Is Believing or Not Believing in God a Competition?
Guest Commentary by Scott Kinder-Pyle | Interim Pastor at Salem Lutheran Church
Are you a competitive person? I know, from personal experience, that a good game of cards or dominoes — or even the old Hasbro board game of Sorry! — can get my passions flowing. And it’s not long after somebody wins and somebody loses that we wonder if the effort exerted in the first place had been worth the resulting turmoil.
That is, why risk losing if you might’ve refrained from the competition and seemed indifferent and nonchalant about the whole me-against-you affair? Or why risk winning if your celebration of that eventuality may inflict pain and suffering on the loser? I do realize that, on one fundamental level, some decent parenting in childhood may have equipped us with the resilience we need regardless of the games people play. And yet …
Recently, I’ve felt a weird confluence of those competitive juices splash upon my psyche as I read about former believers or theists pursuing lives without belief in “God” and then publishing their atheism as if it were some kind of exalted triumph.
First up, FāVs News writer Sarah Henn Hayward entitled her new book, “Giving Up God: Resurrecting a Spirituality of Love and Wonder” in which she describes both the grief and liberation she experienced in rejecting the religion handed down to her by previous generations.
In the book she writes, “It has been a massive relief to feel that evangelical pressure slide off my back. Without the threat of eternal damnation for unbelieving loved ones hanging over me anymore, I’m allowed to let others live their lives however they choose without it affecting me. Without God constantly watching from the eaves, I can stop agonizing over how to win God’s favor each day.”
Second, in a Jan. 21 New York Times essay by Emma Goldberg, the avid reader will find the story of humanist chaplain, Devin Moss, who offered compassion to a non-believing inmate on Oklahoma’s death row, Philip Hancock. The final prayer, as referenced in the piece, went down like this: “He rested a hand on Hancock’s knee and recited the words that he had written in his notebook: ‘We call the spirit of humanity into this space,’ Moss said. ‘Let love fill our hearts. We ask that in this transition into peaceful oblivion that Phil feels that love, and although this is his journey that he is not alone. We invoke the power of peace, strength, grace and surrender. Amen.’”
And third, in theaters now and near you, a new film’s conceit depicts a therapy session, which might have occurred (but did not), between an 83-year-old Sigmund Freud and a 40-year-old C.S. Lewis. In “Freud’s Last Session,” the debate over the existence of God rages. And, perhaps, the viewing audience will be intrigued by the family-of-origin insights that are raised about Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. On the other hand, as the famous analyst deftly played by Anthony Hopkins admits: “The sad irony of my life is that I am a passionate disbeliever who is obsessed with belief and worship.”
I don’t know. Just as folks reject certain binary and mutually-exclusive choices in various areas of life and arenas of knowledge, I am inclined to say something cryptic. And that is, perhaps inherent to every expression of authentic belief in God is the disbelief in anyone’s idea of God — as if that idea could somehow summarize, totalize or encompass the Mystery — and sadly, tragically, wage war on all other ideas.
I’m not trying to win the argument. Are you?