The Joy of Unbelief
The Rocky Mountains towered behind me in the crisp summer night air. The stars rose overhead, barely lighting the boulder I had chosen as my seat. Around me, spread just far enough apart to give the semblance of solitude, hundreds of other teenagers sat by themselves contemplating, as I was, whether Jesus was right for them.
This had been a long journey for me. My father had died three years earlier, my older brother and his friends were believers, and my mother had prayed for years for my soul to be saved. Now fourteen years old, I had spent a year in Bible study and Sunday school, not simply tolerating it as many in their youth do, but really searching, seeking, and wondering whether Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Death had visited my family in an intimate way, and I wanted answers. Was my dad really in Heaven, as I had been told? What is Truth, and why does it seem to be so important to me? Everyone around me, it seemed, believed that Jesus held the answer, that He was the answer, and if I just accepted Him my life would be better. Indeed, in the fun, intense, and wonderfully deep and emotional context of Young’s Life’s Frontier Ranch at the foothills of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks, it seemed that the previous three years had been leading me to this rock, to this moment. Jesus himself seemed to be asking me, “Will you accept me? Will you allow me to love you? Will you simply set aside your doubts and your pride and live the life you were meant for?”
And I, I said, “Yes.”
~ ~ ~
For the next seventeen years, I committed myself to the Lord. I yearned to study the Bible and understand more about this wonderful Savior who was so massive and yet so concerned about me, little old me. When it came to Young Life — an amazingly entertaining and effective parachurch youth organization — I was as dedicated a kid as they come. Meetings (called “Club”) and Bible studies (called “Campaigners”) could always be held at my house if no other home was available. I worked with friends to recruit other high school kids to come. My interest in the Gospel was not superficial; it was not an alternate means to popularity; it was sincere. And deep. And meaningful.
My summers were spent going to Young Life camps, winters were for Young Life ski camps, and the rest of the year was for church, Club, and Campaigners. By the time I approached college I was ready to take my dedication further. I became a guide at Young Life’s Wilderness Ranch, taking high school kids out into the Colorado high country for six day backpacking trips. These were challenging, intense, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and very often life-changing. While on the trail, I often spoke to kids about John 3:16 and about John 10:10, emphasizing that while being a Christian means you get everlasting life filled with the greatest joy you could ever imagine (which was the point of 3:16), it also meant you had the means to live the best possible life here on Earth (the point of 10:10).
When not guiding at Wilderness, I studied Religion at Baylor University, minoring in Classics. I dived into Ancient Greek, waded in Ancient Hebrew, and slogged through classes in theology, biblical interpretation, biblical archaeology, and history. From somewhere inside, there was a drive to understand more, to become holier, to be as close to God as possible, and to make sure that I was walking the walk.
But there was also a nagging dissonance. Classic questions, really, that have been asked and answered and bandied about and ultimately — in many cases — simply and finally just set aside. Why do bad things happen to good people? How could a good God permit such evil in the world? Are we predestined to believe in God, and if so, what is my moral responsibility with respect to my actions? Am I one of the elect? Is there an “elect” set of people? How do you make sense of the God-condoned stories of polygamy, genocide, rape, murder, and even screwy office politics in the Bible and square them with contemporary notions of Christian morality? How can the Christian creation stories be in any way consistent with scientific evidence regarding the age of the Universe, evolution, or even basic geology and archaeology?
These questions do not have satisfactory answers. I looked. I tried rational inquiry, rationalization, re-interpretation. I took account of context — literary, historical, and cultural — of translation issues, and of misunderstandings. I make no claim to being a scholar, but I did some pretty thorough searching, without good resolution.
And this bothered me.
~ ~ ~
As I grew in my faith, married, and moved on to pretending to be an adult, I could not shake the dissonance. In 2001 and 2002, I even attempted the beginnings of a book exploring the rational bases of Christian faith. I wrote and thought and wrote some more. But to no avail. Something just did not make sense.
Emotionally I was still in love with my God. I expended enormous effort seeking His will and trying to improve myself as He would have me do. My lovely bride, enduringly tolerant as she is, allowed me my struggle to find good Christian community, to build our faith together, and to love as Jesus did, despite the intellectual difficulty.
