Excerpt from God Is an Atheist
I was talking to God the other night, when He told
me something disturbing, and truthfully, somewhat
baffling. Now, you probably doubt that I was talking
to God, and likely think I was delusional, or talking
to myself, and you might be right about that, but as I
am trying to explain, in a way I donít care what you
believe, or what I believe for that matter. I only care
what God believes, and that is what is so troubling.
God told me he is an atheist, he doesnít believe in himself,
he doesnít believe in belief, and he thinks that all
the believing that people get into has caused nothing
The conversation threw me into a paroxysm of
paradox and a quandary of conundrum. I had, after all,
spent a great deal of my life seeking the truth of God,
the ultimate answer to the meaning of life. Now I had,
more by accident than by skill, finally bumped into
God himself, more or less walking down the street,
and the main message for me was to stop believing,
not just in God but in anything and everything. It just
didnít add up. Here was God, in front of me, telling
me he didnít believe in God, he didnít believe in me,
He wasnít, and neither was I.
For the existentialists, the nihilists, the non-dualists,
the atheists, and the secular humanists, this is
probably seen as good news. For the religionists of all
kinds from fundamentalists to universalists, ritualists
to quietists, this may seem like a kick in the collective
kneeling keister. But it is not exactly what it seems.
Because as God explained it to me, if he is an atheist,
then there is no God, he disappears into the mists,
but so do all the anti-God beliefs. When insurgents
win, they become the thing they fought to destroy;
when God joins the atheists, will the club have Him,
and then what will they do, what will they call themselves?
An atheist who meets God is a believer who
has lost his faith forever.
As He explains it, when you give up belief, you
give up all belief, that includes the anti-belief, the belief
of not this, and not that. Atheists are forced out
of their certainty, and really there is nothing more
pathetic than an uncertain atheist. Maybe there is
something worse: sitting at an Atheist Alliance meeting
having a serious discussion about life, with God as
a member of your group. And that seems to be where
this is all going. God is an atheist, atheists now have to
admit that God is one of theirs, and really the whole
structure of belief and anti-belief collapses into confusion.
I for one am entirely confused.
I had a dream last night (I think it was a dream in
any case) and in it I was reading the TMZ.com website
where there was an account of Richard Dawkins
and the Pope as secret lovers revealed, with photos of
the two grinning in bed with their morning cappuccino,
apparently listening to Puccini. They couldnít
reveal to the world their illicit love, both careers ruined,
and yet they couldnít live without the intense
draw to the intellect and the passion of their belief
and anti-belief. It was an erotic dream, I suppose, but
not in the usual sense, only in the sense of the union
of beliefs into something transcendent. I awoke with
a start, somehow realizing how shocking and inappropriate
the imagery was, Richard Dawkins wasnít the
problem, but the Pope should be beyond these kinds
of twists of the mind. But in that moment of waking,
I saw the beauty of possibility where the two would
be forced to admit in a press conference, broadcast
live just about everywhere, that they really werenít
sure if they had it right philosophically, that truth is
pretty illusive, but that when Richard saw the Pope
in the full outfit there was something so clear in the
fluttering of the heart. They held hands throughout,
and Richard looked radiant, which he never really did
as an atheist. The Pope always looked good, but now
he looked a little worried, human, even nervous, but
happy in that rottweiler kind of way, still ready to go
for the throat, but only if you werenít nice to Richard.
The reporters pushed in for the story, but they
couldnít figure out what to ask once they realized that
neither of the two had any beliefs left, just each other
and Puccini. I have to apologize for the account of all
of this, to the affront to those who find these images
insulting or worse, but I do think there is something
instructive in the dream world, and in a way it prepared
me to meet God.
I mentioned that I ran into God, and it was almost
literally so, more like I almost ran over God. You know
the feeling when you sit at a complex intersection, you
try to turn right-on-red, and there is suddenly a pedestrian
almost under your wheels. That was me and God.
Usually the pedestrian curses you, slaps your car hood
or makes a face suggesting you are a low-life undeserving
of substantial insight into the nature of existence.
But when I almost ran over God, he didnít do that. He
also didnít look kindly at me or with forgiveness or beatifically,
He didnít do anything but pause, then return
to the curb so I could complete my turn without taking
out the Creator of the universe. I figured this guy was
different, although I didnít realize how different, of
course, so I pulled over and jumped out to apologize.
