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What would it take to believe that God cares about me?

June 3, 2015

Four years ago, I wrote a post about the oft-asked question: “What would it take for you to believe in God?” I discussed how I see many atheists answering the question with very “objective” sorts of scenarios…but my own criteria would be far more subjective.

The question is a perennial favorite in online discussions, and of course, it came up again. I answered with the following:

i would just look for some subjectively perceived consistent response/reaction to my reaching out to said deity (as would be expected if I were talking/engaging with someone), especially if the interactions and engagements with said deity subjectively improved my life.

The importance of subjective perception here is that all the objectivity activity in the world wouldn’t matter if I didn’t recognize it and interpret it as such. But what I’m getting at here is that I would have to feel as if God is a being that can be interacted with…and who will interact back in a way that can be perceived and recognized as such.

But that second part…that gets at another question, because someone could certainly believe in God, but not believe that he’s all that great, right?

To be fair, I’ve seen some people answer that certain other factors — like God’s power, for example — would render the question of his benevolence irrelevant. As this argument goes, suppose that God is a tyrant who sets arbitrary rules for avoiding eternal punishment — one might be inclined to follow such a deity not because they actually think he’s a good guy, but simply because they are avoiding eternal punishment.

I don’t think I agree with that argumentation, though. Just being a big, bad boss wouldn’t necessarily make me more inclined to follow along.

Anyway, in the discussion, someone else asked:

[Original poster]: ” What sort of evidence would you find sufficient to believe God exists?”

[Respondent]: I’ve put this question to atheist/agnostics many times over the years, and every time I’ve received a similar answer (some kind of verifiable miracle which directly proves God’s existence). I think a better question (one which an atheist/agnostic is far less able to answer) is “what would convince you that this God is perfectly good and worthy of the utmost veneration and obedience—or that Jesus Christ is in fact this God’s son, the Savior of the world?”

I thought that this was a good followup question…but I don’t see how the atheist or agnostic is far less able to answer. I raised up to this person that I thought that my existing answer already addressed that — I’d find God worthy of veneration and obedience if I perceived subjectively that obedience improved my life.

The person challenged that answer, saying:

“…especially if the interactions and engagements with said deity subjectively improved my life.”

But that would only mean the deity favors you. It wouldn’t mean the deity is all-loving and all-wise (or—of course—that the Deity is our literal spirit Father who provided a Creator and Savior in the form of His only begotten Son).

This response puzzles me. As I responded to this person, there are a couple of things:

  1. This question is asking about what would convince me that God is worthy of utmost veneration, not whether that criteria is actually a solid criteria for such. So, I can appeal to my own sense of self-interest and hypothesize a criteria that would fulfill that. (I could be wrong on this point…I mean, I don’t think I know everything about myself…but that is my best guess.)
  2. To me, the question of whether a deity is “all-loving” is a bit opaque, but the question of whether the deity favors me is a reasonable proxy. I mean, how could I assess that a deity is all-loving when, at the very minimum, it doesn’t favor me? I can’t process what it means to be all-loving if the deity doesn’t at the very least love me.

And of course, then, my answer on “why atheism” would be that I don’t think these minimal requirements are met. I don’t perceive a deity, much less one that is improving my life. The followers of various God concepts don’t really impress me, either.

But there was another thing about this answer (and other answers from this person). This person challenged with statements like:

  • Why must there be immediate responsiveness?
  • Can you imagine an instance where a direct response wouldn’t be wise?

and so on.

It seemed to me that this person was feeling around the basic problem of the divine hiddenness of God. Whether God exists or not, it just seems reasonable for many people to find that he/she/it/they don’t seem to be that out-in-the-open. So, the person was trying to challenge my response — but what would it take you to believe in a God with all of these constraints that make him more unlikely?

…well, isn’t that the thing? God would have to be more likely (in the areas I described) for me to believe. But the fact that God — if he does exist — doesn’t appear to work like that (something that even believers recognize by defending and reasoning for why divine hiddenness must be a thing, why a framework of voluntary faith requires God to be indirect, and so forth) doesn’t really speak well for him.

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