Today I would like to talk about expectations. We all have them right? We expect that people will generally follow the rules of traffic for their safety and ours. We expect that our coworkers will do their fair share of the work so that things keep running smoothly. We expect that our family members and friends will be supportive rather than manipulative. Every one of these cases will sometimes go awry with actual people. My question is: Are we expecting too much from a God that likely isn’t there? Also, what are the potential consequences?
An Atheist really hasn’t fallen far off of the tree of belief and expectation. You see, another way to think about a lack of belief in gods is to simply level out our expectations to match reality. We do this to the best of our ability. This is not some kind of willful or manipulative ploy to shove God out of our lives, that would imply that this is done knowingly. Rather, it is an intellectual acknowledgement that not enough appears to be on the table to make a proper judgement call. I credit the Bible for being a very interesting piece of ancient literature. It drew me in for a long time but the honest assessment I would one day come to, kicking and screaming if you will, is that my present reality does not seem to coincide with ancient expectations.
What are some of these ancient expectations?
1) The belief that justice is best displayed by understanding the Judeo-Christian idea of atonement for sin. Hebrews 9:22 bridges this Old Testament idea with the crucifixion of Jesus by saying, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.” In other words, atonement is the only way to be forgiven. For some reason it never even occurred to this God that forgiveness doesn’t have to include death and torture as a requirement. The alternative is that sin or wrongdoing could just be forgiven freely by this being. Simply as an act of mercy and love. An exoneration from debt could be treasured just as much! Instead the Bible explicitly says, “It was necessary for the Christ to suffer.” If one does not accept that Christ is their sin-bearer then the only alternative is that the wages of sin is death, punishment, and eternal separation.
2) The belief that God is somehow knowable. At the most basic level I don’t think I’d even be making this point if God was in fact a being that can be known and confirmed within this world. There would be no dispute across the spectrum of human experience. The fact of the matter is that the question of how to understand and perceive God is the most controversial and widely disputed subject in the world! This raises a red flag for me, what about you? This is what happens in the absence of knowledge. If we are understanding this question in terms of its plausibility and internal consistency I think it is clear that varying cultures are simply projecting an ancient expectation concerning the question of origins. The question of God is tied directly into the most ancient attempts to understand this world and how the universe really works. Science has done quite well with not injecting God into the equation as of yet.
3) The belief that authoritative divine claims speak for themselves. What I mean is that religions across the board think that an argument from authority and inspiration is adequate for bringing one into an acknowledgement of God. Nothing else is needed! The rest is the work of the spirit. I must contend that there is nothing more vague and controversial than this. Even within one religion! The range of perspectives on this matter is evidence in itself that people are unable to speak from knowledge of the texts that they hold so dear.
I personally have had many experiences in the past that fed my own bias about God. I was moved very deeply during times of worship and prayer. At times it felt electric! As if energy was moving from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. It made me feel connected to the divine. It seemed like the very presence of God to me. If you are a Christian that has a similar bias about these kinds of experiences I have to warn you that it is necessary to evaluate these things and really consider whether it is God or your own self?
I don’t deny that such experiences are pretty amazing to have. What I contend is that these things are not unique to religion. These things are not unique to your own perceived relationship with God. As an Atheist I still enjoy these moments of euphoria when I’m reflecting on very meaningful truths, during a good song, or simply by the charisma of an amazing speaker. Be careful about your own personal expectations. Be willing to reconsider life’s most precious moments! Why? This is the endeavor of the truth seeker. This is the project of anyone that actually values knowledge and what that really is.
So what does this all mean in the end? What are the consequences of expecting too much from what is neither known or confirmed within the world? Well, it can lead to a pretty devastating fall if one is not willing to accept reality gradually. Sometimes unexpected tragedies and life events can lead one to reconsider everything rather suddenly. My encouragement to others who may be in the process of questioning their own faith is to start this pursuit gradually. Take time to evaluate your own knowledge because believe it or not, I actually don’t advocate for people to leave their religion if they are convinced that God is truly relatable and knowable in the world. If you are a rare individual that possesses special knowledge that the the majority of humanity appears to lack then by all means I have nothing to say to you. I would simply hope that somehow I can acknowledge the same facts, if indeed they are facts?
At the end of the day the bravest thing to do is to think for ourselves!