I had a post in mind that I was going to write for today, but something happened this morning that I instantly knew I would have to write about instead. I was sitting bored in church when the sermon started and the vicar began making remarks about “unbelievers” and the “secular world.” I immediately scrambled for a pencil and a paper, and I started taking notes.
If you’ve read my posts Bible Study Notes and God Works in Mysterious Ways, you might remember my discussions of the weird teachings of my church’s new pastor. Right now he’s away for a couple weeks as his wife has had or is about to have their eighth child (!?), so this week, our vicar lead the service, and while he’s not as animated and doesn’t say such ridiculous things as the pastor does, he still gave a sermon that was bad enough to deserve its own blog post.
He opened the sermon by quoting a Psalm about how God is a strong God and not a weak God. I don’t remember the exact verse, but that’s the summary. While he never used the word “atheists,” the first thing that he did was say that unbelievers operate under many assumptions, including these two:
1. There is no god.
2. If there is a god, he is a weak god.
I don’t know how necessary it really is for me to go through an explanation of just how incorrect these two statements are, but just to cover my bases, I will.
Like I said, he never used the word “atheist.” Hearing the word “atheist” being misused or misdefined is one of my greatest pet peeves in life, and probably the most common way that I see atheism being misdefined is when people say that it is a statement that there is no god. Atheism is a disbelief in gods or deities. In its basic agnostic form, atheism makes no statement. If it does make a statement, the statement is “I don’t believe in God.” That’s it.
The reason I bring this up is because in this context, I believe that the word “atheist” and the word “unbeliever” are synonymous. Of course, an unbeliever could be someone that doesn’t believe in unicorns, ghosts, true love, or anything else, but since the vicar was discussing unbelievers in God, then a synonym for that would be “atheist.”
If you’ve followed these two connections that I’ve made, you’ll see why his first statement is incorrect. Atheism makes no statement of there being no god!
The second assumption is even worse than the first. The way that it played out throughout his sermon, it ended up sounding like “They don’t believe in God, but they believe that God is weak.” Obviously, we don’t believe that God is anything . . . we don’t believe that he exists. Most atheists do have a negative view of the Abrahamic God as a fictional character, but as for liking or disliking him, that’s the extent of it: we treat him as a fictional character. You can’t hate or find strength or weakness in what you don’t believe in.
The reason that the vicar was saying that secular people believe that God is weak is because we know that we are his enemy, and we know that one day he will judge us, and we don’t want to be punished. He said if God were strong (as the Psalm and the vicar said he is) that he would destroy his enemies (atheists, apparently) on Judgment Day. He was basically trying to say that we unknowingly do believe in God, but we’re not too worried about being stricken with his wrath, because we’re atheists and we think we’re invincible.
Pascal’s Wager is such a big topic and deserves a post of its own, but I’ll sum it up for now in case anyone’s unfamiliar. Basically, Pascal’s Wager says that if it’s equally likely that God does or doesn’t exist, then you might as well believe in him. If you do, you go to heaven and if you don’t, you go to hell. You have nothing to lose by believing and you have everything to lose if you don’t. There are several problems with Pascal’s Wager, most prominently that even if you were to scare me into saying I believe just for a ticket to heaven, wouldn’t the all-knowing God know that I was just faking belief? Then, I’m not only a heathen, I’m also a liar. I’m pretty sure I’d still end up in hell.
I touched on what the bulk of the sermon was about before. Basically, no one would want to be on the punishing end of a strong God that can obliterate us and cause us (God’s enemies) to melt like wax and vanish into smoke. We evildoers know we wouldn’t make it if we were to stand before God. Therefore, we just say that if he were to exist, then he would be weak and incapable of such unfathomable punishment.
Personally, I believe that if there were a god, it wouldn’t care what we do. It wouldn’t care what we do or if we believe in it. It would just sit there as a “get out of jail free” card for those big questions (how did life originate, how do we know right from wrong) that we don’t have solid answers to yet. And as sure that I am that there is no deity at all, I am even more positive that the Christian God doesn’t exist, and his unending power and ability to punish is the reason why.
God’s omnipotence, when combined with his omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence, are essentially the reasons why I don’t believe in the Christian God. He’s paradoxical. I don’t have the time to get into it now (and I’ve touched on it before), but on the subject, I’ll leave you with this: If God is omnipotent, then can he create a boulder so heavy that he himself cannot lift it? (And don’t say: “God doesn’t owe it to us to explain his mysterious ways.” I want a straight answer. It’s not too much to ask for!)
Essentially, the fact that the Christian God fundamentally has to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent is the reason that lead me not to believe in him. Not because I’m afraid, but because he’s paradoxical. The more powerful he is, the less likely he is to exist because that’s the conclusion that the problem of evil leads me to.
A threat towards me and my unbelief isn’t going to change who I am and the fact that I don’t believe in God. If something were to change my mind, it would be because of logic or because of a scientific discovery, not a wager, or a threat, or a weak god or a strong god. I am an atheist and it’s going to take more than wordplay to change that.