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For a moment, take a step back and forget all the ideas that come to mind when you hear the word "God." Forget about organized religion and everything that flows from it. No Jesus or Buddha. No corrupt religious figures abusing their positions to raise money or shelter sin. No holy wars or persecutions based on humanity's flawed understanding of divine intent. None of it.

Just a force in the universe, not only more powerful than humanity, but greater than anything we have known. Something beyond mere biology with the ability to create worlds and predetermine tomorrow's history. By definition, it's almost too much to comprehend, and, not surprisingly, I have trouble accepting the existence of such a power. But that's not the same as saying God doesn't exist.

After all, God -- like the Loch Ness Monster or that Canadian girl I lost my virginity to junior year -- can neither be proven nor disproven. And given that, it always seems to take an act of both extreme faith and arrogance to mock the very notion of a God or to tell others you know precisely what He is thinking.

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Her name was Samantha and she totally exists. Just lives in Vancouver is all.

But that doesn't stop people. And while I can accept whatever's in people's hearts, there's no reason the rest of us have to keep hearing about it. Here are the four things about God I've heard enough of from both atheists and the devout.

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Devout: God Hates X

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First off, no one says God hates Ecstasy. That's not the point of this title entry. I'm referring to people who claim to know what God hates, whether that's "fags" or really hot sex or people who pray to the wrong god. The devout can believe what they want and even teach it to their children. I hope it gives them strength and comfort like a warm blanket against the cold brutality of the world. But that doesn't give anyone license to use their God as a weapon.

These are the people who actually believe in an omnipotent Creator and the only thing inspiring enough for their protest sign is what that Creator hates? Why would anyone want to hold that up to the world? That can't be the best way to honor God. I mean, think about your own parents. If you were really proud of your folks and wanted to tell everyone how great they were, would you whip out a list of things they hated? Personally, I hope my own children would share things I taught them or talk about how safe I made them feel, not how great I was at hating on cable news and pop culture.


"Best thing about my Dad? Probably that crazy mean stuff he said about the Black Eyed Peas."

But there's another problem with defining your faith by who your God despises: How do you know? Some of you would say, "Because the [INSERT HOLY BOOK HERE] tells me so." Perhaps it does. Or the translation you have does. Or that part of the book written by a disciple or scribe or divinity student does. And perhaps there are no other sections of that same holy book that preach tolerance, forgiveness or even ideas that run directly counter to the tiny passage you've clung to in support of hatred. Maybe that's all possible. I'll even go further. Let's pretend it's somehow indisputable that yours is the only true God and your holy book was written by God, Himself/Herself/Itself. That it came off the heavenly presses and was placed in your hands before the ink even dried. (Although last I checked, God didn't have a thriving Twitter account so I'm not sure he could even land a book deal today.)

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Not yet a CBS sitcom.

But even giving you and your Holy Book the benefit of the doubt, there's still a problem: You're still you. Just some dude. Are you so impressed with yourself or so intellectually uncurious that you think you perfectly understand the will of God just by reading a book? Hell, put five scholars in a room together and they'll fight about Shakespeare's actual intent with Hamlet. For what it's worth, Vladimir Nabokov and I have diametrically opposed views on Kafka's Metamorphosis. Does anyone truly understand what Joyce was on about in Ulysses? And these were just books written by geniuses -- not all-powerful, all-knowing deities.

Although the extremists in my faith can be as didactic and angry as any other religion, Judaism does have one feature that makes me very proud: the Talmud. The Talmud is NOT the Torah (Hebrew Bible); it is a book that attempts to interpret the Torah. Each section of the Torah is given a page where its meaning is then disputed by the best and the brightest Rabbis whose interpretations are each recorded in a corner of that page: four Hebrew scholars who all read the same allegedly divine passage, but in four different ways.

Having a one in four chance of being wrong about God is not that big a deal if you're telling people God loves them, but you don't really want to throw stones with those kinds of odds. Unless, of course, you think the New Testament, the Koran or whatever other holy text you follow is impervious to misinterpretation. Then, of course, carry on with your God-sanctioned hatred.

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Atheist:God Is Not Great

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God Is Not Great was the 2007 anti-religion book by popular atheist and author Christopher Hitchens. Last week, Hitchens -- known for his intellect, eloquence and insufferable arrogance -- achieved his life-long goal of becoming God by ceasing to exist. After his death, the #GodIsNotGreat hashtag was all over Twitter and the Internet. Now it's become a ballsy thing for atheists to say because man they don't care whose toes they step on.

