Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The god I want to believe in

When I first drifted into agnosticism, I dreaded that God would damn me for not believing in him. I don't worry about that now.

I want God to be real, and I want to relate to him. I look for God carefully, but I don't see him. Not at all that I think that I'm saved by any of my own virtues, but if God would damn me for not believing that he exists when that's not what I have honestly seen or experienced, I don't find that God to be worth bothering with.

To believe that God is the sort of god that you want him to be, simply because that's how you want him to be, that is the height of intellectual dishonesty. Our ideas about who God actually is, our beliefs, ought to be grounded in experiences and evidence.

However, if one doesn't think God is real, and one wants to bother to look for God, why waste one's time on an unappealing notion of god? If God is real and ugly, why would one care, except to know how to stick one's thumb in his eye?

The difference here is the difference between hypothesis and conclusion. People who believe that God is real have their understanding of what God is like constrained by how they go about knowing God in the first place. People who don't think God is real are free to look for whatever sort of god they feel like looking for. This is sensible: looking-for and living-under are two different things.

I have some friends who are fellow doubters, but they're stuck in their search for God. I know people who can't believe in a god who would sanction genocide. I know people who can't bring themselves to believe in a god who would chose to save some and damn others, and leave them with no choice in the matter. I know people who are troubled that God would leave our capacity to relate to him up to our own choice, and are gripped with anxiety over not-choosing God and being damned.

We don't need these worries.

If God is real, I suppose he'd be so complicated that he could be good and seem bad in some ways. At the same time, if traditional theology isn't airtight and if the scriptures aren't infallible, forcing one's self to accept a notion of God tainted by human meanness is unnecessarily difficult. The hard work of filtering these things out ought to be left to believers who need a hobby. (I would suggest getting a pet rabbit, though, it's very soothing.)

If you want to believe in God, but don't, put your effort into believing in a God that's worth believing in, a good god, a loving god, a personal god, a challenging god. Don't worry about the things you've heard about God that you are horrified by; accepting them is no prerequisite to relating to God. At least, the god I want to believe in wouldn't reject you for misunderstanding him.


  1. "It's hard to be deluded when you don't claim to know anything" - Fr. Stephen

  2. I don't think it's bad to take a step back for a second and let God reach out to you. I think so much of our "finding" of God is us reading into the Scriptures and reading into what we want him to be. The God I believe in promises that we can do nothing of our own accord, and that it is only through grace that we can know him. So relax, take a mental vacation if you must, but don't give up hope that one day He will find you.

  3. Thanks, Cathy! That's exactly the sort of attitude I try to have.

  4. MAYBE if you see gd as both man and woman, and use non-gender specific pronouns, the full meaning and value will become more clear? idk, just a thought, not a sermon.
    I thank u for your honesty.