by Juan Bernal (a half-hearted a-theist)
From a perspective of morality, the important question is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ Rather the questions to ask are: ‘How do you conduct your life?’ ‘How do you treat other people?’ ‘What values do you try to express and put into action?’
Among believers (in a god) you find both morally conscientious people and immoral or amoral people; likewise among non-believers. A person’s moral character seems to come before his particular religious perspective. (There’s a sense in which belief in God is transparent.)
By including the commandment requiring belief in the one God, the Ten Commandments include more than we need as a set of moral/ethical imperatives. For in many cases (maybe most cases), a person’s belief or lack of belief in a deity is separate from his moral behavior. Only persons with immature ethical mentality behave in a morally good way only because “God” demands it and will punish them if they do what’s wrong (in a moral sense of “wrong”).
With regard to personal interaction, likely there is not much difference between persons who believe in a god and non-theists (atheists, agnostics, humanists). They all share the same world; most interact peacefully and count as morally decent people. They can all be good citizens (of earth, of our nation, of our community) and can all contribute positively to common, social goals.
Each in his/her way can work to express his vision of moral good, truth, and beauty. They can all be godly people.
From a historical and philosophical perspective. belief in or lack of belief in a god seems irrelevant to the issue of good and evil in the world. Many good and excellent people have believed in a god. However, many good and excellent people have not believed in any god. The same can be said for people who have been predators, exploiters, oppressors and murderers.
Of course, many people in our society claim a consciousness, even awareness, of a god. They might say “There is some(one) or some(thing) that I talk to and pray to in times of need. This is what I mean by “God.” Such persons may go on to add that “the reality of God is one that is psychologically undeniable; it is a reality that comprises the background of all my thoughts and actions; it is the basis for any significance I find in my existence.”
[Note: in many cases this perspective is a personal, private matter that may have little or nothing in common with the theological doctrines of established religions.]
Another thought is that ‘God’ or any benevolent power that may be found in the universe is big enough to accept all human views on question of a ‘god’ or ‘gods’: believers and non-believers – theists, atheists, agnostics, humanists.
The theism in question could be very personal: “my God understands, even has empathy for agnostics and secular humanists. This deity has such an intellect and such a moral character that he/she would never condemn heresy or atheism, and certainly would never dream up anything as morally primitive as a hell of eternal torment (for nonbelievers).”
[Note: That G is an undeniable ‘reality’ for a subset of human beings by itself is not evidence for the objective reality of G. For example, my claim that Yeshu is an undeniable reality in my existence says more about my mind (my values, assumptions, ideas, attitudes) than it says about objective reality. It tells you much about me, but cannot reasonably be seen as evidence for the actual existence of Yeshu. It says much about how I see the world or what I believe is the nature of reality, and establishes nothing about the nature of the world that exists independently of the way I see it. Here we’re referring to values and a person’s perspective on the world.]
Consciousness of God or belief in God is a matter of spiritual orientation, but it is not an awareness of objective truth. It is a personal, moral and spiritual orientation. It should have nothing to do with a reach for power, greed, exclusivity, claims to special knowledge or privileged access. It is a way of looking at certain aspects of existence.
Historically, much misery and suffering could have been avoided if people had recognized that the nobler forms of religion deal with values and spirituality, not with doctrines or dogma about objective reality, and not with a supernatural being who includes certain groups and excludes, even condemns, other groups.
[Belief in a god should not be a crutch (an excuse for lack of initiative or effort on our part), nor a bully club (an excuse for excluding and oppressing others who do not share the belief), nor a skyhook (an ad hoc or “deus ex machinus” type explanation of existence).]
Sometimes belief in a god takes on the tone of mystery: Belief in a god is sometimes an acknowledgment that there is much that is beyond the scope of our intellect, much mystery, wonder and terror. There are powers, forces, realities, etc. that are vast and incredibly greater than we are. There is something greater than humans and the world of disclosed by human faculties. This is not necessarily a claim about supernatural reality, but could simply be a statement of awe and wonder in the face of the power and vastness of the universe. Maybe others such as Plato (his talk of the “Good”), or the Buddha (his search for Nirvana), or Spinoza (his intellectual love of God), or the mystics (who find an inexpressible, profound union with …..) are getting at something akin to this godliness. Some may find it in the Great Spirit of Native Americans or the nameless, hidden God of reform Judaism.