I take issue with how deliberately and needlessly provocative the phrase is. Also, how illogical. "Hey man, this God you believe in that I totally don't believe in? Yeah, well, he sucks!" Kind of tries too hard, y'know? I mean, after all, if chicks think you're a badass for saying your old man or your High School principal sucks, then, wow, imagine what a rebel you are for saying God sucks.

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"It takes a big man to stand up for what he doesn't believe in."

But my main complaint is that most purveyors of this sentiment don't really have a beef with God. Even Hitchens' book mostly tears apart the abuses of organized religion, particularly Judaism, Islam and Christianity. I'm surprised how often atheists conflate the two things. Of course organized religion sucks. It's run by people. Religion, like government or anything structured and administered by humanity, will always be flawed and ruined by all of our weaknesses and failings.

And given how much we suck, why shut the door completely on the possibility of something in this universe being better, stronger and wiser? Something we could strive to be more like? It's always seemed to me that the most virulent atheists -- not mere nonbelievers, but those who claim to be positive about God's nonexistence and openly hostile to anyone who could think otherwise -- are incapable of believing there could ever be something greater than they. Not a lack of faith so much as humility. Certainly, that's not true for all atheists, but it doesn't help the atheist cause that the three most hostile atheists I can think of are also on the short-list for most overbearingly arrogant.

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If we find out Trump and Gene Simmons hate God too, then that will just clinch my argument.

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Devout: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

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Although probably not as immediately infuriating as "God Hates X," I really don't need to hear about who the devout think God helps. While God's existence might be an open question, there is no shortage of people doing every damn thing they can to help themselves and still failing. If there is a God, we don't know who gets helped and why. At the moment, you'd get more traction saying, "God helps those who are repulsive enough to have a reality show."

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Kisses, JC!

Indeed, even the omnipresent and useless "God works in mysterious ways" is preferable. Although I'm a firm believer in not spewing religious cliches at those in pain, at least that phrase has a trace of humility. Even if you believe in God, you should be able to admit you don't know what could possibly be the point of AIDS babies or genocide. If the existence of those things don't shake your faith, that's fair enough. That is a wholly different thing, however, than looking at those in pain and believing there is an omnipotent power watching and refusing to help certain people because they haven't jumped hoops sufficiently to win prizes in the form of divine intervention.

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Atheist: God Is a Fairy Tale For Morons


There have been atheists of significant intellect: Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and the aforementioned Christopher Hitchens. But in what may come as a surprise to the Internet, not believing in God will not, in itself, make you smart. Reading the God Delusion is as likely to transform you into a genius as reading the Holy Bible will make you a saint. And by the same token, faith need not be a sign of a feeble mind. But just mention God online and you'll be mocked as a mental deficient awaiting the second coming of the "flying spaghetti monster."

In support of this intellectual elitism, some atheists will say that skepticism is the sign of an active and curious mind -- traits consistent with learning. Fair point. They will point to creationists and stem cell research protestors as people placing obstacles in the path of progress, and I'll agree with that too. But there is a difference between questioning the stupidity of dogmatic, close-minded zealots perpetrating institutional abuses and simply mocking sincerely held religious beliefs by equating faith with stupidity. It's sort of the difference between giving a formal presentation about the inherent flaws of your company's policies and procedures, and just farting in your boss's office.

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"Who did this to me?"

The perversion of the Spaghetti Monster meme is a good example of how some, particularly on the Internet, have destroyed the distinction between thoughtful protest and mere mockery. In 2005, in reaction to the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education to permit the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution in public schools, Bobby Henderson wrote an open letter espousing his religious belief in a divinity known as the flying spaghetti monster. He demanded belief also be afforded equal time in the school system. The letter went viral and spawned a faux religion called Pastafarianism. An effective protest pointing out the ridiculousness of people's subjective religious beliefs as a basis for scientific education. But now, for many, citing the spaghetti monster means only that religious people who are stupid enough to believe in God may as well believe in spaghetti monsters or leprechauns.

If you want to convince yourself that ignorance loves atheists as much as the devout just spend some time watching the flame wars between these factions online. Usually not a trace of intelligence. Just the worst aspects of blind faith from believers and atheists alike: some with unquestioning beliefs in a God just like the one in that Book, and others holding onto an undying conviction that nothing could be more divine than a mind with the ability to deny the existence of anything more divine.

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For more from Gladstone, check out 3 Things Gay People Are Going to Hate About Gay Marriage and 3 Reasons the Ground Zero Mosque Debate Makes No Sense.

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