I talked with a lapsed Catholic who doubts the existence of God and believes all religions are the same. He asked some good questions and it got me thinking.
If there is no God, how would I live differently?
If I had grown up without believing in the existence of God (which I did until I was 13 years old), what would my life look like?
It's a more of a practical question than a philosophical one. I thought about it for awhile. It felt a little strange to imagine life without God.
But then I decided my life would not be that different.
I would have gone to college. Probably the same school. All my friends from high school went to college. I would have chosen the same major - business administration - because I didn't like math but needed a technical-sounded field that brought honor to my Asian-ness.
I would have a job. Of course I wouldn't be a pastor but I would probably work in high-tech. After college, I would have gone into management consulting because I like travel, meeting new people, and learning new things. I likely would have parlayed my consulting expertise and connections into an industry position and sought a management role because I'm ambitious and enjoy leadership.
I would be married with children. I probably wouldn't have gotten married so early but I would have decided at some point, that marriage is good for companionship and an indicator of social status (social status is important to me as a Christian and I don't see why that would change if I didn't believe in God). Even as an atheist, I always wanted to be a father so I would probably have at least two kids but definitely not four, because I would be unable to invest at least the same amount of time and money that I myself received as a child into my own children (which I believe is the prevailing thought calculus among my peers).
I would own a home. Home ownership is a badge of status and stability among my peers. And my parents and in-laws would have pressured and helped my wife and I to buy a home.
I would still love people and have good friends. You don't need to believe in the existence of God to be a moral person. You don't need God to love people.
The fact that my life would look pretty much the same externally doesn't bother much as much as testify to the power of our culture. We are launched in a certain trajectory from our parents and we more or less follow the arc of our peers. You're not different because you went out of state for college. I'm talking about a radical shift in the way we live - like coming from an overachieving Asian family and not going to college at all. I wonder if there are zero major decisions that Christians can point to and say - "Yes, I did that because I believe God exists".
The externals might not change but what would my internal life look like? That's where it becomes more blurry. I pray, journal, and read the Bible today. I wouldn't read the Bible in a world without God but I would certainly read other books. Would I pray and journal in a world without God?
Perhaps. But I would probably laugh it off as talking to myself. I doubt I would be a self-reflective as I am today but I could be wrong. There's aspects of my character that have changed drastically for the better since I started following Jesus but obviously people can change for the better without believing in God. So as far as the life transformation comparison, it might be a wash.
Without God, I would still hunger for meaning but it would derive completely from my interaction with the visible world. I would find meaning in my relationships. My wife, my children, my work, and my friends would define meaning for me. The things that I see would be the sum total of where I would find value, worth, and significance. If there was no God, this would be enough. But somehow I wonder if I would have hungered for more. I mean, I believe in God and I still hunger for more.