My son has an imaginary friend; I do not.

I have a lot of thoughts about religion, and mostly they’re all about how I want it not to exist, or at the very least to get out of my life.  By way of quick introduction, hello, my name is Erin; I was raised Catholic and began to seriously doubt the existence of god when I was twelve and read The Bible for the first time.  Time passed, though, and “doubt” doesn’t nearly cover it for me now.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re agnostic, that they can’t say that they really don’t believe because they don’t know enough to really know.  That people who claim to be atheists are every bit as arrogant as people who think they know for sure that god is real.  I full-on disagree with this, and here’s why:  my four year-old son has a whole bunch of imaginary friends.  His favorite and best friend is named Gnash and lives on our roof.  My son talks to him, tells me what he’s doing, and informs me occasionally that Gnash is riding in our car or sitting at the dinner table with us.

My son has a relationship with him, speaks to him, and feels like he knows him.  Would it be rude to imply that it’s all in his mind, that Gnash is just the manifestation of a brain evolved enough to feel fear and loneliness, and creative enough to spawn ideas that will offer it comfort, company and answers?

I don’t have to think about it.  I don’t have to know more, or offer a speck of room for conscientious doubt.  Gnash is not real.  There is nobody living on our roof, just as there is nobody living in the sky conducting the cosmos.  I know this.  I resent the idea that I have to act as if people who have spent their entire lives wrapped up in their imaginary friends and allowing their thoughts to be warped, weakened and directed by flawed, human-written texts and sketchy interpretations of the same are reasonable.  I resent that I’m supposed to act as if the suggestion that the world was put here in a week by a big, bearded sky-architect isn’t completely insane.

Once I had a friend – she was Baptist – tell me she wished I could feel what she feels, how good it is to know that god is there, looking out for her.  That made me want to give her a hug, really, because it’s so horribly sad that a grown woman has to imagine herself a protector in order to feel safe.  And she couldn’t have been more wrong – I do not need god in my life to offer me comfort.  All god offered me back when I used to grapple with the idea was fear and confusion.  In fact, the day I realized there really is no god, and finally let go of trying to believe in something that never felt right to me, was one of the best, most liberating days I can remember.

I was driving in my car, and it hit me:  this is all there is.  There’s no list of rules, there’s nobody watching or keeping score, there’s nothing but myself and my own accountability.  My higher mind and my capacity for kindness, my ability to procreate and the responsibilities inherent – just me, human, and nothing else.  Just animals, evolved.  Not special, not eternal, not bound for punishment or praise or anything but our own conscience and perspective.  And then it made sense – all of it.  Some people are good and some are bad, some are stupid or kind or weak or aggressive or withdrawn, sometimes things blow up, sometimes storms come, sometimes babies die, sometimes dolphins gets caught in tuna nets – whatever.  A bunch of animals evolved on this rock, unheeded by the rest of the universe, and after a while we mastered the knack of thinking.  Of course our first thought was that we were special in some way.  Better.  Destined for something.  So we made up stories that told us just why and how we were so special.

The day I realized we weren’t, everything made sense.  Suddenly the world wasn’t so terrifying, because I knew that – as bad as it was – at least I wasn’t going to spend an eternity burning for thinking dirty thoughts, and I was never going to have to hit my knees and apologize to an invisible man for eating beef on a Friday.  At least there wasn’t some scary, distant figure judging me for everything I did even as he made me do it.

The world is crazy, but at least it’s not that crazy.

So that’s where I am now; non-believing to the point that I hate saying that I don’t believe, or labeling myself an atheist.  These are relatives terms, and they relate to religion:  they label me as Other.  I can’t stand having my point of view defined in relation to all that madness.  There isn’t a thing for me not to believe in.  As surely as I don’t have a friendly monster living on my roof, there isn’t a god to reject, there isn’t a heaven and hell, there is nothing for me to not have in my life.  They are the delusions of others, and they can damn well leave me out of it.  I’m just me, walking around on the earth, surrounded by atmospheric gases, being a sane and rational human being.  It’s so much nicer this way.

12 thoughts on “My son has an imaginary friend; I do not.

  1. To realise that what is usually termed God is largely a human construct is indeed a step forward. But I take it from what you write that you are not a theoretical physicist.
    Science is likewise taking great steps into the unknown of the relationships between matter, the universe (or multiple universes), and the mysterious connections which then open up. When scientists who have some religious beliefs contemplate the forces and the directions the discoveries seem to be taking them, sometimes ascribing the term “God” to the interconnective principle, awe doesnt even begin to describe where they are now at. Einstein was dismissive of atheism for just that reason. Although he rejected a personal God who could answer our bidding, atheists, he said, did not seem to be able to hear the music of the spheres.

    • You nailed me – I am not a theoretical physicist.

      When I talk about the god I don’t believe in, I’m talking about all the deities of human religions – most specifically the Christian one, as that’s the one I get pounded on the head with every day and the one I actually walked away from. As far as the wonder of the cosmos and the music of the spheres, I’m not understanding why god has to have anything to do with it. I can know that the universe/multiverse is vast and complex beyond anything I could begin to understand, and I don’t have to bring a deity into it at all. I can experience awe and wonder, and just use those words to describe them. Of course scientists who already believe in god are going to see god when they look at the sky. And honestly, somebody pointing to the cosmos and saying they see god there is not much different to me from a Christian telling me they see god in a rainbow. I don’t see god anywhere, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see.

