The Feeling of Presence

One of my best friends, who is a devoted evangelical, invited me to attend his churches Christmas Festival. Now my friend knows I’m an atheist, but his invitation was sincere as he honestly felt I would enjoy the music and all the activities, which would indeed be enjoyable to me. But, mixed in with the invitation, was a half-hearted joke about how even an atheist like me might get to feel the presence of the lord during the activities. Of course, I’m not one to let that one slip by me…

I quickly stated to my friend that I get the feeling of presence, awe, joy, glory, or whatever other term you want to call it, all the time. I wasn’t exactly surprised when he replied in a squealing voice with “Really?” I said, “Yes. I often get this feeling of overpowering warmth that radiates through my entire body”. He said with even more vigor, “Really?” I said, “Yes, of course. I feel it often when I think of my daughters and how proud I am of them, or when I see the pure joy my disabled son brings to those around him. I felt it up on top of the mountain in the Austrian Alps this summer, when I looked up and saw the heavens like I had never seen them before. And, I feel it when that perfect song comes on and I get a great dance with my partner. I just don’t think the feeling comes from the supernatural.” He said… “Oh.”

Of course atheists get these feelings, perhaps more often than the religious, because atheists tend to be far more open minded about the sources that bring joy and happiness into their lives. Atheists simply don’t tend to make supernatural claims about where these feelings come from. Of course, understanding that these feeling are not being generated by supernatural creatures, isn’t an atheist thing at all, it’s a rational thing.
It is so odd to me, that for so many of the religious, these feelings are the “evidence” they have for the existence of God, yet they seem blind to the fact that everyone seems to have the feelings; Muslims, Christian, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, Scientologists, and atheists. But even more stunning is that these same people would consider a ‘feeling’ poor evidence for anything else in their lives. Could you imagine your friend telling you that you should buy that stock because he had a ‘feeling’ about it?

I let the conversation drop with my friend; his “Oh” was enough for me to know that I had scored my point, even though I knew his mind was quickly working out a way to rationalize away these truths that proved his beliefs to be in error. This is the way the human mind works; it is far easier to rationalize away erroneous beliefs, than it is to change your belief system. It’s actually not very rational, is it?

Unfortunately, I had another engagement during the time of the Christmas festivities at his church, so I won’t be able to attend. Perhaps I’ll get to go next year.