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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #98, 1/9/2008

The God Problem

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

I am agnostic, which means that I don't know if there is a God. The nearest thing I have to a religious belief is a general sense that my life has meaning and purpose beyond what I can see right now. When bad things happen to me, I tend to assume, without proof, that they are part of "the plan" and that I will come out better for the experience. I don't know for a fact that there is a plan; it's just useful to think that way.

Even though I don't believe in a Muslim God or a Jewish God or a Mormon God, per se, I am still "good." I don't smoke or drink; I try to avoid hurting people, and I try to do my best, in my own way, to improve the lot of my fellow man.

I choose to be good not because of any call to authority but simply because it makes sense to me. I have thought through the logical implications of both good and evil acts, and good is more practical. If there is a God and He is truly just and compassionate, as the Christian God is supposed to be, then just doing my best ought to be good enough for Him. I do what I do based on my own best judgment, and if God wants to judge me in the end, that's His business.

Religious believers don't see it this way. They say you have to recognize God—their God—to lead a fulfilling life. Without God, they say, you don't know the difference between good and evil, so you're going to fall into sin.

If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your savior, some Christians tell me, you're going to be damned to Hell for eternity. The logic of this has always escaped me. According to them, if I am good and noble on earth, obeying all the Christian principles of behavior but failing to recognize Jesus, then God is going to smote me anyway. On the other hand, someone who behaves badly all his life but accepts Jesus in the end is going to get away scot free. This doesn't sound like a just God to me. If you're going to do the whole celestial reward and punishment thing, then you should at least be consistent.

I consider myself tolerant of other people's religious beliefs—up to a point. I have learned that it is futile to try to talk people out of their beliefs, because their line of reasoning always ends with the statement, "You just have to have faith." These arguments can also be very damaging to our relationship, because it makes the other person defensive, so I avoid them whenever possible.

I am not above discrimination, however. While I wouldn't consider someone's religious affiliation when, saying, hiring them to fill a simple job, I would not want a very religious person standing beside me during a crisis.

I am not referring to a person's specific religion, but their "religiosity," or the fervor with which they believe in their religion. In my experience, the more religious a person is, the more likely they are to lose their reasoning ability under stress. If you put your trust in a religious believer when their ego is on the line and the choices get tough, there's a good chance you are going to get screwed.

The problem is the supposed "faith" that lies at the core of their belief system. Religious people are willing to set aside logic whenever it is inconvenient to them. In times of stress, this means that they are going to start using their supposed faith for guidance rather than using the mileposts of what is really going on around them.

In practice, "faith" almost always leads to one of three outcomes: (1) Doing what authority tells you to, (2) Doing what the people around you are doing, or (3) Doing what is self-serving to your own ego and personal interests.

Under stress, religious people tend to become either mindless sheep or paranoid egotists. You can expect honor and virtue from them as long as tensions are low, but when their self-esteem is at risk, they'll turn into monsters. They will either become passive monsters, who do great evil by doing nothing at all, or they will become active monsters, striking out at what they perceive as the evil around them.

Paranoia comes easily to the very religious. The world's worst religious violence is the result of one group demonizing another and thinking they are capable of worse things than they actually are.

In my experience, however, a greater danger is passivity. I have never been attacked by a religious zealot, but I have been profoundly hurt by religious people who simply went limp when the decisions got difficult.

This is why I don't trust a religious person in times of stress. When our ship is sinking, they might gather in a prayer circle or trust what the captain tells them rather than making the difficult decisions necessary to save the ship.

If you believe in God and know that He is watching over you, it is easy to defer to Him when you don't know what to do. Call it religious fatalism. Whatever happens in the end, it doesn't seem to be your fault because you put your faith in God and He lead you where He wanted.

Someone like me, who doesn't know if there is a God, doesn't have the luxury of faith or heavenly guidance. If bad things happen, I will learn to accept them, but in the meantime I am going to everything in my power to prevent those bad things.

Reader Comments

“You have been misinformed by enthusiastic but unenlightened Christians. Try educating yourself about these things from knowledgable Christian classical writers such as Augustine, et al or even more the modern C.S. Lewis. You sound very intelligent. Put a little effort into something as important as eternity and the Creator of everything that is.” —Mediocris 2/8/08 (rating=3)

“There is no meaning. self as an entity is transitory or does not exist. life is a joke” —tapiwa 3/9/08 (rating=3)

“Took the words right out of my mouth!” —Andy 4/17/08 (rating=5)

“very good read (but last line needs 'do' in between 'to everything')” — 6/11/08 (rating=3)

“Maybe I'm just in denial, but I like to think that even as a religious person, I make rational decisions under stress. You could have provided a more explicit example of your major concern that religious people can't be counted on during stressful situations. Do you have personal experience with this, or is it just predictive experience?” —Rachel 6/18/08 (rating=2)

“Very, very true. I appluad you for having the courage to even write this. Religion is a pretty sensitive topic.” — 10/21/09 (rating=5)

“Karma will overcome dogma; God does not suffer fools.” — 8/27/10 (rating=2)

Ratings so far: 3 3 5 3 2 5 4 3 4 3 5 3 2 3 (Average=3.4)

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