An atheist who has made peace with God

Have you ever heard of or met an atheist who encourages people to regularly look to God for guidance? Of course not, right? Atheist’s don’t believe God exists, right? That’s correct. They don’t. And I don’t. But now you can answer “Yes” to this question. Because I am one of them.

That’s right. I am an atheist who encourages people to regularly look to God for guidance.

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But wait a minute. I must be speaking illogically here, right? Perhaps. If one strictly thinks of God as is usually defined in your typical dictionary. Like Merriam-Webster:

God : the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped especially by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the one who created and rules the universe

Or the Oxford Dictionaries:

[without article] (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.

And as an atheist, I don’t believe that a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other monotheistic religion’s God as people normally understand God, exists.

So why do I encourage people to regularly look to God for guidance? What possibly could be the logic of encouraging people to look for guidance from something that doesn’t exist? Well, to indirectly address this question, let me ask this: How many of you believe that Santa Claus actual exists? I’m guessing that very few readers would answer “Yes” to that question. Yet how many of you who KNOW that Santa Claus does NOT exist are NEVER inspired to be more generous to others during the Christmas season, or at any other time of the year?

Have you mulled over that question enough yet to understand, albeit holistically, the logic of what I mention here? If not, let me continue trying to explain more deductively.

Scientific research has clearly documented that people have inherent cognitive biases. And everyone, including myself, invariably have their attempts at rational decision making negatively affected by those cognitive biases at some time in their lives. And regardless of how brilliant or logical a person usually is, they will undoubtedly make some bad decisions due to those biases.

Does this mean that people should ignore attempts at rational thought? Hardly! I do NOT advocate abandoning trying to reason through things, including an understanding of how the universe works. Because doing so in a truly objective manner, i.e. subjecting ideas to rigorous examination by others who do not a vested interest in promoting or disputing those ideas, has produced an outstanding amount of verifiable and useful information.

But here’s the thing. Science alone, and even fully being aware of these biases, cannot always help someone understand when they are personally acting less-than-fully-rational. Because one’s cognitive biases are likely, at times we are least expect, to distort how a person uses that knowledge. And too much faith in one’s own reasoning can, at times, lead someone very astray from optimal decision-making.

Despite the overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, this guy just couldn't accept that his strategy of invading and occupying Russia (i.e. the Soviet Union) was doomed to failure.

Despite the overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, as well as the adamant advice of his general staff, this guy just couldn’t accept that his strategy of invading and occupying the Soviet Union was doomed to failure.
(Wikimedia Commons)

And this guy disastrously dismissed the voluminous evidence that his country was about to invaded by a questionable ally.

And this guy disastrously dismissed the voluminous evidence that his country was about to be invaded by a questionable ally led by a mentally unbalanced racist bent on world domination.
(Wikimedia Commons)

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So how does “looking to God for guidance” address this dilemma? Especially for someone who does not believe that “God”, i.e. a supernatural all-powerful being, exist? It’s quite simple. Because the act of doing so can encourage that all-important process of checking one’s ego. In other words, embracing a little bit of healthy humility. Or a lot, if the occasion calls for it. And those occasions can occur a lot more often than we are likely to admit. Even for folks who have a history of exceptional rational thinking.

This guy's brilliant contributions to science revolutionized how we understand our universe. But even he couldn't accept the validity of the most successful physics theory to date.

This guy‘s brilliant contributions to science revolutionized how we understand our universe. But even he couldn’t accept the validity of the most successful physics theory to date.
(Wikimedia Commons)

And this guy, along with his high-powered proteges in the U.S. government, put his faith in financial institutions adequately self-regulating.

And this guy, along with his high-powered proteges in the U.S. government, erroneously put his faith in financial institutions adequately self-regulating.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Alright, you may say. People make mistakes. Even very smart ones. And people could probably improve their decision-making if they would honestly open their minds to the possibility of being wrong. But why does that translate into people looking for guidance from something that doesn’t exist? It’s quite simple. Because the act of doing so has the potential to be a mental/emotional exercise that helps us recognize when our attempts at rational thinking are being hampered by our cognitive biases. And what is a greater check on our faith in our personal power to reason than the idea of the existence of an all-knowing being that is immutably beyond our personal comprehension, i.e. God?

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Are you getting my drift here? If not, that’s alright. Frankly, I don’t expect to convince many of you of the logic of what I say here. But I am grateful that a well-known leader of a very large group of God-believers is encouraging his faith’s followers, and the powerful within its organization, to check their egos on some issues by doing what I advocate here: looking to God (again) for guidance.

Seriously. Thank you, Pope Francis.

Seriously. Thank you, Pope Francis.

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