The question being—which God? It is one thing to have a previously instilled belief in a particular God, and ponder what parts of your belief may be inaccurate. It is a very different kettle of fish to have a basic understanding there is a God, and wonder what parts must be accurate. And I now had a methodology firmly in place—If I was arguing for a position, either in favor of it being included in a God, or against it being included in a God; what would a neutral jury determine?
A very common thread running through arguments for a God is the argument of incredulity. The fact that life happened is so incredible, certainly it would be impossible to come about on its own. Or the odds of the universe existing are so infinitesimally small; surely there must be a God. When I think of a “neutral juror” I am not thinking of people with a preconceived notion of what a God is or is not. What is likely and what is not. Imagine someone who doesn’t even know the term “God.” Or know the various proposed claims for how the universe came into being.
Someone with a completely blank slate. A true agnostic in that they do not know; not that they cannot decide (which, too often, is how an agnostic is incorrectly portrayed.) We see jurors like this all the time. They line up in the box, not knowing whether the case is about an armed robbery, or an automobile crash, or a breach of contract. They discover it is a case about the sale of electricity. By the time the case is over, they have more knowledge than they knew even existed about how electricity is sold.
“God” is so ill-defined. Oh, sure, we figure He/She/It manufactured the universe…somehow. And lives…somewhere. He/She/It may or may not be interested in humans. May or may not have utilized evolution. May or May not have something or other to perhaps be involved in some way with some things such as morals, love, truth and conscious. Or maybe not. But like the elusive needle, the more you look, the larger the haystack becomes, the greater the fear you missed it in the parts already investigated.
Because God is placed behind a barrier beyond our zone of discovery, the only way for us to gain knowledge about God is if He/She/It chooses to reveal it. And all the theists disagree as to both the definition of this God, as well as how we come to know any aspects of God’s characteristics. For those reasons, it is easier for me to conceptualize using a completely neutral juror, (even though obviously no such person actually exists), since there is so little common ground to safely claim all jurors would believe.
I have my jury; I need my proofs, my witnesses, and my examining attorneys to review all of these possible Gods. So I fill the benches with one (1) person from each of the various schools of thought regarding God, what God is like and how we know it. Since there are so many, I limit it to only 50,000. I call the first person in the first row to be the first witness. Now my jury starts to hear the claims about what a God is, how this particular person knows of it, and why it is believed to be an accurate depiction.
However, there are no “free rides” in this method. Since theists love to disagree and demonstrate how other theists are incorrect, I let them do so. I let the other 49,999 people cross-examine this person, since the other 49,999 are convinced the testimony is not correct. Then the second person in the first row testifies, and is cross-examined by person 1, and 49,998 others. The Third person testifies, cross-examined by persons 1, 2 and 49,997 others.
The proofs continue; we begin to see a familiar pattern. What is rejected in another’s religion is embraced in one’s own. What one holds as sacred, another discards as rubbish. And each and every religious claim is no more than what a human could devise at that moment.
As the religions of ancient history testify of God’s moving the sun around the earth, the more scientifically advanced modern religions would elbow each other with a knowing grin, salivating at their opportunity to cross-examine the person regarding their inability to understand the Earth orbits the Sun, and how this religious belief is wrong. The Native Americans testify to the Great Spirit only creating parts of the world immediately before it is discovered by them; the religions from the European countries prepare their notes to demonstrate how wrong this is.
All the religions tell the tale of their particular creation story; all of the other religions hover like vultures, waiting to swoop in with how it fails to align with science, or knowledge, or is completely preposterous. Unlike their own creation story, of course.
Many of the Jewish sects testify how God revealed himself in writing in the Tanakh. The Christian sects can hardly contain themselves, to both cross-examine and testify how it is the Tanakh AND the New Testament. Do the Christians see the Muslims right behind, eager to prove it is the Tanakh, the New Testament AND the Qur’an? Do the Muslims see the Mormons, who agree it is more than just the Tanakh and the New Testament, but not the Qur’an; instead the Book of Mormon?
Person 1,015 testifies how his religion is validated by miracles. Only to be ripped apart by the skepticism of Person 21,211. But when Person 21,211 testifies how her religion is validated by miracles, the juror hear the same questions asked of her, that she asked of Person 1,015. With likewise unconvincing claims. What person 21,211 would not accept from 1,015, she gladly embraces in her own belief.
Over and over our jurors hear how personal testimonies of changed lives legitimize the person’s religion, but are mere stories, myth and untruth coming from any other religion. Again and Again, as the questions get thick and tough, the witnesses retreat to concepts such as “faith” and God is unknowable. Unverifiable. Undeterminable. The same answers the person scoffs when cross-examining others, the witness finds are the only response available when questioned. Exhibits mount as to what is or is not a divine writing; what constitutes or does not constitute a valid miracle; what is divine work within nature, or mere speculation.
We see people who desire to kill and conquer, find a God who likewise desires the same. Those who aspire to love, and help others; find the same in their God. Those who ache to justify name-calling, rudeness, brashness and contention—discover unsurprisingly their God does as well. A God who hates homosexuals is the God the person who hates homosexuals is triumphant to declare as the only valid being.
And in this cacophony of humanity, a small voice says the classic line, “If a fish could make a God; it would look like a fish.” Humans are creating gods in their own image. Not the other way around.
As I looked for God; as I read the theists arguing amongst themselves; as I reviewed the history of God belief, all I could imagine was this tumultuous trial and each person unable to sustain their own, while knocking down other theistic beliefs and my thoughts kept returning to this one thing—there is nothing divine here. This is humanity.
