contract the same illness; one dies, the other recovers. Why? A child is hit by a car, or falls out a window, or meets some other unexpected fate and while the first instinct is to wonder why, we’re told we cannot question the will of God, but if not, then anything that happens, good, bad, or indifferent can be attributed to God’s will. I found such an uncertain state of being unacceptable.
If someone has a benefactor whose assistance is random, arbitrary and unreliable what’s the point of having a benefactor? If one calls upon God and the options are yes, no, or maybe later, what’s the point of calling upon God in the first place? Random chance yields the exact same outcome. I’ve found that, frequently, saying one is turning things over to God is the same as saying, “Let’s just wait and see what happens.” If that’s the most we can expect from an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving entity, why even bring God into it. The next time a situation arises, try not calling on God and see what happens. Things will most likely be resolved for better or for worse just as they would if God was part of it.
There is no way to reconcile the notion of a loving and caring God who only helps certain people at certain times or under certain conditions. A Christian is just as likely as a Muslim to be struck by lightning or drown. A Jew is as likely to get cancer as is an Atheist or a Mormon and any of them are as likely to be saved from tragedy by seemingly miraculous means as any of the others. The arbitrary nature of tragedy is the single most persuasive argument against a loving and caring God. If we accept the notion of God as creator, we must accept that God created all individuals equally, and exhibits no preferential treatment toward one or another.
The argument that we’re given the freedom to make our own choices is invalid because the concept of free will is irrelevant to an entity that already knows the outcome of a person’s actions and decisions. Since no mortal being can know the mind of such an entity, one individual’s opinion on what this entity expects of us is as valid as any other individual. Ron Hubbard’s ideas carry equal weight to those of Joseph Smith, the Prophet Mohammad, or the Apostle Paul. Since this entity takes no apparent action to correct any inconsistencies or misconceptions, one must assume this entity is satisfied with this state of affairs, or cannot act upon it, or simply does not care. To put it plainly, an all-knowing and all-powerful God capable of intervening in the universe but which takes no action when its followers are suffering cannot also be regarded as all-loving, unless non-intervention is built into the system, that is, God can’t intervene by design.
Just as parents sometimes realize it’s best to let their children mediate disputes or navigate difficulties on their own, such a God might remove itself from the equation so its creations can learn to take care of themselves. I believe that’s how the system we live in works. The entity which brought about the conditions under which the universe developed does not take part in what happens in that universe. In essence, we’re on our own and it’s up to us to figure out how to correct the mess we’re making of the world. Waiting for some divine being to “save” us only pushes us closer to the brink of disaster. We need to learn to trust our own insights and observations and pay attention to the warning signs the world is giving us, because the sad truth is, if we succeed in destroying this world, we won’t get a second chance.