Previously on this blog, I put up a video promoting my forthcoming book There Is No God And He Is Always With You. In this video I said something like, “I don’t think most people who consider themselves spiritual believe in an anthropomorphic creator God who is basically a giant white man on a throne in the sky.” Or that’s what I would have said if I’d sat down and written out my answer rather than speaking it off-the-cuff to an interviewer. I’m not sure if it came across like that or not.
At any rate, my using the words “most people” opened me up to being challenged by folks who like to quote statistics. Both on this blog and on Facebook people chimed in saying that 46% of Americans believe in that sort of God. I did a little research and discovered that this statistic comes from an article published on Huffington Post in June 2012 titled 46% of Americans Believe in Creationism According to Latest Gallup Poll. The question these Americans were asked was this:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?
1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,
2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,
3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.
According to Huffington Post, “Respondents were categorized as believing in theistic evolution (option 1), evolution (option 2) and creationism (option 3) depending on their answer choice. Forty six percent Americans believed in creationism, 32 percent believed in theistic evolution and 15 percent believed in evolution without any divine intervention.” And the article goes on from there. You can read it for yourself if you like. There’s lots of graphs and charts and stuff to look at too.
And yet I still have my doubts. In spite of what the Gallup Polls tell us, I suspect that real belief in that kind of God is on the decrease. It appears to me that the desire to believe in such nonsense still exists. But I’m not sure if all those 46% of Americans honestly believe what they say they believe.
Here’s why I suspect this. People are afraid that if they believe in evolution there will be nothing for them to do after they die, that they’ll never be reunited with lost loved ones, that life has no meaning and that there’s no reason to behave morally because nothing really matters. If I felt like I had only those two choices, I’d side with the anti-evolutionists too. Seriously. I absolutely would. I think any sensible person would, especially in light of the idea that moral action only makes sense if there is a creator God sitting up in the sky keeping a list of all of our naughty and nice actions.
And yet all of us are faced every single day with the products of science. We have laptops and X-Boxes and Blu Ray players, all of which are based on the principles of science. We know science works. Our airplanes don’t fall out of the sky. Our satellite radios work so that we can hear right wing pundits denounce science on them. And many of us fear our own knowledge and want to try to turn things back. But we can’t. We may not want to believe in science. But we have to. It clearly works.
I find it interesting that the debate in America seems to hinge on just two options. Whenever I see a debate about Creationism vs. Evolution both sides seem to want to bring it down to just two options. Either you teach evolution in schools or you teach the Bible. As if the Christian Bible contains the only religious creation story. If I was on a school board I’d say, “Sure. Teach Biblical Creation if you want. But if you do that, you have to teach the Vedic creation story, and the many often contradictory Buddhist creation stories, and the Shinto creation story, and every African creation story, and the Mayan creation story…” You get the idea. There is essentially just one scientific creation story (though there are a lot of minor variants to it) and countless religious ones.
But this whole debate bores the shit out of me. Honestly. It is so ridiculous that the only reason I ever pay attention to it is for a quick laugh.
And yet I understand why it’s scary to a lot of folks. There are people in high places in the US and elsewhere who profess some really idiotic beliefs when it comes to God. But we all know what politicians are like. They’ll say whatever they think is going to get them the most votes. Even if it’s not what they really believe. They’ll do this on any subject. Why would they be different when it comes to the matter of God?
At any rate, the foregoing debate wasn’t at all the point I was trying to make in that video. I’m sorry if it comes across that way. I was really just trying to express my deep disappointment at the shallowness of the debate itself.
To give you an example, I was kind of excited when I saw Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. Because I thought it was going to be a scientific look at why human beings believe in God. I thought he’d go into the evolution of religious thought or the neurological research into how and why human beings started creating religions in the first place. I though it might talk about why religion was apparently selected by evolution as a useful trait in human beings. It seems to have been strongly favored by evolution. All societies have some kind of religion. Why? Evolution only selects what helps an organism survive and reproduce. How does religion do that? That is interesting to me.
I think there is a book about that stuff. But The God Delusion isn’t it. It’s just a long essay about why it’s dumb to believe in a Big Boss Man in the Sky kind of God. And I already knew that. So do most of the religious people I’ve encountered in my life, including those who consider themselves Born Again Christians. In Ohio! That shit is played out.
The other neo-atheist books I’ve picked up are similarly shallow and kind of boring. Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great is, unfortunately, not that great. Sam Harris’ The End of Faith was better, but still pretty shallow if you ask me. And these are the three most important books in the movement! I was totally let down!
All of these books seem to dwell on the simple either-or type of choice that the folks who wrote the Gallup Polls came up with. If I’d been given that poll I’d have to answer “none of the above” and thus my point of view wouldn’t be represented. Because there’s no room for a more nuanced idea.
When I first encountered Zen Buddhism I heard it was a “religion without God.” This is one of the longest standing, most often quoted shorthand descriptions of Zen. I’d had enough of religion by that point in my life. It was obvious to me by the time I was 8 years old that the Big Boss in the Sky version of God was stupid. And yet I could not deny that there were aspects of my real experience that could be called “spiritual.” Zen practice allowed me a way to connect with that. I came to the conclusion that there might be an intelligent way to talk about God.
And that’s what I’m trying to do in this forthcoming book.
Wish me luck!
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