Thursday, July 12, 2007

A God Moment

Sure, I had moments where I felt that God was so close I could almost breach the ethereal plane and touch Him as a Christian. Never expected one as an atheist…

I was on vacation last week. My favorite kind. One with no agenda. My grandparents owned a place on a lake in Northern Michigan. As a child, and growing into an adult, we had one set rule at the Cabin—you do not have to do something just because everyone else was doing it. If everyone wanted to go swimming and you wanted to take a nap—you could take a nap. No pressure.

If we were going golfing, and you wanted to stay and read a book—GREAT! That was your choice. This developed into a very relaxed atmosphere in which I can vacation without always having to go somewhere or do something or have some itinerary dictating my day.

Sunday morning I went for my typical run. It was hot, and I ended up running a little farther than intended. After showering, and making my coffee, I headed down to the early morning lake to sit for a moment before the rest of the family was up.

I was clean and shiny with endorphins still flowing from my run. The lake was so calm that the boats moored in the water were not in line with waves (there were none) but were sporadically pointing in random directions. The water was clear and so calm that I could hear a raucous breakfast happening somewhere on the lake. Just far enough way to not make out words, but close enough to hear the laughter in the voices.

Not a cloud in the sky. It was a new day, fresh with the promise of a gorgeous Northern Michigan vacation. Just me, the sun, the water, and my coffee. The smell of pine was in the air.

I took that first sip of coffee. I don’t know if you are a coffee drinker, but if you are, you know what the first taste is like. After that, your tongue becomes accustomed to the bitter, rich flavor, but that first sip—oh is it heaven!

And in that instant, in a rush, I had a God moment. As I looked at nature surrounding me, I thought, “Certainly there must be some creator. This is far too beautiful for me to be lucky enough to roll the cosmic dice and be in such a pure state of ecstasy.”

To any theists out there—you want a great argument for a god? Stand with me on that dock. No, don’t say anything—every syllable you make only detracts from the argument. The strength of it is the silence and absorbing it with every attuned sense.

And then…slowly…as they do…the God moment recessed back. It shrank. I didn’t will it away. I didn’t will it to stay. It just…diminshed. I couldn’t help thinking, “We skeptics sure give theists a rough time about their god. We throw the Problem of Suffering out. We bring up the Tankah, the genocides, the flood over and over and over. We question why their god does what they claim he does. Why they claim he loves us, but never talks to us.”

That was god’s big opportunity! After all the questions, after all the blaming, after all the accusations of immorality, one would think that this would have been his big chance to appear and say, “But see? See? I did pretty good here, don’t you think?” Yet again, though, God did not choose to make an appearance.

I get that the God Moment was simply a time in which I was extremely happy. That a combination of senses and timing gave my brain an adrenaline rush it liked. In the time of my greatest despair, when I was begging for God to show me anything—he never came. In the time of my greatest ecstasy, when a slight shift would have revealed his presence—he never came. He was never there in the first place.

As my cup was almost empty, and the last lingering traces of the God Moment were clinging to my mind, I heard my oldest shout, “Dad! What’s for breakfast?!” And I was brought back to corporeal senses. This was what life was really about—making breakfast. Survival. God Moments are nice—they are mind re-chargers. Yet in the end, we must go return to living. To interacting, eating, sleeping, working, playing and being human.

I made eggs and bacon with a smile on my face. Me. An atheist. Having a moment of spirituality. Who’d a thunk it?


  1. That's a pretty terrific bit of honesty, there; I think there are a lot of atheists who would never share such a humbling moment publicly.

    As to your last comment, "Me. An atheist. Having a moment of spirituality. Who’d a thunk it?" I think being an atheist isn't necessarily counter to being spiritual, though I suppose it depends on your definition. Yet I consider myself to be spiritual, at least in some respects, and despite the fact that I don't believe there's any such thing as a "spirit" as completely separate from our physical body/mind. But, I believe, almost mystically, in the "power of love" (as exhibited through action, not some vague emotion), and I believe that makes me a spiritual person :)

  2. Welcome back! I've always found you to be quite spiritual. :-)

    I too have stood on the shore, of Lake Erie actually, and leaned into a powerful wind that held me up as I leaned into it. Arms stretched out to my sides. This is life. Embrace it.

