Our non-believer, let’s call her Sarah, has no prejudice against there being any God, and just wants the believer to explain a few basics about this “God” thing.
Well, the believer starts out by explaining how wonderful God is, and how important a belief in God is to a healthy and happy human life. How being a believer entitles you to become eligible for God’s discretionary “blessings” during your lifetime (like making you rich, successful, and heal you when you’re sick). And how the importance of a belief in God is to achieving a satisfactory afterlife and avoid an otherwise terrible fate after death.
1. Can I see God?
So, Sarah asks the first question anyone would ask, when being told about something they should believe exits. “What does God look like, and can I see God?”
“Well,” said the believer, “there are lots of pictures and statues of some Gods, but not all. A few don’t like to be represented except through written text. No photographs, as they hadn’t been invented back in the days when God was making personal appearances. Despite the fact that billions of people believe in God, he doesn’t make any public appearances nowadays, and there is no evidence that God uses an iPhone for selfies.”
Sarah looked disappointed, and said: “So no chance for a face to face meeting with the God who wants me to devote my life, and even my eternal life, to his worship because he’s…. busy? But couldn’t an omnipotent God take 5 seconds out of his schedule to pop in and confirm his existence? Just 2 minutes before the UN General Assembly would be nice? He could give a simple message like “yes, I’m real, and please stop killing each other”.”
“Sorry,” our believer explains, “God just isn’t like that anymore. He is not an active part of His creation, at least in a physical sense, except through prayer, and natural disasters, and helping you if you lose your car keys, and being with both sides in almost every war or conflict, and helping your cricket team achieve victory over the opposing team of people who believe in other Gods, and walking beside you on the beach when you’re troubled, and oh just lots of stuff. But He does it all invisibly. He is God, after all, and He doesn’t need to show Himself.”
“Why doesn’t He want to be seen as He is doing all these wonderful things, like healing the sick and creating tsunamis, and compelling your boyfriend to call you back after a fight? Is He, well, past His prime, looks-wise?”
The believer was quite amused by this. “Oh no, not at all. God is the most beautiful thing imaginable. But we just don’t get to see Him while we are alive. So it gives us something to look forward to when we are dead.”
“But He made humans in His own image, right?” said Sarah. “So you know that He has a head and body, nipples, testicles and … does He have a navel? He used to eat the smoke from burnt offerings, so what does He poop, or is it just flatulence? He must have testicles and a penis, since most people do call Him a “Him” and not a “Her”.”
The believer was rather taken aback by all this. “When we say we were made in God’s image, it doesn’t mean that we look like Him, just that we have the same divine spark. Even though that’s not what it says in our Holy Books.”
“If that is so, then why is He male? There used to be lots of female goddesses before. Julius Caesar and the Emperor of Japan were both supposedly descendants of Goddesses. Now, of the major religions, only Hinduism has a significant role for female divinities, except for Christians who have the Virgin Mary who is a sort of God, since lots of people pray to her.”
“Oh no,” said the believer. You don’t understand. Those goddesses before, that’s pagan mythology, and everyone agrees they were not real Gods. And the Blessed Virgin is not a goddess, but she is immortal, is sinless, lives in heaven and intercedes with God to answer prayers. But she is not a goddess.”
Sarah, who was now somewhat confused and very disappointed at not being able to see in person or on film, the most important entity on Earth, the creator of the Universe and the locator of lost car keys, agrees “OK, I understand. But maybe there is another way you can demonstrate God’s existence to me.”
2. Where does God reside?
“If I can’t see God in person, maybe you can at least point out where He lives. Sort of like a London or Hollywood tour bus, where you don’t get to see the Queen or actors, but you get to see their houses, so you can be impressed at how much richer they are then you.”
The believer smiled, and said “We used to think that Gods lived on mountain tops, like Olympus, or Mount Meru, or Mount Sinai, and some of them lived away from Earth, like in Asgard, or in the sky. The Hebrew God YHWH used to live above the sky, but so close to the Earth that he was afraid that a mud brick tower being built by humans would allow them to see Him. So he confounded their language and stopped the tower from being completed.”
Sarah smiled, “How does your YHWY feel about skyscrapers and a landing on the moon, if He was worried about how tall a mud brick tower was before? Has anyone been looking into God’s garden from the 163rd floor of the Burji Khalifa, from the window of Salyut 1 (the first space station), or by spy satellites? You have some satellites that have exited the solar system, so have they seen God’s abode?”
