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Why Atheism May Be the Best Way to Understand God

Only a lack of belief in God offers the possibility of increasing our understanding of him or her.

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As a writer, I worship clarity. If I need someone else to explain what I've written, I consider that a failure of the first order. God should surely do better. So why do the sacred texts of all religions always require someone to explain what they mean?

It is possible -- indeed, quite logical -- to say: "God is perfect, God gets it right every time. But, after all, he's talking to people, and you know how they screw things up. How often have you ordered a double cheeseburger with onions rings and ended up with fries? Human error, pilot error, mistakes happen."

Actually, that's a pretty good solution. If everyone said, "Yeah, we know God did his best, but look at what he had to work with, so my bible is just sort of an approximation, and yours must be, too, so let's not fight over it," then this would be an academic discussion, not worth writing or reading.

But they don't. They all say, "This is it. The revealed truth. The one and only. You can kill me, and I won't give that up. If you want to fight about it, I'll kill you."

OK, not all of them. But enough to make this conversation a matter of life and death.

Is there a way to pick the right truth? To determine which truth is The Truth?

Each tradition has produced millions of words that prove that theirs is the one that came direct from God and got it right. Such arguments are very convincing to people who already believe what's being argued for.

But imagine a panel of judges, made up of a Protestant, a Catholic, a Mormon and a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh and a Buddhist, too. Could anyone make a presentation of his or her Truth as the One and Only Truth that could convince them all? Or even get a majority of such a court?

Even within religions -- everyone swearing by the same text -- there are disagreements, divisions and schisms. These, too -- Protestant versus Catholic, Shiite versus Sunni -- are volatile enough to lead to violence.

Believers like to argue that the word of God is absolute and unchanging. But in practice, that's absolutely not true.

The rule for marriage in the Old Testament -- based on examples and God's occasional command -- seems to have been, "One man and however many women suit the situation." The New Testament did not explicitly change that. Both St. Augustine and Martin Luther said there was no scriptural prohibition on polygamy. Yet today things have somehow morphed so that the Catholic Church and most Protestants will insist that it is God's law that "marriage is a union between one man and one woman."

Similar changes have taken place over slavery, divorce and the death penalty for adultery. God's law, as expressed by religious leaders, evolves quite as much as man's law.

If we start from the Missionary Position -- the position of faith -- that God exists, these are the kinds of question we need to ask to go forward: 

  • Why doesn't God make himself clear?
  • Why does God give different rules to different people?
  • Why is it that the culture someone is born into is, far and away, the most important determinant of which revelation they believe in?
  • Is there a way to sort out The Truth?
  • If a new prophet arrives tomorrow -- and they do arrive with great regularity -- how can we say that the new revelation is not the true revelation? 


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