God, An Imaginary Friend For Adults

There are no atheists in foxholes” is an assumption by the faithful who feel in times of stress all people will turn to God.  When I’m sick I want to talk to God too.  The older I get the stronger my atheism gets, the more I feel like I’m just talking.  I don’t expect a reply.  When we’re alone, fearful or in pain, we realize how powerless we are.  So it’s quite natural to think, “God, get me out of this!”

Who are we talking to?  Ourselves, of course.  But we’d like to think that someone is listening.  That’s why people believe in a personal God – to have a listener, to not be alone.  Lonely kids make up imaginary friends, well adults make up God.   We don’t like to be alone in the universe.  Nor do we like to be helpless.  The desire for an all-powerful, caring, father figure is completely understandable.  Even if he’s going to let us suffer and die, we want someone to talk to.

On the other hand, are we really alone in our heads?  We tend to think of our thoughts as ourselves, but if you observe closely, they aren’t.  Descartes, “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am” is another illusion.  Pay close attention to your thoughts and you’ll realize the quality you feel as Me is actually listening to your thoughts.  The Me observer is so close to the thoughts that it thinks its doing the thinking.  Stare at something and not think, and then watch when a thought arises.  There is a separation.  In other words, you aren’t alone.  It’s you and your thoughts.  The observer and thinker.

Animals are observers like us, but without thoughts, or a thinker.

Now here’s the kicker.  It’s the thinker that needs to talk. It’s the thinker that needs to communicate with God.  If you just BE and turn off your thoughts you’re just an observer, there is no God, or even desire.  It’s the thinker that wants, that desires, that creates God, and all the other stuff, like mathematics, history, philosophy, justice, love, etc.  It’s the observer who is aware, who is conscious, and who dies.

So, why does the thinker want to create God?  Why does the thinker need this imaginary friend?  Before awareness in animals there was no observers of reality.  Hydrogen became stars without notice.  Animals perceive reality through an infinity of senses.  Animals can feel the warmth of the sun without knowing what it is, because they don’t have language to think.

Then we came along and started thinking.  Thoughts see things that don’t exist in reality.  Thoughts see other thoughts.


Our thinking minds are quite creative.  It’s my thinking mind writing this now.  And my Me-ness observes that.

Children create imaginary beings to have someone to talk to.  We create God to have someone to talk to. 

What we really want is another thinker to talk to.


JWH – 1/21/12

11 thoughts on “God, An Imaginary Friend For Adults”

  1. Jim, are you implying that animals have no wants, no desires, since they’re just observers, not thinkers? I’m not sure I can buy your observer/thinker distinction.

    But this is an interesting perspective. Do we invent gods because we’re lonely? Am I an atheist because I like being alone, at least part of the time?

    Hell, for me, would be some father figure watching over my shoulder every second, some cosmic Big Brother inspecting even my thoughts, with never a moment’s respite. I loved my father, but I didn’t want him grafted onto me, so that I’d have no privacy whatsoever.

    I never had an imaginary friend, though I daydreamed all the time (and still do). But I always knew that was just make-believe. I’ve always been a private person, too. I don’t want to live in a glass house, with video cameras documenting every single aspect of my life.

    Is that what believers want? But I really doubt if they think of it like that. Most believers call up their imaginary friend whenever they want – often just on Sunday, unless they need some comfort during the week – but then dismiss him the rest of the time.

    I don’t know. But note that we do have other thinkers to talk to. We don’t need a god for that, because there are 7 billion other human beings on this planet. And we’ve always been social animals, so there have always been other thinkers around. So I really doubt that we invented gods for that reason.

    1. Our hungers, sexual appetites, phobias, etc. are separate from our observer and thinker too. Sure animals have physical urges, and we’re animals, so we share them. We like to think of ourselves as one thing, but we’re really many. And so are animals. I think animals feel loneliness. And I think we can feel a kind of physical animal loneliness that’s different from our thinker’s need for communication loneliness.

      Desires of the thinker are different from desires of the body.

      Maybe atheists are people who can better handle being alone. I spend most of my time alone, especially since my wife works out of town. At work I’m a programmer and spend most of my day behind a closed door alone programming. I’m well adapted to solitude, but I still want to communicate with other people. Obviously, I write this blog.

      We have other people until we experience the dark night of the soul. When we come close to death, or suffer terrible pains, or have psychological problems, we live in our heads and talking to people doesn’t cut it, that’s when people get lonely for God. Many people suffer existential loneliness that creates a hunger to commune with God.

