I Believe in God — Kind Of

Not an Atheist, But Not a Hardcore Believer

Something Up There: For some people, it’s impossible to shake a sense of the divine.
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Something Up There: For some people, it’s impossible to shake a sense of the divine.

By Elissa Strauss

Published April 18, 2014, issue of April 25, 2014.
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This is how I feel about God.

I have no reason to believe in God. I can’t defend the existence of a supernatural being on any ground, and most certainly not on any rational or scientific ones. I have no convincing anecdotal evidence to rely on either, no visions or other visceral experiences upon which I can base my belief.

When pressed, I crumble under the burden of proof. I have nothing to say to defend God to those who feel absolutely confident that there is no higher being.

I’ve tried to talk myself out of believing in God, and have allowed the thought to be worn down by the many “impossible” and “no ways” it will inevitably encounter when I press on it. I succeed in reducing it down and down until it is almost nothing, a splinter or an ember, but I can never rid myself of it entirely. Some might call the thing that remains doubt. Others, a spark. And others, an emotional crutch. To me it is God. And you can’t talk me out of it.

I have never felt a need to articulate my belief in God; in many ways, its strength lies in my inability to do so. But I have come to observe just how absent voices like my own seem to be from our conversations about belief. We often hear from the yeses and the noes, the capital “B” believers and the atheists, and rarely from those in the God-ish middle. We folks, the ambiguous, the undecided, the curious and even the skeptics, have been drowned out by those with convictions on both sides of the fence.

In the past decade there has emerged a very vocal atheist movement that has all the ingredients — charismatic leaders, a will to proselytize, provocative rhetoric and even a pathway to salvation (science!) — of a religious movement. With figures like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris at the helm, these New Atheists have written best-selling books and starred in documentary films that have come together to form a great God-less awakening in the Western world.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center from 2012, in the past five years the percentage of Americans who don’t identify with any religion has jumped to nearly 20% from 15%, and included among these Americans are the more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics. Among Jews, studies show that 42% of Israelis identify as secular, and half of American Jews doubt God, though of course that isn’t quite the same as atheism, and especially not the polemicist’s version.

Some credit the rise of the nonbelievers as a backlash against the rise of the also increasingly vocal religious right. In their 2010 book, “American Grace,” political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell argue that a whole generation of potential believers was turned off of religion by this group’s politicized interpretation of the Old Testament, fueling their condemnation of things like abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception and premarital sex. The political environment during the Obama presidency, including the recent spate of court cases pitting conservative interpretations of the Bible against a woman’s right to contraception, has centered on these voices, making these people the noisiest God-believers around today.


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