The saying goes: There are no atheists in foxholes. Of course, it’s Christians who say that.
For those of us who are without god—atheists, skeptics, agnostics, humanists—we know that, if you have reasoned your way out of a belief in god, a crisis or catastrophe won’t make you a believer.
This past summer, my son had an accident. You can read about here in Brain, Child, if you want. (Or for frenemies, if you are nosey.) As I was driving to the hospital, I remember thinking, “Should I pray?’ It didn’t take me long to realize that this was a reflex, something I’d been trained to do as a kid, something I’d heard so many others do.
The truth was I realized how alone I was at that moment, driving to meet my son at the hospital. How alone my kid was on the helicopter, strapped to a board, scared.
But my faith was not with god, a god who allows children to suffer from disease and abuse and malnutrition. My faith was with the people who were taking care of my son—with the staff on the helicopter, with the doctors and nurses who checked him out, with the surgeon who would open him up and with the anesthesiologist who would put him to sleep—and wake him.
When we have a moment of crisis in our lives—or a tragedy—what we need most are the people around us. We need their support, their kindness and their expertise. Prayers to an invisible and impotent mythical man are ineffectual.
Yet you and I know that the majority of Americans do not think this way. Kent Brantly, the doctor who contracted Ebola, said after he was discharged from an Atlanta hospital, “God saved my life, a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.” Never mind that researchers have been working on a cure and a vaccine or that Americans risked their health in transporting and caring for him. The same god who allowed him to contract Ebola in his volunteer work also, apparently, cured him. That god allowed thousands of West Africans to die from the virus since the 1970s, but somehow managed to save all the Americans who’ve been treated here in the U.S.
All that makes perfect sense, right?
People who believe these things will continue in their slumber and perhaps pacify themselves with the belief that there is a god making all the tough decisions about who will live and who will die, who deserves to be healed and who is not as deserving. And they will feel “blessed” when god has saved them while others will feel betrayed when god does not answer their prayers.
But you and I will not feel betrayed by the universe.
And you and I will know who to thank.
And we will not offer prayers to those who are suffering.
Because we know that all we have in this universe is each other, and we must help when we can with words and actions. It’s not God who is “I am.” It is you and me. We are love, peace, grace, joy, strength, safety, shelter, power, creator, comfort. We have a beginning and an end, and we share the same middle–all the points in between. If you are reading this, we are connected by these words and by time and by similar world views.
We don’t belong to god. We belong to each other.