In this article I’ll be addressing one specific argument for the Christian god that I’ve heard too many times. When I first wrote about not being a Christian, one response I got was that I must have never been saved because if I had experienced “true salvation” I would know it and would never forget it. In other words, if I’d been “truly saved” I would have felt subjective feelings so strongly that I would be absolutely convinced for the rest of my life that the Christian god is real.
The problem with this, aside from the fact that people think they know my private thoughts, is that subjective feelings will never be reliable evidence of anything outside of your own mind, let alone an infinite invisible god. Christians like to say “I know God exists because he talks to me and I feel his presence.” But how meaningful is that, really? What if someone who believes in a very different god has the same experience?
What if I say that I know the characters in my novel are real because they’ve talked to me and I’ve felt their presence? I know that isn’t true, though. It’s called imagination, and I have it pretty good. In fact, I once had a fictional character I invented follow me around and interact with me vividly for several days. No, I wasn’t going insane, I was just extremely lonely, and I was fully aware that I was talking to a figment of my imagination.
This figment told me encouraging things that I hadn’t told myself for a long time. The interaction generated feelings as if the figment was a real person. And before someone comes along and tries to say it was a god trying to get my attention, I was still a Christian when it happened and the figment was agnostic. I asked questions about religion that I was struggling with at the time, and the figment had no answer for me. If it was a message from a god, the point of the message was that I could imagine any sort of being I wanted and feel as if they were real.
I realized that if the imaginary being was an invisible god, it would be incredibly easy to convince yourself it was real. It’s easier for most people to convince themselves a lie is true if visible evidence is not involved.
There was no supernatural being talking to me. I was communicating with my subconscious mind. I’ve done it a lot when writing; sometimes I let go of intentional thoughts and let my mind be flooded with anything and everything that comes spontaneously. It’s like being in a tornado of thoughts, ideas, and memories, and it’s pretty easy to grab a few of them and put them together into a new plot for a story or the personality of a new character.
I’ve heard Christians describe their god talking to them, and not only did I experience the same thing when I was a Christian, it’s exactly the same as my experience with characters I’ve invented. I can make it happen whenever I want.
The point is that I can create an imaginary person in an instant, with a complex personality different from my own, and interact with them just as any religious person would interact with their god. What is a more reasonable conclusion: that my characters are real, or that gods are imaginary?