Some have wondered why I continue to study everything from atheism (Dennett, Harris, Hitchens) to early Mormonism (Quinn, JS Smith, Jr. and his Mother, Roberts, etc.), when I now know that my heart and mind are no longer Mormon. Undoing 50 years of training takes time and exposure to new ways of thinking; and to silence the drums of past indoctrination means, for me, bouts of intense study and then rest paired with long internal processing. Only then am I able to speak with my own voice. So far, I have learned that I am not a-theist (anti-theist), but that I am a-religion.
People who say, flat-out, that they KNOW God exists seem to me to belong in the same camp with anyone who says they KNOW there is no God. If I were to stand onstage and address a group of deists (believing in a god or gods) and a group of atheists together, here’s what I would say.
To my religious friends: Along with everyone else on the planet , you cannot KNOW that God exists, that yours is the “one true church” or belief system, etc. It seems clear that [any higher intelligence who may have set all the amazing processes of life in motion] DOES NOT DESIRE THAT WE SHOULD “KNOW”. Have you ever envied another who solemnly proclaimed that they do? That person was perhaps not very self-reflective, or not holding themselves to the true definition of the word. They were sadly deceived, or hopeful that – by saying they knew often enough – they could come to know. They may even have been deliberately lying, for reasons we can only guess.
We don’t get to be certain in this life, no matter how often others say that we can.
To my atheist friends: The more I’ve learned about your beliefs, the more I’ve admired your sensitivity. There are true seekers among you. It takes courage to say, “I don’t know,” and your humility and honesty is refreshing. No atheist in my circle of friends and loved ones has yet claimed to KNOW that God does not exist. You may even privately hope to be proven wrong after dying, as atheistic Christopher Hitchens (shockingly) admitted here (William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens, April 4, 2009 at Biola University).
It is my understanding that most atheists, however, believe there is no proof FOR God. To them, I ask: How would we human beings, tiny little specks in a vast cosmos, measure proof or disproof of [an intelligence so far beyond our own, which may have set the amazing processes of life in motion]? It can’t be done. Surely we can approach the question of Gods existence more scientifically, by leaving ajar the door to our beliefs.
We are amazing creatures who are significantly uninformed in a vast cosmos. We do not get to be certain in this life.
As for me: I call myself a Deist because I will hold onto the gratitude I have always felt when in nature, or with people, where beauty or kindness touch my heart with wonder. I must then whisper, “Thank you,” or simply burst. I yearn toward an intelligence and a purpose greater than myself and the experiences which immediately touch me. I cannot see or prove that God or eternal purpose exist, but neither can or will I walk away from the possibility.
With that said, most would find me to be intellectually agnostic. The being whom I thank may exist, or not. I see this as a question worth pondering, but not worth answering. Would the answer change who I am? It has not changed my atheistic loved ones. I see that each person carries a seed of intelligence, compassion, and power within. Should I use mine differently based on belief or disbelief in God and in a future world? No. No. No. There is purpose enough in joining with others of like mind to heal this world, in part from the horrific effects of war waged by those who claim, or have claimed in the past, to know that which cannot be known.
In the meantime, the door to my beliefs will always be a bit ajar. I no longer beat my head against the wall of uncertainty. And I am free.