“Do you believe in God?” is always an unfair question for those who do not (care to) conceive in the existence of a higher entity. It is hard to answer because it is heavy with assumptions that escape believers and make-believers alike. Here are some of these disturbing assumptions.
:Assumption #1: It assumes monotheism. God in the singular eliminates the possibility of recognizing the existence of more than one deity (polytheism and henotheism). “Do you believe in a god or in many gods?” would be better. (I will stick to a monotheistic perspective to keep as linear an argument as possible.)
:Assumption#2: It assumes theistic gender. Why couldn’t it be a ‘goddess’? Or a genderless, neutral ‘It’? Unfortunately, most religions since the Axial Age have articulated their gender preference loud and clear. “Do you believe in a higher entity?” solves this prejudice.
:Assumption#3: it assumes theism. The debate is never going to be closed: as long as there will be people assuming that a higher entity plays a role in their lives, there will be others quite happy being left alone. And we should not ignore the latter. “Do you believe in the existence of a higher entity?” guarantees that the 20% and more freethinkers on the planet are treated with the respect every large minority deserves.
:Assumption #4: It assumes faith. It shifts the question away from ‘the existence’ of a higher entity to the ‘belief’ in that particular god. It really asks: “Do you have faith in my God? Are you one of us or are you one of them?” That assumptions is the bread & butter of evangelist-speak. They’ll literally and figuratively stone you with that inquiry, as they assume that Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion are one and the same. Which they are not. You can ignore expressed opinions that you don’t agree with. But evangelists do not want you to ignore the opinion expressed through their religion, god-speak. The solution, “Do you conceive of the existence of my higher entity?” shifts the burden of proof from us (do we believe) or them (is that god of yours a living/breathing entity?)
:Assumption #5: It assumes that the realm of influence of a higher entity goes beyond the narrative in which it is the main protagonist. No one can ever deny that there’s a protagonist name god in the Torah, the Bible, the Qu’ran, and many other theist scriptures. They all have different names, but their realm of action is very much the same: within the pages of a book and as a protagonist of a quixotic series of adventures. Once the book is shut and re-shelved, that god’s influence on planetary rotations, weather conditions, or your community’s agenda, is as improbable as that of Harry Potter or Stephanie Plum. So, here we go: “Do you conceive that the realm of influence of my higher entity goes beyond the written narratives of which it is the main protagonist?”
Assumption #6: Finally, it assumes that one should care. Why should we care, truly? Does knowing the answer to that particular question change the way one goes about his/her life? Do those who believe in a higher entity live a better life than those who don’t? What’s the purpose of comparing? What does it achieve? Etc. In conclusion, the best way to rephrase “Do you believe in God? is…
“Do you care to conceive that the realm of influence of my higher entity goes beyond the written narratives of which it is undeniably the main protagonist?”
Excuse me? What’s that about? This is a ridiculous question and why should one even care to answer it?
Yes, once cleared of a few assumptions, and I’m sure there are many more, ‘Do you believe in God?’ is a question that sounds surreal and absurd: a futile inquiry, really! Beyond the obvious rethorical and philosophical amusement, what would be the point of such a question? Why should one care?
Do you care?