Not being burdened with any beliefs I find it amusing when people struggle with theirs; particularly those who otherwise identify themselves atheists feel overcome in a deeply moving moment. That moment could be a wholly unexpected triumph or defeat.
One such moment was on display during last night’s Emmys when Thandie Newton won in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a drama series for her role as an artificial life form named Maeve Millay on HBO’s ‘Westworld.’ Newton was visibly moved and seemed genuinely surprised because she did not expect to win. After receiving the trophy she said,“I don’t even believe in God, but I will thank her tonight.”
The question of belief in God is a tricky one for those who are atheists. How do you reject an entity that you say does not exist? “I do not believe in God” is a strange thing to say if you think God does not exist. Equally, it is a strange thing to say “I don’t even believe in God, but I will thank her tonight.” Not only did Newton keep her options open about the existence of an exalted entity or force in charge of the universe but she even assigned it a gender. The latter can be explained away by saying that was her way of countering the knee-jerk reference to God as “he or him.” It is the former I find amusing. Somewhere along the line Newton ought to be unsure about her lack of belief in God.
I do explore this theme about belief in my upcoming book “What does Jupiter really do?” Since I am in the process of its final edit I am particularly attuned to any awkward expression about the whole concept. What Newton said falls in that category. At that moment of being deeply moved she entered a realm of intellectual uncertainty or ambiguity. She felt the need to attribute her triumph to a force bigger than just herself.
Not having ever won anything and hence not having had the occasion to thank anyone I am not qualified to comment on what it might feel in a moment like this. I am reasonably certain that I will not feel compelled to thank God for several reasons, the least being that I am not a believer. For the sake of argument, let us assume that God or something akin to that unfathomable force animates the universe. A force that animates something as absurdly vast, diverse, dynamic, kinetic, explosive, complex and therefore spectacular as the universe is unlikely to feel slighted or offended if a life form in a mediocre corner of a mediocre galaxy on a mediocre planet orbiting a mediocre star does not feel the need to thank it. The notion that a force of that indescribable proportions would be so hands-on and such a micromanager as to be interested in the individual triumph of an actress on a show about a virtual world inhabited by artificial life forms is beyond ludicrous.
As for me, I have no particular reaction to the idea of the existence or absence of God. “I see” is the best I can do if someone were to prove to me unimpeachably that God exists or that God does not exist. If you are a genuine atheist, you are unlikely to hand down an agitated rejection of the God of the believer or a thumping assertion of God’s non-existence. We all can agree that in the daily conduct of a humdrum life, which a vast majority of us lead, there is no particular need to invoke or denounce God for anything.
My view on the matter is reflected in considerable detail in one full chapter of ‘What does Jupiter really do?”