The 3 Words That Make Me An Atheist: “I Don’t Know”

“I have always been grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today”. That’s how I sign on to “The Faitheism Project Podcast” that I do every week with my good friend the Reverend Randy Lovejoy. In fairness, I’m pretty sure I dropped from the womb an “unbeliever”. Hebrew School merely closed the deal. Back then, I hadn’t had time yet (or the intellectual capacity) to reason out exactly why theism didn’t add up for me. That’s not to say I didn’t feel awe as I gazed up at the cosmos. I felt tons of awe. And tons of curiosity. I just didn’t see Yahweh staring back with the answers.

My awe is no different from the awe a Christian feels as they contemplate the nature of God (their version in their head) or the the all knowing state of Bodhisattva a Buddhist might experience as they achieve nirvana. But that’s where our paths diverge — me and my faith-practicing friends. People of faith need to know what’s behind the awe (even if the explanation isn’t entirely satisfying or logical). Why does the universe exist in the first place? God knows. Whether he reveals that truth to them is a whole other question; that “knowledge” that God has the answer, that’s good enough for them. Not for me. I’m pretty clear about one essential fact: Yahweh did not invent humans, humans invented Yahweh. If you’re looking to Yawheh for real answers, you’re looking in the wrong place.

The scribes who first scratched out what eventually became “The Book Of Genesis” were memorializing more than a thousand years of accumulated mythology — all bent toward answering the question “Why are we here?” Unsatisfied by a polytheist answer, whoever the actual “Abraham” was (mostly likely, he was a tribal chieftain who migrated his tribe from modern day Iraq to Canaan, now modern day Israel), he also migrated his tribe away from the polytheistic gods of their past to a “new God” called Yahweh. But, even Yahweh wasn’t entirely original. The newly arrived monotheists must have liked a lot about the Canaanite god EL; they incorporated not just EL into Yahweh, but El into their identity. El’s presence remains in place names like “Beth EL” and “IsraEL”.

Even Yahweh says of himself that he used to be called El but, at long last, has gotten to show his true self.

Knowledge — “gnosis” — became extremely important in the monotheistic universe. Human beings weren’t allowed to have “ultimate knowledge”. That’s Eve’s original sin — wanting to know what Yahweh knew.

To know everything therefore, is to “be” Yahweh. To be a god.

Atheists aspire “to know”. Same goes for many agnostics. Their agnosticism hinges on the fact that they don’t and therefore won’t conclude definitively whether or not Yahweh (or any god) exists. The information I want is out there somewhere. Will I ever acquire it definitively? I don’t know. And that’s the bottom line. Until I do “know” what happened, I’ll have to accept that I don’t know. The question is — can I live with that? Can I live with not knowing definitively?

What preceded the Big Bang? I don’t know. I think string theory provides a more satisfying answer than “Yahweh preceded it”. At least string theory can rest on a foundation of math. Yahweh rests on a foundation of storytelling in the absence of hard data. If the first monotheist (be it Abraham who whoever) had had access to a telescope or a microscope — or the internet — would they have written Genesis the way they did? Would they have described an earth-centric universe all geared toward the creation of human beings? Of course not — they would have started mythologizing with what they already knew then used the mythologizing to explain what they, as yet, didn’t know. In the beginning, Yahweh might have been standing on the other side the singularity that started Life As We Know It — and Genesis might have opened by describing The Big Bang in remarkable, proto-second by proto-second detail.

The bottom line is how do any of us deal with uncertainty? Those with little tolerance turn to religion because they need to know. Religion says it WILL provide the answer. Science can only say “it might” provide an answer and the answer it provides today may not be good tomorrow because we’ve learned new information. That’s the best science can ever do. If you want certainty, science — ironically — is not for you.

When I say “science”, I mean a process of analytical, observation-based thinking as opposed to “revealed knowledge”. Back before Darwin, theology was considered “the Queen Of The Sciences” — for real. But, with Darwin came not just science but a “scientific method” of thinking that demanded all conclusions be based on actual data and not just “cos God said”. Forced to provide receipts, theology fled the building. Whereas the institutional church could have used the occasion to reinvest in Jesus and teach a spiritual “Do Unto Others” message (something they’d never really done before), instead (in America), the church doubled down on the ooga-booga. Rather than see the Bible as a bastion of good messages for good living, the institutional churches of America insisted that their sacred texts were the “divinely inspired word o’ God” and therefore even better than science. Unlike science, the church insisted (and still does) God does not need receipts.

What’s true inside a church stops being true outside it.

Not having a reason to be here imposed upon me by a bipolar deity doesn’t scare me. Hell, it liberates me! I can tolerate living in a DIY universe where the Big Questions are concerned. Hell, I half expect it to turn out that the the whole Universe is just a giant piece of IKEA furniture — and the nitwit putting it together misunderstood the instructions and flipped the main piece upside down; we’re moments away from him realizing he’s going to have to break the whole Universe down and start all over again. How “Noah”…

That’s just the Universe being ironic, right…?

