About God’s Plan….

If you don’t believe in God, it’s hard to understand the logic of those who do believe. Here’s a good example. Thanks to Stephanie for sending the link.

A respectable, well-loved Anglican priest was murdered by a stranger. Family and friends of the victim repeated this weary mantra: “God’s plans are perfect. Even this one.”

Stephanie raised the question many of us ask: “How can average everyday folks believe in that way?”

It doesn’t make sense to claim that God is good, yet his “plans” include premeditated murder, pain and suffering. Good guys don’t make bad things happen. They don’t orchestrate some of the most heinous acts known to man. They don’t decide which men will suffer and kill themselves and which nations will war, dragging innocent men, women and children into their mortal combat. If God plans evil acts, whether passively or actively, then there is no moral source of good upon which religion rests.

Houston, we have a problem. (This is nothing new to us, right?)

So why does religion persist?

For one, it’s a mutually-symbiotic cultural meme that has survived by wrapping itself around the individual’s ego. The ego is fragile: It wants to live forever. It’s easily frightened. It fears the loss of itself. Religion is an institution that pacifies believers, reassuring them that life will continue in some other space and time. When a theist fears for her own death, when she cannot sleep, prayer, like meditation, is a lullaby that will soothe her into sleep with the hope that God will fix all problems, that heaven awaits. In a sense, believers have not attained the emotional independence of adulthood. God acts as a father figure upon which theists lay their problems to be solved.

Religion is also a coping mechanism. Grief, such as the murder of a loved one, is so emotionally devastating that projecting one’s pain onto God helps the sufferer avoid dealing with the intensity of the sorrow. There is pain not only for the loss of loved ones, but also for the part of ourselves that dies with the person who likewise loved us. Through belief in God, there is loss, but it’s only temporary. Family and friends and even pets will be reunited in heaven. (Of course, who would want to spend an eternity with Uncle Joe and your friend who won’t shut the hell up?)

Those of us who don’t believe can certainly understand the need for relief from tragedies and the fear of our mortality. Yet still, we wonder how seemingly intelligent people believe in these illogical concepts?

A few centuries ago, science attempted to prove the existence of God. But as humans began unraveling some of life’s mysteries, God could not be found. Religion, too, has been evolving; it mutates and changes, growing less mystical as science has pushed God and the heavens further out into the universe.

Science deals with facts; religion deals with feelings. There are those of us who refuse to let our feelings get in the way of understanding the world and our insignificant place in it, and those whose egos will not allow them to embrace their common sense. On some level, they must surely know that God falls into the same realm as Thor, Santa Claus and leprechauns. They refuse to be intellectually and emotionally honest about the reasons why they remain committed: God brings hope, comfort and relief.

IMO, it’s more honest to admit that belief doesn’t make sense, that it’s like love: it makes theists feel good, but it’s not logical. And oftentimes, the relationship is like an abusive marriage: when bad things happen, believers make excuses for God; they stick around just hoping life will get better because they’re too afraid to leave.

People believe not because it makes sense, but in spite of it.

That’s what I see from where I’m standing. What about you?


41 responses to “About God’s Plan….

  1. “In a sense, believers have not attained the emotional independence of adulthood.”

    An excellent post, Debbie. Psychologist Tom Pyszcynski advocates in his “terror management theory” that people need to delude themselves to survive and that delusion is adaptive. In her A Mind of its Own: How Your Mind Distorts and Deceives, psychologist Cordelia Fine writes “magical thinking is a necessary delusion.”

    It must be if approximately 90% (plus) of the world’s population believes in god or gods. As you know, death anxiety is a side-effect of the human brain. Facing reality is not for the faint of heart. It takes great courage to pull back the curtain.

    • Hi V. Always interesting feedback with your background in neuroscience! I guess “magical thinking” is also a harmless delusion for most people most of the time. Unfortunately, not all the time…

      It seems equally unbelievable to me that religion has conquered the civilized world.

  2. Excellent observations, Debbie. You may be familiar with The Unholy Trinity, three guys who are spreading the atheist system of non-belief. Of the three I particularly enjoy listening to Seth Andrews … http://unitedcor.org/nm/page/unholy-trinity-tour

  3. I don’t want to live forever. I can understand the seeking of a bit of comfort that something will miraculously ‘happen’ — but hey, that is entirely in the field of Ibsen’s play with Nora “waiting for something wonderful to happen” — when her self-centered husband treats her like a person. People waiting on any deity to do the same is like ants praying I won’t spray them to death.

