I was talking with a Mormon I had met only that day. This was late December of last year, and my mother had asked me to meet with him because he was fairly knowledgeable about some of the problems with early Mormon church history and she was hoping that he’d be able to address some of my concerns about the veracity of the truth claims of the church. After all, she reasoned, if he knew some of the same facts that I did, but he still believed in the church, maybe I could find a way to return to faith as well.
We talked for quite some time; about three hours if I recall correctly. At one point I stated that I had started the wrong way round: I had tried first to determine if Mormonism was true when it would have been an easier process if I had instead asked if there was even a god. I explained that I had considered myself agnostic, but was beginning to identify more and more with the atheist label. When he heard that, he responded, “Wow. You have more faith than I do.” His point was, I think, that it would be just as difficult for me to disprove god’s existence as it would be for him to prove it, and that when anyone settled on the question of god’s existence, they were adopting a position where they take their desire for the result as the premise from which they begin their arguments. I remembered that in the preceding months I had also been frustrated with this idea of the fruitlessness of trying to prove or disprove god. Until I realized that it didn’t matter to me that it couldn’t be proved either way; at some point I finally understood that I simply couldn’t be bothered with the question.
There are plenty of “reasons” to believe in a god. And there are plenty of people willing to tackle those reasons head on and dismantle them. Read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins for an excellent example of this. But arguing back and forth doesn’t ever seem to make any headway. Believers still believe. Atheists still don’t. And the argument continues. And in my journey from belief to atheism, I was buffeted by these arguments. I finally realized, though, that I don’t require god’s existence to be proven or disproven. I guess you could call it the pragmatic approach to god’s existence.
My approach is that I don’t waste time with god unless he meets a series of requirements. If at any point along the way, god doesn’t deliver, I’m done. I don’t need to waste time with arbitrary metaphysics of belief. The nature of faith, the prevalence of evil, the predilections of human nature, the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. I have a rather short list of requirements, some of which are unprovable. No problem. Some aren’t. And that’s where the theoretical can become the pragmatic. My thinking goes like this.
God either exists, or he doesn’t. If the latter, then no worries; go about your day. We only need to worry about what he thinks if he exists.
God either cares what we do, or he doesn’t. Yeah. If he doesn’t care, why should I?
God can either make his thoughts known to us, or he can’t. If he can’t, then there’s nothing you can do about it. Sure, it’d be nice to have an all-wise friend in the sky. But one who just sits and stares at you? Not so helpful.
God either knows what will make us happy, or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, you’re done. Why waste time with god if the outcome of your life will not be affected positively by his desires? You’re already surrounded by plenty of people who have contradictory ideas about what will make you happy. If you want to live your life making someone else happy, you have plenty of people to choose from, many of whom will actually give you feedback.
God either wants the best for all of us, or he doesn’t. If he’s going to play favorites, when he speaks, is he telling you to do something for your benefit, or is he just jerking you around? If you can’t trust that his advice is good for you, why follow it?
That’s it. God can exist or not, as he pleases. And you can spend all day arguing with me why you think he does. But I’m not going to waste my time with a god that either can’t or doesn’t want to give us an idea how to live. In all of the known religions in the world, not one has arisen independently in multiple places. God either doesn’t exist, or he can’t talk to us, or he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, or he enjoys giving us mixed up scripts and watching us fight it out. In any of those cases, I’m done wasting time with god.
And if he does exist, and if he’s going to interrogate me about my life’s choices after I die, all I can say is that he’s going to have more to explain than I am. Q.E.D.