Remember this song from somewhere in the 1950s I think?
I believe for every drop of rain that falls
A flower grows,
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night
A candle glows,
I believe for everyone who goes astray,
Someone will come to show the way,
I believe, I believe.
I believe above the storm a smallest prayer
Will still be heard,
I believe that someone in the great somewhere
Hears every word,
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
Or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
Then I know why, I believe.
Belief. My disbelief in the existence of God is what Christian evangelists would call a “lifestyle choice.” That’s because I believed in God once––or at least I think I did (at least I believed that I was supposed to believe in God). I wasn’t born a “non-theist” the way gays are born gay, but I can’t really do anything about it either without leaping into denial or delusion.
Let me put it this way, it is easier to be a theist than not (yes, that’s a space between the “a” and theist). There is very little work and being a theist––that’s not only because believing there is a hell of a lot easier than knowing, but because to believe you just have to submit your mind to the narrative, the myth, the fantasy. You just have to choose your one book: the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, and get with that program, which begins with the feeling of being metaphysically superior to those who chose the other books. With believing you just willingly suspend your disbelief, the way you do to watch a movie, and let go of your rationality. It is, as religious speak often says, a form of “surrender,” of “submission.” But that rational authority that you surrender doesn’t just go to some deity; no, no, it empowers those authorities who have inserted themselves between you and that deity you believe exists but you never get to see or hear from. Those authorities will be happy to tell you what you must do to validate your belief, (this typically includes giving them money). Yes, atheism might be harder, but at least its cheaper.
Atheism is not “against God”; it is the refusal to believe in God. Still, you have to be mentally tough to get there. To be a non-theist is a lot of work, a lot of it rather lonely since we nontheists do not have churches to congregate in and reassure ourselves about how holy we are. We don’t sit around in theology classes,* or madrassas, or getting all fussy over this or that phrase in the Torah in a shul. Libraries and laboratories are the nontheist’s “churches,” where we have to read rooms full of books of science, philosophy and history, just to refute one fanciful passage in Genesis. All the while those other guys are praying and chanting and worshiping and watching The Passion of the Christ for the umpteenth time while we must wander in the lands of truth and doubt.** No, but as I said, I was once a theist of sorts and not because I chose to be. I did not choose to have water poured over my cute little head when I was only weeks old and be assigned godparents to accept Jesus as my Savior and renounce Satan on my behalf. I did not choose descent into the clutches of the sisters of St. Joseph. I wasn’t born Roman Catholic; I was born into Catholicism, and there my spongy little mind languished, going with innocent, cheerful credulity from Christmas to Easter and Easter to Christmas, blissfully unaware of the frailty of my metaphysical certainties and gradually acquiring a catalog of beliefs and guilt not of my own mind’s making.
In the end it all comes back to God; he’s either there, or he’s not. If you believe he’s there don’t hand me this bullshit that you can love God. You might think he’s responsible for all of creation, maybe He’s responsible for everything that happens, but let’s admit it, the guy has never had the guts to show his face and own up to it. Love him; you don’t even know if he’s there!
But let’s go with the belief for a bit. What is He ashamed of? Ninety percent of life is just showing up. But he doesn’t, does he. In consequence, he has no more credibility than the Bogeyman, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa, and less then the Easter Bunny.*** Yet, in a way I think we really don’t want to have to deal with God face to face. What would we say? I love you? Or maybe our curiosity about our own reality might get the best of us and we might just blurt out something like, “Hey God, cancer, where the fuck did you get an idea like that?” I would at least like to know if he has a penis. (I’ll just leave you on your own to speculate on that possibility).
The secret of the success of religions is selling the fantasies of belief, and the essential ingredient of that belief revolves around the “afterlife.” That’s the big reward and the big justification that all the crap, the disease, the poverty, the oppression, all of the terrestrial hopelessness, can somehow be offered up and made into some positive merit to be cashed in for the eternal bliss on a cushion of Cumulus. How else could the Pope ride through the faithful in South Africa, or in South America in his Popemobile, spouting assurances that it is okay that the poor are oppressed by the corrupt regimes that his Church supports, okay that they are suffering the poverty that contrasts with his lavish opulence, okay that the sickness and hopelessness of their children will be compensated by a comfortable eternity because of their obeisance to him and their resignation to “the will of God.” Who thinks this shit up? A bunch of patriarchs and prophets, of course.
OK, I’ve drifted a bit off my central theme, so let’s get back on track.
There is another thing I could never quite understand; that’s this business about everything should be for the glorification of God. One hears people saying all the time that they are doing something way they do it because they believe it brings glory to God. Teachers in my Jesuit high school encouraged us to put the letters AMDG that stood for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, or “for the greater glory of God,” on the top of our exam papers. Presumably this all-powerful, all-knowing, all everything creator of everything, is actually going to made to feel even more glorious because I correctly conjugated some Latin verb on a quiz. St. Paul said, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) I don’t think he would put this essay in that category.
Do those who believe this stuff ever asked themselves what kind of God is so wrapped up in himself he needs everybody doing everything to add to his glory. Who the fuck is he trying to impress? Who the fuck does he need to impress? This bullshit sounds like something from North Korea, like this Great Creator is nothing more than some God Jong il, some “Deus Leader” with an ego bigger than Mongolia. If that’s where God’s head is he needs some freakin’ counseling.
Such arrogance is contagious. What is some jerk like Tim Tebow and athletes like him conveying when they, on scoring a touchdown or whatever, point their fingers heavenward in gratitude to the Lord for his assistance. What kind of ego does it take think that the mystical creator of the universe is taking a special interest in your trivial, ephemeral earthly doings? What kind of arrogance must one have to be to think that for even an instant, much less a three-hour football game, that you are the center of the universe, that God needs your silly, meaningless bullshit to feel better about himself. And don’t let me get going on politicians who claim they are “ordained” by got to make a mess of our secular lives.
Not only that, but when you put this together with some other Christian thought, you end up with the God so egoistic, so self-serving, so obsessed with his own glorification, they he can’t let anything happen of its own course. All things happen “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” as the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1:11. So God plays the puppetmaster that presumably gets us to do, or makes us do, exactly what he wants done for is glorification. It’s all his little game, rigged by himself for his own glorification. WTF!? Is there anything good on TV?
© 2012, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.25.2012)
*This comes from someone who endured a required 24 credit hours of Theology, to the detriment of my overall GPA.
**For more than the usual biblical “forty days and forty nights”
***Who at least shows up in waxy milk chocolate and hides colored eggs in your back yard.