  3. DagoodS, I agree with micah, this was gutsy.
    I enjoyed reading about your lake experience. I grew up on a small peninsula, and when I see the ocean, I often have the same sense as you. There is something about nature that humbles the human heart and rearranges our thinking.

    ***To any theists out there—you want a great argument for a god? Stand with me on that dock. No, don’t say anything—every syllable you make only detracts from the argument. (DagoodS)

    I liked this advice. You are right - if God doesn't reveal himself, we don't have a hope of doing it for him. If he is revealing himself, we had best not interrupt him.

    ***This was what life was really about—making breakfast. Survival. (DagoodS)

    I believe that life for a human is about both that flash of awareness of what can't be seen AND the practical grittiness of cooking breakfast, feeding hungry bodies, surviving. One is not more important than the other.

    Thank you for this.

  4. If this experience were an independent event, would it still be connected to God for the theists? After all, God wasn't speaking with words or there weren't words across the sky that said, "This is God's work." For a theist, it seems more like this is along the lines of a nudge from God. But that seems to be interpreting the feelings to mean something, rather than the feelings be straightforward. As though the theist is saying, "According to my belief system, the feelings mean this."

    Whereas an atheist would just say it's a feeling of intense happiness/peace, but that doesn't necessarily correlate to a 'God moment.'

  5. I am a bit surprised (and humbled) by words such as “honesty” and “gutsy.” I guess I think of this as me being…me. I didn’t ask for my life to turn out this way. Quite the opposite. It just did. And if some bumps and curves come along, I figure other humans have had similar bumps and curves, and as it is comforting to me to hear of people going through some of the same experiences, perhaps it will be comforting to them.

    micah cowan, thank you for your comment. I was astonished to learn you read my blog. While I know of other atheists that claim to have spirituality and spiritual moments (Sam Harris comes to mind) it had never happened to me.

    My mind does not believe there is a god. I don’t turn to god in trouble; I don’t thank a god when things go well. The thought is not there. If you asked a week ago, I would have said I would never have a God moment again. Without the base, I would not have expected the emotion.

    Curious that it did. Like a childhood memory that flashes out of nowhere, or a feeling of déjà vu. Some recess of my mind can still replicate that exact same feeling.

    heather, I think you are right that our background would give a label to the feeling. To go a step further than what you said, a Protestant would imagine a Protestant God was providing the moment. A Mormon; a Mormon God. And so on. It is no shock that a theist would accept that such an instant came from God herself.

    I found it odd a mind that does not hold to any god, and has not for a bit, would default to such a notion. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, given 37 years of theism. You can take the boy out of theism, but not take theism out of the boy, eh? *wink*

    rebecca shannon – Oh, I am embracing life. When it slows down enough to let me catch it!

    jennypo – you are right, of course. Life is not just about eating, sleeping and surviving. These flashes are frosting on a great cake.

  6. DagoodS,

    **I found it odd a mind that does not hold to any god, and has not for a bit, would default to such a notion. ** I think it's because no experience we have exists in a vacuum. We use our other experiences, and our knowledge, and our beliefs, to interpret anything that happens to us. As you said, you are an atheist now, but there's also 37 years of theism that would influence how you'd interpret a moment like this.

    The trick, though, is even if it is a God moment, which God? ;) Many religions woudl say it's a result of their God, and back it up with their Scripture. As much as it might be a God moment, it's also too vague to define the type of God, or the nature of God, or even more information about that God, other than there is a Creator who makes lovely things. To use a religious book to decipher that moment would almost be reading something into the moment that's not necessarily there.

  7. I think that sounds like a great and peaceful morning - which in this busy world - we all need from time to time. I guess a moment like that is personal - something that can be described but never fully explained to us - although I think you did quite the admirable job with the language.

    We need more of the peaceful calm that befell you there in our worlds also - one where we can just be us and enjoy what we have around us - and allow others that same great 'peace'.

    Dagoods, I really like your writing - your something of an awesome wordsmith I must tell ya.

