God is a benevolent, imaginary being you can talk to. Even if you believe God is real, when you talk to God, you are talking to an image in your mind, not to a person who would require you to speak out loud and enunciate clearly.
My interest in Buddhism has re-awakened recently. The forms of Buddhism I’m familiar with focus on meditation, not prayer, and if anything counts as divine or most holy for these forms of Buddhism, it’s the present moment. I’ve heard another atheist interested in spirituality and recovery say he uses reality as his higher power. For Zen practitioners and others, transcendance comes through a steadfast focus on the immediate present. It’s helpful for me — especially on a beautiful, chilly morning, as the sun shines up from its burrow beneath the horizon illuminating the undersides of gold-brown-green leaves in the upper branches of tall trees easing into autumn — it’s helpful for me to remember the here and now: I don’t really need this moment for composing letters or blog entries; the leaves and the sky and the fluffy, black cat, reluctant to share the sidewalk, are enough.
But the present moment isn’t a person. That’s why God is important. I don’t need a person to have created all the beauty of this morning — though the idea of a person doing that is truly magnificent, now that I think of it — but I do need a person to talk to, a benevolent person, always available, through every mood, fortune, misfortune, striving, surrendering, supplicating, communing, returning to the present. It’s not just me and the beautiful, impersonal world. Humans are social animals. We are built for communion and cooperation with others like ourselves. We are hard-wired to construct the universe in our own image.
I’m not saying everyone is hard-wired to believe in God. But I would be quite surprised to learn that any remotely healthy person does not have an inner life including frequent monologues or dialogs addressed to absent personages. A benevolent, non-judgmental God can be a beautiful way to organize those inner conversations.
Because one alternative, at least, one that thankfully is increasingly rare for me these days, is to carry on internal conversations with imaginary police officers stopping me for driving too fast or other infractions, conversations of excuse and self-justification, bargaining and wheedling; or conversations with imaginary muggers, about the contents of my wallet or weapons I could pretend to be carrying; or angry conversations with partners and family members, full of pain, resentment, and blame.
I know that believers get angry at their gods at times. The only complaint I’ve ever had about my loving, imaginary God is that She can be a little too quiet, a little bit distant. But how could I hold that against a non-existent being? The work of bringing Her closer is mine.
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The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
Born-again atheist, Sigfried Gold, author of tailoredbeliefs.com, invented a non-existent God to serve as his higher power in a Twelve-Step recovery program. He prays fervently, consults his non-existent deity for guidance, respects religious people, and does other things that, in his words, “unfortunately and unintentionally mystify and piss off many non-spiritual atheists”. He agitates for a world in which every person, no matter how skeptical or idiosyncratic, can find a suitable community to help her live according to her own values, and where religious difference sparks curiosity, not animosity. Professionally he designs information visualization software to help people understand complex data. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Master of Arts in Biomedical Informatics. He lives in Takoma Park, MD with his wife and two children.
4 thoughts on “Why God is important”
Be surprised, be very surprised. I'm mentally sound and have no monologues with a god. I don't currently need many social connections, although I understand many people do. A god is unnecessary for me, so I don't imagine one. I don't want an imaginary BFF.
I've read this site with interest wondering how spiritual feelings can be balanced with a naturalistic viewpoint – my biggest concern is that there is a very human tendency personalize and externalize spiritual feelings, a personalization which can (in some people) lead to a belief which contradicts the limits of naturalism. Some people need this, some don't but typically the ones that need a god can't empathize with those that don't. And around we go again.
Hi. I'm not at all surprised that you don't have internal conversations with some kind of god; and I'm not at all lacking in empathy for people who have no use for such a thing. The thing that would surprise me is if you had no internal conversations with anyone. From what I've read in psychology and elsewhere, internal dialogues and monologues are essentially universal for language speakers. As I say in the penultimate paragraph, these are frequently directed at people we are angry at or otherwise concerned with at any given moment.
Interesting thoughts Sigfried, thanks!
FYI to our readers: Many Spiritual Naturalists do not use a concept of God or gods in their practice. But some, (for example, naturalistic Pagans and Christian naturalists) find such themes useful – all without literal belief in the supernatural. Sigfried has a unique take on atheist prayer. We are happy to learn about his perspectives and continue to feature many other takes and forms of fully-naturalistic spirituality 🙂
Sigfried, although I don't formally employ a "deity practice" in my own practice, I have at times found it helpful and communicative of something meaningful to refer to "mother nature" and the like. I think we often personify things as a way of relating to them. It seems you are exploring a more elaborate form of this in your practice?
Hi Daniel. Yeah–the elaborateness of the invented God I pray to waxes and wanes. I make prayer a regular part of my practice, but I often don't imagine anything at all when I pray; it's just words in my head. But when I feel like I need more, or I'm wanting the sense of connection that some religious people describe in their relationship with God, then I focus intently on the ethereal corporeality of my imagined deity.