I sorta Liked the fellow, actually

By DagoodS

I spent an amusing evening reading The God Debate in Newsweek between Rick Warren and Sam Harris. At one point I was not certain whether Rev. Warren was arguing “Is God Real?” or “Are atheists real?” He seemed to hit every Christian Caricature Canard about atheists known to humans—we are angry, we think everyone is ignorant, we are selfish, we are hopeless and, to top it all off, we don’t “want” a God.

Warren: You’re more spiritual than you think. You just don’t want a boss. You don’t want a God who tells you what to do.

We’ve all heard this in a variety of forms. “You want to be like God.” “You don’t like submitting to an authority.” “You think you are smarter than God.”

Is this nuts? Let’s think about this for half a second, okay? I realize that most times the theist is envisioning not wanting a God because of a moral sense, but there are so many more facets to a God than that!

Our universe is comprised of 100 Billion galaxies made up of 100 billion stars in each. And a God is claimed to have made that. We have intriguing concepts like electricity, and love at first sight, and car radios with remote controls. And a God is claimed to have made that. We have time and space. Life. The ability to reason and communicate. We have taste and smell. A God is claimed to have made that.

A God that is so intimately interested in me, that he is aware of the number of hairs on my head. (Although apparently, in my case, he is losing either interest or memory for some reason.) A God that is so enthralled with the human experience, that he had to become a human, interact, and be tempted in the same ways that I am. A God that loves me so much, he died. For me.

And I don’t want THAT? Why, in the blue blazes, NOT? Hey, if we are being accused of selfishness, at least be consistent. Who wouldn’t want such a creature to exist?

I like to down-hill ski. I particularly like to weave between trees at unwise speeds in a follow-the-leader pattern. We half attempt to get close enough, so the next poor sod actually hits a tree or wipes out. It would be quite calming to know that there is some all-powerful creature that created the ground, the trees, the snow, and the theory of gravity, and that creature has His eye upon me. If it isn’t my time to die, or He doesn’t want me to be hurt, I figure he will put his invisible hand between that tree and me, and save the day. I would never know how close I came to spreading my brains on an elm.

Who wouldn’t want that?

At one time I was unemployed. It stinks to look for a job. Sending out 200 resumes, to get maybe one interview. For a job that stinks almost as bad as not having a job. How wonderful to rest in the concept that some God was looking out for me, and putting together a connection where I would get the perfect job for what my life plan was. That all I have to do is give it my best, and this God creature would do the rest. Hey, if he could build a cosmos in a week, most of which no one ever sees ‘cept him, he certainly could find me a job without breaking a sweat.

Isn’t such an idea something we all want?

I have children. A parent’s worst nightmare is that their child is horribly hurt, or kidnapped or killed. It is tough enough keeping on eye on them, and doing everything we can to protect them from harm. What a relief to have a God that can heal, and even bring people back from the dead, who was equally watching over them. God had an appointed time for our children to die. If they did, then we could rest easy knowing he had it in control. If they did something stupid like rollerblade off the roof of a house, and it wasn’t God’s time, then he would prevent it.

Every parent has had a situation at a mall, or a sporting event, or a playground where you haven’t seen your child for a little longer than comfortable. And then, after a quick glance about—you still don’t see them. Another, more careful inspection. No child. You try to not get excited, but your heart picks up a beat, and you begin to walk around, making ever bigger circles. Still no child.

At least with a God, there was a small measure of hope, that even if you were completely biffing it as a parent, He was clucking his tongue, thinking, “Tsk. Tsk” but at least He was making sure nothing more harrowing than a neurotic parent would happen that afternoon. He was watching.

Without a God, you were on your own to find that child. To prevent them from rollerblading off the roof. To hope they get well. To find a job. To ski safely. There is no “Grand Wizard” in the sky who can magically prevent, without anyone knowing it, a grave tragedy.

I see a God as so much grander, so much more wonderful, and so much more enticing than just a God that dictates morals. When the theist says, “You don’t want a God” they seem to be talking about a very, very small, myopic version of a God. The morals of a God are only one part of the entire picture. I can’t help wondering if this claim really says more about the theist’s feelings about their God.

“Want” has nothing whatsoever to do with my belief there is no god. It has to do with evidence. In fact, quite the contrary, there are many things I find pleasing in a god belief. It does not make a god exist, however. So why, I puzzle, does the theist talk about “wanting” a god? I presume they truly believe in a God as well. That “want” has nothing to do with it. In fact, they likewise would tell me that NOT wanting God does not make it non-existence.

“Want,” if one thinks about it, really has nothing whatsoever to do with existence. Unless the theist is thinking, “I want a God. The atheist is the opposite of me. Therefore since I want, my opposite number must not want.” And that could be a legitimate (although equally small-sighted) analysis. BUT. What I see this “You don’t want a God” commonly linked to is not mere desire, but as if God is some sort of limitation. Rev. Warren tied it to “You want to be Boss.”

