The God Shelf. Why I could believe but don’t.

comments 12
the godless side
My "God Shelf"

My “God Shelf”

We ate lunch with a friend of ours who pastors a church in a nearby county.  Silver already told him a couple weeks ago about our unbelief, so the pressure was off.  Although he still considered us friends, his perspective about us and our belief was condescending and demeaning.  In his mind, our atheism made sense because the god we believed in before wasn’t the true god, wasn’t his god.  He wouldn’t listen to us at all.  Most of what he said frustrated me, but one suggestion he had was legitimate.

“Your analogy of comparing your belief in Santa to your belief in God isn’t valid.  You have no evidence to believe in Santa, none whatsoever.  But you have plenty of evidence to believe in God.  Put the shelf back up guys.”

What he means by evidence is that which can’t be obviously explained away.  What he means by a shelf is a place to put that which doesn’t make sense with our current paradigm.   So, I’ve decided to go ahead and list the “real miracles” that I’ve experienced in my life that I can’t explain away.  Not because I’ll believe in God again because of it, but to just allow myself to be intellectually honest.  There are still many things I don’t know or understand.

The God Shelf

  • My wrists hurt for years.  Frequent playing of piano and nonstop computer typing in college caused carpal-tunnel-like sharp pain that prevented me from my everyday tasks and freely worshipping God via music.  One day, my friend prayed for me.  As she was praying, I felt warmth throughout my wrists and the pain was instantly gone.  I’ve never had to wear the wrist guards since then.
  • Silver’s little sister (she was 3) refused to talk to me.  Ever.  She would run away from me for months; I didn’t even know she could talk.  One evening, Silver and I prayed for his family.  I prayed that the Holy Spirit would set his little sister free.  We visited his family the next day, and it was like a switch went off in his sister.  She would not stop talking to me and took me by the hand to show me her room, toys, and all her cool places where she plays.
  • Knowledge I felt God gave me about others that I wouldn’t otherwise know, including strangers.  Vivid dreams that have revealed direction or instruction to me while I sleep.
  • Praying for a man whose knee was in chronic pain, and as we were praying he was healed and could jump around — the first time in ages.
  • My charismatic experiences: Example: An “anointed” man touched me and a force that “felt” beyond myself (I had no conscious control, regardless), threw me to the ground and I was filled with uncontrollable joy; I couldn’t stop laughing, no matter how hard I tried.
  • Secondhand stories of physical healings and miraculous experiences
  • The origin of life
  • Statistical unlikelihoods
  • Beauty.  Beauty in nature, in experiences, in love.

I’ll probably come up with more, in time.  But, as I have said to Christian friends who use things like this to try to prove there is a God,

“Just because it can’t be explained doesn’t mean it is God.  Just because you have an answer for these things doesn’t mean it is the right one.”

I still hold that to be true.  There are likely deep psychological and pyschosomatic processes within the human body that we don’t understand that is responsible for many of these things.  But just because we haven’t discovered it yet doesn’t mean “therefore God.”   How many times throughout human history were deities assigned responsibility for supposedly supernatural things that were later explained by science?

Exactly.

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The Author

I'm a closet atheist christian missionary. Paradigm shifts happen frequently for those who allow themselves to think critically about currently held beliefs and openly about new ones. I’ve developed the skill, or perhaps addiction, for change but the community around me is slow to catch up -- and would damn me if they knew where I stood.

12 Comments

  1. Hi Teal, (I love that name and that tomato of yours.) 🙂

    You wrote: “In his mind, our atheism made sense because the god we believed in before wasn’t the true god, wasn’t his god.

    This reminds me of what so many of us have been told . . . that we were never Christians in the first place. It’s like our Christian life, our testimony, our witness never existed and who we were is suddenly vanished. Our whole lives wiped clean, invisible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes yes yes!! Isn’t it frustrating?? It’s like, “everything you’ve experienced so far in your life wasn’t valid.” So incredibly insulting.

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      • I think it also puts into question his own experience too, especially with you and Silver. And that’s probably really throwing him for a loop.

        Is there a story behind the teal tomato? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes! And no, no story. I could make one up like, “have you ever seen a teal tomato? That’s why I feel so alone/unique sometimes!” Or some sort of “noncomformist” thing. But really, we both love the color teal and the taste of fresh, home-grown tomatoes 🙂 And alliteration is a plus, too

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  2. This is well said and sure places things on the “shelf” that should be looked at, thought about and wondered over. Why aren’t those the normal responses rather than to “believe”? We know why. It is natural to want some assurance that what we’ve built our world around, what our walls and shelves are constructed of, is “real and true.” I understand the need some have for miracles. Shelves on walls may be interesting for discussion or debate. But we don’t live our lives on shelves, and no longer need to build walls that restrict the wonder. Thank you for your thoughtful stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I think the art of wondering has been completely lost. People are so driven towards certainty. “I KNOW God exists,” “I KNOW Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon is true,” “I KNOW Allah told me to do this.” We need to redefine knowledge. And allow safe places for people to truly wonder. It is only ever safe to know.

