Atheists boldly deny the existence of God or gods. Agnostics less boldly say that they don’t know or they can’t really say for certain. This service will lay out these related forms of lack of traditional faith, as well as a presentation of a forward-looking, alternative view of God.
Agnosticism and atheism. The Roots of our faith are many, and they include doubt and non-belief. And both of those philosophies go way back. Socrates was forced to “drink the hemlock” because of his teaching of the youth of Athens, which included denying the existence of the gods of the Greek Pantheon (Zeus and all those other gods and goddesses) in their kindness and cruelties, much like the Hindu gods and goddesses.
The Case for Agnosticism
It is prudent to not think one knows anything for absolute certain. Our senses are acute, our minds are fertile and thoughtful, and we use them to test the evidence, but yet they are limited, and we often find we were mistaken; sometimes about things we thought we absolutely, positively knew were true.
So it makes sense to always preserve that cautious spirit of doubt and avoid being dogmatic about anything. We Unitarian Universalists have a lot of Agnosticism in us because we are wise and cautious and not dogmatic.
The Case for Atheism
Honestly, is there really a possibility that a God, or a raft of gods, really exists? If so, why don’t we ever see them, or hear them, or sense their help, or their interference in our lives? (The Greek gods especially were meddlers in the lives of mortals.) Why don’t we even sense their “wayward and flickering” presence? I suppose some people sense something like that. Not me. Except just one time on the Eel River, in the Redwood forest when, in the dark and starry night, I sensed a Presence. Might have been God, but it might have been Bigfoot.
Even so, sensing something isn’t evidence, and it must be said there is zero evidence of a divine or even merely magical entity that actually cares about us. It seems to me, and to many others, that we have no divine protection. Except, of course, for all the other people, and our doggie best friends.
Unitarian Universalists tend toward cautious Atheism because we are logical, and believe that religious truth does not contradict truth from any other source. And we believe that truth exists, whole and interconnected, not in “alternative truth” and that “truthiness” is unreliable and tends toward the dishonest.
Now, think of all the resources that are consumed by churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, preserving the ancient beliefs and their elaborate rules, to preserve what are (remembering our caution about certainty) almost surely fictions about heaven and hell, miracles, and the nature of the world and our life in it. All religions I know of are full of wisdom about human nature and the human spirit, but then cross the line into the supernatural. You know, beings who can calm the sea, feed the multitudes, heal the sick, raise the dead.
Think of all the resources that are consumed by the religions and the believers in trying to get people safely into an afterlife. Wouldn’t it be better to, like our Universalist forebears, spend our time and treasure doing more to get heaven into people, rather than getting people into heaven?
Again, I and many others think it is much, much more likely that there is no God (or gods) out there, and yet for thousands of years humanity has built monuments and institutions in pursuit of satisfying our craving to not be alone and to not have our life be meaningless. Think of the sacrifices made to divine entities that we invented: precious metals, burnt offerings, and sacrifice of life – sometimes the fatted calf, sometimes human beings. Religion began 300,000 years ago, but striving for life after death can be dated to only a few thousand years BCE (before common era).
Since it appears we won’t be getting help from God or gods, perhaps we should do what we can with the closest entity to a divinity that is conscious and cares. Namely, us.
A New God, Perhaps
It is my belief that the creation and existence of the universe was unconscious, at first and for a very long time, more than 13 billion years. Those titanic forces of matter and gravity and light and heat and speed have their own existence, but they are not aware of themselves. All of Earth was unconscious in most ways until recently, when some of the “higher” creatures began to think beyond survival and bodily functions. But it was not deep thinking. My late spinal surgeon uncle-in-law Lee Wiltse, MD would say that cows are pretty smart compared to most of the rest of life, but you can’t teach them arithmetic.
It’s one of the miracles of life on Earth that consciousness arose unconsciously. You would expect anything that amazing would have to be done by a supremely powerful and conscious Being. However, try all you want, you won’t find evidence of a thoughtful and caring Creator. All of Creation, according to the evidence, was created unconsciously.
Consciousness was created unconsciously. Until now, until the rise of humanity. We are conscious, we have ethics, and we are increasing in wisdom and stature. We humans are dabbling in divine power. Our geologic Era is being called the Anthropocene, in respect to our power to change the planet.
So what is Evolution showing us about the meaning and purpose of life? Or, if you prefer, what is evolved and evolving consciousness doing with its consciousness?
It is my belief that we humans (possibly surpassed in some far-off future, just as homo sapiens replaced the Neanderthals and other hominids) will take the powers that we are unlocking and continue to do stuff that advances our wisdom and stature.
History shows us that we humans are both brutish and refined. That our best selves are like the angels and our worse selves are like the demons. This is where our imaginations, observing our own behaviors, created and populated a heaven and hell. But again, there is no evidence of heaven or hell. So where are we going?
Meaning or Purpose
I don’t know what the meaning of my life, or any human life, is. It seems like it’s whatever meaning we want to give it. But the purpose of life seems to me to be quite a bit clearer.
I used to believe the purpose of life was to wake up, to become more conscious. Now I believe that is necessary, but we can do more than that. The purpose of life is, I think, to continue to evolve until humankind is powerful enough and wise enough and loving enough to become, as a species, the omnipotent and omniscient God of our forebears’ imaginings. Or rather, of course, as close to omniscient and omnipotent as creatures without supernatural powers can approach. I believe we can get a lot closer.
I believe our mission on Earth, if we choose to accept it, is to become like unto the God we wish existed but doesn’t seem to. We are calling the god of our imagining into being, into our beings. Who else is going to do anything about the unfairness and pain? Kurt Vonnegut created the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, and yes, the God of Creation does not care. That’s why the innocents suffer while the greedy and cruel prosper. The universe is cold, without mercy, and without any other tender feelings unless there are humans present. Dogs and a few other animals show glimmerings of that godliness.
Let us ask, and answer:
- Who cares for us?
- Who feeds us and clothes us and gives us shelter?
- Who rescues us?
- Who binds up our wounds?
- Who answers our prayers?
- Who releases us from prison, literal and psychological?
- Who holds our hand when we are dying?
- Who loves us?
We have thought for thousands of years that this is God’s work, God’s responsibility. Certain church people tell us that God loves us, but this God’s Creation is Deaf and Dumb and Blind and unfeeling.
They say God is omniscient, but God doesn’t share its supposed knowledge. They say God is Omnipotent, but God doesn’t use that supposed power to make things easier or less painful. We have been on our own all along, and will continue to be on our own.
No, it’s we human beings who care about these things and can do something about them. And we do do something about them.
So for starters, let us try to make some progress toward becoming demigods. That’s the best we can do, and we can do it. Evolution is working in our favor. Sometimes it feels it is almost within reach.
Let us bring it a little closer.