A profoundly funny romp through religion, spirituality, and the contemporary clash of cultures of belief, with special attention to the human obsession with knowing what can’t be known. Nosirrah provokes just about everyone as he describes a world where God is on the run from Islamic extremists, the Pope announces he shares a bed with Richard Dawkins, and Buddha’s son disappoints by getting enlightened instead of becoming a doctor.
In N. Nosirrah’s words: “To say this novella is strange might give the reader a way to relate to it, but in fact, nothing will shift the burden away from the reader. In its pages, the world is bent around the reader’s mind until either the mind itself begins to bend, or indeed, breaks. A book without plot, characters, structure, or obvious purpose, this is an endless descent into the netherworlds of a dystopian mind. If a thousand monkeys typing endlessly would eventually produce all great works of literature, then God Is an Atheist is their first draft.”
I was talking to God the other night, when He told me something disturbing, and truthfully, somewhat baffling. Now, you probably doubt that I was talking to God, and likely think I was delusional, or talking to myself, and you might be right about that, but as I am trying to explain, in a way I don’t care what you believe, or what I believe for that matter. I only care what God believes, and that is what is so troubling. God told me he is an atheist, he doesn’t believe in himself, he doesn’t believe in belief, and he thinks that all the believing that people get into has caused nothing but problems.
The conversation threw me into a paroxysm of paradox and a quandary of conundrum. I had, after all, spent a great deal of my life seeking the truth of God, the ultimate answer to the meaning of life. Now I had, more by accident than by skill, finally bumped into God himself, more or less walking down the street, and the main message for me was to stop believing, not just in God but in anything and everything. It just didn’t add up. Here was God, in front of me, telling me he didn’t believe in God, he didn’t believe in me, He wasn’t, and neither was I.
For the existentialists, the nihilists, the non-dualists, the atheists, and the secular humanists, this is probably seen as good news. For the religionists of all kinds from fundamentalists to universalists, ritualists to quietists, this may seem like a kick in the collective kneeling keister. But it is not exactly what it seems. Because as God explained it to me, if he is an atheist, then there is no God, he disappears into the mists, but so do all the anti-God beliefs. When insurgents win, they become the thing they fought to destroy; when God joins the atheists, will the club have Him, and then what will they do, what will they call themselves? An atheist who meets God is a believer who has lost his faith forever.
As He explains it, when you give up belief, you give up all belief, that includes the anti-belief, the belief of not this, and not that. Atheists are forced out of their certainty, and really there is nothing more pathetic than an uncertain atheist. Maybe there is something worse: sitting at an Atheist Alliance meeting having a serious discussion about life, with God as a member of your group. And that seems to be where this is all going. God is an atheist, atheists now have to admit that God is one of theirs, and really the whole structure of belief and anti-belief collapses into confusion. I for one am entirely confused.
I had a dream last night (I think it was a dream in any case) and in it I was reading the TMZ.com website where there was an account of Richard Dawkins and the Pope as secret lovers revealed, with photos of the two grinning in bed with their morning cappuccino, apparently listening to Puccini. They couldn’t reveal to the world their illicit love, both careers ruined, and yet they couldn’t live without the intense draw to the intellect and the passion of their belief and anti-belief. It was an erotic dream, I suppose, but not in the usual sense, only in the sense of the union of beliefs into something transcendent. I awoke with a start, somehow realizing how shocking and inappropriate the imagery was, Richard Dawkins wasn’t the problem, but the Pope should be beyond these kinds of twists of the mind. But in that moment of waking, I saw the beauty of possibility where the two would be forced to admit in a press conference, broadcast live just about everywhere, that they really weren’t sure if they had it right philosophically, that truth is pretty illusive, but that when Richard saw the Pope in the full outfit there was something so clear in the fluttering of the heart. They held hands throughout, and Richard looked radiant, which he never really did as an atheist. The Pope always looked good, but now he looked a little worried, human, even nervous, but happy in that rottweiler kind of way, still ready to go for the throat, but only if you weren’t nice to Richard. The reporters pushed in for the story, but they couldn’t figure out what to ask once they realized that neither of the two had any beliefs left, just each other and Puccini. I have to apologize for the account of all of this, to the affront to those who find these images insulting or worse, but I do think there is something instructive in the dream world, and in a way it prepared me to meet God.