“But,” the believer said, “nowadays, we think God lives in a different dimension, but please don’t ask me what dimension that is, because we don’t know. And, no, we don’t have any evidence of the existence of any other dimensions, although some scientific theories talk about other dimensions – although none of them mention God and they exist only as mathematical equations. But we do know that He doesn’t appear to live in our immediate neighborhood, at least not anymore, or not in a way we can observe, despite all the stories to the contrary in the Holy Books.”
Sarah nodded in acknowledgment, and asked: “And what about the thrones that everyone claims He uses, or the tents, or palaces, or chariots? All your religions have Him using some of these items, which would only be logical if he has a body subject to gravity. So where does He keep the thrones and things?”
The believer was pleased with this, as this question could be easily answered. “They are all with Him in heaven, which we also think is in another dimension, although some people (mostly living in Utah in America) think this is on another planet someplace. When you die, and if you go to heaven, you will see God on His throne, in heaven….wherever it is.”
Sarah asked for some clarification, as she knew that the term “throne” sometimes referred to a toilet in American English, and she certainly didn’t want to see God in this repose. The believer assured Sarah that it was not that kind of throne and God didn’t need to use a toilet in any case.
3. Where does God come from?
“I know that you believe that God created the Universe, and all that, and you’ve also kindly explained why we don’t have His current address. But if you don’t know where He is, do you know where He came from? Can you show me where He came from or explain how He got here? If God had a passport, what would His nationality be?”
“Another easy question,” said the believer. “God is eternal, and He has always been here and always will be.”
Sarah took another sip of tea, because she liked tea and that was the sort of lady she was. “Then what was He doing for all those eons before He created the Universe, and why did it take Him so long to create intelligent life on earth? And you mean to tell me that you have no explanation as to how something as powerful and complex as God just existed?”
The believer also enjoyed some tea, and nibbled a bit of biscuit, before replying. “We don’t know the mind of God, but I doubt He ever gets bored. He inspired us to create online gaming, after all, so He must have a great imagination. We don’t know where He came from, just that He always was and always will be. It’s quite simple, really.”
“Yes,” said Sarah. “I am beginning to think it is rather simple. But He was not alone at the Beginning. Almost all religions have a pre-existing void or something. Even in the Hebrew and, by adoption, Christian tradition, there was primordial water existing at the same time as God. He moved over the waters and only then started creating things. Where did the water come from? (Other than the obvious copying of earlier stories from nearby religions.)”
The believer leans over and pats Sarah’s arm appreciatively, saying: “we just consider the mention of the primordial waters something of a poetic license. God was speaking in terms that the people of the day could understand, so sometimes He uses simple phrases for complex ideas. The primordial waters could be a euphemism for quantum flux which we only now can understand. You see, the Holy Books are always 100% true and accurate, as the inspired Word of God, except then it’s inconvenient to do so.”
“I see,” said Sarah. “Therefore it’s a case of ensuring that the square hole fits the round peg, or the pentagon peg, or whatever peg happens to come along over time? I assume it would be useless to ask what God is made of?”
“Exactly,” said the believer, rather appreciatively. “I think you’re getting a good understanding of how majestic and ineffable God is.”
4. Can I talk to God?
“How about talking to God? I see pictures of thousands of believers in Cathedrals and Megachurches, kneeing in prostration in Mecca, reveling in celebration along the bank of the Ganges, and sitting in pachinko parlors in Shinto Japan. Can I just talk to Him, for a moment?”
“Of course you can,” enthused the believer. “We talk to Him all the time. It’s very easy to do, and you can do it now if you want to.”
Sarah was delighted with this response, and confirmed that she wished to speak to God right now. The biscuits were rather delightful too, so she helped herself to another.
So the believer told Sarah to clear her heart (which Sarah felt was silly, as the heart just pumps blood in humans), close her eyes (which she didn’t want to do on the off chance that God decided to show up in person, rather than just talk to her), clasp her hands in front of her chest (perhaps to enhance transmission, Sarah wondered), and just “pray” which was described as merely talking to God. Sarah prayed by introducing herself and asked God how His day was… and waited for a reply.
After a while, she opened one eye, and saw that the believer was nibbling another biscuit (one of the ones with chocolate on one end).
“What happens now? When does God answer me?”
“My dear, God answers in your heart.”
Sarah looked rather troubled, and said “but I haven’t any ears in my heart...”
“Well He doesn’t always put the answer in your heart, sometimes He sends a rainbow, or makes you feel happy for no reason, or clears your mind so you can reach a conclusion on something, or has the cat show you where the car keys are. He doesn’t speak to you, like a voice out of the air. That only happens with prophets of old.”
Sarah leaned forward and asked with the utmost sincerity, “Why can’t God speak English? Why does He need to send messages that people can misinterpret? If He sends a rainbow, thousands of people will see it, so how do you know the message is for you and that you are not reading someone else’s mail from God? How do you know that one of your own thoughts is inspired by God rather than wholly your own? Does the thought come post-marked from heaven? Why can’t He use e-mail and text messages? Why allow humans technology that He can’t or won’t use?”
Pouring herself some more tea, the believer laughingly said: “Dear, He’s God. He doesn’t need to do that. He doesn’t want to make it easy for us. We have to be pure in order to fully understand His meaning.”
Sarah noticed that she was tapping her foot on the table leg, partly in frustration, but she rose to the occasion nevertheless. “So you have no way of determining if a message is really from God, or just a thought within your own mind, or merely the occurrence of a natural phenomenon, and even if it was a message and you misunderstand it, you have no way of knowing that? It seems highly inefficient and uncertain.”
The believer was nonplussed and said: “Don’t worry about it. You will come to understand God’s personal way of communication with you once you accept Him into your heart.”
“There we go with the heart stuff again” thought Sarah.
5. Is there physical evidence of God, footprints maybe?
“How about evidence of God? Are there footprints? Did He sign His name on any glaciers (Sarah had read Douglas Adams) or carved in mountains? When humans first went to the moon, was a message waiting there for them saying “Good Job!”?
“Oh yes” said the believer, “we have many items left here on earth by God. They are called relics. For Islam, we don’t really have anything from Allah, but we have a great many footprints in stone of the prophet Mohammad, only they are usually of a giant size and none of them match up. We have a tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka, although when British officers actually saw it, they thought it was the tooth of a crocodile. Normally, no one gets to see it. And we have the wonderful Shroud of Turin, which holds the image of Jesus Christ. There is also the Burning Bush which Moses saw, which is at the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula. And if the Burning Bush is too hot for you, you can try the ice lingam of Lord Shiva in the Amarnath cave. And oh, so many others.”
Sarah pulled out her iPad, and after a few minutes online said: “well to begin with, Buddha wasn’t a God, so the tooth, crocodilian or not, doesn’t count. The Shroud of Turin has been proven to be from the Middle Ages, and not from the time of Jesus, and the Burning Bush is just too silly. The Monks of St. Catherine’s say it doesn’t need water, and yet there is a water hose head sticking out of the ground at the back. And the ice penis (Sarah wasn’t shy about human body parts), why it’s just an annual drip of water from a cave roof that forms an ice stalagmite – where is the divinity in that? All these things, like the dozens of nails from Christ’s cross, and enough pieces of the True Cross to build a small bungalow in the country, are all nonsense. Nothing has any direct evidence linking it to any God, nor does anything exhibit any special properties, like glowing or being at a constant temperature or being incapable of being photographed or anything else.”
“But,” said the believer, “many of these items have been the conductors of miracles and believers can attest that they have been comforted and inspired from being close to these items. Isn’t that a form of evidence?”
Sarah sighed. “It is evidence of people’s reactions to these items, but it’s no evidence of their origination or connection to God. People can go to a rock concert or an opera or see a natural wonder, and come away with a special feeling.”
“But Sarah,” said the believer, “all those things, like operas and sunsets, come from God too. And besides, there is all of creation to bear witness to God’s power and existence. How can you explain the Universe’s existence without God? Where did everything come from?”
“Only in your mind” thought Sarah, but she just smiled, and said: “let’s try another route, shall we? If you believe that you don’t need an explanation of God’s origin, why do you need an explanation for the origin of the Universe? You can accept that you don’t know where God came from, but you acknowledge His existence. So what is the problem with doing the same thing for the Universe?”
The believer laughed softly. “But the Universe is a “thing” and “things” have to have a creator. They had to come from somewhere. God is not a “thing.” He is God, a prime mover in all of cause of effect. Only God can be eternal, things have to have an origin.”
“I’m sorry,” said Sarah, “but that makes no sense. Just by naming things differently, and putting them into artificial categories doesn’t actually draw a physical distinction between them. I see no reason why God should not be required to have an origin and a creator, if the Universe needs to have one. There is no logical reason to require one and not the other. And if God had a creator, then what created that creator, and so on.”
“You have actually got it quite correct,” said the believer. “Logic has nothing to do with it, as it’s all about faith. God’s followers “know” that the Universe needs a creator, and that there is a fundamental difference between the creation and the creator, even though this distinction is not at all apparent in any of the Holy Books, except perhaps the Hindu bits about Brahman.”
“Well,” thought Sarah, “I’m not getting anywhere on this line of reasoning, so let’s try another.”
6. Has God made anything you can show me, any palaces or things that only God could make?
“If God made all of creation, how come everything looks natural? Didn’t God make any palaces, or a Temple, or even His own Ark of the Covenant? If he is all powerful, and wants to be worshipped, and gives such detailed instructions on how to make Temples, what priests should wear, what sort of sacrifices to make, how to make an Ark to be carried around in, why doesn’t he just make it Himself? Why does he need humans to build this sort of thing for Him, when He could just make it Himself in an instant?”
The believer smiled, and said: “Gods wants us to make these things for Him, out of our love for Him. So it’s our chance to give something back to Him for all He has given us. But He just wants it done in a certain way, so that’s why He gives us instructions. For example, in the Hebrew Bible He makes the repeated point that He doesn’t like yeast in His burnt offerings and He notes more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible how He doesn’t like yeast.”
“But,” said Sarah, “you can’t show me anything that God has given you that can’t be explained by nature and human efforts anyway. He has all this power, so why doesn’t He create a hospital of wondrous efficiency that has equipment to cure any disease? Why can’t He build the bridges and aqueducts that people need? Why can’t people pray for a new school, and have God deliver it? Why will God answer some people’s prayers to become rich, or allow a football team victory, or bring rain on a summer day, but He won’t answer anyone’s prayers for shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, or school for the needy? And as for the Hebrew yeast thing, if He hates yeast so much that he mentions it in the Hebrew Bible more often than He talks about justice, or kindness, or compassion, then why did He create the stuff?”
The believer was ready for this, and replied: “God doesn’t give you physical gifts, dear, but He can work things out so that people will create these things. So if you pray for a school, maybe He will change certain people’s hearts so that they are willing to put a school up where you need it… or maybe not. You can never guess God’s purpose. But if He doesn’t want you to have housing, food, clean water, schools, or health care, then He must have a reason for it. As for the yeast, well, God works in mysterious ways.”
Sarah wanted a bit more tea, but figured it was cold in the pot by now. “Why doesn’t God answer prayers with physical gifts? In many older stories, He gives out magic swords, or arrows, and His Ark of the Covenant was used by the Hebrews as a mobile weapon or talisman, until their enemies took it (despite the fact that it was supposed to kill any unauthorized person who touched it) and after they got it back they appeared to lose it? I mean really. It sounds like God takes care of His things with the same care as a 6 year old child. He tells all these different peoples how to build this or that temple, and then someone else comes around and knocks it down. How many Hindu Temples were destroyed by the Muslims? How many Synagogues have been destroyed? How many Catholic Churches, Monasteries and Convents were destroyed or defaced by Protestant Christians?”
“And another thing,” said Sarah, who was really getting into the mood of the discussion at this point, “why didn’t God ever bother to put His Holy Books down in writing? Why didn’t He bother to say “here is the definitive edition” and avoid all the problems with translation, copying, and oral transmission?”
The believer leaned back in her chair, and smiled broadly. “Sarah, God isn’t here to do everything for us. He wants us to do our best, and He will help out when He wants too. But He expects us to do the work. The same goes for the Holy Books. These are all inspired by God, dictated to humans by angels, or hidden in forests on golden plates if you’re Mormon… well maybe not the last one… but basically He ensures that the correct versions get published eventually.”
Sarah leaned forward, and said: “It’s not a question of doing anything for us, it’s a question of preventing us from being stupidly violent to each other. Probably millions of people have been killed and many tortured because of their differences over the interpretation of the Holy Books, and also which books are Holy and which are not, and which parts of the Holy Books must be followed and which can be ignored. This tragedy was caused by God, and could have easily been prevented.”
“But Sarah,” said the believer, “it’s not given to everyone to have the same level of understanding of God’s word. Only the truly devout can understand God’s real message. If it was simple and easy to understand, then anyone could do it, and you wouldn’t need professionals to interpret it for you and you wouldn’t need to pay them for this most important service.”
Sarah sighed, and had another biscuit, but she wasn’t done yet. There was still one more point, but she now had a better understanding of why there were more than 30,000 versions of Christianity.
7. Has anything unexplained happened that could only have been done by God?
“Well,” said Sarah, “you want me to pledge my life to God, and follow all His rules, in order to gain benefits in this life and the next. But I can’t meet him. You don’t know where He is or where He came from. I can talk to Him all I want but He doesn’t answer in any objective manner. There is no physical evidence of God’s existence, and you can’t show me anything He has made. That leaves me only one last possible avenue of evidence for God; namely, has any event occurred which could only have been done by God. A suspension of the physical laws of the Universe. Lots of these are recorded in the many Holy Books. God floods the world, stops the sun (well, let’s call it stopping the earth and blame the misunderstanding about a heliocentric solar system on poor interpretations of the texts…), raises the dead, and so on. So what has God done that has been proven and documented.”
Before the believer could start with her answer, Sarah held up her hand and said: “please, don’t waste my time with stories of remission of cancer, or other medical “cures” that do happen from time to time in everyone. Tell me about someone growing an arm back. Something that could only be evidence of a suspension of natural laws. Tell me about a forest appearing overnight in a desert, or a river appearing where there was none before. Don’t tell me about the discovery of gold, tell me about a deposit of lead changing into gold. Don’t tell me about surviving a storm, tell me about a storm disappearing in the midst of its fury.”
“And while you are at it,” said Sarah, “tell me why Churches and Mosques and Temples and Synagogues have lightning rods on their roofs, and why they buy storm insurance, and why believers go to hospital instead of just praying for health. Tell me why American faith healers have medical records, and have health insurance for themselves and their families. Tell me why God never gives you your teeth back, and why faith healers can’t remove your wisdom teeth. Tell me why religious people don’t have better health than non-believers, if God is helping some of them through their prayers. Why aren’t the followers of one God consistently healthier, richer or more famous than others, if they are following the right God compared to everyone else. Where is there any evidence that God does anything at all?”
“But, Sarah dearheart, didn’t you see the beautiful sunrise today? That was evidence of God’s love for us all. And why would people pray so much if it didn’t work? Why go to the Temple every week, and give up things that you would like (such as bacon and beer and sex), if you were not getting something back in return?”
“It’s true,” said the believer, “that I can’t show you limbs regrown, or selective health or wealth being given only to the devout of one religion. I can’t show you teeth regrown, or cavities replaced with healthy teeth, or even baldness cured (other than with a comb-over), but we have faith that God gives us miracles every day through His love for us. It makes us feel good to contemplate this.”
Sarah stood up, and said: “So you really can’t show me anything that doesn’t have a more logical explanation. There is nothing truly miraculous happening, other than humans being awed by their sense of wonder at the world and their inability to fully understand statistics and probability calculations. Every winning lottery ticket is a gift from God, but losers are not punishments. Winning a sports game is done with God’s help and support, but losing one is not because of God smiting you.”
“It’s true,” said the believer, “that all good things come from God. So you have that part correct, and we have faith that He exists, because we see evidence of it every time we want or need to. He has given us His Holy Books so that we can better understand Him, so we don’t need constant lectures from Him. And He is omnipresent in our lives, even though we don’t know what He is made of, or where He is, or how this can be accomplished. We just have faith.”
“Well,” said Sarah, “I need more than faith to accept that something as critically important as God exists. Faith is just another face of trust. I can trust things because of my past experience or because of my understanding. To do otherwise is evidence of naiveté. You are asking me to trust my life on something I can’t see, can’t locate, can’t know the origins of, can’t communicate with, can’t see any evidence of its existence, and can’t see the result of any of its actions. You seek to show me a God, and I see less than an illusion.”
“I am so sorry you feel that way,” said the believer looking noticeably saddened. “I will miss seeing you in heaven, but there is always time to change your mind later and let God into your heart.”
“The heart,” said Sarah, “is a muscular organ which pumps blood in the human body and my trust is reserved for those things worthy of it. Thank you for the lovely chat, and the tea and biscuits, and good luck with the next life. Just don’t try to spoil my enjoyment of this one.”
And with that, they parted as friends.