Why is it that the theist thinks, by my declaring there is no God, I am saying that because I want to be “boss”? No, thank you! Being “boss” is difficult! You have to hire and fire, and pay salaries, and make sure the lights stay lit, and bring in customers, and break up office fights—hard work!

We often presume that what we want, or what we hate, others must as well. I really detest drivers who go slowly in the passing lane. Hey—I’m human. So if I wanted to tick you off, a ready way in which I would do so, would be to drive slowly in the passing lane. It makes me angry; I presume it will to you as well.

What is this saying about the theist? If a theist is reading this, what is something you DON’T want about God? Something you don’t like? Something that, if you had your wants, your God wouldn’t do? Is that what this is about?

I grew up in the traditional Baptist way. We were repeatedly assured we were wretched creatures, and no matter how good we were, or what righteous acts we did, they were the equivalent of a used tampon to God. We were repeatedly informed that all we want to do is Sin, Sin, Sex, Sin, Sex, Sex, Sin and Sex. And, if left to our own devices, the best humanity could do was universally commit suicide within short order.

We were placed on a conveyor belt of try to do right, fail, confess, forgive, and then try to do right. With the confident pledge that no matter how hard we tried, we would repeat this cycle from our moment of birth to our last gasping breath. The only reason we have any worth whatsoever is that God choose to bestow it upon us by his own choosing. And even after that we would to do right, fail, confess, forgive, and then try to do right.

Is that what is troubling the theist? Are they tired of a God that is sitting up there, ready to thwack them on the head when they screw up, and if they had a reprieve from a God, that is what they would want?

Again, that was such a small part of the God I did believe in, I am puzzled by this claim of “You Don’t want God.” As if the only thing our vapid non-believing minds could visualize about a God is one that says “No, No, No, No.” Is the theist secretly telling me what they think of their own God?

Now I may be accused of performing “pop psychology.” That accusation would be accurate. Remember, though, what this springs from. Someone else telling me what I want based upon their own image of a God. “Pop psychology,” indeed!

Rev. Warren made the interesting statement, “I’ve never met an atheist who wasn’t angry.” Well, little surprise in that. If I went around and told entire groups what they want and didn’t want, based upon my own perception, and refused to believe them when they protested, I could see how such protests would grow more irate.

Perhaps less telling us what we “want” and more consideration of what we think would allow Rev. Warren to find some surprisingly pleasant atheists, after all.


Joe B said...

Brilliant analysis. If I ever ran across brother warren, I might try indifference on him instead of anger. But he'd probably figure I was angry and passive aggressive. So maybe I'll have a cup of tea and see what's on YouTube instead. Get more done that way.

Bill B said...

Great post as always. I really having nothing brilliant to add, but I just wanted to comment on the fact that Rev. Warren seems to be the religious flavor of the month these days cashing in and making some serious "Cha Ching." So long as he doesn't get caught with his dick where it shouldn't be, the money of the gulible will forever keep him in riches.

Lance said...

Excellent post. Your last few statements are very insightful and accurate.

I think of myself as a caring and thoughtful person. I try to treat others with kindness and respect. But something goofy happens when one of my christian friends comes at me with the intent to confront or convert me. I find it infuriating that they don't really want to understand where I am coming from or what I believe. I try really hard to be calm and listen to them and explain myself, but they keep telling me what they think I think and why I think it without trying to discover if it has anything to do with what is really going on in my own head. It's my head dammit! I think I have a better understanding of my head then what your bible says I am thinking. And they blame me for getting a little pissed? No wonder Mr. Warren thinks all atheists are angry. He pisses them off.

Once during a discussion with a friend who knew me as a christian, my friend said "You are trying to make me understand you. That is the same thing my wife does. I just can't do that."

I guess that about sums it up.

Schwarzwald said...

This essay should be the followup to the Newsweek article. It's that good. I'm still "a believer"...but I'm getting really angry I can't daydream about attractive women because I'll be sent to Hell for eternity. If I keep this up...and continue "thinking critically"...I may be forced to leave religion altogether or at least conceive a God alot more loving than the one you "think" is "loving" by reading stuff like Numbers 15:32-36.

I think Nietzsche wrote why couldn't a human being be God? If we are taught to believe in God...why do we have to end up making the choices between good and evil? Why should we be punished for eternity? Why not wish being the God who makes all the rules? At least one wouldn't have to worry about being condemned!

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if someone could get a question to Mr Warren and ask him if he thinks God has upgraded to Microsoft and if so does he thank Bill Gates everyday. After all it must be a whole lot easier to keep track of everyones life on disk than putting it all in stone like in the "bible days"

Anonymous said...

Why is anger equated with wrongness? Just because I am angry dosn't make my beleifs wrong. Just because you are happy doesn't make you right. What a stupid argument.

"You seem unhappy. It is because you don't beleive in god. I am happy. It is because I beleive in god. Therefore, god exists."

Anonymous said...

oh boy.. that was a disturbing interview to read...

too many answers on both sides were just rote pat answers that you hear over and over again, I wish they would take a different tack on some of their arguments

Warren: We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble.