I mentioned that I ran into God, and it was almost literally so, more like I almost ran over God. You know the feeling when you sit at a complex intersection, you try to turn right-on-red, and there is suddenly a pedestrian almost under your wheels. That was me and God. Usually the pedestrian curses you, slaps your car hood or makes a face suggesting you are a low-life undeserving of substantial insight into the nature of existence. But when I almost ran over God, he didn’t do that. He also didn’t look kindly at me or with forgiveness or beatifically, He didn’t do anything but pause, then return to the curb so I could complete my turn without taking out the Creator of the universe. I figured this guy was different, although I didn’t realize how different, of course, so I pulled over and jumped out to apologize. Now you can apologize to your wife or husband, you can apologize to the person you bump into at the post office or the caller you kept waiting on hold, but when it comes right down to it, it is just about impossible to apologize to God. I tried, but I couldn’t even figure out where to start. If God is the one running the show then what’s there to apologize for, it is His omnipotent hand that moves through all of reality and all of that. Plus, when it comes right down to it, if you have sinned, how do you really have the audacity to face God anyway? This is the Sinner’s Paradox. If you don’t make any mistakes in life then you don’t understand what all the sinners are moaning about, how they are so weak, what the big deal is about temptation. You think everyone should be good like your little spotless self. You know that you could apologize to God because you are so pure it would go easy, humble person that you are. It is just that you don’t have anything major to atone for.
What you can’t realize is that you are just a sinner who hasn’t met up with your sin yet. You’ve got the murderer, the philanderer and the thief all wired up and ready to go, along with hypocrite, gossip and liar. Then you hit your sin, your mistake, the moment that you can’t get back to and change, the history that will haunt you the rest of your life, and you are a sinner, and now you know what it is all about. You realize what a fool you have been. The feigned humbleness of your life before the sin was just an idea of how to be holy and pure. You are a sinner, and so fallen, so far down, that you know that you are not worthy of taking a moment of God’s time to apologize, let alone having the gall to expect forgiveness.
To ask for redemption is just not in the purview of the real and undeserving sinner. The pure need sin to find humility; the sinner needs redemption to rediscover purity, that is the Sinner’s Paradox. And here I was on the sidewalk, trying to find some words for God, who didn’t even look like He needed to be placated.
God seemed to find my brain freeze amusing, and I can only speculate that there was an imperceptible shift from cosmic equanimity to what? Not curiosity, not really relish, maybe something like anthropological interest with a touch of bottomless compassion. Whatever it was that moved in the cosmos, it resulted in God and me walking to the nearby coffee shop for some direct talk, some mano a mano philosophical grappling with what the universe is all about.
You probably are wondering how I knew it was God, an important plot point and the kind of thing that skilled editors point out to their hoped-to-be best-selling authors. But since you are not my editor and I am not a hoped-to-be anything, and certainly not best-selling with a story like this, let me get to the point directly. In a novel, you have knowledge of elements of the tale because of something that occurs before in the story. There are important parts of the narrative dropped in skillfully by the writer so that the reader instinctively moves with the protagonist as he realizes something. But, in life, you know something because you do. It is non-verifiable. It is the feeling that goes with the thought, the emotive holism that envelopes the fragment of knowledge that is the Aha! It is the ipso facto on which we build our whole reality, and we assume that this knowing is somehow agreed upon by each other of our brethren on the planet. On reflection, we can see that it is not. Our knowing is as singular and unrelated to each other’s knowing as the occurrence of the writing of this sentence is to the occurrence of your reading it.
How would you know it was God if you met Him? You have no real image of God other than the religious icons, the movie actors with booming voices, the New Yorker cartoons. You wouldn’t recognize God by the long white beard or robes or any of the other hackneyed images. God doesn’t wear a special uniform like the priests, and He is not one of us, despite what Joan Osborne says. He doesn’t have to be pious, devotional, sincere, or even loving, since there isn’t any cosmic deal to cut for salvation. You would recognize God only if you weren’t looking for God, or more precisely, if you were not looking from the idea of God that you have imagined, surveying the world for a match to your ideas. How do you recognize the God that doesn’t fit your expectations, how do you see something that you didn’t already know to look for? Are you even looking for God, or is an iPhone close enough?
But, I am digressing from the real story here, which is not the philosophical conundrum of knowing anything at all, let alone knowing God, but is just the simple occurrence of bumping into God. That is the interesting thing, not the who, what, why, when, and how, but the thing itself. We can leave the explanations to the journalists and scientists, and stay with the narrative just as it occurred. This is magical existentialism, replacing no exit with an exit that opens onto an entrance, a world of all exits and entrances, no content, no history, no explanation, just the decay of what is as the introduction of what is next. When you meet God you meet God, there is nothing to verify it, nothing that caused it, and certainly no explanation. Sorry, religionist, God is not what you thought. And sorry, atheists, it is not nothing. God is something—really something.
N. Nosirrah is a writer and philosopher who asks his readers to question their existence, God’s existence, and in particular, Nosirrah’s existence. He is the author of the three books: God is an Atheist; A Novella for Those Who Have Run Out of Time, Nothing from Nothing; A Novella for None, and 2013; How to Profit from the Prophets in the Coming End of the World