    I can understand the need for comfort in helpless situations; but I stridently insist it is better to stop waiting and find our own human solutions. My own semi-resistent deism does not make me happy; it makes me conflicted and pissed off. But, hey, what do I know…I’m a weirdo.

  4. Prepare thyself, he who reads this, to tremble and quake before the Incredible Word of God, as written by THE LORD HIMSELF!

    I hate hopes and I hate dreams! They violate My Divine Plan! How dare you humans lounge around and dream of ways to thwart My Divine Plan?

    If I made you a gravedigger, then stay a gravedigger and be glad I don’t have you arrested. Don’t spend your days praying of becoming a porno star.*

    Many people start bugging Me with this shit from a very young age. For example, I recently had a young boy who wanted to become a pilot when he grew up. But I’d already decided to give him awful 20/60 vision. But did that stop him? No. That dumbass spent his whole life bugging Me with his prayers to become a pilot. And yet he ended up becoming a pizza delivery boy with a acute addiction to Robitussin and Jack Daniels anyway, just as I’d always intended.

    All these little hopes and dreams and all the wishing and the begging is just pathetic! I don’t much appreciate that which is pathetic.

    Life is not fair, ok? It’s not fair, and I never said it would be fair.

    Was life ever fair in The Bible? NO! Some men are born to be slaves of other men, some women are born to be raped by their fathers, and that’s just the way it is! Some things will never change. I am what I am and it is what it is!

    Joke aside:
    People believed because they were raised to believe in a Christian culture (it’s changing now though). A Muslim or a Mormon or an Orthodox Jew believes for the same reason. Just try to convince them otherwise. In fact religions are spread about on the globe into separate geographical locations much like diets are different around the globe (that too is changing).

    In the world of science, when we want to convince people of a controversial idea, no one ever bothers with cutsie philosophical rhetoric – we make testable predictions and present our findings! So despite the huge volumes of sophisticated philosophical posturing, no Christian apologetic has ever provided a single, verifiable instance of any supernatural force manifesting in the real, physical world. It’s as if the entire Christian apologetic tradition is built on the naive supposition that merely concluding God is the same thing as demonstrating Him.

    Take care,

  5. If everything is in god’s plan than is anyone truly responsible for his or her actions? By that logic we are just puppets. If this priest’s death was in “god’s plan” then the man who killed him shouldn’t be punished because he didn’t do it out of his own free will. Right? Christians talk about of both sides of their mouths and none of it makes sense. And, as said before, the last thing I want to do when I die is to look down and see everything I’m missing out on (graduations, births, weddings) and not be able to help my boys if they are hurting or sad. It sounds like torture to me and is not comforting at all.

    • Yes, yes, yes!! This talking out of both sides of the mouth drives me crazy. It’s these exact types of things you’ve described that helped me to finally leave religion behind.

    • It baffles me that people don’t see the conflicting logic between “free will” and “God’s plan.” It hurts my brain trying to follow the logic (or lack thereof). It’s one of the main reasons I teach my kids to question everything.

    • @dallasgrl So true–we can’t expect to punish someone who doesn’t have control over his life and plans!

    • @dallasgrl The moment I hear “god’s plan” in any conversation, I immediately assume it is a pointless discussion. As you so rightly pointed out, “god’s plan” strips everyone of responsibility for their actions. There can be no free will (as Shannan pointed out). It strikes me as odd that people don’t see god as the arbitrary mass murder he/she/it is. God is a remorseless, senseless killing machine who really seems to enjoy it. Who the hell would want to worship a mass murder? Something is terribly wrong in the world (and minds) of theists.

  6. It really is fascinating to me – and frustrating – to see religion and superstition persist when we have so many answers now that we didn’t have in the past, and a void of which the notion of god certainly filled. You’re right – it’s emotional, not rational.
    Excellent post.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. Well articulated, as always. There are times when life is hard when I almost wish I could still believe. But I just CAN’T. It doesn’t make sense anymore. I’ve begun to realize it never really did. I just finally had the courage to face the world without God & realize that it’s actually not that much scarier. It’s a bit lonely at times. But honestly I’d rather feel lonely on occasion than try to force myself to believe in some kind of creepy god who could orchestrate all kinds of horrible things just to show us his supposed love & power.