  8. Dagoods,

    I am not surprised by your honesty or guts. As you say, you are just being you. Anyone who has come to know you has come to expect that. It is very telling though, our emotional response to that honesty. More important than the "atheist having a moment of spirituality," is the atheist's openness about it. It is the same "honesty" that led to your deconversion, no?

    It's really nice to have a consistent person around who simply deals honestly across the board.

    So many of us are accustomed to having 'followed' a "God" who is "love" but commits genocide, who is "the truth" yet deceives with "lying spirits," who is always with one but is strangely absent...well, you get the picture. I think were just not accustomed to consistent or honesty. We kind of expected those from a God who says "I change not," and find it ironic (to say the least) when we encounter it instead in a mortal. Just more evidence that demands a verdict.

  9. I was on vacation last week. My favorite kind. One with no agenda.
    I was on vacation last week, too...with my wife and daughter who have a lot of agendas. But I did get to have a few moments of bliss like you did at the lake. Mine was floating down a river in a raft looking up into the trees, letting the river take me.

    It's interesting that "God moments" have these characteristics:
    1) we are doing absolutely nothing
    2) we feel a sense that all is right
    3) we feel a presence and expect it to reveal itself to us
    4) it is quiet around us with a soothing sound in the distance: the gurgling spring, rolling waves, distant party, etc.
    5) we lose track of time.

    Thomas Merton condensed our relationship with God down to an ultimate purpose of being totally useless, mere existence and contentment, enjoying His presence and Him enjoying ours.

    Either way you look at it, theistic or athiest, something is tapping us on the shoulder when we have those moments of peace.

  10. Delighted to hear that you have "God moments." There's hope for you yet!

    I just discovered your blog today. I'm sort of in the mood for some interaction with atheists (anti-Catholic Protestants are getting terribly boring lately). I may tackle some of your articles, as I have in the past. :-)

  11. Very interesting thread. Also Jim Jordan's 5 necessary states to achieve that subtle phenomena we call a "God Moment".
    Makes me wonder if the reason that spirituality is dissapearing from our contemporary lexicon is the constant bombardment of our senses.
    Do we need to escape more often?
    Were people living before the technology era more spiritual because they were able to live those 5 steps on a day to day basis?

  12. Jim Jordan,

    You are quite correct on your 5 points of God moment. The only difference with me, is that I may “sense” another presence, but I have no desire to have it reveal itself to me. It feels as if it is already revealed.

    I am glad you had a vacation and relaxation as well. I wish it for all, regardless of their theistic beliefs.

    Dave Armstrong,

    You are quite welcome. All I ask is that if you post on some ancient blog entry, and desire a response, give me a heads up on something more recent. I don’t e-mail if I get comments. I figure if it is that old, nobody should be interested. *wink*

    (Sorry about the involvement with “Anti-Catholics” but it seems to come with the territory in the theistic debate. The animosity far outweighs the genuine discussion.)


    A friend and I were discussing this very thing. He was telling me, he wakes up in the morning and immediately checks his e-mail for overnight activity. While driving to work, he is in conference calls with others. At work, he is in meetings, and answering mail by his laptop. When walking between meetings, he is checking his e-mail and responding by blackberry. On the way home from work, he is back on conference calls.

    He feels as if he is “plugged in” 24 hours!

    I do think we, as a society, are having a greater problem “tuning out” and taking a moment to not be “on” all the time. And that blocks out many things, including families and moments such as this.

  13. Were people living before the technology era more spiritual because they were able to live those 5 steps on a day to day basis?

    Great question, roman. This made me think of another point, is this the same dynamic today with folks in the country (the so-called "red states") being more spiritual than their urban counterparts?

    BTW, Dagoods, as society said, you're an awesome wordsmith. This one reads like an extended, yet very fluid, poem

  14. DaGoodS,
    I know exactly what you are typing about here. I also run frequently, always with the dogs out in the desert near my house. I let them loose to chase jack-rabbits as I run up an old dirt trail to an abandoned tin mine by the side of the mountain. It is 4 miles up and 4 miles back down. When I get to the mine, I can see so far that I swear I can sometimes see the earth fall away below the horizon, and the desert floor below me reflects the curvature of the earth, north into New Mexico and down south into Juarez.

    You can see forever up there.