Then, in October of 2002, death touched me again. My brother, a man of sweetly humble faith, died suddenly in a military training accident two months before his daughter was born. My wife and I had put off having children — we had been married six years at this point — and the trauma of this event caused us to reexamine why we were waiting. It brought home in a visceral way how unpredictable life is. So we decided to start a family, which we did right away. Concurrently, I had been considering for some time whether God was calling me to join the military. In the spring of 2003, He apparently said yes: I was accepted into Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. Leaving behind a severely pregnant wife, I started OCS in May of that year.
As we were preparing to have a child in August, my wife experienced her own brand of dissonance. Having been raised as a Christian and having been more or less coerced into becoming a believer, she now faced the prospect of raising a child of her own and having to impart to her a proper faith in Jesus.
Death once again reared its ugly head, this time nearly punching my ticket. At OCS, I succumbed to heat stroke with an internal temperature of 108.5 degrees. While in the stuporous state of clinging to the flickering light of life, I had some surprising moments of clarity. I was aware that I was near death, and I prayed. I prayed that my mother would not have to experience the loss of another son, the death of one husband and one son — both while in the prime of life — already being more than any woman should have to bear. Of course, I thought of my wife and unborn child, too, but I was confident that they could still live a good life without me. So it was Mom who consumed my thoughts and my prayers.
And then darkness came. Utter, total, complete, enveloping darkness. If you have ever been in the depths of a cave and turned off the lights and slowed your breathing down as much as possible, striving for utter silence, you have an approximation of what I experienced. In the cave, however, you cannot help but to hear your breath and your heart and the random tiny little movements of your clothes as you and your exploring companions sit in stillness. In the darkness of my overheated brain, there was none of that.
I shouted it, in my head and out loud. And I came back. I was still in a damaged state, but I knew, I knew, two things: (1) that I would now survive and (2) God was not present; I, and I alone, had made the decision that I would live. I let myself drift back into unconsciousness. The medics treating me later confirmed that I was completely unresponsive for about thirty to sixty seconds, and they thought they had lost me. They also confirmed that I ended that unresponsiveness with a sudden and sharp shout of “No!” The Marine Corps dismissed me a week later. Apparently God did not want me in the military after all.
~ ~ ~
The death of my brother, the pending prospect of parenthood, the inability to resolve serious intellectual difficulties with my faith, and my own near-death experience all conspired (it would seem) to catalyze my investigation into the dissonant experience I had been having with God.
Over the following three years, I wrestled with my doubts in a more overt and head-on fashion. I consulted with people that I respected and considered smarter and more educated on the topic than I. Christian books that I read managed to do some fancy footwork around the hard questions but never gave lasting or coherent satisfaction. The dissonance kept building, and I thought I might never fully eliminate it, probably eventually chalking it up — as so many things are — to the “mystery” of God.
One day in June 2006, I found myself strolling through a book store in the Salt Lake City airport, one of my favorite activities while waiting for a plane. An interesting cover caught my eye. The faux-parchment-style missive bore an evocative title: The End of Faith. I picked up the book and glanced at the back cover’s endorsements. I put it down. Suddenly, I was not interested in books, and I meandered out of the shop. I circled back and passed by the same bookshelf, but I didn’t pick that threatening-yet-appealing thing up. I dawdled by the magazine section. I moseyed past Current Events, doing a drive-by of sorts alongside the religion tomes. Finally, distraction failed, and resistance gave out.
Opening up the groundbreaking work by Sam Harris, I found the shock jock of religion, or so he seemed to me at the time. He explained the patent irrationality of religion, he pointed out that believing in Jesus was rationally equivalent to believing in fairies, and he argued that such beliefs cause damage to their adherents and to society at large. Harris’ assertions were radical, almost too much for my brain to handle. And yet…
What he said made sense. He said things that I either could not or would not say myself, but he accurately articulated the cause of my nagging dissonance. Faith, Harris asserted, was simply another word for accepting conclusions on the basis of bad evidence. How could I argue with that?
Again, I put the book down and walked away. It was too much. Once more, I ambled around the environs of the little airport book shop. But I could not stay away. I came back yet again, and I bought the book. Within a few months, I was no longer a Christian.
~ ~ ~
The transition was not easy. Intellectually, there was no problem, when it came down to it. I had been presented with a better argument about the fundamental nature of reality: In the near-total absence of credible evidence on the matter, a rational person must conclude that there is almost certainly no God, and my subjective experiences to the contrary were likely products of my imagination informed by social and emotional context. That is it, broadly speaking, so far as the intellect is concerned. But emotionally, it was a whole different story.
