Saturday, June 5, 2010

Four in the morning and I'm writing about belief vs not

Like everyone who has ever lived I was born an atheist. However, unlike most people I am one of the ten percent or so of those who are genetically predisposed towards skepticism. As a child the whole concept of religion seemed more than just a little weird and as I grew older I became more and more convinced most of what people believed was little more than that same belief that plaids and stripes ought not to be worn together in public.
Being an atheist in South Georgia is akin to being a black at a Klan rally. Okay, that isn’t such a good analogy because if someone is black then they really cannot hide that and unless you’re open about atheism no one will ever know. I was more than just open about it I was downright militant about it. I would debate anyone anywhere at any given time, and I wasn’t very nice about it either. I did not win friends and influence people, and I pretty much screwed up at least two relationships that I deeply regret damaging. But I thought back then the fight needed to be fought, not because it would change anyone’s mind about religion, but because the people who did not believe needed to know they could be heard, and it was important they were heard.
A series of very strange coincidences and some very serious introspection led me off the path of atheism. The first Great Truth I came to realize is there is absolutely no difference between a diehard atheist and a religious fanatic. Take your time with that one. I did. The next Great Truth I came to see was life is too short to believe in anything with such zeal you feel compelled to defend it to the point of losing people who might otherwise be friends with you. The third Great Truth is a very important one; you will never know if you are right and even if you are it doesn’t matter that much anyway.
Considering the track record of human beings and belief, I would have to say the odds that anyone you know being right about anything they believe is pretty much zero, regardless as to whether you’re on one side of the argument or the other side of it.

That may sound contradictory, and if so, then so be it, but I suspect the truth is much simpler than we believe and harder to understand because of that.

Science is a religion to some, and therefore flawed, and the fact it is less flawed than religion doesn’t make it that much better as far as something to base your life around. It’s good as a tool to figure out a lot of neat stuff but it is not a philosophy and it ought not be treated as such. It is also, like religion, a human invention, and when it comes to those things we humans have invented, then in the Grand Scheme of Things, well, honestly, it just cannot be that important, can it?

When I say science is an invention I don’t mean things like Physics and Medicine are inventions when there are certain very hard and cold truths associated with science. Force does equal mass times acceleration as puppies and teenagers discover the hard way, and we did not invent these things. We discovered them.
Religion is also an invention, and if there is some supernatural being waiting to be discovered then like science and those things we’ve discovered though science, our discoveries will also leave us with an understanding of how little we know, not how much we know. If you can wrap your brain around the fact that ignorance grows with research, study, and hard work, you’ll be better off for it. Surety is an illusion no matter what you study or believe.

To most people who believe in the God of the White Beard and Shepherd’s Crook, I am still an atheist. To most atheists I am now closet theist. The fact I’ve been disowned by both groups is something I am rather proud of, indeed.

To the atheists I would say science is incomplete. It does not address who we are. It can break down anything and everything into chemical reactions but it cannot define our humanity thusly. We are more than the sum of our parts. The universe is more than the sum of its parts. You’re missing something here by trying to deconstruct everything into more simple parts. That’s a very broad accusation, and I apologize for it, but that was and is my main complaint.
To the believers I would say you’ve stopped thinking, and that’s always bad. In human history we have so very rarely gotten anything right it is very likely we have totally screwed up what or who god is, if there even is a god at all. Toss away your tomes, quit going to church, and get a dog if you want to understand divinity. If unconditional love cannot teach you to be a better person I suspect whatever it is you believe is screwing your life up. That’s a very broad accusation, and I apologize for it, but that was and is my main complaint.

I will never be a church going person to the degree most of the people who care for me would like for me to be. I still maintain that religion is a bad thing, and it has caused bad things, and it will cause more bad things than good, always. Science has led to the atomic bomb which is still the single worse threat to life on this planet. One day, someone very religious will get a nuke and people will die. This is not a guess but a prediction based on observation.

Were I given a choice as to which group I would rather belong to, and had to make that choice, I would say the atheists are still the more reasonable of the two groups of people, but agnostics make better conversationalists. Show me someone with no doubt and I’ll show you someone well on their way to becoming fossilized intellectually. I welcome the friendship of anyone of either side of the argument if we can share our thoughts without rancor, and toxicity but civility seems to be a dirty word these days.

Take Care,
Mike

5 comments:

  1. I would say you just defined MY attitude toward religion and science. EXCELLENT post, very thought-provoking. I call myself an agnostic, but like yourself, living in a southern religious region, rarely get into such conversations with anyone because it only brings discord and potentially loss of friends.

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  2. Thanks, CS, you last name isn't Lewis, I hope?

    What part of the South do you reign?

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  3. Hello, Mike. I spotted your blog at Bits & Pieces.

    Your thinking appears to be arriving in a similar place that mine finally (and painfully) reached a few years ago. I too am an atheist, but I am very respectful of believers as a rule, because with few exceptions it's been my experience that they exhibit good interpersonal values, and have enviably kind hearts. Can't knock that. Your observation that nonbelievers are just as capable of overzealousness as believers could be a watershed moment for you, I'd say. Anybody is capable of chanting the team song too loudly, regardless of their convictions. I feel like a more generous person having reached the conclusion that my nonbelief is as valid as their belief, particularly when I'm in discussion with a believer who has not troubled himself to challenge his own values, and I come out looking like the enlightened one. That feeling is quite new, and I really enjoy it.

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  4. Hi Cooper!

    It's a weird thing this subject. Someone once said, "Science will fly you to the moon but religion will fly you into buildings" but I'm pretty sure that isn't true. Yet it reveals a lot of how one side thinks about the other, and it also points out there are fanatics.

    I think agnosticism is safer because it doesn't lend itself to extremes.

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  5. This was an excellent essay. However, I believe that we are born agnostic because we have no knowledge of the belief of a "higher" deity.

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