  2. I respect anyone who thoughtfully considers the evidence, uses reason and logic, and ultimately comes to a rational decision about the (non)existence of god.

    On the other hand, otherdigitalis has done none of these. She claims to know beyond anything that can be called doubt that a god exists. But, as she describes it, her decision is based solely on her emotions. She offers no rational argument to support her position or refute the existence of god–“I was driving in my car and it hit me.” In fact, all appearances are that she rejects god out of fear. Fear of fear–“Suddenly the world wasn’t so terrifying.”

    Complete drivel.

    • Somebody’s once said, and I completely agree, “people who do not use reason to take on a position cannot be reasoned out of their position.” Erin’s provided us with a personal account of why she does not believe in gods. “…and it hit me,” she says. You think she’s rejecting gods out of fear? I don’t think anybody ever explained the non-existence of Santa Claus to me; in fact, it most likely just hit me. Do I reject Santa Claus out of fear?

      I agree with Erin – religion is terrifying. However, that is not my reason for rejecting it. My reason is that belief without evidence is just silly. I find no reason to believe in a god, so I just don’t. It’s not like it’s a decision people make.

      • “Do I reject Santa Claus out of fear?”
        I doubt it. But if you told me how the world seemed much less scary without Santa Claus then I would suspect it.

        “My reason is that belief without evidence is just silly.”
        So is rejecting a belief without considering and refuting evidence.

        “I find no reason to believe in a god, so I just don’t. It’s not like it’s a decision people make.”
        Of course it’s a decision. You consider evidence for and against god (or Santa Claus)–whether actively or subconsciously–and decide whether it is sufficiently compelling or not. At least I hope that’s how you do it. If it’s not a decision then how do people arrive at their beliefs? Their brain chemistry just causes them to believe one thing or another and their beliefs are totally out of their control?

    • This is not an essay about why I don’t believe; at most it’s about how my non-belief feels – you’re correct. I begin with my son finding comfort in his imaginary friend and end thinking about my friend finding comfort with her god, likening them in terms of my own disbelief. The subject of this piece was emotion, so, yes, it deals with my own. I mentioned my “realization” to facilitate the point that I find more comfort without the concept of god in my life, not to tell you everything I’ve ever thought on the subject. An essay dealing with the path to that realization would be entirely different, covering the “time passed” I mentioned in the first paragraph and all the consideration and searching which led to my conclusion. That was not the point of this piece, however.

      • Well, looks like I jumped to conclusions based on limited evidence. I don’t doubt that your road from Catholicism to atheism was a reasonable one. But you should also consider that statements like “Suddenly the world wasn’t so terrifying” and “I find more comfort without the concept of god in my life” betray the role of emotion in your decision, as well.

        • I don’t mind if it looks like emotion played a role; it did. I’m a human being and religion is an emotional issue. Where else does atheism begin but with a feeling that something isn’t right? What else is faith but a feeling that something is? My rationality is what caused my initial doubts and led to my eventual conclusion, but it didn’t happen in an emotional vacuum. I would add, though, that in the two statements you reference above, the emotion is the result, not the cause. I felt better when the concept of god was out of my life; I didn’t reject god in order to feel better. The emotions are present and I would never deny that they impact me (nor would I agree that there’s anything wrong with that), but they are the result of my personal experience leading up to and following the conclusion, not the reason for it.

  3. Now you are beginning to sound like Dawkins. He too is extraordinarily protective of the God he doesnt believe in! It makes his dismissal of God much easier, and by choosing fundamentalists to argue with it also gives him an easy ride. If we both believe in looking with awe at the mavels of the dimly understood universe and I call the underlying organising collection of forces and experiences “God” and tell you that I know of many who share this view, I am not sure why you insist that God must be represented by what you used to believe in and have now rejected as hopelessly inadequate. Besides which if you see no reason to use a word God to represent that which you are in awe of …. I note in passing that is a very Jewish thing to do. They too felt no word was adequate to describe what they were in awe of!

    • I am sure that lots of people feel that way about god and the universe. Lots of people are Christian, too, or Hindu, or Muslim – I don’t agree with any of those philosophies or believe in any of those gods. If knowing that many people agreed with a certain concept of god made me believe in it, my mother would’ve done a better job keeping me in church. I disagree, that’s all. I am in constant awe of the universe and the more I think about it the more I boggle, but I feel no urge to label it as god, any more than I would say that gravity is god or photosynthesis is god. When I say I most specifically reject the Christian deity it is because that is the one that infiltrates every part of life here and the one with which I’m most familiar. That is also why my most immediate concept of god has to do with moral law, an afterlife, prayer, etc., but that doesn’t mean I think there are no other concepts. Regardless, however it’s wrapped up, I see no god in the universe, and that’s my own truth. If it’s just a terminology issue and the fabric of existence must have a name, you are of course perfectly in your right to call it god. I just call it the universe, and I feel like that works just fine.

  4. Naturally, and typically, Erin is being subjected to ad hominem attacks.


    “Your opinion is invalid because you are not and expert in (insert subject).”

    “Otherdigitalis doesn’t know how to use reason and logic.”

    Erin said she resents being forced to explain why she doesn’t believe in invisible magic men, as if that were the weird, crazy view. Her post wasn’t supposed to be a philosphical debate or scientific analysis. She was simply saying that imaginary friends are for children. Capiche? People are arguing against something that wasn’t said.

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