My intellectual conclusion posed a direct challenge to my identity, to the core of who I was. How could I reconcile this newly acknowledged reality with my subjective experiences of God working in my life? There was that time at Wilderness when — during a week of almost constant rain, hail, and snow — God protected us from the elements and cleared things up just as we passed through the Window, a notch in a ridge high above treeline and exposed to lightning. His presence there was almost palpable. Several of the high school kids on the trip had, in that moment, a life-changing experience with the God of the Universe. I had a life-changing experience in that moment. Shall I now say, “I, and we, imagined His presence”?
What about that time in high school when God spoke to me? His voice was almost audible, a clear declaratory sentence that came directly from the Almighty. Shall I now say, “I imagined it.”?
And what about all those people that I had met over the years who struggled with abuse, addiction, or emptiness and then found meaning and redemption in Jesus, who were absolutely convinced that the reason they could now live full lives — in many cases, the reason they were alive at all — was because Jesus had saved them. Shall I now say, “You were wrong. Jesus did not save you. You saved yourself.”?
As for my father and brother, were they gone forever? Could it be true that they were not waiting for me in Heaven, anticipating a joyous reunion? Can I, must I, admit that I will never see them again except in dreams and memories?
And the hard, almost too hard, answer to all these questions was, “Yes.”
There were other hard questions, too. If I were no longer a believer, would I have to change my approach to, say, my political and personal opinions about abortion? How about homosexuality? Would I — could I, should I — still be a social and economic conservative? Shall I simply discard thirty-plus years of opinions, core identifying principles, and the meaningfulness of shared experiences with my Christian community? Most difficult of all, what will my family and friends say? Will they be devastated, angry, or hurt? To whom, to what, do I look for moral guidance?
It is hard to overstate the sense of anxiety I felt about emotionally discarding my faith, but there was simply no way to put the genie back in the bottle. Fortunately for me, my lovely and insightful bride was on an almost precisely parallel path with me throughout the ordeal. After a few months of emotional strife, we took the humblingly hard look at our sense of who we were, acknowledged that much of what we thought we had experienced was probably incorrect, and then we let our family and friends know what we had done. We had discarded our faith with the whole of our being.
~ ~ ~
The curious thing about leaving my faith behind due to an otherwise unresolvable dissonance is that, in doing so, I would be introducing such dissonance into the lives of friends and family who were still Christians. Dissonance is a “tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements,” and I can tell you that informing a dear brother in Christ whom you have encouraged, challenged, and held accountable in the Faith, and with whom you have prayed, grown, and struggled, that you no longer believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, that there is no Spirit, that the Bible is just a collection of old writings and nothing more, that Jesus did not give his life in redemption of your sins — when you tell a friend such things, it will tend to introduce some dissonance in his mind.
Reactions varied. By my family, I was received with respect, with love, and with some veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) sadness. I am lucky to have a loving family, most of whom happen to be believers, and it was no small task to muster up the courage to tell them that I no longer shared this most intimate aspect of community — of communion — with them. Their universal reaction of love stands as confirmation of something I have always been thankful for: that I was born into and I married into families with high-quality, gracious people.
Friends and acquaintances responded with a bit more variety. One dear and close friend dismissively said, “I was always worried that you would think your way out of it.” Another basically suggested that I had never been sincere in my faith, this despite the fact that I had mentored him for some years in his. A respected “elder statesman” rather arrogantly condescended to me, a reaction I would never have expected from him. A fellow Young Life man who had been with me in the Window took the “shake the dust off your feet” approach, which I confess seems quite at odds with the “love your neighbor” and “Golden Rule” maxims, especially when one is on the receiving end of it. A notable few responded as Christian faith would seem to instruct them to: with love and grace and with an understandable sadness. To these friends, I will always be grateful.
But the overwhelming reaction by my community of Christian brothers and sisters to my departure from the Faith was, simply, disinterest. Indifference. An almost total lack of curiosity. This stunned me. It hurt in an indescribable, sneaking way. How could so many who profess a love for Christ, who organize their entire lives around the proposition that Jesus died for our sins to save us from eternal damnation, that He rose again in triumph, that He ascended into Heaven where He sits in loving adoration, guiding us through our lives in a very personal, individual, and intimate way — how could such people not find it at least interesting that one of their own, whom they know personally, has not only turned away from God but has denied that God even exists? That question was beyond me.
