Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Earlier today there was an intriguing discussion happening on this morning’s Forum. It was about one man’s book that had recently been published.  (Surprise, surprise, NPR was hosting a discussion on a book.)  His main thesis was that Agnostics are the only group that “have it right” in that they’re the only ones who admit to the basic fact that none of us know for sure whether there is or there is not a God.

You can probably see where this is going.  Forum quickly turned into a conversation about that age old question "Is there a God?" and consequently, "Who has the final say one way or another?  Who are the big wigs of our time that believed?  Who are the big wigs that didn't?"  But, by the time it turned into a counting of what big name landed in which camp, I turned the radio off.

Beliefs v. Knowledge

I got restless and tired of the conversation before it even really got underway.  Partly because the author of the book had a voice I didn't like (sorry dude--I'm sure you have a wonderful personality) and also because it seems a shame when arguments turn to people's beliefs versus people’s knowledge.  To split belief and knowledge apart is kind of like saying cause and effect have no relationship at all.  But, back to the question at hand.       

“Is there a God?”


“Isn’t there a God?”

Slightly less boring.

“Is there a reason why we are asking there is a God?”


This is not to infer that I like it when people doubt their faith in a divine creator—no, no, no.  I don’t like it when people are insecure or doubt themselves or their God.  I like this question because I am curious to delve into the reasons why we ask that same question over and over again. 

I am not in fact asking whether or not there is a reason because it’s obvious that there are plenty of reasons why we question the existence of God. Modern human civilization was forged by people who have contended century after century that we are creations, and thus prized possessions and reflections of, a Bigger, Better Being Above.  If these people “got it wrong” this entire time, what does it say to our sense of life, culture, creed, economy, purpose and drive that a root of our sense of place is complete bunk?  It says “don't be lazy.  Go be independent and stop being a goober who needs reassurance from others.”  But, the subtext to this is that it was all but for not.  Our history, our lives and our supposed souls are all but for not.

Stay with me.

Don’t go suicide-y on me.

Because that’s boring.

Why Do We Keep Asking Questions? 

The fact remains that we as humans keep asking this.  It's gotten to the point of, “No but seriously, IS there a God?  Because I’m tired of not knowing for realzies and let’s be honest:  most people would rather just know than feel stuck with just yourself for inward reassurance.”

To which, I am convinced of something important:

We keep asking because we are the beings who were the first to ask. 

To have the power to question, to wonder, to reflect and in that sense, wanting a response to that curiosity—these are human needs.  If you think of it this way, we are amazed and charmed by our own echoes bouncing around a deep canyon, but simultaneously we are sad there is no response and that even our own echo will too fade away.  There is no solid response to our existence, and in that lacking affirmation comes a confirmation of our mortality.  

This is some scary shit.  

But, there's no need to be depressed.  There still are egg bagels and cheese in the world.  Sorry Vegans.

To me, it makes sense that we keep asking, searching for another, for an external call and response back.  The question really is then, when/will we get that response if ever?

Enter God(ot)

I am a human being that burns with curiosity—I love to learn new facts each and every day.  I accept this about myself and yet, I feel as though our society, our lazier portions of society, are deeply conflicted about this human desire, this human want.  To admit that we have curiosity and are questioning is generally assumed to be a kind of defeat, a lacking confidence in what should and always should be just assumed fact.

I would say that this is irrational—to admit to curiosity and “not knowing” is a form of recognizing who we are.  

However, even as I am saying this I am reminded again of that annoying dude on Forum (not you, Michael Krasny!  I love you!) who said that agnostics are brave and right for saying “I don’t know,” to that boring question.  Saying "I don't know" is the first step.  But, what's the next step?  And is it really all that far from believing one way or another?

I've already mentioned that I am Bad Atheist.  I wish I could believe in a Bigger, Better Being than me.  But, I'm still asking questions and thinking about it all.  And I've learned something:  admitting that you "don't know" is different from admitting you're asking and reflecting on why you're asking in the first place.  

Btws, thanks to Todd Hanson's story on the Moth Podcast, I now know that the original word for Sloth, as in one of the Seven Deadly Sins Sloth, was the latin word, Acedia.  Acedia defined it as the profound sense of emptiness that comes from not believing in anything and the failure to pursue God, or not making the effort to seek out the joy of God, of creation.  

So, keeping this all in mind, instead of answering the direct question about the existence of God with a “I know/I don’t know” response, I’d rather give a new answer altogether:

I'm thinking about it.  In the meantime, this is what I do know:  I know that human beings are creatures that think they want to know everything.  I know that human beings like to think their generation/team/country/religion is the one that “got it right." I know that human beings can be fiercely judgmental of another's doubt and simultaneously persecute themselves for not knowing, either.  I know humans yearn for safety and control.  I know that constant surface level reassurance is the drug of choice for those feeling insecure.  

Given all that, what other creature so curious, and so prone to insecurity for it, could but not have a God?



  1. Love your reflections, particularly on responding by what you do know. A few thoughts of my own:

    1. For the amount of time that people debate the existence of "God," very few people actually define what they mean by the term. This seems to be a major source of confusion.

    2. In the absence of certainly, I search for what is useful, both to the individual and the community. On good days I consider myself a pragmatic agnostic.

    3. "Useful" is as much an un-provable concept as God, but I prefer the conversation.

    4. For more medieval and ancient agnostic explorations of the divine, check out "The Cloud of Unknowing," and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

  2. Ben! I am so glad you got to catch this post--I was thinking a lot about you and also our past convos about the history of the Church(es). Fascinating stuff, it all is.

    With regards to your reflections I think you're totally right--the fact remains that what exactly God is to so many is still not nearly discussed as often as whether or not there is one. Ahah. That is so strange, isn't it? I vote this topic for our next adventure out together!!

    Also, in looking up The Cloud of Unknowing I was shocked at how similar the idea of dissolving thought and only allowing love to enter into your being to connect with God is to the core beliefs of meditation and buddhism. It reminds me of the story of The Buddha, when he had been faced with the ultimate temptations that the evil god (forgotten his name) wanted to throw at him to crumble his faith. Buddha closes his eyes, and touches his hand down, palm flat on the Earth next to where he sat. By touching the Earth in that moment he was completely at one within himself and also that moment in that exact time--the evil god literally implodes from the power of the Earth shaking in response and BAM you've got a love-connection right here.

    Or at least, that's how I'm interpreting it.