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'Where was God in Aurora?' comments show Internet as church for atheists
Some atheists may ask questions on the Internet that they wouldn't have asked in church.
August 1st, 2012
12:03 PM ET

'Where was God in Aurora?' comments show Internet as church for atheists

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – The Internet has become the de facto global church for atheists, agnostics and other doubters of God, who of course don’t have bricks-and-mortar churches in which to congregate.

We see this phenomenon in motion every day on the CNN Belief Blog, where atheists/agnostics/humanists are among the most zealous commenters.

Recent string of posts around the question of “Where was God in Aurora?” (such as this and this) drew especially large waves of comments that show atheists are using the Internet to commune with one another and to confront religious believers in ways that they don’t usually do in church.

Atheists and other secularists have offline organizations that stage in-person meetings the Secular Student Alliance has seen its number of campus chapters quadruple in the last five years, to 368 but the Internet has probably played a bigger role in the rise of the so-called New Atheism. The movement’s adherents evangelize their godlessness, just as many religious folks evangelize their God, often taking to the Belief Blog to do so.

“A lot of millennials who are coming of age have found that the Internet is a fantastic place to talk about their doubt,” says Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance. “Before the Internet, there was no place for young people to do that. The only place to go was really church, and that wasn’t always a welcoming place.

“But they can go online and discuss these ideas without being judged by friends and families,” Galef says.

For closeted atheists, the Internet’s anonymity is a big draw. A coalition of national atheist groups recently launched a program to transition doubting clergy to lives of open atheism by first having ministers come out anonymously in a closed online community.

Plenty of other atheists, though, are using the Internet to connect with real, named people through Facebook and other online social networks.

“It’s the ability to access a larger community, particularly for people growing up in religiously conservative areas,” Galef says. “There is nobody they can point to to discuss their atheism or their doubts about the Bible or their morality, and the Internet provides that.”

On Sunday, a guest piece from a Colorado pastor argued that it’s possible to reconcile the idea of a sovereign God with the existence of evil and tragedy. The post has drawn 4,239 comments as of Wednesday morning, largely from atheists.

One of those comments a letter from God penned by an atheist commenter named Colin caught fire online. Here’s how his letter opens:

"Dear Christians:

"God here. I thought I would take the time to personally explain my absence in the Aurora shootings. While I was at it, I thought I would also explain my absence during every murder, massacre and crime that has ever taken place in world history, and in every war, in every famine, drought and flood.

"You see, I do not exist. I never have. Did it really make sense to you that I would create an entire universe with billions of billions of planets and wait about 13,700,000,000 years just so I could focus on a few Jews from Palestine about 2,000 years ago while ignoring the rest of the 200,000,000 people on the planet at the time? Did I make those few Jews or did those few Jews make me?"

The letter has been posted on reddit, where it attracted another 1,000-plus comments. (Warning: The reddit comments includes foul language.)

The vast majority of comments come from sympathetic atheists and other secularists (the discussion is reddit's atheism thread), a striking example of such folks doing church without God online. Many of those comments are deeply personal, confessional and poignant.

Here are five of the best ones. Some respond to Colin’s letter from God, others to the Colorado pastor who wrote for the Belief Blog last weekend.

1. CarbonEmitter

"I grew up religious and decided to be agnostic (as an) undergraduate. Even though I am now in my late 20s, I still feel slightly guilty because my parents try to ram religion down my throat. My mom converted to my dad's religion (from Christianity to Islam) right before having a double lung transplant in 1995. They are now super-religious and attribute her miraculous recovery to her conversion.

"Reading posts like these remind me of how ridiculous religion is and help relieve my guilt. Thank you /r/athiesm."

2. tazadar

"I like what Carl Sagan said about reassuring fables.

" 'The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable.' "

3. RyGuy2012

"You know, it really irks me to no end to read the article from the pastor, as he claims to not have an answer for why God didn't prevent the Aurora shooting, but then claims to know for sure that God is there when people come to lend their support and sympathies for the shooting victims.

