A brief follow-up to my previous comments on the ‘Don’t worry, God probably doesn’t exist, so stop worrying and get on with life’ bus adverts and intelligent design.
An atheist isn’t just someone who does not think God exists. An atheist is someone who would not ‘believe in’ God even though they knew that he does exist. For to ‘believe in’ God entails a good deal more than simply acknowledging factual existence. It also requires (in its conventional gloss) that I worship my creator and obey his will without question.
I find this impossible to stomach – partly because it offends against the fact that I am – or so God tells me – a morally responsible being. If that is the case (and I like to think it is) then the mere fact that someone else tells me x or y is right does not make it so. There is no moral authority over a moral being other than their own moral judgement. I will – indeed, as a moral being, I must – make my own decision.
As for worshiping God – what on earth does that mean? To repeat the example used by William Paley about 170 years ago (and so beloved of theologians even now), if I found a pocket watch on the path, it would not take long to work out from its complexity that it had a designer. But even if this were true – and as the next 170 years of evolutionary thinking has demonstrated, it isn’t – I would not expect the watch to worship its creator. What a weird idea!
And even if it did, I would hardly say that God’s record to date suggests that he is worthy of such devotion. I have long thought that the Bible evidenced a severe lack of moral judgment on God’s part. Of course, one has to sympathise with his predicament. It must be tough being divine in the face of modern technology. Imagine trying to manifest yourself over the phone, only to be put through to an answer machine. Imagine announcing the Second Coming by TV, only to have half the population video you instead and then record a soap opera over you without even bothering to watch.
But leaving such modern niceties aside, Creation doesn’t exactly reek of any deep concern for its inhabitants. At this very moment, a million children are crying with toothache. The state of the world, even on this small, quite non-cosmic level, would make Caligula blanch. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Universe was surely designed by a committee of camels. (Actually, the conception of the universe as designed by a committee does solve one enduring theological conundrum – how the three persons of God could also be one.) Far from embodying divine wisdom, the universe is really the expression of perfect unwisdom, only made wise by humanity.
As for God himself, he exhibits the morality of the ultimate amoral bystander. How could he stand by and watch Auschwitz happen? Or as one eminent American critic of religious institutions has remarked:
Let’s get serious: God knows what he’s doing, he wrote this Book here, and
the Book says he made us all to be just like him. So if we’re dumb, then God is
dumb, and maybe even a little ugly on the side…
Chorus: Dumb all over… A little ugly on the side… Dumb all over…
It’s lucky that God no more has free will than the rest of us; heaven only knows what he might have got up to. Cataracts, indeed. Nor is he much more effective on the social and historical planes: any religion that has still only acquired a minority holding in humanity’s conscience after 2,000 years of sustained marketing by some of history’s finest fanatics and delivers human happiness with the efficiency of the Plague is surely due for an overhaul.
All in all, there is no reason to worship God just because he is omnipotent, because he is our creator, etc. It may be Calvin’s opinion that one cannot help but worship one’s creator –
How can the idea of God enter your mind without instantly giving rise to the
thought that since you are his workmanship, you are bound, by the very law of
creation, to submit to his authority? (From his The Institutes of the Christian Religion.)
– but as i say, that is surely to deny our integrity as responsible beings. After all, that’s how God made us – if we were made in the ‘image’ of God, surely it was in his moral image. (Or if it was in his physical image, why was he so susceptible to in-growing toenails?) But in that case, we are as responsible for our acts as God is for his. What then is there to worship? By the same token, how can our sins be taken from us?
In summary: God does not exist, but even if he did, there would be no reason to ‘believe’ in Him. And even if he were worthy of belief, that would be no reason to worship him. I believe in democracy but I don’t worship it. And even if he were worthy of worship, there is no reason to think he is a Christian. After all, no one else is. Finally, even if He did exist, were a Christian and were worthy of belief and worship, then the entirety of human history cries out that he really is an Almighty Shit.