You heard me. You already believe in God. Atheism is logically impossible. Why? Because the definition of God is so broad and wide-reaching that it is essentially impossible to disbelieve. If you live in the modern West, you cannot exempt yourself from this, unless perhaps if you are: 1. a traditional Buddhist (no, shitty individualized English sutra-recitation doesn’t count), 2. a real nihilist (of whom there are very few), or 3. a radical ultra-skeptic (you do not qualify for this title if you browse Reddit or watch Rick & Morty).
So what’s a decent definition of God? Let’s start with what the Bhagavad Gita says:
“I am the goal of life … I am the beginning, the staying, and the end of creation … I am what is and what is not.”
“There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.”
We can see here at least four things identifiable with God: the purpose of life, the entirety of the universe, Existence itself, and Absolute truth. What does this mean for atheism? It means that if you believe in any of these things, you believe in God. This is not something that most people can choose to disbelieve in. Although there are many who claim that human life has no meaning, there are few who are willing to say that the universe has no origin, that Existence does not exist, or that truth is not truth. Western atheism is, fundamentally, not about belief or disbelief but about definitions. If you believe that there is existence, you must believe in God.
God does not have to be a person in the sky who commands you to do this-thing and that-thing. That’s a very weak idea of God. In order to be a good skeptic, you must be able to defeat the most generous interpretation of your opponent’s argument. You cannot make strawmen or attack idiots who misrepresent an internally-consistent belief system. If you can at least imagine a belief being possibly true, it is worth taking a look at it if you wish to call yourself a non-believer of that belief.
That’s basically it. It really does not take much to prove that most people believe in some barebones idea of God. Here are some FAQs:
Q. Surely most people would not agree with your definition of God?
A. Here is a list of theological writers who agree with this definition of God: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Gregory Palamas, Ibn Arabi, John the Evangelist, Plotinus, Iamblichus of Chalcis, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areophagite, Adi Shankara, Moshe ben Maimon. The fact that there is a particular bad student does not mean that the teacher was wrong.
Q. Surely this definition of God is not very personal, not very inspiring?
A. Yes, this definition of God is not very anthropomorphic and would be hard to relate to. We can talk about the nature of these anthropomorphisms in another blog post.
Q. Okay, but there is no truth. There is also no existence. Also, there is no universe. Therefore, there is no God.
A. That is not something that you can actually say. If there is no truth, then you cannot say “there is no truth” and have this assertion be true. This is an argument-stopping logical contradiction that needs to be addressed by anyone who makes this claim.
If there is no existence, then how are you speaking to me? In fact, why are you even typing words on a page and expecting me to understand them? If there is no truth, there is no guarantee at all that your ideas will be correctly understood by anybody.
Q. Maybe God is existence, or God is truth, or God is the origin of the universe, but you can’t have all three. Come on! That’s a cop-out. These individual things exist, but how can they come together as a package deal?
A. This is actually pretty simple. The universe would not exist without existence, so the origin of the universe has some close relationship with Existence itself. Likewise, there are many who believe that the truth must be beyond the universe in order for it to really be true, so we could imagine that truth is also intimately related with God. Also, it could easily be the case that God is the name for a set, inside which there are many things. The set itself would be one God, but it has many attributes within it.
Q. You can’t use Hindu scriptures to prove the existence of a God that Christians believe in!
A. Why? Aren’t you committing the ad hominem fallacy right now? If you are an internet atheist, I’m sure you are very familiar with it. Just because an argument comes from a Hindu doesn’t mean that it’s wrong from a Christian perspective.
Q. You can’t just change definitions on me. Words have real meaning!
A. That’s not true. As long as I can point to an underlying concept, I can speak about that concept. Consider how the word “God”, which has Germanic origins and was used in a variety of pagan ways came to be identified with the Christian “theos”. Or consider how I can refer to the idea of apples as “bleebloo” and it won’t affect at all whether apples exist. Even the most skeptical atheist has to admit that the word “God” could be like “bleebloo” — a possibly-useless pointer to a concept that is ultimately real (i.e. the origin of the universe).
Q. Okay, but I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), and I assert that this is God.
A. First of all, you don’t actually believe in this. Second of all, you can’t believe in this, because the Flying Spaghetti Monster has the property of being made of spaghetti. Therefore, spaghetti is ontologically prior to the Flying Spaghetti Monster; the FSM cannot be the origin of the universe, since something comes before it. Hmm, but spaghetti might be God, since spaghetti is prior to the FSM. But wait, spaghetti is made out of matter, and wait — matter is something that exists. Dang! So it looks like Existence is superior to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Existence is a far better candidate for God than the FSM could ever possibly be.
Q. Fine, but I believe that the Big Bang is God.
A. This is a more defensible claim and is at least somewhat consistent with what theists believe.
Q. But what about Russell’s teapot? What if I told you there were invisible elves in this room? You wouldn’t be able to disprove me!
A. It would be unreasonable for me to seriously argue that there “might” be a teapot behind the moon. There are many things that “might” or “might not” exist. Here’s the difference — the origin of the universe is not like a teapot at all; the universe has to exist in order for us even to have this debate at all. There is absolutely nothing in this world that ontologically depends on Russell’s teapot, or on invisible elves. In contrast, everything in this world depends on Existence, otherwise it wouldn’t be in the world. Therefore, God exists, but Russell’s teapot might not. There is a fundamental, analogy-destroying distinction between the two.
There are different and more obscure arguments for why God does not exist, which I’ll explore in a later writing. But for now, these are my biggest gripes with most atheist belief systems that I have encountered in the modern West. If you can successfully disprove my reasoning (which is certainly possible in the current version of this essay), you are definitely an atheist who knows his own beliefs!
“Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” – C. S. Lewis