Interview With An Unbeliever

I had the privilege of interviewing my friend Brian about his views on the nature of God, humanity and morality. Brian is a supervisor at Starbucks in the Washington D.C. area and owns his own photography business.

WHO IS GOD?

[ROBIN]: I’d like to start by just asking what your views are on God and/or spirituality. Can you summarize them for me?

[BRIAN]: The first of half of that is easy. There is no God, no god, no goddess, no family of gods … they are all myths, created by people to explain a largely unexplainable universe and to make getting through life easier and more sensible. The second half is a little trickier … while I don’t believe we have "spirits" or "souls," we do have an inner essence that needs to be fed. Some people feed it through prayer, meditation or yoga, others through a near-religious sporting experience either vicariously or through active participation. I feed my essence with books, movies, conversation, both meaningful and inane and photography.

HOW DO YOU KNOW?

[R]: Could you talk to me about how you came by your beliefs? Are they based primarily on observation of the world around you, reading or other influences?

[B]: Observation and reading. In my late teens and early 20s I was obsessed with finding the "right" god. So I read the Bible, the Koran, a bit of the Bhagavad Gita, some of Buddha’s and Confucius’ teachings, Native American myths, Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull) and Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). And what I learned in all that reading is that the world’s religions have it both right and wrong … Right in that we basically have to be nice to each other so society runs smoothly, but wrong in thinking they have the only right answer. Then one day, I was driving my car, made an illegal pass going up a hill, got in a wreck and rolled my car. While the car was upside down, time sort of froze for a moment with a piece of glass suspended in the air in front of me, and I reflected on my life and beliefs and realized that if I were about to die, I ought to be honest with myself. And honesty means understanding and accepting that there is no god, and that I have to figure out the answers for myself.

WHAT IS EVIL?

[R]: Can you talk to me about how you figure the answers out? How do you determine what is "right" or "wrong." Does your belief system account for evil in the world?

[B]: I think it’s wrong to hurt other people or to be unnecessarily cruel to the planet and other living things. Evil would be the deliberate abuse of others, such as Hitler & Stalin’s activities, slavery, whether it’s white people possessing Africans, Africans possessing each other or anybody forcing anybody else to sell their bodies for pleasure; domestic abuse, rape and murder are forms of evil, as well.

[R]: Do you account for evil, then, as a purely human impulse?

[B]: I can’t really account for it, and I don’t know why we do it. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that other animals commit evil, because they don’t really have a choice.

[R]: And, to clarify, do you take evil acts as self-evident? That is, how do you determine what is right and wrong?

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[B]: That’s a hard one. Some I think are patently obvious, such as Hitler’s mass-murder of six million people, or the beating of Matthew Shepard. Other things, though, are hard to quantify. I’m really conflicted about what’s happening in the Middle East.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

[R]: Finally, can you tell me how your beliefs affect your interactions with people, at work, home, school, etc. Do you find it easier or harder to relate to people on a spiritual or moral level?

[B]: Most of my personal relationships and work relationships are unaffected by my beliefs. I find that some things just don’t need to be discussed, so I don’t discuss them. My father-in-law, for example, believes that the universe was created over the course of about a week 6000 years ago. I believe it exploded into being about 15 billion years ago and has been growing and morphing since then. We don’t talk about that. We talk about more important stuff. Why the Yankees are bad, how I can cure my slice on the golf course, what photo projects I’m working on, because in the end, day-to-day life and how we get along with one another is more important than what we think, feel or believe about our essences or the nature of the universe.

[R]: Thank you very much for sharing your views with me. I really appreciate your candor.

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