Now you can apologize to your wife or husband,
you can apologize to the person you bump into at the
post office or the caller you kept waiting on hold, but
when it comes right down to it, it is just about impossible
to apologize to God. I tried, but I couldnít even
figure out where to start. If God is the one running
the show then whatís there to apologize for, it is His
omnipotent hand that moves through all of reality
and all of that. Plus, when it comes right down to it,
if you have sinned, how do you really have the audacity
to face God anyway? This is the Sinnerís Paradox.
If you donít make any mistakes in life then you
donít understand what all the sinners are moaning
about, how they are so weak, what the big deal is
about temptation. You think everyone should be good
like your little spotless self. You know that you could
apologize to God because you are so pure it would go
easy, humble person that you are. It is just that you
donít have anything major to atone for.
What you canít realize is that you are just a sinner
who hasnít met up with your sin yet. Youíve got the
murderer, the philanderer and the thief all wired up
and ready to go, along with hypocrite, gossip and liar.
Then you hit your sin, your mistake, the moment that
you canít get back to and change, the history that will
haunt you the rest of your life, and you are a sinner,
and now you know what it is all about. You realize
what a fool you have been. The feigned humbleness
of your life before the sin was just an idea of how to
be holy and pure. You are a sinner, and so fallen, so
far down, that you know that you are not worthy of
taking a moment of Godís time to apologize, let alone
having the gall to expect forgiveness.
To ask for redemption is just not in the purview
of the real and undeserving sinner. The pure need sin
to find humility; the sinner needs redemption to rediscover
purity, that is the Sinnerís Paradox.
And here I was on the sidewalk, trying to find
some words for God, who didnít even look like He
needed to be placated.
God seemed to find my brain freeze amusing, and
I can only speculate that there was an imperceptible
shift from cosmic equanimity to what? Not curiosity,
not really relish, maybe something like anthropological
interest with a touch of bottomless compassion.
Whatever it was that moved in the cosmos, it resulted
in God and me walking to the nearby coffee shop for
some direct talk, some mano a mano philosophical
grappling with what the universe is all about.
You probably are wondering how I knew it was
God, an important plot point and the kind of thing that
skilled editors point out to their hoped-to-be best-selling
authors. But since you are not my editor and I am not
a hoped-to-be anything, and certainly not best-selling
with a story like this, let me get to the point directly.
In a novel, you have knowledge of elements of the tale
because of something that occurs before in the story.
There are important parts of the narrative dropped in
skillfully by the writer so that the reader instinctively
moves with the protagonist as he realizes something.
But, in life, you know something because you do.
It is non-verifiable. It is the feeling that goes with the
thought, the emotive holism that envelopes the fragment
of knowledge that is the Aha! It is the ipso facto
on which we build our whole reality, and we assume
that this knowing is somehow agreed upon by each
other of our brethren on the planet. On reflection, we
can see that it is not. Our knowing is as singular and
unrelated to each otherís knowing as the occurrence
of the writing of this sentence is to the occurrence of
your reading it.
How would you know it was God if you met Him?
You have no real image of God other than the religious
icons, the movie actors with booming voices,
the New Yorker cartoons. You wouldnít recognize
God by the long white beard or robes or any of the
other hackneyed images. God doesnít wear a special
uniform like the priests, and He is not one of us, despite
what Joan Osborne says. He doesnít have to be
pious, devotional, sincere, or even loving, since there
isnít any cosmic deal to cut for salvation. You would
recognize God only if you werenít looking for God, or
more precisely, if you were not looking from the idea
of God that you have imagined, surveying the world
for a match to your ideas. How do you recognize the
God that doesnít fit your expectations, how do you see
something that you didnít already know to look for?
Are you even looking for God, or is an iPhone close
But, I am digressing from the real story here,
which is not the philosophical conundrum of knowing
anything at all, let alone knowing God, but is just
the simple occurrence of bumping into God. That is
the interesting thing, not the who, what, why, when,
and how, but the thing itself. We can leave the explanations
to the journalists and scientists, and stay with
the narrative just as it occurred. This is magical existentialism,
replacing no exit with an exit that opens
onto an entrance, a world of all exits and entrances,
no content, no history, no explanation, just the decay
of what is as the introduction of what is next.
When you meet God you meet God, there is nothing
to verify it, nothing that caused it, and certainly no
explanation. Sorry, religionist, God is not what you
thought. And sorry, atheists, it is not nothing. God is