More than just the 50,000 filled seats, I could not help but think of the long line of empty benches behind my current courtroom. Think of the discoveries we have made in the past 2000 years. If our trial happened in 1 CE, we would have no Christianity. No Muslims, no Catholics. If our trial happened in 1000 CE, we would have Christianity, but no Protestants in the courtroom. No Mormons; no Christian Science. If our trial happened in 1800 CE, we would not have the technological advancement as to the size and scope of the universe. We would not have the development of the fossil record or the breadth of the theory of evolution. If our trial happened in 1950, we would not have the archeological discoveries questioning the Torah. We would not have the translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls to use.
Imagine what we will have by 2500 CE. Or 3000 CE. Imagine who will be sitting in those seats which are empty now. Just as we chuckle, nudge, nod and wink at the Gods created by persons in 1000 CE, due to limited knowledge; will the people of 3000 CE likewise nudge, nod, chuckle and wink at our own? Do we really think this is it? God beliefs will not morph and modify and we have reached the pinnacle of theistic knowledge obtainable on this plane?
Over and over, as I looked at theistic claims, the most obvious, common sense determination was that the belief was something the human made up. With all this disagreement—how can we be certain there is a God--something--at the base? When even that base was in contention.
In describing my situation, I previously wrote
I would wake up at 2 a.m. and the wheels would start spinning. I’d creep out of bed, go into the living room and pray. I wasn’t interested in reading, or writing or even thinking. All I wanted to do was pray. And I only prayed for one thing—that God would show me he existed. I didn’t care which God, I didn’t care whether he did it in the form of a vision, or a miracle, or the right book, or a phrase or a person or a quote—or whatever.
When I prayed, I pointed out (realizing that a God would already know it) that my mind seemed to work in a certain way. Why and how--I did not know, but apparently it yearned for information in a distinct pattern. Whatever that pattern was, whatever my particular brain seemed to require, but was not getting, all I asked is that God would provide it.
I prayed that God would show me, and if it was enough for me—even if I could never prove it to anyone else, or use it as a “club” to beat those atheists—that was just fine with me. All I needed was to know he existed. I didn’t ask for a particular God, or for proof on a particular point. I figured knowing there was a God would be enough. I could enjoy the rest of my life working out the rest of the details—but know there is a God.
I prayed standing up, I prayed kneeling, I prayed pacing, I prayed doing sit-ups. I prayed every way I knew, with every word I knew. I prayed for words to explain what I was praying for. Eventually I would sleep for a few hours. The next day I would capture a few moments of reading at work, read at night, lie down exhausted, and at 2 a.m. my eyes would open. For a few nights, I tossed and turned to go back to sleep, but soon gave that up. Once 2 a.m. rolled around, I might as well get up.
I literally reached a point where I said I did not know what else to say. I just sat there. Not thinking. Not forming prayers. Wondering what was to become of me. God had his timing. God knew what I needed. I did not want to rush him.
I thought of quitting the research entirely. I would assume the claim of being a “theist” and dare not think any further. I would be afraid to move forward. Afraid to move back. Live in a perpetual half-belief of “God” and nothing more. But that gave legitimacy to the questions. That would mean I was afraid of looking for what was true. Even if no one else knew, I would know—by being afraid to ask myself the question, I was conceding I was terrified of the answer.
I was about to become the terrible monster—a man without God. The concept of a creature that my entire youth, and much of my adult years had pounded and nailed and riveted as being hopeless, moralless, and miserable. I recognized that I had too much knowledge to hold onto God, and that I was going to become wretched.
It comes as no surprise; this threw me into despair. No one could look forward to this existence of dredging through a reality I hated. It was receiving a terrible disease, for which there is no cure, yet I would have to live out my life in pain.
One morning, I looked in the mirror and said, “O.K., I cannot live like this. I am going to say it. ‘I do not believe there is a God.’” (Yes, I half-expected a lightening bolt to come right out of the electrical socket and in a moment appear before a very Angry God.) And then I got ready and went to work.
I wish I could say that immediately I felt a flood of peace, and all of my cares and troubles flew away. Life is rarely in that fashion. Change is slow and in a progress, not a jump.
What I found is that I worked that day, and it was just like every other day. I went home and spent time with my family like every other night. I wasn’t getting depressed. Instead, I was feeling more at peace—relieved. I started to sleep better and better at night. Instead of wrestling with questions, I could address them. “If there is no God, then this is just some human’s attempt or picture of God, and is no better or more true than anyone else’s.” Amazing how many questions that clears up!
I started to actually enjoy my studies. No longer was I bound by a certain dogma that required a God at the end of it. I could be free to study and come to the conclusion of This God, That God, We Don’t Know God, or no God at all. I could use my “head thinking” as much as I wanted, rather than stifle it with “heart thinking” and then try and figure out what the heck “heart thinking” was.
I started to enjoy my life about me.
As I review my past writings, I have come to realize it is becoming harder, looking back, to definitively define when I was no longer a Christian, when I was no longer a theist, and when I became an atheist. I distinctly recall, at the end of that thread on Judas’ death, changing my designation on iidb.org from “Christian” to “Theist.” I know as I entered Christianforums.com, I used the designation of “agnostic.” Yet at times, as a “theist” I was thought as a Christian. And, at times, as an agnostic, I thought as an atheist.
The best certainty I can give, is in the year of 2004: February - I was a Christian. By July I was not. By October - an atheist.
The Final Chapter