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Some time ago I made a post about the afterlife, and what I was expecting as an atheist. That post is here and the poem (sorry, but was feeling moved) is here.

This is a continuation of that theme.

I don't believe in God, though I believe God exists.

Some other people have faith in a supernatural/divine being that sits externally as a third-person. Some of them think this being can hear our thoughts and sometimes acts upon our unspoken prayers. I've heard work colleagues attribute good fortune and bad to this being, for example - and both circumstances have been proffered as proof of its interest in their lives. Things to overcome and rewards for doing so.

No, seriously: "Well, things will improve if God wills it, and if they don't then it's a test He has sent you..." which to my mind translates as "I have no idea what's going on but I better not complain or I'll get swallowed by a fucking whale, maybe".

So, no - I don't believe that an interventionist third-party entity is haunting our lives. Yet sufficient numbers of people do that it's useful to bear the idea of this God in mind when dealing with them. Especially when many derive opinions from the institutions set up around this concept.

So as a concept, as something to be aware of in the motivations of others, as something people will attribute random chance, virtue and cruelty to, God exists.

I've never seen anyone successfully argue a theist into a nontheistic position simply by saying "But there's no proof!" over and over again. You can argue about the creation of the earth, the laws of physics, where rainbows or evil come from, the historical likelihood of Jesus existing - but none of those are really arguing about the existence of God, because it's possible for people to believe in God without believing in all of those. Please don't link to long proofs of these in the comments, okay? As an atheist, I still agree with you.

In fact the only people I hear saying "Ah, but if you're a Christian then you have to specifically believe these things: " are atheists who are trying to derail conversations about personal belief by bringing in historical doctrine. You don't have to believe in the divinity of Christ, or the virgin birth, or the resurrection even to be a Christian. There's a vicar in Holland who says so, for starters.

Someone you love dying. Desperate prayers going un-answered. Those are the sorts of things that shatter faith, and they aren't things I'd wish on people.

I don't believe in God. But I have been to church. And I do pray.

I have to be awkward, don't I? I'm still not a Christian. If you're utterly dismayed by this post, hang on to that at least.

I believe in good. I think morality doesn't come from not wanting to break the commandments sent down from on high, but from within us. I don't need to be told "Thou shalt not kill". It's not just fear of the legal consequences or societal shunning that prevents me from murdering my colleagues at work, I feel within myself (sometimes only just sufficient) repugnance at the idea itself.

To be honest, if the only reason someone can give you for not killing is "The Bible says not to", then I'd suggest running away from them as fast as you can.

I don't think good is an incarnate force that exists in separation to mankind. I feel that often inside me, is a little voice that tells me what I really ought to do, in a given situation, for goodness' sake. Sometimes it gets it wrong, but although I can choose to ignore it, it doesn't go away. It's not the voice of any external person or agency, it's just my better nature. My good. It's not magical, or mystical, or mysterious. It's part of being human. (And as said before, I accept that other people may dress this voice up in a white robe and a big beard. Everyone is running off of a slightly different model of the world in their heads, after all).

Sometimes it's harder to hear, so being somewhere quiet helps. Focussing my thoughts on the matter at hand, or the friend in need. Turning the matter over in my mind, some things I can do will sometimes present themselves. Often not whole solutions, but still - helpful things. I'm not asking God to do them for me, I'm listening to my good to see what it suggests I do about them. It's like praying only without expecting anyone to do anything about it except me. So, it's praying, if you believe in personal good rather than impersonal God.

And that's why I've been valuing going to Quaker meetings. I've been having a pretty rough few months, and having somewhere that is distinct and different to sit in silence is useful. To either turn things over and see what the light of my good shines on them, or to simply float and see what bobs up to join me on the surface. At a recent meeting it was asked that people stand up and say where they were visiting from if they were new, and I stood up, said I was visiting from nowhere and was an atheist. I'd heard several people previously describe Quaker Atheists as "having a problem with the word God" so I joked that I didn't, just with the spelling.