    Then I jog back downhill to where I park my truck. I usually go full throttle downhill. By the time I get back, I feel overwhelmed with the sense of epiphany and even rapture and the rush of endorphins. I have a hunch it is the same sense of transcendence that the ancients induced in themselves to see visions. It is that powerful.

    It is so powerful, that sometimes when I am finished, I even find myself thanking God for the physical ability to experience what few ever really do. I know there is no God listening to me, but the sense is so overwhelming, that I feel I must thank *somebody* for my good fortune.

    Weird, huh?

  15. I did like this post DagoodS, it was a great read and makes me want to take my boat and go to the mountains and fish. It's not about catching fish as much as it is about the moments to recharge and just enjoy nature.

    I had to comment on your God moment. That moment you had was, I believe, was God himself trying to speak to you the way he does. It isn't by showing himself to you or writing messages in the sky, or in your eggs you had for breakfast, but a spirit to spirit connection that, in that moment, He wanted you to know that he is there and did all this you see. You did experience God in this moment. We put the label of Christian God, Jew God, Hindu God, ect... There is just one, while He may be understood differently by all of us, still there is just one. I may get some flack for this, in fact I'm pretty sure it was you that told me before that a lot of people would like to sit me down and explain some things to me when I mentioned something like this before. Now You get the truth spoken to your very soul.
    Now for your thought experiment. What if you were the one ruler of the whole earth, how would you go about seeing that everyone had enough food, clothing and shelter? Would you do it all yourself? or would you expect that everyone pitch in and do there share?

  16. Sorry for the late reply, richdurrant.

    Part catching up, part not paying attention to old posts

    If it was a God Moment, it left me an atheist. Sorry. *grin*

    As to your question, with my empathy, I would first make sure that every human had food, clothing and shelter. No question. No hesitation. Then I would start showing humans how to help each other, and how to help themselves. But for those that no help came—I would provide.

  17. From the frequency of your posts, I didn't expect you to get around to this one very fast. Anyhow.

    "As to your question, with my empathy, I would first make sure that every human had food, clothing and shelter. No question. No hesitation. Then I would start showing humans how to help each other, and how to help themselves. But for those that no help came—I would provide."

    I agree that I would probably try to do pretty much the same here. Is it not better that people learn how to provide for themselves instead of always being provided with what is needed? It's kind of like treating humans as your children and your helping some but not all. You don't love everyone equally because you make some provide for themselves while others just get whatever they need. That doesn't sound very fair. Why doesn't everyone in your world get equal treatment? Are you some kind of tyrant? At first look, and as you wrote, I'm sure you thought that it sounded pretty good, you world leadership, but through the eyes of others it may not be so great even though your intentions are to take care of everyone.
    I know its of track from your god moment, but I haven't seen much of you since DC days so I was glad to find you had your own blog. As many have pointed out you are a brilliant writer. In case you left before I had to change my handle, I use to post as rich there at dc.

    "If it was a God Moment, it left me an atheist. Sorry. *grin*"

    Actually you started the God moment as an atheist, god tried to give you a glimpse of he being real, and you said thanks for the wonderful moment, but I'll get back to my life now. *grin back:)*

  18. richdurrant: Is it not better that people learn how to provide for themselves instead of always being provided with what is needed?

    A fascinating question that could use some fleshing out. What is “better”? This past Christmas I asked my father if the “Good Ol’ Days” were really that good. If he thought things were “worse” now in the Twenty-First Century then when he was growing up.

    We often have this glamorous view of the past, and how it was “better” back then, and I wondered how accurate it was. After thinking, he said, “In all honesty? It is better now. You know we spent a great deal of time, just trying to survive. We had to have large gardens in order to grow vegetables, to can them, to eat throughout the year. We had to have fruit trees, to preserve fruit. We worked hard on the farm during the early morning, went to work in the city during the day, and then came home and worked on the farm again.”

    He went on, “Now we can stop at the store on the way home, and buy a dinner cheaper than it would cost to make it separately. We have much more free time to enjoy life. We take vacations. While I may not like what I think is a decline in morals, I would have to say that even with that, I would never trade places back to what life was like when I was a child.”

