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I think I just figured out the feelings that people experience at the thought that there's no God.  Earlier today I happened to think of an anecdote from my past:

I was about eight or nine, probably.  Living in Iowa, a group of us were sitting outside in our yard, talking.  It was night.  We were looking at the stars.

One of the kids in the group was probably around fourteen or fifteen.  He started explaining the Big Bang to us.  I think I was barely grasping the age of the universe.  That part wasn't a problem.

One idea in cosmology is that everything might fall back into a Big Crunch. (Now considered unlikely.) And this kid had continued on to explain that idea.

And my mind balked.

I got really upset, telling him that he was wrong.  That it couldn't be like that.  I just didn't want it to be true.  I ended up running into the house, crying.  That caught my parents' attention, of course.  I was too upset to tell them what was happening.  I remember overhearing the kid explaining to my dad what he'd been talking about.

I remember now the feelings I had at the time, at the concept that everything must end someday.  Essentially, that a true, eternal immortality was categorically impossible.  I think it was sort of one step removed from dealing with my own mortality.  But that concept had sunk in.

The feelings I had were utter helplessness, which brought on a near-blinding panic.  Being a child, I refused to accept it.  I refused to deal with it.  I ran away.

I suspect that's similar to the feelings people get when they even begin toying with the idea that there might not be a God.  That there might not be a spiritual connectedness to the entire universe.  That things Just Happen, and nobody and nothing is in control.

I could be wrong.  But I suspect that even a hint of the uneasiness that's clearly the precursor to those feelings of helpless panic cause people to back away from that concept.  It scares the bejeezus out of them.  So they run away, crying.  (Most people actually back away long before the feelings get anywhere near that intense.)

I really think that few people have seriously contemplated a world without a god.  God just feels so right, and the alternative feels so wrong that they refuse to even come close to dealing with it.

I guess it's the same one-step-removed way to deal with one's own mortality that hit me.  If one thinks there's something more, then one can ignore death.  One assumes that their essence will continue on.

Having conceded that to oneself then there's a whole raft of corollaries that one has to accept to make a religion.  Or to build the spirituality of Buddhism, Gaia and their ilk.

The implications of not accepting them are just too frightening.

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Last modified: May 19, 2006
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