~ ~ ~
Starting over is a helluva thing. As a Christian believer, my mind was consumed with questions like: What is God’s will for my life? What does He want me to do in this instance? How can I more conform my will to His? I constantly thought about my own pride getting the in way of God’s work. Attending to my moral, spiritual development was of primary concern, and ensuring that I at least attempted to love others as God loved me served as the driving force during my interactions with others. (Now, if you talk to any of my friends or acquaintances, they will surely let you know that execution on such matters may not always have been, shall we say, flawless.)
I saw everything through my Christian lens. Politics, justice, the meaning of life, how to treat others, how to raise kids, management of finances, daily activities — absolutely everything was colored by my faith in Jesus. With the Jesus-tinted glasses removed, it was disorienting. But I am lucky in at least one respect, I guess, because the disorientation, now that I was out in it and not just anticipating it, was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, it was…well, it was freeing.
Thinking about that time in my life, I am reminded of a skydiving jump from my late teens. If you have never been skydiving, you may think that jumping out of an airplane gives you the sense of ground-rush that you get when you are tripping over a curb, only a lot more so. That is not exactly correct. If you are feeling ground-rush as a skydiver, that is likely the last thing you will ever feel. Most jumps are from such a height that it barely feels like you are falling and more like you are simply laying into a very strong wind. Except for the exit from the airplane. That part is the kicker.
The first time I departed an aircraft tooling along at ninety or so miles an hour at 12,000 feet above the ground, the sensory overload made my brain feel like it had been shaken up like a Magic 8-Ball. The loud, loud wind; the rapidly receding airplane; the steep orientation of my body, head-down; the massive acceleration as I plummeted toward a fairly hard and unforgiving turf — all of these things presented by brain with a novel set of circumstances, and the confusion was overwhelming.
That is what leaving my faith behind was like. My brain had no reference point. The things I knew — the sense of solid ground, the skill of maneuvering in only two-dimensional space rather than three — these things were gone. But here is the really amazing part: As with that first skydive, once the period of initial sensory overload had passed, I was having fun!
Without all the bandwidth in my brain being used up by God and God-related things, I could now think in a way that was freer than anything I had known before. My moral training as a Christian, the emphasis the faithful place on character development, turned out to have been incredibly useful and beneficial. I knew how to think through moral issues in a deep and comprehensive way because that skill had been actively developed over the previous seventeen years. The self-awareness that my believing community had imparted also helped a great deal. Now I could apply those skills without reference to a confusing, contradictory, and often indecipherable collection of ancient writings and without worry about what some constant spiritual companion-authority thought.
Rational thought became so much easier, so much less confused. Science and its methods suddenly had a sharper and more poignant appeal. Having overcome the pride-threatening experience of throwing out core beliefs, and having beaten down the concomitant defensiveness associated with it, I found I could now challenge my core assumptions with more aplomb, with more comfort, and with less anxiety. I reexamined political beliefs (ironically these did not change but a little), I reinterpreted past experiences, and sought out new knowledge.
Early on in my Christian life I had struggled greatly with the creation stories in the Bible and how these could be squared with geology, paleontology, and biology. In particular I struggled with the theory of evolution. Amusingly, I had never taken the time to really study evolution, however, probably because it was too dissonant a topic for me. With my new found freedom, I felt no hesitation in picking up Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True or Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth (both of which are good reads, though Coyne’s is superior, I think), and I must say that discovering the extraordinary beauty of evolution — its elegance and comprehensiveness and veracity — pleased me to no end.
Many Christians worry, I know, that if one gives up belief in God, there will be no reference point for good and evil and there will be no reason, no motivation really, for life. They think that one will automatically have to become a hedonistic egoist, unconcerned for life and love and Truth. Though I had an initial, short period of confusion, that was not, is not, my general experience at all. The wonderful thing about my new freedom is that it was bought at the quite expensive cost of shredding my own ego. I should note, however, that the ego, once shredded, comes back with full force, of course. Having beaten it in an epic internal battle once, though, I found it easier and easier to defeat again. Indeed, my commitment to truth is greater and stronger than ever, and the absence of authority — in the form of God, Bible, and Church — makes my critical thinking skills all the stronger.
So, for example, while I have great respect for the writings and ideas of some great atheist thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others, and while Sam Harris is a personal hero to me, none of that means that I take what they say on faith. Dawkins is a bit weird in his approach to Christians, Hitchens led a kind of life I would not be interested in leading, and Harris has a rather odd take on the use of drugs that does not strike me as the better part of wisdom. But so what? The beauty of the intellectual freedom I feel is that I do not have to take ideas in an all-or-nothing package. And it is wonderful!