      Bill, your logical mind tells you there’s no God. For most people they don’t have that logic, they just have a need for God. My mind told me there was no God a long time ago, and like you, I also learned to live without the need of God. But most people have never gotten over that need.

      Now that I have a physical problem that’s going to lead to a lot of suffering I’m going to be heading into a foxhole. It’s going to be interesting to see if I stay an atheist of not. I assume I’ll be like Christopher Hutchens and not change. But I am empathetic enough to understand why other people want God.

      1. But when you’re in that foxhole, it won’t be because you want to talk, Jim. That “there are no atheists in foxholes” line – not literally true, of course – is just about grasping at straws.

        If you’re falling off a cliff, you’ll grab a blade of grass, if that’s all there is to hang on to. Even knowing that a blade of grass won’t support your weight, you’ll try anyway, if there’s nothing else you can do.

        And likewise, in a foxhole, in extreme danger, when there’s nothing else you can do, people might start praying. It’s not going to do anything, but it can’t hurt to try, right?

        Afterwards, if they survive, most people will be rational enough to forget all the promises they made to “God.” It was, after all, just a natural response to danger, at a time when they could do nothing about it.

        Not everyone will do this. For me, I think, it would be like trying to grab an invisible blade of grass – an invisible, immaterial blade of grass – but the impulse to grasp at straws is natural to everyone.

        And think of it this way. In this hypothetical foxhole, would you be tempted to pray to Allah? Would you pray to Vishnu, to Thor, to Zeus? Presumably, you’d be tempted to pray to the Christian God. But why choose that one? No reason, except that’s your family background. Obviously, your choice of which god to pray to would just be an accident of birth.

        That makes that blade of grass a thin reed indeed, doesn’t it?

        1. When it comes down to suffering and fear we’ll grab at anything. If I hurt enough I might be willing to try anything.

          What bothers me about getting old is losing who I am now. Even though Alzheimer’s isn’t a painful death, it’s far scarier to me than a painful disease. We all have to die, so we all want a peaceful death, but more than likely we’re all going to suffer quite a bit before we go. The observer will always be there, but not necessarily the thinker. That scares me because I identify with the thinker more than observer, but it’s the observer that will suffer it all.

  2. I’ve never really sat down to think about why i don’t believe in god. In fact i used to be a believer when i was in elementary school but i don’t remember when and what was the reason i stopped believing.

    I don’t think there is a single reason of why people believe in god. But for me there are a few main ones.

    The first is that people feel powerless to make (possible and impossible) changes in their lives and seek help and comfort to something beyond us. They are delegating the responsibility.

    The second which i think is more important, is the fear that if there is no god, our lives are entirely meaningless. Dying happy, fulfilled, angry, sad or in pain does not matter. People don’t take those feelings with them. They simply die.

    1. But belief in God promises two things: continuation of being and the chance to meet love ones that have died. Those selling points are more powerful than anything else for most people. I think dying means I’ll cease to exist, so I won’t know that I’m dead or miss my friends. I find a certain comfort in that. I find plenty of meaning in living and I’m extremely grateful for having existed. I’d just like to exist longer. Is that ungrateful?

  3. No, on the contrary. I think finding the desire to exist, in the face of this “absolute end”, is key. It’s what keeps us civil and sane.

    P.S I don’t know what your movie preferences are but i recommend watching Melancholia. It’s a recent film about depression and also how people are dealing with the end of the world. I think it relates to what we are discussing here.

  4. I like WCG’s comment, ” In this hypothetical foxhole, would you be tempted to pray to Allah? Would you pray to Vishnu, to Thor, to Zeus?”

    I recall reading a statistic, of unknown veracity, that two thirds of US atheists pray. Which at the time seemed mind-boggling. I mean, who are they praying to?
    Myself, I’ve never done any praying because I’ve never had a belief in any gods. So for me praying to the christian god would be just like praying to a hindu god or a greek god. It’s not a question of “reaching out in desperation” when some life-threatening situation arises, I just really can’t see it happening.

    But I suppose if one grows up with religious belief at a young age, it could be common for people to retain something of a habit. That and telling kids that people who have died have “gone to a better place” or they’re “up in heaven now”.

    1. I think when you’re desperate, alone and powerless, prayer is a natural instinct. I’ve been an atheist so long I don’t think I would pray, but I don’t know what will happen if my minds deteriorates. If I can keep my current mind I’ll just accept things for what they are.

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