For many skeptics disheartened by a lack of prayer-answering but hesitant about making the leap into full-on atheism, deism, a belief in a supreme creator who does not intervene in the universe, offers an extremely appealing alternative, except for the fact that it's incredibly depressing.
"I couldn't be too upset at God for not helping me out with my messed-up family or doing something to save starving kids in Somalia if he didn't even exist," said Emily Gibson of Nashville, Tennessee. "But if he does exist and still isn't doing a single thing to help, that would be really tough to swallow."
Andrew Cantwell of Montgomery, Alabama, agreed. "An all-powerful being who just sits back and watches as we humans destroy ourselves? That's more like a sadist than a God."
Even so, said Cantwell, he remains reluctant to identify as an atheist. "A being who lets all this cruelty just happen wouldn't hesitate to send me to hell for believing the wrong thing. So deist it is for me," he said. He winked and added, "But between you and me, after a few beers I become more of an agnostic."
Bryan Mason of New York City, however, was able to find some positives to the deism model. "It suggests that maybe we're just like rats in a lab, being observed by some Supreme Experimenter. I can get on board with that. Also, it totally takes off the pressure with prayer, since it's already established that the Supreme Experimenter is not going to interfere with the experiment."
He scratched his head. "Although maybe that's only for people in the control group. What if we're not in the control group but the experimental group? Then there might actually be some hope for positive change. I'm blowing my mind here."
He thought for a minute. "Okay, I'm in. I hereby submit to God's will. As long as it isn't for me to go to hell. Unless that's the test. Shoot, okay, if it's his will, I'm even willing to go to hell. Assuming, of course, my willingness will save me from actually having to go. Or maybe that's the experiment, testing how willing people really are. I'm totally willing, for real. Even if I really have to go. I swear."
Mason shook his head and smiled. "Boy, was that humbling. I'm a deist to the core."