The art of reason, or, I searched my heart and knew God was made up

Fri, 6 Jul 2012 | robert

You can feel the truth in your heart, and it's not as fanciful as religion.

Not all, but most of the atheists I know, are scientists and engineers and doctors and programmers. They are rational people, and they are atheists because it makes sense if you can think about it honestly and openly, not to mention bravely.

But you don't have to think about it that way. If you can be brave -- because admitting something as life-changing as this does take a lot of bravery -- and if you can be honest with yourself, and keep an open mind, you can feel the truth in your heart.

It fits like a long-lost puzzle piece, finally found and completing a puzzle that for ages had a big gap, and for all that time you had convinced yourself was OK with the gap. But as soon as you put the piece in place you realise it was never OK, until now.

It's like passing a hard exam, when all your friends and family were playing outside and having fun, and you were indoors studying. Now that you have passed you can have fun too, but you know that you understand things that they don't. It is true that it's better not to flaunt that kind of thing, but it is deeply satisfying. It feels very good.

Here is what you know in your heart:

You know that a loving god would never ever create a universe where any of his children could be tortured for a hundred years, and then a thousand more and then a million after that, always in excruciating agony, and then ... a billion more, just for starters. Would that child's loving friends in heaven think of him? If they were his friends, I bet they would. And when they thought of him being tortured in hell, would they be happy about that? Would his own mother spare him a moment's thought at any time during her eternity in heaven? She loves him, so I bet she would. Would she smile and laugh with heavenly joy at the thought of her son being tortured ceaselessly for billions and trillions of years for something he did during his very short life?

Apparently there is no sadness in heaven. Only joy. ... Well, that can't be correct. If there is one person in heaven who loves one person in hell, then that makes no sense.

In my heart I know there is no heaven and no hell. When we die we go back to thinking and feeling what we thought and felt before we were born, which was nothing. And I know that what will remain of me will be the memories of me that I leave behind with all those who knew me. And I will also leave behind the effect on the world of the things I said and did. That is one of the reasons why I tell the truth, and try to make a positive difference. I think that is what everyone should do. There is no punishment after we die for being bad, and no reward for being good ... except that we leave the world a better place for those who remain, those who come after us. That's a good enough reason for me.

I know it, and I bet you know it too. If you think about it a little, if you can be brave enough to let go of what your parents told you, and what their parents told them, you'll realise that it's not just true; it's obviously true.

It is not just arrogant intellectuals that realise that heaven and hell are make-believe. It is anyone who can be open-minded enough to consider it seriously.

I searched my heart, and I know a good god would never ask a king to kill every man, woman, child and infant, and all their livestock, of a neighbouring nation, as the Old Testament claims, and then punish that king when he leaves one man alive. (This is according to 1 Samuel 15.)

I know a good god would not cause a drought and then end it after seven children were killed. (You can read the full story at 2 Samuel 21, including how the mother of two of the boys stayed with them "on a hill before the Lord", exposed to the Middle-Eastern sun, day after day, "from the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down". It must have been appalling.)

Nor would a good god command you to honour your father and mother (Exodus 20, the fifth commandment, just before "Don't murder"), but allow a man to hold a captured woman in his house (whether she likes it or not), and have sex with her (whether she wants to or not), but only after he has allowed her a full month to mourn her lost or dead family, and then if he is not pleased with her he can let her go. I'm not making up stories to badmouth your favourite deity. If the Bible is the word of God, then He said it Himself in Deuteronomy 21:10-14. I don't think that would make a very honourable father. I certainly don't think it would be a very honourable god who would make such a detestable law.

A loving god would not create some humans who were better at resisting temptation than others, and then reward the strong ones when they succeeded and punish the weak ones when they failed.

A loving god would not punish generation after generation after generation for what their ancestors did. (Exodus 20:5) Some unforgiving humans would, but most humans are kinder than that.

I think it was Greta Christina who put it this way: Would a god impregnate a virgin in order to send himself to live with humans, to sacrifice himself to himself, in order to make up for the sins that he made the humans too weak to resist, when he knew from the beginning that they would commit those sins if he didn't make them stronger? Does that sound overly complicated? It is. Does that sound futile? It is. And unnecessarily cruel? Yes. And ridiculous. Absolutely.

It's not that God is unfathomable. It's that the god described above makes no sense. I know, in my heart, that such a god can't be real. He must have been made up. He must be the product of the imaginations of generations of people over thousands of years trying to explain the world around them, to find consolation when they were sad, and strength when they were angry or afraid. But when you see what all their ideas look like together, you realise it really is just a collection of hopeful, and rather inconsistent, guesses.

It takes a lot of courage to look at these things through the clear eyes of honesty, instead of desperately trying to defend what your parents told you, and what you have believed your whole life. But ponder on it. Take your time. You'd be surprised; there is a lot of support for people who have come to realise the same truth, even priests, pastors, rabbis and imams. I remember reading a blog comment by a priest who had the first inklings right from seminary school that some things were amiss, when he studied the Epic of Gilgamesh -- a legend on which the stories of Adam and Eve, and Noah are based -- and who, after many years, realised that the religion he had dedicated his life to, was actually not established by God, but created by humans -- some of them very well-meaning humans, but only humans. That must have been difficult for him to admit. No wonder it took him many years. But he was welcomed into a new community, of people who have all gone through what he has gone through. And when you come to the same realisation, you might find encouragement by looking for friends who have been through the same experience at community sites and meetups near you.

My conclusion is that we, as communities, nations, and a civilisation, need to wise up, and grow up, because only we can solve our problems. But we can solve them if we work together. We are not as hopeless as we thought when we invented our gods.

We have each other. When we finally stop arguing about our imaginary gods, we might be able to work together better than ever before.

It feels right, doesn't it? I think we can do this. It feels like real hope.

It does take a lot of courage and a lot of honesty to admit that we were mistaken. But lesser people than you have admitted bigger mistakes. Imagine how it must have felt to admit that for hundreds of years we had been torturing and burning witches, when actually it turned out to be a tragic, tragic mistake and they were all innocent, and most of them just helpless old women. At first the clergy responded by saying it was right to kill witches because the Bible told us to (Exodus 22:18) but eventually they came around too. I bet they felt awful. I hope they felt awful! But they must have felt a bit better about themselves after the torturing and burning was over.

When you realise that there actually is no magic, and no supernatural miracles, it is not disappointing. It is inspiring! It means we don't need magic. We just need understanding, and anything is within our grasp!

It turns out that in one sense the world is simpler than we imagined, and at the same time so much more beautiful.

Now that, to me, is truly wonderful. That makes my heart sing out for joy.

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