Noah And His “Kangaroo Problem”

According to a Gallup poll from July 2019, 40% of Americans STILL believe in creationism. A lot of “those people” are the same troglodytes standing between America and its continuing as a democratic republic. A person who genuinely believes in the Genesis creation myth — who genuinely believes that a sky deity created a “Garden of Eden” for the benefit of two human creatures, Adam and Eve, only to have Eve ruin it all by eating a piece of fruit she wasn’t supposed to — is likely to believe literally anything. Clearly, they have no capacity to judge reality. They probably worry that Voldemort is lying in wait for them, too. But then, the Harry Potter stories have as much in common with reality as anything in the Bible does.

Water must have scared the guys who wrote the Bible more than any other natural force. Never mind “dust to dust” or “ashes to ashes”. The guys whose work product evolved into what we now call “Genesis”, imagined a proto-world, pre-creation, as being entirely liquid: “…darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”. Then, later on, when God gets good and pissed off at his favoritest creation, he uses water to wipe everyone (and everything) except Noah and his clan from the planet’s “face”. Water brought forth life; it could also bring forth death. Ironically, the book’s author(s) may have gotten it right. Life As We Know It on earth probably did begin in the water. But, there were things about the water they didn’t know as they sat down to write: where it “ended”, for instance. Columbus headed east at the behest of Spain in search of where the water “ended”. Columbus hoped to prove that the water ended in India — because the earth is round and eventually all that water had to lead back to a place they KNEW existed — albeit far away.

Now, here’s the thing: the authors of Genesis knew that India existed. Their tribe had trade with Persia and India (they were part of Persian’s “Royal Road” which operated roughly between 500 and 330 BCE) . They might have been aware that China existed (remnants of Chinese silk dating from 1070 BCE have been found in Egypt). They definitely knew that Africa existed. These three continental land masses are call connected, ya see. One could walk from present day Beijing to present day Paris and then to present day Cape Town, South Africa. One could NOT walk however to Chicago. Or to the Sydney Opera House. One could not walk to present day Brazil or take in the Andes.

More recent thinking puts the writing of Genesis (including its version of a flood story) at about the time of the Babylonian exile — around 600 BC. By comparison, the scribes who created the Sumerian flood story in the Gilgamesh Epic began their work around 2100 BC. This text was likely familiar to Genesis’s authors. What was entirely UNfamiliar to them was, say a kangaroo or a koala — animals that existed only on the continent of Australia. If you had shown a picture of a kangaroo to the guys who wrote Genesis, they would have not known what to make of it. It didn’t look like any animal they’d ever seen before. And, when they sat down to write their flood story, when they imagined their character Noah leading two of all the world’s animals into the boat he’d built, two of the animals Noah absolutely did not picture (because the guy writing him couldn’t to begin with) were kangaroos.

For the very same reason, Jesus could not possibly have gone to North America because no one he knew had the least idea such a thing even existed. More to the point, the Apostle Paul did not know North America existed while he was creating almost the entire Jesus mythology. Paul invented Christianity, not Jesus. Jesus had the same knowledge of Christianity (zero) that Paul had of North America. Look, creative people can and do make up some remarkable crap. That goes for people on a spiritual journey too. Goes for them especially.

There’s nothing wrong with the Noah story. It’s charming in its way. There is EVERYTHING wrong with thinking the Noah story is in any way true. It’s a story FFS!. What about fish? What about dolphins? What about creatures that aren’t necessarily animals — like algae. What about viruses and bacteria? It’s genuinely horrifying to know that there are people walking around the planet today who honestly think this could have actually happened..

It’s wrong to think that Jesus actually showed up one day here in North America. When the basis for your belief system is over-loaded with sweet stories you think are true, that’s not a reflection on the stories, that’s all on you. People who insist that their angry, neurotic god Yahweh created everything end up with a throttled, limited view of the world.

But then, look at Yahweh — he’s a being powerful enough to create everything. Yet he obsesses endlessly on humans and all their shortcoming. If humans suck as creatures, that isn’t on them, it’s on Yahweh, their creator. And Yahweh, don’t forget, got completely outflanked in his own creation by both a talking snake and the woman he crafted from Adam’s rib. Yahweh, really, can’t do anything right.

Maybe Noah’s problem isn’t so much that he couldn’t imagine a kangaroo as that Yahweh probably couldn’t.

God: The Interview

On the down side, church attendance is falling pretty much everywhere. On the plus side? Who needs a church when you’ve got the internet. A Zoomed church community talking about their faith may not blow a room away like a gospel service turned up to 11, but it’s better than nothing — especially in an age of coronavirus. God will take what he can get when he can get it. It’s just how the world works now.