What should be saying is:
When we die, if he's right, I've wasted and lost my only life propogating an illusion of lies. If I'm right, he's lost his next life.

It's sad that they seem to see everything in black and white, winning and losing.

The thing that sticks in my mind after that last paragraph is "chicken"

Fear is a powerful drive

xrayman said...

I know what you are saying about people not listening. I am a recovering drunk and recently had a conversation with an old female friend who wanted to share her new found sobriety with me, and of course along with it, her new found relationship with Jesus. As she went on about Jesus I had to inturupt and share the fact that I am now a strong atheist. It was as if she didn't even hear me, and just kept right on going with her sermon.

What was really interesting was the fact that she told me how Jesus delivered her from her drinking, yet she admitted to having a slip in January, where as I told her I have 16 years of solid sobriety from alcohol without even coming close to slipping and I did it all without Jesus.

I asked her how she could have possibly slipped with Jesus on her side, and she said, "Jesus gives us all free will." Once again Jesus gets all the credit when things are going well, but if they are not it's our own damn fault.

DagoodS said...

You are correct, god.

In fairness I should point out that Sam Harris popped out some polemic statements about Christians that are pretty traditional as well.

I wrote this blog out of disappointment with the whole back and forth interview. Yes, I should have known better. Here we have such opportunity to learn and grow and communicate with each other, yet we cannot literally get off square one.

It is tiring enough, to have the debate on-line:

Christian: In your heart you know there is a God.
Non-Believer: No, and let me explain. Here is my story, some articles, some books to read, some analogies, some comparisons, the study I performed, raising the following questions, some god(s) that YOU are not convinced exist, but no one is telling YOU that you secretly know exist, and some web pages, and some forums and blogs.

*two days pass*

Christian: All that does is confirm to me that you know there is a God.

*bangs head against the wall until one can blissfully pass out.*

But, due to the variety of people, backgrounds, ages, knowledge and maturity, that is to be expected. I hoped from more. Yet I am reading a national magazine, with a nationally known Christian, and a nationally known atheist, and we are still at:

“Oh yeah? I’m rubber; you’re glue. Bounces off me; sticks to you.”

No wonder we get nowhere discussing—the Christian leaders that other Christians look up to are no better!

If any Christians are reading this, perhaps I can put the shoe on the other foot, so you can appreciate the complete and total ineffectiveness of this tactic. And abandon it.

Imagine I wrote, in an article, “Every Christian I have come across is a complete dunderhead about their Bible. They don’t know the first thing about it. I am surprised they are allowed to have one in their homes, with the way they mistreat it.”*

Now, is the first thought out of your mind. “My goodness. He makes an excellent point. I am greatly intrigued to learn from this master, and shed myself of this complete ignorance.”

Of course not! Even if I subsequently presented an outstanding expose, I have lost all credibility with you. I have said a complete generalization, which is false, and is therefore unpersuasive.

*I don’t really believe that, of course.

Look, Christians. If you are telling me what I “want” and do not “want,” please be prepared to back it up. If you are telling me I do not want a God, you had best be ready to explain my life, my background, and my investigation, so that others are convinced I didn’t want a God. Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it ironic that the first species of man that was capable of devising a somewhat, sophisticated theology, did so?

Christianity is exactly on par with the intellectual capabilities of the bronze age people who made it up. The God of the bible has all of the same characteristics of you average king or dictator of the time.

Two thousand years later a more informed version of Homo Sapiens has explained all of the magic in the bible with verifiable scientific evidence. What it hasn't explained, it has shown to be pure invention.

We have invented God systems that are more on par with our intellectual sophistication, but the average UN read, unschooled, American still thinks like a bronze age tribesman.

Some European peoples do have a higher level of sophistication than Americans, and they don't take it nearly as seriously.

The only hope for cure for Christianity and Islam, is for human societies to evolve a little more and become better educated, and it is questionable whether or not these two Ideologies will bring an abrupt end to the possibility of that happening!

Anonymous said...

"Warren: We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble."

People like Warren equate this to a game, with winners and loosers. What he doesn't understand is that some of us are not even playing, even though he insists we are.

twincats said...

How great would it be if everyone could agree to abbreviate some of the tired old atheist/christian argument canards? You could condense everything down to a couple dozen lines instead of pages:

xtian: Pascal's wager.
atheist: Not impressed. What else you got?

xtian: The Bible.
atheist: Read it, not convinced. What else you got?

xtian: Miracles!
atheist: No documented proof. Next!

xtian: God has manifested himself in my life!
atheist: I can't see or hear him.

xtian: You can't prove God doesn't exist!
atheist: You can't prove he does. Are we done now?


Anonymous said...

I hate people who tell me what I am, and am not or what I want all based on being an atheist. They know nothing about me! I am not angry. I don't want to "be" god. I don't want to alway think for myself. I just do not believe there is a god. Period! Nothing more. I wish they would stop trying to read more in to it!

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