People — rather than just their ideas — are different. They do tend to come in an all-or-nothing package. You either like them (and they you) or not. Friendships are even more challenging. I did not become an unbeliever in a vacuum. Rather, I had a community of friends who knew me as one thing and now see me as something else. We no longer share a core set of assumptions about The Way Things Are. In fact, we now have diametrically opposed ideas about such things. For instance, now that the scales have fallen from my eyes, I see Christianity — its core beliefs, its historical claims, its claims about the fundamental nature of reality — as patently and totally absurd. Christians have had some great moral insights (revolutionary ones, really) like the ideas that your life is not about you, that you should love others as yourself, or that in losing one’s life (giving oneself to service of others) one gains it back. But the core claims about a man who lived 2,000 years ago being both God and man, dying a substitutionary death for all men’s sins, and later rising straight up into Heaven where he meddles (kind of) in our lives — these ideas are insane. They are the kind of thing that we put people into mental institutions for believing, unless, of course, enough other people also believe them, in which case such people get preferential tax treatment.
Yet I do not believe that I was insane as a Christian, and no believer that I know is insane (well, there is that one guy; you know who you are). How can this be? What do I do about it? Can I be friends with people who hold crazy beliefs?
Yes, I can. As I have thought about it and as I have aged and experienced more and more of life, it seems clear to me that we are all crazy. We just happen to like our own particular brand of crazy. As an old buddy of mine put it, we need to find others with whom we have “compatible crazies.” The keys here are these: Try to have at least an occasional outbreak of sanity. Do not judge the crazy of others too harshly; you have been there (or somewhere analogous) before and will be there again. Keep, or find, a sense of humor. And, as Christianity should teach us, love others with the grace and kindness with which you would like to be loved.
My dearest friends are believers. Most of them still have little or no interest in understanding why I left my faith behind. Having had plenty of time to think about why so many of my friends seem to be disinterested in my de-conversion, I have come to suspect that it stems from two things: First, I think most people try to avoid conflict. They think the discomfort of the conflict that a conversation on the topic might cause is not worth the potential payout at the end. That is both natural and understandable. Second, I think there is a real intellectual dissonance. If my friend has investigated Jesus Christ and found him and many of his ideas not only wanting, but objectionable, what might I find out if we talk too much about that? Both of these are attempts at avoiding or putting off dissonance of one kind or another. And that is too bad. Because, as I say, once you exit the airplane, there is a whole lot of fun to be had on the way down.
~ ~ ~
That still leaves one major question, however: Is it better to have no faith, to acknowledge what is almost certainly the truth, that there is no supernatural being?
I think so, yes. Whenever I have set aside my own sense of the way things should be and used rational faculties to examine how they actually are, my life has always improved. I will grant that it could be that this tendency is simply a matter of preference. Plenty of people I have met have demonstrated to me over and over again that they much prefer keeping the blinders on and just believing what they believe because “it works” for them. I suspect, however, that if they would allow themselves the pain, the disorientation, that comes from seeing the world as it is rather than how we suppose it to be based on bad evidence, uncritical minds, and wishful thinking, these folks could discover the joy of freedom from faith.
There is something about freedom in any form — mental, political, social, or economic — that scares people, even those who profess to love it. I have never quite understood this tendency, but I have my speculations. Perhaps we evolved from herd animals, or still are herd animals, and find comfort in group behavior. If that is true, standing out on your own can be socially dangerous and can just plain feel weird, which may be off-putting. I do not really know the answer, but I do know my own personal preferences. I enjoy being a contrarian, and not (or at least, no longer) for the base thrill of nay-saying — an immature, adolescent version of asserting independence — but because it so often leads to a better perspective, to more insight, or to a more interesting experience.
The problem, as one may imagine, is that sometimes it is better to be part of the herd. That is, individuals can typically best thrive in a community of others who love and support them. Due to our long history of uniting around religious belief systems, which are almost certainly bunk from a rational point of view, or uniting around tribal connections, which have less and less relevance in a modern world, what is it that unbelievers can unite around? How can we find community? This presents perhaps the next core communal challenge for humanity in the coming decades and centuries.