"I just can't wrap my mind around this logic. Like, the pastor must find some other explanation why people are good and do good things. It can't be that people can just be good on their own. Because, apparently (our) natural normal state is to be completely uncaring and disregarding? It's just such a very sad and low opinion to have of your fellow man.

4. funfetti_cookies

"Of course, he says that. You have to scare the people before giving them a reason to listen "I held her hand as she died." What a great way to start your article. Also don't forget to mention Columbine so people remember that tragedy as well, but then go on to explain why God still exists and this is all part of his plan. Religion is nothing more but a scare tactic to control the masses.

5. ConstipatedNinja

"I don't share this much, but I was raped twice by my pastor when I was 6. And by I don't share this much, I mean that even my own parents don't know (as a side note, he's long since dead, so there's no sense in bringing it up). I had to sit in the same room (with) him for three hours every Sunday while he told everyone including me how a decent human being should act. I had to for four entire years before my family moved to a different state.

"When it first happened, I had no idea what was done. I was too young to understand. ... It's indescribable. You're told all this time about this ever-loving being that made you and has planned out your entire life. You're told that he'll protect you when you need it. You're told that if you're good, then he'll be good to you. So obviously, I wasn't good. I wasn't good enough. I was created and the creator of all things looked down upon me and decided that I was a bad egg. Do you know how rough that is for a 7-year-old? I still have problems with self-esteem. …"

That comment, which has been truncated above, provoked an outpouring of sympathy and support on reddit, including this comment:

rumpelstiltskin1

"This stuff is why I love Reddit. Yeah we are a room full of strangers but when it comes down to it we're a community. I love reading the stories of others and reading the heartfelt replies. I love that anyone can express themselves honestly and it will be well-received here (usually). And although this one is a little cheeky, I love that I can learn valuable life lessons of self-acceptance and being able to move on from a guy named ConstipatedNinja. Thank you for sharing your story, and I admire the willingness to share such a personal story; it's truly inspirational."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Colorado • Violence

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  6. Toby

    God gives people free will. That is why they murder each other.

    September 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  7. AN Campbell

    Atheism is not a religion. Atheists don't need a place to "congregate"....there is no need for that. Atheism is simply a belief, not a place to worship nothing!

    September 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  8. Azure2012

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    August 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  10. Curious Observer

    It's obvious to me reading these posts and living the many years I have that there are no answers, just opinions. I have found in my life a rather curious note that I can be weak minded in these matters. But as I travel through life I find evidence time and time again that the most powerful and transitional force in the universe is Love. Not only Love, but God's Love. I'm not here to convince anyone that my beliefs are right nor to prove anything to you. All I ask is that you watch a man/woman change on the outside (money, status, power, clothes, technology) and soon he will be the same. But, if you see a man/woman change on the inside the outward expression is undeniable. Whether the Bible is a big lie that sucks me in to brainwash or not I can not deny the permanent and deep change I have witnessed in people that have personally experienced the love of God.

    I find that people strike out with a passion at what they have become disolutioned with (Life, Family members, friends, government, religion) because they are searching for something to tell them that it is going to be ok. That the dissappointment they feel will somehow magically go away. Over my years though I realize that we don't lose faith in God because there is no God. We lose faith because we can not find Him. We can not see His wonder and patience. Because God loves us enough to give us free will. And we use that free will to destroy and not to love. He is not the rescuer. He is not here to stop the harm. But he is here to stop the pain inside. All we have to do is invite Him into our hearts. Welcome the contentment and peace that you feel within. Embrace it.

    August 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  11. H.D. Leary

    It is quite interesting that while most the world believes in some higher form on the Internet the majority of people who make up comments on religious discussions or any discussion that requires spirituality, are atheist. Who rather than understand and act polite berate and insist everyone else is a fool for they have science at their hand. We don't know all. Science doesn't know all. At one point Newtonian physics was going to be the way we found answers to everything. Then something happened, a guy named quantum came buy who could solve things on a smaller scale that Newtonian couldn't dream of and now we are to believe quantum shall be how we find all our answers. Whose to say there won't be another revolution. Bet you those Newtonian folks didn't expect quantum.

