I am an atheist because I have no reason to be otherwise.
That's fair enough.
(In so far as it goes. As an aside I'd note that you are in a position to believe God (and follow his commandments or no as a result) without necessarily believing in God.
Which means you can be justly judged against Gods standard. You'd be judged on what you did know, not on what you didn't)
I never had a problem. I never felt oppressed or lied to or cheated or mislead as some people can be treated in more... "fire-and-brimstone" type church settings.
Another aside. I'd consider it an abuse of church position that people aren't taught something of 'fire and brimstone'. As part of a balanced diet called the gospel of God. Anyone who forgets that element isn't speaking of Gods' gospel.
I don't go to church anymore, though. Or have anything to do with religion or God. It's not because anything pushed me away. It's because nothing held me in.
I became an atheist when I realized that there's nothing unique about the benefits I was getting through my honest efforts towards God and religion. All the benefits I used to get from God and religion were easily duplicated or exceeded by mundane activities. I joined sports teams, I hung out with friends, I enjoyed the company of family, I discovered private reflection was possible (and with less distractions) when practiced outside the religious environment. I have morals, I have love and success, I'm happy and healthy, I'm at peace and I have no discomfort towards issues like the afterlife or other unknowns.
Again, fair and reasonable.
My problem is about the possibility of any unique benefit within the realm of religion. Currently, I cannot imagine a better life than the one I'm living (given the situations of the world that are beyond my control, anyway... like others' crimes and hatred). But, just because I can't imagine it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Am I missing something?
Not yet it appears...
Is there something that is worth obtaining through God that can only be obtained through religion (or God) that I don't have already?
A relationship with the one who made you and to whom you must give an account strikes me as the most obvious thing you're missing - to put it positively (you get to know God personally) and negatively (you avoid God's wrath expressed against your sin).
Like many things however, you need to be aware of a hole that needs filling in order for the worth of obtaining the filling to be made manifest. If you're not aware of that hole then there's little chance that you'd see the worth in obtaining a filling.
I think what you had was Religion in all honesty - not relationship. In which case you had as much of God in church as you do now outside of it. You've not really moved from your position in fact.
If a personal, interested and capable God exists I would expect there to be some sort of special feeling/benefit/experience that is only available through religion or God. I have yet to find such a thing, or be informed of such a thing.
It's an analogy that shouldn't be stretched too far but might help because you've (presumably) existed on both sides of it. And the analogy involves an orgasm.
Imagine yourself posing the questions you pose here but in a sexual sense - as a 7 year old who has no sexual awakening as such. And see how mute someone like me is rendered in trying to answer your questions. You've no sexual need, you've no sexual hunger - so any attempt to explain what an orgasm gives dissolves into dusty, meaningless words. It'd like trying to explain the joys of a fulfilling career to a 14 year old who finds maths boring and doesn't particularily mind the prospect of life in a canning factory.
Imagine posing sexual questions as a 13 year old boy however. You know there's 'something up'(sic) but aren't quite sure what. My talking of sex and orgasms, though somewhat distant, would strike home and hit chords within you.
It really depends on your current position wrt God so. Are you a distant 7 year old or are you a bubbling-under-the-surface 13 year old. I can only speak from my own experience (which is not uncommon amongst believers) in saying that a 'bubbling-under-the-surface' response to descriptions of God and what he offers (both positively and negatively) tend to occur quite close to conversion. Note that a 'bubbling' response can get downright antagonistic and angry and rejecting of God, as your last defences to Gods asserting sovereignty over your life get dismantled down.
If you are unable to support your position, but you'd still like to answer... please do. But please indicate that you are unable to verify that what you're saying is actually a part of reality. Unverifiable experiences, ideas and thoughts are still very important and beneficial in their own way. Acknowledging them as such will allow us to skip the quibbling over their actual veracity and focus on discussing their potential merit.
In no particular order:
1) Any sense that there are things about you that are evil, wrong, ugly, ill-fitting, hateful, disgusting, depraved etc. find new compartments which are absolute in nature.
- these things are destined to be removed from you forever. Nothing can prevent that happening once a believer. That gives you a peace 'beyond all understanding' knowing that all will eventually turn out well. (if you don't have a sense that there are things about you that are evil, wrong, ugly etc. then you are like that 7 year old I was talking of earlier)
- these things have a particular cause (sin) and everyone is subject to them in their own way. You realise that no one is better than you (so you can hold your head up) and that no one is worse than you (so you can cease judging). The papers love trumpetting the fall of the mighty due to this or that revealed depravity. But if everyone sails in the same boat, then what?
2) (More) Peace with the world. Realising why the world is the way it is causes you to relax about the state and future of the world. When politicians are found padding expense accounts or the Chinese industry dumps toxins in rivers you don't despair (although your heart can cry out in pain). You don't despair because that is what you know you can expect from a world governed by Sin.
Rather than fret over how the planet can be saved and how we divert from an all consumptive model of economics (in which the notion of future 'commodity wars' looms ever more frequently) you relax down and realise that God's intention isn't that this planet be saved but that it be used to show man that man cannot 'do it' on his own.
Look at us as we spiral ever-downwards, creating bigger and bigger messes, which we know (or should know) we're not going to be capable of solving.