Also on the plus side — God’s no dummy. He knows he’s selling a product that fewer people want and even fewer need. The challenge: how to sell coal to Newcastle, ice to Inuit and being racist to a Trump voter.

It’s not so much that you can’t sell it as they don’t need it. They’re covered already.

God wanted to meet in person. He said he wasn’t worried about catching the coronavirus because, as he put it repeatedly, “Chrissakes, dude, I invented the goddamned thing! Do you really think I’d be dumb enough to make it something I could catch?”

I do actually. Seemed like the perfect place to begin:

HTLBF: Just to be clear — coronavirus isn’t something you could catch, right? I mean “you personally”?

GOD: How could I catch a human disease if I’m not human?

HTLBF: Well, it’s not strictly a “human disease” and there are people who believe you are a human invention.

GOD: Get outta here! That’s impossible. I’m the be all and end all. The alpha and the omega. The original cause — of everything! It says so — in the book!

HTLBF: In a book you personally commissioned. Indeed – those are all claims you’ve made. But you’ve never proved any of them.

GOD: “Proving things” is for losers and atheists.

HTLBF: Actually, proving things is how we figure out what’s true versus what’s not. You say you created everything?

GOD: Hell, yeah!

HTLBF: Can you prove it?

GOD: Can you prove I didn’t?

HTLBF: It’s kind of hard to prove a negative — especially when it’s completely made up. We can prove that at some point, the universe as we know it, began — that our universe is composed of certain elements and that those elements exploded into being when the Big Bang happened.

GOD: And who do you think made the Big Bang happen? Me — the Big Banger.

HTLBF: Okay… let’s assume for a second that that’s true. You’re the Big Banger and you made the Big Bang happen.

GOD: See how the whole universe suddenly makes sense?

HTLBF: No. What were you doing before the Big Bang?

GOD: What do you mean?

HTLBF: I mean what were you doing? After the Big Bang, you’re “God” suddenly. Before the Big Bang, you’re just Yahweh — hanging out, I assume.

GOD: I wasn’t just “hanging out”.

HTLBF: How did you fool people into changing your name from “Yahweh” to “God”? Yahweh’s your name, “god” is your job description.

GOD: I’m the world’s first proprietary eponym. I was “Kleenex” before there was “Kleenex”, “Frigidaire” before there were Frigidaires. “God” before there were gods.

HTLBF: How do all the other gods feel about you expropriating their job title as your first name?

GOD: I don’t worry about what losers think.

HTLBF: What’s wrong with “Yahweh”?

GOD: Nothing. It’s a perfectly good name.

HTLBF: So why change it? Why have us call you “God” instead of your name?

GOD: Can we move on please? At least can we get to the questions about why everyone should believe in me?

HTLBF: If you weren’t just hanging out prior to becoming “God”, what were you doing?

GOD: What’s it to you?

HTLBF: What made you suddenly decide to create everything? One moment, you’re fine with nothingness, the next, it’s like you can’t go on without there “being” things. What changed?

GOD: I’m not answering that.

HTLBF: Because you can’t?

GOD: Are you trying to make me smite you with lightning cos that’s where I’m headed right now.

HTLBF: What is it with you and killing people?

GOD: Smiting with lightning doesn’t necessarily kill.

HTLBF: It’s not going to make anyone feel better. Aren’t we supposedly made in your image?

GOD: What do you think makes you so good-looking?

HTLBF: So, it’s just your image on the outside then. On the inside, we’re nothing like you.

GOD: The goal was to make you like me on the inside AND the outside–

HTLBF: But, whereas you succeeded on the outside — since we’re as good-looking as you — you failed completely on duplicating you inside us.

GOD: “Failed” is kind of harsh, don’t you think?

HTLBF: Why did you flood the whole planet then? Wasn’t it because you failed with humans?

GOD: Noah wasn’t a failure. I got him right. And his most of his family.

HTLBF: Out of how many humans total? You got, say, five people right out of thousands? And what about all the animals you created? What’d they do to deserve getting drowned? What kind of crappy creator are you?

GOD: Careful there, pal — I could roast you alive just like that.

HTLBF: Actually, I don’t think you can. I don’t think you’re capable of it. You’re not really capable of anything.

GOD: Dude, I’m serious. Do not piss me off.

HTLBF: Funny — I was about to say the same thing to you. If you invented everything — mankind included — prove it right now by obliterating me. Go on — do it. I bet you can’t.

GOD: Screw you, dude. Deities don’t have to prove shit.

HTLBF: Because deities CAN’T prove shit?

(God pulls the wireless mic from his collar, tosses it and walks out)

The bigger they are, the more full of shit they are. It goes double for deities.