The Dogma Debate staff gets a ton of emails from listeners and readers struggling with the psychology of letting go of their belief. When they analyze it, they no longer believe it, but still, they can't let go.
They find comfort in God, they say. They fear hell. They want to know someone is watching over them, and have no idea how they can go through life without that support.
Maybe God is the Problem
I once thought that I would have been lost had I not had Jesus to help me through the difficult times in life. This was a position that I had to reexamine once I fully engaged my skepticism and stopped believing in a god.
I had to admit, much of the anxiety I felt in my life stemmed from the belief that I was living a life unpleasing to God. My personal trip through the cognitive dissonance of Christianity forced me to reconcile the belief that God disciplines his children, with the notion that sometimes things just happen; and how to discern which is which. One could probably write a book on this conundrum alone.
If I was being disciplined, then I had to figure out what I was doing wrong, and it doesn't take a fundamentalist with a bible very long to find something they are doing (or aren't) that is in direct conflict with the bible.
At first it seems simple. Ok, I wasn't tithing to God... pheww, problem solved.
For the biblically literate (which I am) this was the beginning of anxiety. I knew of all sorts of ridiculous demands that the bible required that I didn't live by. All I had was the ad-hoc reasoning of various religious teachers, many of whom were in conflict, to determine which I was required to follow and which I wasn't. So if I started tithing again, and things didn't get better, then I looked for what else I might be doing wrong. This cycle might continue several times before I decided that maybe I hadn't done anything wrong in the first place.
Maybe It's God's Will
In the instances where I didn't examine the bible closely enough to find something I had done to piss off God, I had his sovereignty to deal with. God had permitted what was happening to me. He knew it was coming and gave it a thumbs up. If the book of Job had told me nothing else, it was that God, for whatever reason, was capable of allowing people to be afflicted. He was obviously willing to let Satan toy with people, so why then would he have a problem with other people or circumstances also toying with me?
There is Nothing You Can Do
Whether I was being punished or simply in a circumstance which God allowed, the implication was inescapable. There was nothing I could do to change my circumstance, other than to ask God to change it. Even when I believed that I had sinned and then changed what I was doing, I couldn't guarantee that God would fix things. How was I to know how much discipline I needed for my own good? The same principle applied to God allowing things to happen. He had a reason, and though I asked him to change things, maybe he wanted those things to happen. Somehow the assertion by other Christians that it was all for God's glory didn't make me feel any better.
It's not that I used to just sit and wait on God and not actually try to solve my problems in the real world. I would certainly take whatever action I could, but in the process of doing so, I worried if I was acting in futility. If God was against removing my problem, or had hardened my heart to perpetuate this behavior (as he did with the Pharaoh in the Exodus) then my actions of correcting the issue weren't going to solve anything. I just keep trying until I make things better, but then I was inclined to wonder if there was a point that I should just give up because it obviously wasn't God's will.
Upon first understanding I was an atheist, I felt unprotected. For so long, I had believed God was looking out for me. But as I thought about all the things I've just mentioned, I realized that I had been living under a far more anxiety-ridden world view, than if I were to simply accept that bad things happen and then work to resolve them. Experience had taught me that solving problems isn't really all that bad. This is when my worry and anxiety dropped exponentially. There was no one out there working against me or divinely mandating trouble for me. I was free and I loved it.
Chad Trick - 4th Listener
From David Smalley...
It's messages like these that remind us exactly how scary it would be if a divine creator were actually 'watching out for us,' or rather, watching us struggle and doing nothing to help after loads of empty promises and absurd demands.
Injecting 'God' as the answer only begs thousands of more questions.
Imagine hearing about the worst crime-ridden town in the world, with nightly murders and rapes, thefts, and child abuse reports. If you were to discover that no police force was there, it would make sense and you could work to restore order. But imagine the fear if you were to discover that the U.S. Army was actually in control of the city. Then, things become terrifying.
So for people who think about it for more than 30 seconds, the idea of a god watching all of this suffering is not a pleasing one at all, but is one of anger and frustration.
Not only does he refuse to help, he is said in Christian doctrine to inflict these illnesses and tribulations to those not worthy of him, or not walking righteously enough in faith.
You should ask yourself; if you saw a stranger dying of dehydration, would you give him water? What if you found out he had lied the day before? Would that influence your decision? What if you discovered he was from a different country and denied that your country even exists? Would you let him suffer for just a little longer for refusing to acknowledge you? Would you watch him as he dried up and collapsed in front of you? What if he had cursed you the week before, and said he hates you? Would you watch him die? What if he had stolen from your children? Would you hold the water in front of him as he takes his final gasps of air?
Well, according to Christian doctrine, the god of the bible watches suffering like this on a daily basis, and does absolutely nothing, but demand your praise for how amazing he is. Many of the people he watches are innocent, and some are even children. Not only does he not solve the problems, he allows millions to fight over what he might do - all the while, knowing the answer and refusing to tell us.
Although he intentionally remains invisible as a test of faith, for those that doubt his existence, he not only withholds the water and watches the torment and suffering, he sets them on fire, and never lets them die. He watches and listens for eternity as his justice is played out for billions of years. Because that punishment obviously fits the crime.
So, would you give the man water? Of course you would.
So then I must ask; how can you glorify and worship a being that has less morality than you?
Realizing there is no sadistic creature withholding the powers of good, and constantly judging our every move and thought, is where the real comfort begins.