Wednesday, April 20, 2016

God Without Religion

It has been a long, agonizing road to get to this point where I can be even remotely comfortable discussing matters of personal spirituality. In my experience, whatever social pressures I may have faced to drink alcohol, do drugs, have sex, or get married pale by comparison to the frequent and intense attempts to convert me to one form of Christianity or another.

Several years ago it suddenly dawned on me that God and the Church are not the same thing. It was then that I began to lose my hostility toward the concept of a Higher Power. My scientific friends and colleagues may be disappointed to learn that at minimum I allow for the possibility of God, that I have not rejected the idea outright as a certified atheist. Am I rationalizing my own beliefs to placate both camps? Perhaps, but I expect to offend many with the following outline of my objections to Christianity as I know it. I also reserve the right to revisit each of the topics more in depth in later posts to this blog.

The church is a human institution

The church is a creation of human society, and so is vulnerable to all the problems that any human enterprise faces: Corruption, greed, lust for power, and sexual abuse to name but a few such perils. Time and again we have witnessed the abuse of power by men of the cloth who hijack the Lord for their own personal gain.

God is defined in masculine terms

Not every person has a good experience or perception of their own human father, so interpreting God as a man will inspire inappropriate fear, resentment, perhaps even hatred in those individuals estranged from their own male parent (or any other male in a position of power who has abused that power).

The Bible and hymns use a language of war

Christians claim to be a peaceful group, but the language of the Bible and hymns is anything but peaceful. Vanquishing the enemy is the overriding message, and if that means spilling blood, so be it. The God I believe in is not hostile in the least.

The church assumes that human beings are “special.”

I took “Lutheran 101” at our church and was disappointed (but not surprised) to find the belief is that only human beings will go to heaven, not any animals or other organisms, because only people have souls. Well, first of all, humans are animals. I don’t know how one proves we have souls and other species don’t. Setting ourselves apart from the rest of nature is futile at best, and highly destructive at worst.

Emphasis on the hereafter at the expense of the here-and-now

The overriding concern of Christianity is to get as many souls to heaven as possible, and because the apocalypse guarantees instant judgment, many want to hasten the second coming. There is no incentive to work toward world peace in the meantime. Indeed, the greater the conflict, the more potential for heavenly intervention.

God is judgmental (but forgiving)

On the one hand we are taught that God sits in judgement of us, while on the other God is endlessly forgiving. Which is it? I prefer the forgiving God, not only out of self-interest but out of the belief that there is at least something redeemable about everyone. It is natural to want eternal salvation for those "like us" and eternal damnation for those we perceive as the antithesis of what we hold sacred, but I suspect it is a lot more complicated than that.

The church attempts to legislate morality through political avenues

Here in the United States, our Constitution is firmly established on the idea of a separation of church and state. This is no longer the case, and while there are certainly moral ideals we should be aspiring to, the form that religious lobbying has taken is one of intolerance and exclusionism rather than compromise and inclusiveness.

The church considers science to be an enemy of faith

My personal belief is that God created life through the process of evolution. This statement may upset as many of my scientific friends as my church friends, but it underscores my fervent desire to see science and religion work together to conserve and protect creation, no matter how it came to be.

Lack of requirements for sacrifice and commitment

One of my childhood Jewish friends honored me by inviting me to his Bar Mitzvah back in the day. Now that was truly impressive. He had studied and learned an entire language (Hebrew) for his faith, and during this ceremony stood and recited passages from the Torah at length. This demanded intellectual commitment, substantial time to study, and physical stamina. Where is that kind of expectation in Christianity?


Not once to my knowledge have I ever been approached, let alone lectured to, by a Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, or other non-Christian believer. However, there have been plenty of times when I have encountered Christians eager to convert me to their denomination. This is no way to win friends, by threatening them with eternal damnation if they do not subscribe to a particular belief system.

I have come to the conclusion that religion is too often a barrier to achieving a personal relationship with God. There is good reason that so many of our most thoughtful human beings have stressed the need for solitude and communion with nature to restore one’s faith, rejuvenate one’s spirit, and reach a better understanding of creation.

Please understand that I respect your own ideologies, and that I conduct my personal relationships on a case-by-case basis. How you live your life speaks volumes to me, and we would not be friends if I did not accept who you are in your entirety. I do expect the same courtesy in return.

Religion and I do share one thing in common, of course. We both want God to be Who or What we think He/She or It really is. We want, Above all, to be right.


  1. Well written, Eric.

    "How you live your life speaks volumes to me…" This says it all to me. I agree with you—though refrain from the use of "god," preferring instead to use "something" though I have no idea what that something is. I don't believe there is a creator, but believe there might be some other plane besides the one I am currently on. I guide my life by love, truth, kindnesses, and peace. I am rewarded by the respect and love from the people around me. That, for me, is enough. To quote George Harrison: "The love you take is equal to the love you make."

  2. This is a very thoughtful and respectfully composed post. I believe you've put to words some thoughts and emotions that I have been considering for quite some time now. Thank you.

  3. There's an argument that says once you cross the line determining that the Abrahamic god isn't real (and neither are any of the other human-created gods) that you are a de facto atheist. Most atheists don't say it's impossible that a god or gods exist, but they are rather certain there's no personal gods speaking to anyone telepathically and manipulating our lives.

    There is a growing segment of atheists who have spiritual beliefs similar to your own, though if you still believe in a god of love then you probably wouldn't count yourself as one. They have a spiritual sense of being, but they reject the gods of humanity. Unfortunately I find this difficult to relate to.

    For me, if any god exists, it would seem to be indifferent to our existence or any feelings we have, either because it doesn't even realize we exist or because it can't actually interact with us. There are many mysteries we may never solve and I've found that trying to explain them by adding a supernatural being of sorts to the mix only makes the whole thing even more complex and less plausible. Just because something may be beyond our comprehension or forever lost beyond our horizon of evidence doesn't mean there's a god behind it all.