      I love that you said we don’t live our lives on shelves. Very good phrase.

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  3. About The God Shelf.

    Me too. I tell a story about a woman dying of cancer. Short story, I tell God if He wants me to share the gospel with her He’s going to have to get rid of the smell in the room. In an instant it was gone. But before I get to that request I tried to leave the room several times and literally could not get past the open door. That’s why I gave up, sat on a chair by her bed and insisted the smell be gone.

    She accepted Christ as her savior and died in the wee hours of the night. That’s the short story.

    As I look back on this now I say to myself, Why wouldn’t I be able to leave that room? Why wouldn’t the smell leave immediately? I believed. And belief is a powerful thing. Neurologically &/or psychologically, could anything else but what happened happen? The fear of one person living forever in hell is a powerful motivator. Mind over matter? Why not? I just don’t think given what I believed and the compassionate intent that my brain would allow me to do anything other than what I did. I get why believers say it was all God’s doing.

    Hope this makes sense. Trying to keep it short. BTW, I was a patient in the room beside hers.

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  4. Teal, I’ve thought a lot about what you revealed to me this weekend. I thought, “Why have so many people believed in a God all these years, even though we can’t see him? Are we just too afraid of an existence that ends at death? Are we all just fools?” I thought of what it would be like for there to be no God. The existence seems so cold, so scary. I thought, “Do I just believe in God because I’m weak? Are Silver and Teal the enlightened ones who have seen the truth? Am I a hypocrite? Do I refuse to see the truth that there is no God because I am just too afraid to face it? Because I’m afraid of change?” I ventured to let myself accept that there is no God. To give up hope and faith. It’s a scary place to go (as you well know). I was standing in my kitchen, I tried to change my perspective, to let my guard down, my faith–there is no God. I thought it, tried to believe it. But then I thought, but there is no way to know, for sure, that there is no God. It is impossible to prove. We cannot know that God doesn’t exist. So it would be foolish to stop seeking God, even if I had stopped believing. And then I thought, but I do believe God exists. There are things that have happened in my life that I cannot deny. “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21). I may not know 100% that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the correct church. Its teachings make logical sense to me. I am content that no one I know will burn in “hell”–that only prophets and people who have seen God or have a perfect knowledge of him can ever have the opportunity to go to “hell”. I am content that all (except possibly some of the aforementioned) will go to heaven–that each of us will go to the kingdom that we feel comfortable in (Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial). I am glad that I don’t have to believe that people will go to hell. I may not know everything 100%; the faith and hope I act on are still faith and hope, no matter how strong they are. But I cannot deny to myself that there is a higher power. That would be lying to myself.

    I had told you a personal story on Saturday night. The night that story happened, nine years ago, I wrote it all down while it was still fresh in my mind. Last night, I opened up my journal and read it to remind myself of the surety that I felt. There is something about seeing the ink on the paper, something original from back in time. I hope to maybe share the original with you.

    I have to ask, why do you believe there is no God? Why not just, “My religion is not true” or, “I was mistaken in some way”? What made you believe that God does not exist? Or do you fully believe it?

    I know you must get way too much of this, and it may feel foreign now, and I hope it doesn’t alienate you, coming from your new perspective, but I believe you are a special, beautiful daughter of God. I believe he loves you, and he is so very patient with all of us.

    Maybe we should talk about some of this in person, but I am better with writing (like you…except my writing isn’t as pretty).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this and I love the conversation we had on our hike a couple days ago. Again, I SO appreciate your sharing your journal with me. It’s an honor.

      What you describe here is very much what I believe faith is. But you touch on something I need to highlight:
      “But I cannot deny to myself that there is a higher power. That would be lying to myself.”

      This is how I feel about where I am now. And, I would imagine, how most people feel about any one thing they believe. Someone can try really hard to put themselves in another perspective, to try to believe/not believe something for the sake of understanding another (which I applaud you so loudly for attempting to do so! That’s more than many people have done for us). But, as you discovered, such attempts may help bring greater understanding, but they are futile when it comes to changing beliefs.

      Did you read my post about belief is not a choice?

      As for praying and attempting to have faith, despite my unbelief, I feel like that is as if someone said to you:

      “There is a tree nymph that lives in the woods. This nymph will change your life, but first you must have faith. Go to the tree and dance around it chanting in the dark every night until he reveals himself to you.”

      I’m not at all trying to be offensive, but nor am I making a joke. I’m just trying to illustrate something. Prayer may be a great means for you to discern truth, and I’m happy that you have that. But you wouldn’t dance naked to try to hear from a tree nymph, right? I feel like that is somewhat synonymous to asking me to pray and listen for God.

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      • Oh, and to answer your question: Yes, I read that post about belief–I’ve read your entire blog. 😉

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  5. My husband, you, Silver, our friend from CT, and I could probably write a book on this question of “Is belief a choice?” Our thoughts on it vary greatly.

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