My little sister tells me this anecdote: When she was very young, someone asked her whether or not she worshipped God. Having picked up that—colloquially— “worship” is inappropriate, i.e. Betty ‘worships’ New Kids on the Block etc, she told this questioner that, ‘I love God, but I don’t worship him.’
It was a funny anecdote when she told it to us a few years ago, because in our culture worship is typically the only acceptable way for man to relate to God. My sister’s anecdote works on that level: An innocent child raised in a lukewarm religious environment hears all of the prohibitions on worshipping things, and thus applies that prohibition to the one place where it’s acceptable.
The anecdote was funny then, but as I look back on it, it seems absolutely prescient.
Being that there is no empirical evidence to support divine authorship of any of our religious texts*, how should we humans position ourselves in relation to a possible God? Religion as a whole has not provided anything but flowery diversions to support its claims about the nature of God, so, the impetus for proof being on the claimant, we can feel comfortable about telling Religion to come back and talk to us when you’ve got something a little more substantial.
But God is a different thing than religion. Why is worship our natural response to God? Maybe that’s not what he wants. He made us with these questioning and capable intellects. Maybe he wants something else. Maybe he doesn’t want anything. He certainly hasn’t made any unambiguous requests. I’ve heard many skeptics say something like, ‘If there’s ever evidence, I’ll be the biggest churchgoer there is.’
But why would discovery of the existence of God lead you to worship? We’re still thinking within the boundaries established by revealed religion, which is dubious at best. Worship and submission are useful to bind communities together, and to bolster the leadership of the community that employs it. God, being a greater intelligence and beyond our current grasp, is probably not threatened by our independence, and—from the apparent lack of intervention in this world—may not even be interested in binding our communities. If God exists, he’s established a universe that works by its own materialistic laws, without his direct aid. This is a wonderful accomplishment, and is the hallmark of someone somewhat aloof from the situation. I had a manager once that told me his work principle was to do his job so effectively ** that he would become redundant. This also appears to be God’s work principle, and he has succeeded at it smashingly.
So, in respect for this skilled craftsman who prefers his privacy, I am going to honor his possible invention in this fashion: I won’t kneel and contemplate intentionally obfuscating mysteries, or tithe to a church (although I’ll tip generously at restaurants), or preach the questionable virtue of blind faith to my children. Instead, I will attempt to live this life with all of my attention. I will be contemplative. I will be considerate of my fellow creatures. I will examine evidence, and not shut off my mind to contrary information. I will also prefer ambiguity to falsehood. A prayerful*** and awake life is the only fitting tribute I can imagine to a creator so skilled as to leave no trace of himself in his creation.
If I can leave this world having made it only a modicum better, having left the landscape of my relationships relatively undefiled, I will have been successful in emulating the model left by the one that [may have] pushed over the first domino.
If there was an intelligent first cause, it covered its tracks. The best way to give this cause due props may be to pass over consideration of it altogether, and to live as fully in this world as we can; as if it were the only and best one we could ever hope for.
Joe Henry performs 'God Only Knows', from his CD Civilians
*Science of course (as a verb), is the only method by which we can make any good-faith claims at all about the nature of things.
**Our job was to troubleshoot the system to make production more seamless.
*** “Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.”-Simon Weil