3) True meaning from life.
Realising oneself a created being whose purpose has been set by a Creator, allows you to relax about your place in the world. No longer have you to seek self-meaning by the standard of others (who are doing the same) which will always be a bootstrap meaning (in the sense that such meaning is always illusionary)
You are worth something because he finds you valuable. Him being absolute renders your value absolute. Any value you assign yourself suffers from being a subjective value. You know that in another place at another time, others would see you as worthless and consign you to gas chambers without so much as blinking.
So much for subjective worth/meaning
4) Tied into all of the above is the opportunity to begin living life as you were meant to live it. If God then life without God is life spent digging a hole and filling it in again - no matter whether you're a President of the United States or the lowliest sweatshop worker. All purposes that aren't Gods purpose for you is vacuous
And many, many people realise that they are living pointless lives - even though they aren't believers, even though they don't know how to live pointful ones. They know that they are in some way, fooling themselves. But they don't know what else to do but keep on digging that hole
I could go on. But that will hopefully be enough for now.
As far as the negative is concerned, I am not afraid of God's wrath for the reason you gave above... that I will be judged on what I know (if God indeed exists and has wrath).
As far as the negative is concerned the only thing supporting lack of fear for God's wrath against the wrongdoing you know you've done is unbelief.
The reason I gave above merely stated you'd be judged against that knowledge. Not that there is any chance of you being found other than guilty should it be that you face judgement.
Perhaps (for brevity's sake if nothing else) it would be best if you picked one thing which you think best describes a unique aspect that is obtained through a relationship with God that cannot be obtained otherwise.
Clearly you cannot appreciate the sense of peace that comes from forgiveness of your sin if you aren't convinced that you stand condemned already as a sinner before God. Your comment about lacking fear of God's wrath highlights that point.
Nor can you appreciate the possibilities of having a meaningful life if self-appointed meaning is deemed satisfactory. Suppose for a moment that you are currently beavering away along a path that will lead to condemnation and being cast on God's rubbish heap with the word "worthless" stamped on your forehead. How meaningful this self-appointed meaning if that's all it results in?
Throughout your entire post, I couldn't identify a single benefit that I'm actually missing. I fully admit that a relationship with God, or religion, or a any number of other possible avenues can also lead to feelings of being at peace with the world and being relaxed with one's place in it.
Suffer a short sermon. It might help re-align where I think your focus should be viz-a-viz my points.
You haven't got peace with God. You are at emnity with God. So says God. Which means that the peace you have is illusionary - because it's peace with a world who is at war with God and on whom Gods wrath is being poured out. Factor those points into your thinking and compare yourself to me:
- you're an enemy of God who lives in a world controlled by satan. The peace, comfort and harmony you have derive from that context. Gods realm can be considered as your enemy and God is intent on the destruction of satans realm and all who align themselves with it
- I'm a friend of God who lives in a world controlled by satan. The peace, comfort and harmony I have derive from that context. Even though I live in enemy occupied territory, I know the land I'm a citizen of and have no fear of the wrath to come.
So when you equate the peace you have with the peace I have, bear the above in mind. One is peace with God, the other is peace with satans realm.
I'm looking for things that come uniquely from your religion or your relationship with God in the sense that they cannot come from anywhere else.
Relationship with God clearly can't come from anywhere else. What could be more unique than having a one-to-one relationship with the creator of the universe? Is there anyone else you who could even come close in terms of being "a fascinating person to know"? Wouldn't a relationship with God trump all your other relationships put together?
You skip over a relationship with God as if not standing back to consider how "BIG" God is, or how completely own world changing having a relationship with him would be. Have you stood back to consider his magnitude for a moment? If stunned silence or feeling very tiny isn't your response then I don't think you're actually considering his magnitude.
Crikey! Even knowing God exists for sure - leaving aside a relationship with him being possible - is a worldview changing event of massive proportions.
I think this is a good point for me to admit that even though I claim to be an atheist and have no interaction with God... if such a thing were subtle I may not notice it. That is, I may indeed be living the life that God wants me to... and I just don't know it.
Biblically speaking I seriously doubt that. You might be heading for salvation but if you are it will result out of your NOT living life the way God wants it. That is to say: you're being a sinner and sinning are utilised by God in his attempt to save you.
This is not to say you should go out and sin more. Sin is a double edged sword - it can result in your salvation. Or leave you with more to be condemned for
However, I don't think so on the sole basis that it is irrational to think things for which there is no evidence. But, just because something is rational doesn't force reality to be that way. It's just our best known method for getting to the bottom of things.
As ever, there is nothing irrational about God turning up and evidencing himself unempirically - given that there is nothing to prevent him doing so. Your last sentence reminds me of the rich young ruler who approached Jesus and asked;
"Rabbi, how do I inherit eternal life"
..only to find out that it is impossible. You don't find God Stile, not by any method. God finds you by his method - salvation being by his grace - not by your work. So that none can boast.
A lot of Christians (maybe all Christians) have permanent anxiety issues about their god and what he could do to them.
Salvation-by-work-ists would have reason to fear what God could do to them - for they cannot be sure of their salvation. Salvation-by-gracionists on the other hand, don't worry about what God could do to them (because he promises he won't) but tend to worry more about what God could do to others.