Beverly Brewster is a California-based cleric who, in a recent letter to the editor of the New York Times chooses to play the “oh-but-I-am-so-wonderful-and-liberal-and-inclusive” card against Susan Jacoby, in particular against one of the latter’s recent published essays.
The world’s enduring religions offer much more wisdom and meaning than a child’s idea of God as a superhero. As a Presbyterian minister, I often say to self-proclaimed atheists, “Tell me more about the God you don’t believe in; I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in that God either.”
(Hat tip to Eric MacDonald from bringing this letter to my attention.) I admit it is tiresome to deal with the intellectual and moral condescension in remarks like this (as an atheist, it really doesn’t matter how sophisticated your understanding is — characters like Brewster will always insinuate as she does here that any disagreement you have with them is because you’re a brutal idiot and that if you’d only read some other thousand-page work of theobabble like they had you would understand that, etc. etc.). But I’ll put that aside for now and just answer the question.
A bit of reflection has suggested to me at least three gods I don’t believe in.
The first is the Great Creator or Great Engineer, who somehow made the universe as a wonderful and commodious place for us to live in. Darwin slew this entity: our very bodies are obviously riddle with kludges and design errors, from the vermiform appendix to the narrow pelvic girdle that makes childbirth such a danger and a torment. And our minds are no better designed than our bodies: we are full of longings and desires that we can never fulfill. The only thing it seems that the human mind was designed well to do is to suffer.
The second god I do not believe in is more abstract: I do not believe in any person, entity, or concept the instantiation of which either justifies, redeems, or compensates us in any way for all the suffering we undergo in this life. We do not deserve to suffer. Our suffering is not merited payback for our “sins.” There is no “meaning” that somehow makes up for or makes sense of the suffering we undergo. There is no Big Story, whether the Greatest Ever Told or otherwise, in which we are playing a part and in which we could possibly want to play a part if only we understood it. There is no Big Picture which, if only we could see all of it, our suffering would become something worthwhile. There is no blissful afterlife besides which the sufferings of this life will seem as the merest pinprick. A rational individual must reject claims like this (why will also be the subject of a future post on something I call “the Snake Oil Dispersant Heuristic”).
And the third god I do not believe is is any person, entity, or concept that is somehow objectively worthy of worship. I believe this alone on the strength of my conviction that there are, and indeed really cannot be, any objective values — which will be the topic for posts in the future — but even if I did believe in them, those that I would believe in would include a belief in the immense negative value of suffering, and thus would lead me to something that might be described as an antinatalism with respect to the whole universe. A god worthy of the title did not have to create the world full of suffering. Even if the world as it is represents the best world that a god could have created, a god worthy of the title could have chosen to create no world at all, and hence could have avoided all the suffering.
If there is a creator of the world, that entity is a monster. However powerful it is, it is not worthy of worship, hence not a god.