On The Use of You as “a God-Surrogate”

After publishing my previous post, “Why I am an Atheist,” I received several thoughtful responses, but I also received, through snail-mail, a friendly and heartfelt letter from a Catholic priest whom I’ve never met. I do not want to publish that letter here, but I would like to publish my response to it, if only to clarify some things for other readers who might have read my previous post in the same way. Among other things, the priest wrote that “in choosing You as a God-surrogate, you have set yourself up for [disappointment] when we decide to ask of you what you will not do, and so force you into another exit and the creation of other surrogates.” Here, in edited form, is what I wrote in response to this friendly priest.

Your idea that my concept of the You is a “God-surrogate” doesn’t feel like an accurate representation to me. Rather than substituting God’s role in the universe with You, I am saying that I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in You. I am saying that You are the most important influence in my life, and before considering what I want, I should consider what You want.

But (and this is part of the reason why the notion of a God-surrogate is a false one) You are not all-powerful (there is no one and nothing that is all-powerful). While I should consider Your wants and needs before my own, that does not mean I must rest my decisions and actions on Your wants and needs. As an American male who grew up with all of the mythologies such a designation entails, I possess just as strong a sense of individualism as the cowboy riding alone on the range and just as much inclination for telling the bosses to stick it. I might venerate You, but I am also not afraid of You.

(You might think that venerate is the wrong word here, since it goes back to “reverence,” which in turn, goes back to the Latin word vereri, which means “to stand in awe of, fear” — but it goes back even further to a Proto Indo-European root that meant, “to become aware of,” and it is in that sense that I use it: once I am aware of You, I should consider Your needs and wants in relation to my own).