In response to yesterday’s post, Ben asked whether I believe in God. His question reminded me of a service two years ago at church, during which three people with very different takes on the concept of God gave their personal answers to the question “What would you do if you were God?” I spoke, giving my atheist viewpoint; the other two speakers approached the subject differently, one as a more or less traditional theist, the other from a semi-pagan, God-as-creator-and-encompassing force belief structure. It was an extremely interesting morning. Following are my comments from that service.
Some of you have undoubtedly read the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Its slightly surreal pages feature many strange events and creatures, among them the Babel fish: a small, yellow, leechlike fish that feeds on surrounding brainwave energy. If you stick one of these fish in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.
The book says that “it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the NON-existence of God. The argument goes like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’ ‘But,’ says Man, ‘The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.”
Along similar logical lines, my talk this morning could be extremely brief. You see, I don’t believe in a God, or in many gods, or goddesses, or spiritual powers, beings, or entities of any sort. So… if I were God, then there would be no God: by my own definition, I wouldn’t exist. Poof! I would disappear in a puff of logic.
But before I vanish, it’s interesting to contemplate my world. A world that has no God … that knows no God … that expects no God … that needs no God. A world whose citizens do not believe in, pray to, blame, praise, swear by, lean on, go to war in the name of, or even consider the possibility of a higher power.
GK Chesterton said, “If there were no God, there would be no Atheists.” To be an atheist requires that there be a concept of a God that the atheist doesn’t believe in. But my world would have no concept of a God; thus it would be populated not by atheists but by people who are entirely humanist.
There are those who claim that without the looming threat of hell or the glittering promise of heaven, all of humanity would run amuck in the streets, looting and murdering at random. However, neither that threat nor that promise apply to me or to millions of other atheist, agnostic, nondeist, and unchurched people in our current reality, but the vast majority of us are loving, caring human beings. Given a reality whose basis rests on the wellbeing of humanity rather than the dictates of any of a variety of supreme beings, I believe that society would be just fine.
True, there would be no churches: we wouldn’t be divided into Presbyterians, Jews, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, UUs, and so on. But we’re a social species, and like would find alternate ways and means to gather with like: Perhaps instead of forming groups based on the way they worshiped or believed, people would coalesce around varying ideas of how best to serve the rest of humanity. My religion might focus on feeding the hungry, and your religion might focus on housing the homeless.
Unfortunately, people don’t always make decisions that are good, or wise, or considerate. There would still be war, based on ethnicity or geographic boundaries or economic factors or warped leadership. But neither side’s generals would be claiming that God was on their side; they would have to justify their bloodshed in other terms.
Most important, in my opinion, would be the fact that people would take complete responsibility for their own decisions and actions. Nothing would be “God’s will.” Things would happen—as a result of a conscious act, or a geological disaster, or a lack of foresight, or illness, or whatever. Things would happen, and people would cope, adjust, and move on.
Of course, people like guidelines. For millennia, millions have followed the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and similar dictates from other holy works. So, before vanishing into my cloud of logic, I would offer the following list, which is a modification and combination of some things I’ve read. I’d imprint these nine suggestions into the minds of humanity for their contemplation:
- You have only one life; use it wisely.
- You have only one Earth; treat it kindly.
- Remember that you are responsible for your actions, good and bad. Act with prudence and thought.
- Know yourself.
- Remember that you are an individual with your own capacities, goals, and needs.
- Don’t murder, hurt or cheat people unless they are putting you or your loved ones in danger.
- Respect others, and don’t create unnecessary antagonism. Compassion and good will are usually easier than hostility.
- Don’t lie to other people, but rather stand up for the truth.
- Life your life to the fullest. Don’t make the world your personal hell: If there is a heaven, it has to be here on Earth.