I spent the better part of my life as a committed Christian. I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church as an infant, attended church regularly, prayed nearly every day, taught Sunday school, and became an ordained elder at the age of 25. For a long time, the desire to connect with God was a major factor in how I lived. Religious faith provides many basic things that humans need–a sense of meaning to one’s life, a foundation for morality, a confidence in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, and a hope for life eternal. One of my first thoughts when I stopped believing was, “It’s all a myth–but what a lovely myth.”
So I understand very well the need to believe. What I no longer understand, looking back on my life as a Christian, is the capacity to believe in something so outlandish as the existence of an Almighty God–much less one who created us all one by one, cherishes our immortal souls, intervenes on behalf of those who call upon his name, and holds a place for his faithful in an everlasting paradise. None of us has ever seen this being; none of us has ever heard him, except in the silence of our own heads; none of us can produce a piece of evidence as large as a mustard seed that what we think of as God is anything more than a thought. Our scientists can see stars that have been dead for a billion years; they can document microscopic bacteria that concluded their brief lives on earth eons ago. But of God we have no trace, except for the testimony of scribes writing of events neither they nor those around them ever witnessed–and the faith of millions of people who have managed to convince themselves that he lives and reigns somewhere in the sky.
If I told you I had a friend I had never seen or spoken with, who was invisible, inaudible, and unverifiable, you would think I was afflicted by an overactive imagination, if not by outright insanity. But if I told you I believed in God, you would think I was perfectly sane. You have no reason to think there is such a friend, and I have no reason to think there is a God.