People came up to me afterwards and did two things, either shake my hand and say "Good for you, I am too!" or ask me (well meaingly, and more out of curiosity than malice) what I was doing at the meeting.

I'm not sure I'm cut out to be a Quaker (no specific reason, I just don't feel inclined to rush in - I think it's the nature of Quakerism that dampens that. So quiet!), but I intend to keep going along to Meetings and wait and see.

I'll let my good guide me.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 7th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
I have my disagreements with even non-theistic Quakers, but I think they're a lovely bunch :-)
Nov. 7th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Indeed! And, hell, I have disagreements with everybody; that's no reason to write people off :)
Nov. 7th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
I would like to contribute the lyrics to a Jethro Tull song (copying and pasting them here means nobody has to listen to it):

"He is the god of nothing --
if that's all that you can see.
You are the god of everything --
He's inside you and me."

I spoke to a Bishop (at a charity thing) recently and he told me that the god atheists don't believe in is the god he doesn't believe in either but I think what you've written here is nearer to my own belief system than that.

I loved your poem! I'm sorry I didn't notice the post at the time :)
Nov. 7th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Ah, the Quakers are lovely - glad that you're getting some time with them, and great that they can provide comfort after a rough time.
Nov. 7th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
This is a very good read.

My thoughts are that if God exists , then she put me here for a reason, to do things to improve the world. If God doesn't exist, then I'd better get on with doing improvey things anyway because I (and other people) am the closest thing there is to a God around.

I spent 25 years going to church at least once a week. I stopped because I became exhausted making tea and setting up worship every time. I still believe most of the doctrines, but it's hard to find God when wrestling tea urns. It is good if you can find a space that supports you, and a church is as good a space as any if it does that.
Nov. 7th, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC)
Even in my limited experience, I know Meetings vary. The one I was listed as an 'attender' at (in my case, that meant I went to social events) was somewhere where most of the people were atheists. Looked at from the right angle, some Meetings are more of a pressure group than a religious meeting.
Nov. 7th, 2011 11:56 pm (UTC)
Agree with an awful lot of this - sometimes I feel loved and protected by someone out there, other times, not so much. Sometimes things happen right when I need them to, other times the gods prove utterly unreliable. In the end, all you can do is try to live in a way you can live with, whether you believe the voice in your head is your individual conscience or your god.

I keep thinking I should visit a Quaker meeting one day myself, but like you, I'm not sure I am cut out to be one. Way too much admin! ;)
Nov. 8th, 2011 10:27 am (UTC)
Way too much admin!
Both of you may have a skewed idea of how much admin is involved on the basis that one of the Quakers you know is a bit of a natural administrator and has willingly accepted those kinds of jobs in her meetings. It's not a necessary part of being a Quaker.

(I know your comment was lighthearted - just gave me an opportunity to clarify a thing that seems important for people to know.)
Nov. 8th, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
I really like this post.

I think there are lots of similarities between what you think about this stuff and what I think about this stuff (and that you're better at expressing it).

I find some 'god language' useful, some of the time. I believe in [Quaker phrase alert] that of God in everybody - which, for me, means

- it's important to recognise that all the people I'm dealing with are human beings; that they're fallible but also that deep down, they're nice and good and want to be happy and make other people happy. In some people, "that of God" is very well hidden under layers of damage caused by the person's experiences or sometimes by chemical effects, but I believe it's still there. Importantly, I think that even if this weren't true, I ought to continue to behave as though it was - so I might as well continue to believe it in a Pascal's Wager kind of way.

- there's "that of God" in me: if I stop and think carefully and [Quaker phrase alert] take heed of the promptings of love and truth in my heart it's often possible for me to figure out a good thing to do next. I think this is similar to what you're describing as a kind of praying. (And of course this is often helped by consulting other people whose opinions and judgement I trust.)

For me, part of being a Quaker (and, often, part of being in some of the non-Quaker friendships I'm in) is knowing that I can get the support or input of other people who are working from a similar ethical/philosophical starting point, when I need or want it and sometimes when I need but don't want it.

(I'm sure there was loads more I wanted to say but can't think of it at the moment.)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )