“I know there’s a god,” someone once told me, “because I need there to be.” This was said at the end of a routine god/no-god debate. Amicable beer-drinking continued thereafter, but that specific conversation had clearly ended with that bit of insight.
It was something of an epiphany for both of us. This was the foundation on which his house of cards was built, and when he failed to defend his supernatural beliefs through reasonable discourse, he still had this bit of compelling circular reasoning by which to support himself. I’m sure he saw it differently.
For me, it was something of an ah-ha moment—the true confession of the believer pulling the curtain back just a little to reveal nothing more than plain, mammalian-brain fear. What fear? The fear that without some higher-level being looking down on us and nodding approvingly, life had no meaning. Only as long as our lives remain a testing ground for the hereafter does everything make sense, or at least, at its core, not really need to make sense.
I can understand this feeling, because I experienced its mild analogue when my father (my actual, small-f father) died. I suddenly became aware that many of my own opinions and choices reflected a semi-conscious recognition of his judgment, on them and/or on me. Whether I agreed with his opinions or not, they were an available litmus test, a touchstone. He was my external “higher power” who would commiserate, criticize, encourage, or condemn (and he did!).
Once he was gone, I made what amounted to rather minor adjustments to my psyche and put behind me any expectation for external validation. But I felt a loss. The need for his recognition or approval had never really registered with me until it was no longer there to be received. Its absence was unmistakable. Years later, I still sometimes find myself wondering what my father would say about some element of my life or of the world at large.
So, what must it be like for those whose lives are, they believe, being judged by an even bigger, more important, more judgmental, Father-in-the-Sky? How would the world look to a believer if that Father were to die? How scary must it be when the life of that Father is threatened by thoughts or suggestions of disbelief in his existence (even if just over beers)?
Religion is a big, round, all-encompassing reality, and the very meaning of the world to the believer. It is the reason you are born, the reason you get up in the morning, the reason you face the challenges and suffer the pains of life—the reason you die. It justifies all things, good and bad. Life is a staging area. Don’t overthink it, and fear not—God has a plan!
Well … I don’t think “He” does have a plan, yet still my life does not feel empty or meaningless; nor, I am assured, do the lives of other nonbelievers who carry on contentedly without supervision from on high. For us, that crutch was either never there or has long since been pulled away. And yet we remain standing.
So it would seem that the need for the existence of God to provide life’s purpose is one of two essentially baseless fears built into the belief system itself: believe or eventually face eternal damnation in the fires of Hell; believe or face a life with no purpose and personal suffering with no underlying reason. These are both equally scary monsters for those who believe in them. And both become threatening only for a believer whose faith wavers … that’s when they get you—one now, one later—the just desserts of disbelief!
These monsters exist, by definition, from “within” the belief system. But consider that to disbelieve—to truly disbelieve—is to utterly and eternally vanquish hellfire. It’s also to bring a true purpose to life—true in that it is based upon reality rather than fantasy. When viewed in that light, disbelief offers the disbeliever the same safeties that belief offers the believer.
The dangers of belief, from the nonbeliever’s perspective, are nearly identical to the dangers of disbelief from the believer’s. What if, as all logic suggests, there actually is no god? Then belief in God and “his plan” would rob life of a true purpose and invalidate any life devoted to that false premise. Shouldn’t that be the scariest monster of all?
That is the hell from which disbelievers would “save” the believers, if only we could make them … disbelieve! To the extent that no one knows for certain whether God exists or not, the door is at least open, and logically the smart money would be on “not.” That puts the risk level that a believer’s life purposes are at least misguided, if not downright wasted, at moderate-to-high.
This is an equal-and-opposite monster, and once recognized as such, it makes a compelling counterargument to the “I need there to be a god” thinking. But because, in the end, only the believer can save himself from that particular hell, all we can do to help is to preach our gospel: Convert, non-sinners—or feel the wrath … of a life devoid of reality! Disbelieve, before it’s too late!
In answer to my friend who knows there is a god because he needs there to be: I know there is no god because that becomes rather obvious … if you don’t need there to be.