  8. “believers have not attained the emotional independence of adulthood” says it all. Life is just easier, simpler, when you don’t grow up, don’t think critically, and don’t have to take responsibility for your actions. You can just keep blaming “Mr. Nobody.”

  9. Thank you for articulating what I have long been thinking. I have many family members who are logical and critical thinkers in every other area except god/religion; it borders on maddening.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post, Debbie! Every time I pass a bumper sticker or sign about God, I just substitute the word ‘Santa’ and giggle.

  11. I love your articles and all of them. I’m 79 years old, born in central Europe, lived through the horrors of the WWII and revolution in  1956. SAs a baptized catholic I have witnessed the cowardly acts against each other of the “Creation of God”. I became a believer of creationism, that is that MAN CREATED GOD  and all its ignorant believe system around the globe. I wish that I possessed  the writing talent of you, so that I could tell all the evil acts I have witnessed in my youth in the name of religion.

    Joseph Gyetvai

    • Joseph, I agree with your definition of creationism!
      I am sorry that anyone has to suffer at the hands of others–the world is hostile enough as it is.
      Please feel free to submit a guest post if you would like to share your thoughts and experiences. This forum is always open to others.

  12. OMG – your analogy of an abusive relationship is great. I mean, let’s keep making excuses and trying to rationally explain the ‘god’s plan theory’. I mean seriously. You hit the nail on the head on this one. Religion is the problem. The belief in god is fine, to each their own, but the manifestation of religion, was created by man. All believers should know it was made simply to control and manipulate to the whim of those creating the rules. Belief in faith and God makes you feel good, but the religion consequences makes it hard to swallow and tends to make ya look a little nuts to outsiders.

  13. The rationalization of “God’s plan” steals initiative and logic to figure out what we can do to create better lives for humanity. Why was the priest murdered? . . by someone who fell through the cracks of society, who wasn’t able to access help, whether mental health or relief from poverty? It is empowering to find solutions, discouraging to be told tragedies are part of some great plan.

  14. To me, this has always boiled down to the same thing; humans have a deep-seated need for a sense of causality in everything they experience. We seem to crave an answer to the question “why?” to everything and anything. Of course, for many things there is no comprehendible or satisfying explanation, and that is why most people, throughout human history, have manufactured “God” as a handy, one-size-fits-all answer to the questions we cannot otherwise answer. In the same way that we look to our parents for answers and comfort throughout our lives, people look to their imagined God-concept as a parental surrogate for reason, direction and reassurance.

    Thus we have seemingly intelligent and rational people still buying into the obviously illogical and unscientific God-concept, and going through all kinds of mental gymnastics and suspension of disbelief to justify their theistic beliefs. For them to imagine some other alternative is just too darn scary. The idea that there doesn’t have to be a reason for everything or even for us to exist at all is too terrifying for many people to imagine – if there is no reason why, then these people conclude that our lives and our experiences must have no purpose. These people cannot see how to derive morality, happiness and fulfillment from a life without a purpose assigned to them by the existence of a higher being. We can assign ourselves our own purpose!

    It is my hope that, as a growing number of people figure out that fulfillment and morality do not require theistic belief — i.e., we can be happy without inventing an explanation for the things we don’t understand — then even more people will discover that being an atheist is not so scary after all!

    Thanks for your blog, Deb. It is a ray of reason and sunshine in my mailbox every Monday morning.

  15. @Chris A So many great points. I think, what you hit on, is that people need to learn to be comfortable with the unknown, with not having the answers. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to get things wrong–as long as we’re willing to admit to our errors. (That’s what science does well.)

    It’s the ego that gets scared, that wants to know it lives forever. I think people will give up god when they create immortality through some other way (as technology is now attempting).

  16. I’ve never seen it stated better. This is exactly how I feel. Thanks again.

  17. I’m sorry guys but on this example I have to disagree with you. The family may be deluding themselves but what is the other option? To get so furious you run down to the jail and lynch the murder? Does that really sound like an emotionally healthy choice? I think in this case the family’s belief in God is doing what it is supposed to; providing hope in the worst of circumstances.

    • Yes, haydenlinder. I think we–or many of us, at least–understand that the family is deluding themselves and that the idea of god brings them comfort. I’m not sure, however, that I understand why you would think the only other option, if they don’t believe, is to “get so furious you run down to the jail and lynch the murder(er).” There are many people who don’t believe in god and that is not our reaction.

  18. I really hope this doesn’t sound snarky when I say this, I think this is one of those times where I have a hard time seeing it from your stand point.

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