Most people believe in God and are even prepared to declare very particular beliefs concerning him: he knows your future; has written a holy book; disapproves of shrimp eating, etc.
And God almost always swings a ding (is a dude).
In other words, many people say they’ve searched for God and actually found him. But I’m struck by this anonymous quote concerning philosophers:
A philosopher is a blind man in a dark cellar at midnight, looking around for a black cat that isn’t there.
This also applies, however confident they may appear to be, to theists. And atheists. After the death of God, the atheist is a blind man locked in a dark cellar at midnight. That dark cellar is an inescapable conclusion: “Might makes right.” The black cats that aren’t really there are named Equality and Brotherhood.
Or, as the apparently atheist–who knew?–John McCain recently put it at a roast for his retiring Orthodox Jewish senate colleague and friend, Joe Lieberman:
I had to put up all the[se] years with the bullshit of religion, I might as well convert.
What good is it, in other words, to go through the public motions of paying respect for religion without believing a word of it? And if atheism provides no guidance for action, why not just convert to God belief for the hell of it, as a kind of dicing game? God, after all, might give you three things: some external direction, feelings of forgiveness for past wrongdoing, and afterlife insurance.
So John McCain has hit on something. God belief is what you do to ground actions, get forgiveness, and secure an afterlife insurance policy. You suspect religion is bullshit, but long odds on guidance, forgiveness, and eternal life are better than no odds at all. You can’t win if you don’t play.
This is probably why so many 21st century people still profess belief in God: they’re outsourcing their moral compass, imagining themselves forgiven of past wrongs, and taking out afterlife insurance. With the possible exception of forgiveness, these are three things atheism simply cannot help one with.
Atheists, it is true, do often end up concluding that human beings are wholly determined by chemistry and physics–that is, they lack free will–and this can ease a guilty or regret-laden conscience. It may not give actions a larger meaning, but it does remove responsibility. Perhaps this is, in part, one reason atheists are attracted to the doctrine.
But the bottom line is this: most people are essentially atheists, living largely secular lives, not attending in their minds to God in a consistently serious way. But they’re cowards about it. They’re gaming the religious system like John McCain joked about doing.
Still, a lot of people aren’t gaming the religious system, but really believe what John McCain calls the bullshit. So my question is for those true believers: How often, in your heart of hearts, do you doubt what you think you know about God? And when you doubt, what do you doubt?
And if you’re an atheist, my question is this: Absent God, what grounds are there, really, for equality and brotherhood?
As to the blind man in the cellar, that would be me.
Here’s a song about a man who misperceives his world and situation quite utterly: