There are some stories we need to tell. How we came across a particularly rugged scar, how it felt to hear your first child announce itself to the world, or a brush with death as examples. From the moment they occur these stories itch inside of our bellies like a handful of dancing caterpillars. We navigate through conversations in the hopes we might stumble into the territory of our story and we can proudly throw down our banner and put the caterpillars to rest for a time.
There is another story we need to tell. There is a story I need to tell. Few watershed moments are so well hidden, so conveniently stuffed into a nook inside our minds only to be examined at dark and lonely hours. It is a coming out of sorts and if you’ve read this far I hope you will stick around a bit longer.
God was an unseen family member living in our house throughout my childhood. That is to say God was a presence, a specter wandering the halls. Most Sundays we would pile into the station wagon and take him to his favorite place, church. Scriptures weren’t quoted in the course of discipline in our home. We weren’t forced to memorize the Bible. But, God was around.
The last time I attended church I was thirteen years old. My ex-stepfather and I sat in the upper levels of the Evangel Temple and watched as the pastor implored all minorities to come to the front of the congregation so he and the other church elders could apologize for discrimination. My stepdad was black and I am mixed white and Latino. This amounted to about twenty people out of one thousand. The sentiment was in the right place, but I don’t know if the pastor understood what it would feel like to be a black or Hispanic boy gazing out upon a sea of white faces as other white faces gripped his small hands and apologized to him. For reasons I did not fully understand I did not go to church the next week, the week after, and the eighteen years following.
Bear with me. My caterpillars are just now waking up.
One thing I understood very well as a young Christian was guilt. I felt so guilty about stealing a quarter from my brother I would lose sleep at night. I would keep a mental tally of all the quarters I had stolen from him so that I could repay him when I was rich at some point in the future. I don’t remember the final tally, but the next time I see Jimmie I’m going pass him ten bucks without explanation. I felt guilt about my own thoughts. God reads minds after all. If he was reading mine from the age of about eleven onward he was likely disgusted more often than not.
I worried. It hurt my stomach. Every impure thought might not have been a nail in Jesus’s cross, but it was at least a thumbtack.
When I got away from church I carried the guilt with me for a couple of years. I still prayed each night. And then, slowly, I lost touch. It’s like when you move from your hometown and leave behind your best friend. You swear you will keep in touch and you do. But life gets in the way. New friends come along and, before you know it, you’ve forgotten how that old best friend made you feel. You forget what was so special about him.
I started to forget God in my mid to late teens. With him I forgot that I was supposed to feel guilty about that pizza I purposely made wrong so that I could take it home at the end of my shift. I forgot that I was supposed to feel guilty watching Wild Things very late at night with my door locked.
My apologies to Oprah, but I did not have an “Aha!” moment. At some point in my early twenties I surveyed my Godless surroundings and found that it made a lot more sense than the alternative. I started to read books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Before you raise your finger at me and claim I have been corrupted, keep in mind that I had been reading the other side’s offering for most of my life.
Over the past several years, and out of necessity, I attended a Christian college. Though the university is open to all religions I was the only atheist in every one of the twenty-four or so courses I took. Sorry if I didn’t adequately prepare you for that A-word I just dropped. Like I said, there was no “Aha!” moment. It just sort of happened. For my Personal and Social Ethics course we were required to read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and engage in weekly threaded discussions about it.
For the uninformed, Mere Christianity is a Christian apologetic work, which advocates for the existence of God stemming from the author’s worldview. It’s basically C.S. Lewis saying God must exist because this is what I see in the world.
So, the following is me saying God does not exist because this is what I see in the world. Like C.S. Lewis, I don’t plan on getting up from my chair to conduct any research, though I might reference scientific principles from time to time.
I am writing this in part to purge myself of my stomach-dwellers, but for another, more important reason. It is my opinion that faith in God, the Christian god or any of the others, is dangerous.
Before I begin I will establish a few truths regarding God from the Christian perspective. God is perfect. God is eternal. God is omnipotent. I must also say that, though I’m presenting these ideas as my own that does not mean they have not been offered by others, perhaps even more eloquently crafted, previous to me.
Genesis tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. So, God created the earth and everything outside of it. Everything. With the naked eye we can see a few thousand stars on the darkest night far away from city lights. The estimated number of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy is around 300 billion. Our neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, may have as many as 1 trillion stars. Most of those stars will have planetary systems of some kind. As we have only recently been able to detect planets outside of our solar system, it is impossible to say if our planetary system is a good representation of the rest of Universe. Since the sun is considered to be an average star we can just assume that it supports an average number of planets, that being eight (sorry Pluto.) There might be 2.4 trillion planets orbiting stars in our galaxy, 8 trillion for Andromeda.
Before I explain why this matters I must add in the concept of rogue planets. These are planets that have been ejected from their planetary system and float freely through space. Current estimates for the number of starless planets in our galaxy are in the realm of 400 billion. This is just a guess as we are in the infancy of detecting these wandering orphans. There could be trillions. Using these estimates Andromeda would host about 4 trillion rogue planets.
Let’s look at our total so far. We have 1.3 trillion stars and 14.8 trillion planets between the Milky Way and Andromeda. With the naked eye we can see somewhere around .000000001% of all this matter. (Not going to lie, I just hit 0 until it felt right) That is 1.3 trillion suns, many much much larger than our own sun just converting hydrogen into helium like it’s no big deal. That’s 14.8 trillion planets, many much much larger than Jupiter just hanging out. And we can see practically none of it. And we interact with one single star and a few planets.
What if I told you I wanted to build you a house with one large room (sun) and eight smaller rooms (planets.) But, in addition to those rooms I was going to build more than 16 trillion other rooms that you would never ever see. Seems like a lot of wasted energy. These 16 trillion stars and planets are shared between two galaxies. There may be as many as five hundred billion galaxies in the Universe, possibly more. The house just got a lot bigger, beyond quadrillions.
If the earth was all of the matter in the Universe we would be severely overrepresented by an ant fart. We would be less than a grain of sand. This is wasted energy on an unfathomable level. This is setting the world on fire to light a cigarette. This is dropping a hydrogen bomb to kill the bacteria within a termite. That God was the creator of the Universe made sense when the Universe was what we could see with our own eyes. There was the sun and moon, a few planets, and a couple thousand pinpricks of light in the darkness. We didn’t know there were billions of galaxies hosting billions of stars and trillions of planets.
This brings us to a few possibilities. God created all of it as the bible says. God created some of it, which comes with a new set of problems. God created none of it.
If God created some of it that puts him in the realm of other creator gods, thousands of them, found in all cultures throughout time. Christianity cannot withstand this possibility. It allows too much mysticism into the equation. If God only created our galactic neighborhood, say the solar system and visible stars, who created everything else? The Christian god could be one of many, perhaps a very small and unimportant god as gods go.
Though we will never know for sure, estimates (very rough estimates) suggest that there are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand on all of earth’s beaches. At the low end of star estimates and high end of sand estimates the numbers are very close. For the reverse, the number of stars is many times the number of grains of sand. Accepting the possibility that God did not lovingly craft each star and planet but just set things in motion with a wave of his hand, the idea of wasted energy remains the same.
In my experience, there are a lot of mysteries about God that believers go out of their way to avoid considering. God is too perfect to understand, too vast. It is not the place of mankind to endeavor to understand the mind of God. His power is a matter of faith.
If this is how you are going to live your life, raise your children, and build your society why would you not be curious? I am curious.
According to the bible, God created Man in his image. For the purpose of my next example this is convenient. If I understand the story of the bible there was a time when there was only God and nothing more. There was God and the void. If God created the heavens and the earth he either did so upon a blank pallet or he was building on someone else’s work. Once again, Christianity does not allow for companion gods, so it can be assumed that God created everything from nothing.
Picture God in the void, snowy beard or youthful, your choice. There is no color, no sound, nothing to smell or to touch. There is nothing. There is God and nothing else. No air. No stars. Nothing. Just God. There was nothing before God. There was only ever God.
Where did his creativity come from? This is not a question of perfection or majesty. It is a question of logic. Every thought any person has ever had was inspired by experience. That you can imagine a ten-armed, fang-toothed creature is because you have seen arms and teeth in your life. Everything we create or imagine is built upon previous creations and what our senses have been telling us throughout our lives.
Remember, at one time there was only God and the void. Where did the idea of nuclear fusion come from? If God is all-powerful there is no need for something so complex. God could point at a point in space (after he created space) and say, “Big hot thing there.” Why create atoms instead of one solid mass? Why make it necessary for a star to explode in order to create heavy metals?
There is perfection in the Universe, but it’s a random sort of perfection. It’s the kind of random perfection you would expect to happen over billions of years instead of just all at once.
Come to think of it, if there was only God and the void and we were created in God’s image, why did God need arms? What was God holding? Why did God need eyes? What did he see? Did he create his own eyes to see the nothingness and then create matter to have something for his eyes to see? What did God need to hear with his ears? Did he create ears and then the Universe and then us so he could hear us sing his praises?
If we were created in God’s image and after his likeness then God has teeth. What the f-ck is God eating? What was he eating in the void? We can pick apart the language of the bible and search for meanings that make more sense to a modern world, but these will only ever be excuses. Take the bible for what it is and accept it or don’t.My apologies. I derailed things a bit there thinking about God’s teeth. My point is perfect is not equivalent to creative. Sure, God is perfect. Whatever. That does not explain how God’s mind was able to think of anything when there had only ever been nothing.