Hello everyone, my name is James. My wife Rebecca has kindly allowed me to write a guest post on her blog, discussing the end of my Catholic faith and the birth of my atheism. My usual writing topic is video games (here and here) so when I wrote a long email about atheism and Rebecca suggested I put it online, I did not have an appropriate channel through which to share it. This is why she gave me permission to put it on this blog as her first ever guest post. Thanks Rebecca!
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As I showered this morning, I was thinking about the genesis of my atheism.
The process of losing my faith completely was a long, gradual one. At 21 I was a devout Catholic – anti-abortion, homophobic, and everything else that goes along with it. A couple of years ago, around the age of 34, I was surprised by my sudden realisation that a mostly unnoticed process of transition was complete and I was indeed an atheist.
I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but I will filling in some kind of survey or a form (the last census, perhaps?) and I was asked for my religion. Without even thinking about it, I ticked the box marked “atheist”. I then stared at the choice I had made, a little stunned. “I’m an atheist now!” I thought, shocked by the undeniable truth of it. “When did that happen?”
In my reminiscences this morning, I realised that there had been a little termite in the timber of my religious faith for almost two decades, nibbling away invisibly, until one day I found that the once solid structure had been replaced with a hollow shell. That termite was a single powerful idea that I never put into words until this morning.
In essence, that idea is this: God is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-everything-else, and he exists outside our human perception of time. All times are now to God, and all places are in his presence. This means that when he was a spirit floating over the water before the world began (if you subscribe to biblical literalism) he was aware of everything that was to come.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it, already knowing that Adam and Eve would sin, the human race would fall into damnation, that he would have to sacrifice his own son (technically himself!) to save humanity from a punishment of his own devising, and that this salvation would be scattershot at best, saving only a fraction of the people of the world.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it already knowing that the future would hold the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Killing Fields, the Black Death, two World Wars, the Jonestown massacre, and countless everyday atrocities and horrors.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it already knowing that human beings would suffer a multitude of cancers, blindness, brain tumours, strokes, heart attacks, and birth defects ranging from crippling to fatal.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it already knowing that human beings would persecute each other based on features outside their control, that in fact God himself had built into them – the colour of their skin, the place where they were born, the religion of their parents, the sex or gender of their bodies, the sexual orientation built into their brains, and any of the other multitudes of ways in which we make our sisters and brothers into “the other”.
This supposedly supreme being, with the power to make every whim become truth and the ability to foresee every consequence of every action before he has even begun to perform it, could literally have made any world at all. Physics, chemistry, biology, and even logic and causality are subject to the will of the Judeo-Christian God, and any world we can imagine would be within his ability to create.
Yet this is the world he made, with its wars and diseases and injustices without end.
Frankly, any God that believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds is must incompetent, evil, or (and this seems to be the most likely option) simply non-existent.
Without even realising I had been debating silently with myself, I had reached the conclusion that the cruelty of the world we live in is a reflection of its chaotic, unguided development, and the occasional horrific behaviour of my own species is psychological residue of its evolution in a brutal, uncompromising, and competitive environment.
I quote Marcus Cole from the great SF show Babylon 5:
“I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”
How terrible a place would the world be if all of this horror was planned? If some invisible deity were wilfully causing murder and death and famine and drought because it aided in the completion of some opaque plan that would only reach fruition in some unhinted future?
No, like Marcus I find randomness far more plausible and comforting that a murderous and vengeful man in the sky who blames me for the very faults he built into me, like Geppetto casting Pinnochio into a bonfire as punishment for his own flawed workmanship.
The wonderful folk musician Penelope Swales said well in her song Monkey Comfort:
Can you see, my friends, why I don’t find my insignificance frightening? Oh, no! I find it comforting. It steadies me. /
When I’m hounded by fear, grief or loss, frightened by my death or yours it grants me some serenity. /
Coz I’m knowing that I will die and take my place in eternity. Ah, just one more monkey that lived on a rock where 10 trillion monkeys lived. /
No more important, nor less essential, than any other snake, bear, insect, or monosteria /
And when I go, it’ll be a compliment to me if some other monkeys grieve.