005 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on October 29, 2009 at 10:05 pm


If I talk about God as though he exists, it isn’t because I have proven (or disproven) his existence, nor does it mean that I accept any of the commonly held views of God. It’s because I don’t have enough information that I am comfortable in either camp. I none-the-less reject that the Earth is evil, that God is inconsistent or that God discriminates. I reject the inconsistencies in the Bible, eternal damnation, torture, favoritism, claims of being chosen (for anything) over others or their beliefs, mass murder by any name (e.g., the Rapture / the Apocalypse ) or any other fear-based approach to proselytizing unquestioning believers.

All roads lead to death, whether we are gone forever, reincarnated from time-to-time, off to another universe or chosen for any variation on this theme. I do not believe that any of the paths we take were meant to discriminate against anyone, to treat others as inferior, or to define who will be turned away—using religion, race, sex, or any other god-given-attribute during creation, whether or not his method of creation involved evolution, rebirth or rubbing two match sticks together. Nobody has the definitive truth, and if we have even a snails chance of learning the truth, it won’t likely happen before we die.

Why An Agnostic?  Why Not A Believer With an Explanation?

“God may not play dice with the universe, but he seemingly does so with the lives of its inhabitants; either that, or he has no interest in outcomes.” It was Albert Einstein who said, “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” [Einstein, His Life and Times, 1947] It was I who added the observation that god doesn’t appear to care one way or the other. A believer would say, “God works in mysterious ways,” and ask no further questions. An atheist would say, “the whole universe operates on mathematical probabilities” and think he answered the question. An agnostic never stops asking the question.

We are taught by religious leaders that god is love. This makes more sense than many of the alternatives. If true, then god asks nothing from me, not even belief in his existence. My creation was a gift not unlike the gift of life that I participated in when my children were born. I understand this god. This is the god that expects me to take ownership of my life and for my mistakes. I reject the god that put us on earth to live our lives in constant fear of his wrath. The god that works in mysterious ways. There is nothing mysterious about getting the razor strap off the top shelf and showing us who is boss. This isn’t my god; this is the god of our forefathers, the god who makes us winners and everybody else losers.

If god exists, and if god created everything, then god forgives our mistakes because to do otherwise would make us god’s mistake. I reject the notion that god creates weaklings so he can punish them for an eternity for their mistakes (or for failing to beg for forgiveness). I reject most interpretations that present god as judge or warrior spewing fire and damnation. If god made me in his image, then it makes even less sense to torture me for my mistakes.

If we are all sinners, and god punishes us for doing what is in our nature, then god has created a perverse universe. This would be the god we curse when we lose our temper and expose our short comings, for he created us with our imperfections. But I do not believe this is anymore than a false god. I do not exclude the notion that we have some responsibility for our actions. For whatever reason, we have been given the awesome responsibility of choice. We must be expected to use it. And we will make mistakes, and we will get up, dust ourselves off and try again.

But the hardest idea to accept in this discussion is that nobody, not even god, waits 2,000 years to punish a child. If you truly believe in god, then forget the rapture. There will be no Judgement Day. God doesn’t need revenge. (Did Jesus seek revenge?) It is man who seems to need revenge. Neither does god take sides. It is man who takes sides. It is man who wrote the Bible and man who interprets the Bible (or its equivalent) to prove that he is on the right side. And it is man who picks his version of God based on his current needs, and who doesn’t recognize that his choices are inconsistent with a single god, a god of love.

If I still haven’t made clear why I am an agnostic, let me say this: it’s as much to associate more with those who are still looking (agnostics), and less with those who gave up years ago (believers and non-believers). “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves” [The True Believer; thoughts on the nature of mass movements, Eric Hoffer, © 1951, reprint 2002] I do insist, however, that before I accept the one true god, somebody must prove that I am not being seduced by a cheap imitation.

A final note before closing out this week’s installment: I recently read an excellent new book [Jesus Interrupted; revealing the hidden contradictions in the bible (and why we don’t know about them), Bart D Ehrman, 2009]. The author is a well-qualified expert in bible studies and expresses his findings with the care and sensitivity you would expect from a man of his experience. I think everyone over the age of 21 should read this book and listen to his story. Whether or not you are believer, agnostic or even atheist, it’s a good read, well worth your time.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

  1. Ehrman is the James A Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); he is author of more than 20 books; he is recognized as a leading authority on the bible and on the life of Jesus. He started out as a “strong evangelical” and became an agnostic.

    In his own words: “And so, just as I came to see the Bible as a very human book, I came to see Christianity as a very human religion. It did not descend from on high. It was created, down here on earth, among the followers of Jesus in the decades and centuries after his death. But none of this made me an agnostic. [p.275]

    … I did not leave the Christian faith because of the inherent problems of faith per se, or because I came to realize that the Bible was a human book, or that Christianity was a human religion. All that is true—but it was not what dismantled my acceptance of the Christian myth. I left the faith for what I took to be (and still take to be) an unrelated reason: the problem of suffering in the world.” [p.277]

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