Fortunately, some folks are trying to tackle this challenge. Alain de Botton has given a TED talk dedicated to accurately presenting this challenge and encouraging us to take it head-on. Sam Harris has presented a provocative and persuasive way to think about morality and how it can be subjected to rational inquiry as surely as physics can. Others, like various humanist or atheist groups, have tried in a groping, clumsy way to take on this challenge, too, exhibiting some of the awkwardness that such a young movement is bound to run into. The point is, once we move beyond our culturally programmed preconceptions about the nature of reality — that there must be some god or gods out there, or down here, either beneficently or maniacally (depending on one’s particular cultural programming) manipulating our individual lives — once we get past this, a wonderful, joyous, and challenging freedom awaits. As with all freedom, it can be scary, but man, is it interesting!
~ ~ ~
The attentive reader may notice some intellectual problems with this testimony of mine. For instance, how could I have known, in any rational or verifiable way that God did not save me from death at OCS? How could I be so certain that I saved myself? Maybe I just got lucky. Maybe God did intervene. I concede the point. I do not know, for sure, whether my perception of the event was accurate. I will even grant that my perception was almost certainly skewed, given that my brain was cooking at that moment and clearly was not functioning optimally, to say the least. Even so, if God were real, if He were involved in my life, and if He really did take action to save me, there seems to be no excuse for leaving me with the impression that He did not do these things. I can think of no defensible moral justification for God to have done so. That fact leaves me considering which is more likely the reality of the situation: That God intervened in my life to save it while purposely leaving me with the impression that He did not do so (while, it should be pointed out, He did not intervene to save my brother some nine months earlier). Or is it more likely that no God was there, that I am the beneficiary of a resilient brain that, for whatever reason, somehow managed to escape extraordinary temperatures without any supernatural help?
Further, one might note that I am subject to the same constraints of personal experience that every individual faces, making my perception that I live “more rationally” than others sound a bit — or substantially — arrogant and condescending. Beyond that, my experiences are unique to me, and some might say that these, more than rationality, drove me to reject God. That is very possibly true. But what can one do about this? We are all constrained by our own subjectivity. All I can say is that there seems to be some broader veracity to the proposition that we can, through the application of rational methods of thinking, arrive at greater, more testable, and more verifiable perceptions of reality as it is rather than as we would like it to be.
And finally, one might object to my portrayal of the reactions of some individuals to my de-conversion, pointing out that they seem to be the bitter reminiscences of someone who feels betrayed by God. This point has been the hardest to combat. Many friends and family seem to think I am angry at God. I am not. There is no one at whom to be angry! I will concede, however, that de-conversion is accompanied by anger. Almost all ego-destroying and identity-attacking processes are. That is only human. As far as I can work out, the best we can do for ourselves and for our loved ones in such situations is to recognize the source of our anger: the dissonance of having believed totally absurd propositions while trying to think of oneself as reasonably bright and good. In response, I say we should just speak the truth, which can hurt and can cause anger. It calls to mind one of my favorite quotes:
If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.
It is my hope that over time anger, properly tended, will give way to wisdom.
~ ~ ~
When I was in the process of becoming an unbeliever, the question I struggled with the most, the one that kept me reading and searching and pondering, was this: How does God decide when and where to intervene supernaturally in the world? There are several possible responses to this question.
Deny the premises:
- God does not exist.
- God does not intervene supernaturally in the world.
- God does not have the ability to intervene supernaturally in the world.
Grant the premises and then attempt a rational answer:
- God works in the world via various supernatural means: angels of various kinds, the number and intensity of prayers by believers, and battle between good and evil supernatural forces (including demons and Satan). Depending on a multitude of factors, sometimes He is successful and sometimes not.
Combine a denial of some premises with an attempt at a rational answer:
- God may not be all-powerful — divine omnipotence is really a Greek idea more than a Christian one anyway — and His will works through the above-mentioned multi-factor spiritual means.
- God withholds His reasoning from us, and we need to trust that His judgment is better than ours.
- God knows what He is doing, and His ways are mysterious.
After much reflection, the only possibility that is consistent with anything that we might call God is that He does not, in all likelihood, exist. And as I have said, after my initial horror at such a thought, a great and wonderful freedom followed.
I am now free to think as I will, to evaluate ideas without deference to any authority, and to live a moral life in a way informed by my own judgment. Far from being the hedonistic or relativistic free-for-all many believers assume such a life to be, my life feels more precious, more meaningful, more mine than ever before. Love is deeper, time is scarce, and my sense of fortune at being here at all almost overwhelms me. Life is good, and truth is sweet.
Freedom is a joyous thing for me, for I can think of nothing better for the soul of man than to be left free from the oppression of falsehood.