    So what is “better,” richdurrant? Part of it is a maturity/knowledge process. Should I be teaching my kids how to sew, cook, clean, plumb, work electricity, repair small engines, perform minor surgery, file taxes, argue in a court of law, weld, fish, hunt, butcher, mold, play soccer, football, hockey, curling, learn quantum physics, microbiology, archeology, ancient languages, geology, marine biology, and chess?

    We probably both agree it would be “better” if they knew all those things, yet recognize the reality they cannot.

    Why do you think it is “better” for people to provide for themselves? Because we live in a reality where failure to do so means we don’t survive! The only reason we think it is “better” is because we have to!

    By giving me the god-like power of the ability to provide for everyone—we no longer have the necessity to work so hard. It may no longer be “better” for people to provide for themselves.

    More: You don't love everyone equally because you make some provide for themselves while others just get whatever they need. That doesn't sound very fair. Why doesn't everyone in your world get equal treatment?

    Who wants “fair”? Who wants “equal treatment”? Here is a little thought experiment—I grant you the god-like ability to feed every person in the world today. Now—what do you provide that is “fair”? What is “equal treatment”?

    Seems to me, we start off with the concept of giving everyone the same thing. How about a glass of milk? But I don’t like milk. I prefer Chocolate Milk. Can I have that instead? Or would that start to be unequal treatment. Unfortunately, some people prefer regular milk over Chocolate milk, so now I whine that it is “not fair” or “unequal” because they got what they prefer, and I did not.

    Or people that are lactose intolerant. They can’t have milk. Do you give them “special milk”? Is that fair? Is that equal? Or babies that are breast-feeding. Cow’s milk is bad for them. Should this glass of milk pasteurized or not?

    One little glass of milk, and we are already up to our hips in “unequal” and “unfair” treatment. And we have a whole day’s worth of food to deliver!

    “Fair” is in the eye of the beholder. Is it that all get the same thing? Is it all getting what they want? Is it all getting what they need? All could be equally argued as very fair, or very unfair, depending on perspective.

    Which brings me back to this God moment. It was lovely. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. But it was NOT what I need to determine a God exists! What we, as humans, can figure out—that people have different needs—the god that humans created cannot. The god that most humans tell me exists has only a very one-dimensional presentation. It can only seem to communicate in a limited fashion. (Not coincidentally, it happens to be the exact same fashion as to what is convincing to the person telling me such a god exists! If that person believes in a god from experience—lo and behold they claim god communicates through experience. If that person believes in god through faith—lo and behold that god is only convincing to those of faith.)

    You would think that a god that is smart enough to figure out that the same glass of milk does not fit all humans, would equally figure out that the same presentation of proof equally does not fit all humans.

    (And yes, I knew you were “rich” from DC, and yes, it is a pleasure, as always, speaking with you.)

  19. Admittedly you are right that better is different from another perspective. Maybe sometimes those things that we deem unfair or unequal just need a different perspective:)

    As far as your thought experiment, I think the end result desired determines the manner in which I choose to provide. If I just want all to not worry about providing for themselves and always have what they need, then I just provide for all, no questions asked. And since I have god-like ability I should know what each individual needs. We still have a big problem here though, somewhere someone will decide that they have a need that is not being met, and it will be my fault because it is not provided for them. Go with milk, this someone decides they need chocolate milk instead of regular, not knowing, as I do, that it will make them fat and unable to function. They still have to trust, or have faith, that I am providing for needs, not wants, and be able to separate the two. Boy, this God stuff isn't too fun, it bakes my noodle!
    If i want my people to become more self sufficient so they can provide for themselves, I would then provide them with soil for growing, animals to use for any number of tings from preparing soil, as food, kind of similar to what we have, then teach how to use such things and sit back and watch. In the mean time I would hope they would help those less fortunate and teach them how to take care of themselves, so the could be self sufficient. Makes it sound all to easy.
    Maybe you answered your own questions though. Maybe it is just that you want an undeniable God moment in which you see God, or some unmistakable God written message, or some other unmistakable sign that God exists. But God knows what you really need, and does fulfill that need as in this case, but your desire/want for something different outweighs your true need.
    All in all, this particular post makes me want to go fishing in the nearby mountains