    August 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Science self-corrects. Religion buckles down and cries like a spoiled whiny little bitch who got the wrong car for her sweet 16. I'll take the self correcting thing thanks.

      August 21, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Mr. Leary,

      please tell me that this: "a guy named quantum came buy" is an attempt at lighthearted humor.

      But the essence of you post is accurate. Unlike religion, science doesn't know all. When a better idea comes along we adopt it.

      If religion is the immutable 'truth' why is slavery considered 'wrong' by Christians today? The bible still thinks it is A-OK.

      August 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • AN Campbell

      Believers are the first to belittle a non-believer! No one will ever be able to "know all" for our brains aren't that for advanced yet. We are actually quite dumb, while intelligent! I say that because we have yet to discover a more intelligent being then the human being. So, until we are capable to using our brains to its entirety, we will never know everything. Get your head out of your butt! Religion cannot prove everything and only forces people to trust there is a mystical being that control all. Too far fetched for me to believe!

      September 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
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  13. 2357

    Jesus describes the cursed state of humanity thus:
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    Put simply, he's telling you and me "Take the high road, don't be that guy"

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    Or put simply, "It will be absolute horror and humiliation when you die, unless you turn and follow me to my cross and my resurrection"

    August 10, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  14. Don

    Oh God! I know that atheists make sense. But it's hard to take religion out of you head after many years of believing non sense. It's not an easy task! We have been brainwashed for decades.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • exlonghorn

      Commit to open the minds of your children and grandchildren...that's a good start.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  15. freedomm

    To the Doubtful among me,

    If God did not spare His own Son from the Cross, why would he spare us from evil in a sinful, fallen world? God is the guarantor of your soul; He said nothing of protecting your earthly body from suffering. In His Righteous Mercy, He has provided the way out of a World where such evil happens. All of our bodies will perish because we have sinned. You have two simple options: Take HIm at His word that Sin is destructive and accept His maganimous offer to spare you from the penalty of the very Sin that murdered His Son OR be content with this sad, temporary existence and die not once, but twice.

    God will deliver my soul. Will He deliver you?

    August 9, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • LinCA

      @freedomm

      You said, "God will deliver my soul. Will He deliver you?"
      Does your imaginary friend work at FedEx, or UPS?

      August 9, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      If it's USPS, the item may be lost or arrive late.

      August 9, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • WASP

      @domm: "spare his own son from the cross"
      ummmm sure, logic failure.
      1) god/jesus/holy spirit are the same person correct? the "holy" trinity, then jesus was truly god in physical form, thus he/it counld not die to begin with, proven by the fact "he/it resureccted three days later according to your scripture. so if jesus is god and can't die no sacrifice could have been made. so the "original" sin was never "paid" for by his loss of life. a sacrifice is when you gve up something to give something to another, jesus didn't give up his immortality because he didn't stay dead. so that brings us to the truth; 1) god never intended to forgive humans and enjoys playing with our meager lives as the greek and roman gods enjoyed the same; or 2) there is no god thus no original sin, thus your bible isn't worth the cheap paper it's written on because it is all a lie to mentally control the population of a certain era.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Higgs-Boson Baby

      @ freedom

      Christians, as I understand it, believe that Jesus “freely” gave His life (or at least, the physical body that He occupied at the time) to forgive the sins of world – past, present, and future. So it wasn’t necessary for God to spare His Son from the cross.

      This (as the story is told) appears then to have been the ultimate act of sacrifice (the sacrificial Lamb), [as Jesus did suffer (sweated blood, felt the nails through His wrists/feet, and as I recall, even asked the Father if there was “another way.”] demonstrating complete obedience to the Father for our salvation. Of course, all faith based. The offer, at least, was made to either believe or disbelieve.

      August 13, 2012 at 2:49 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.