I've probably been driving this blog bus around long enough to have visited the same topics a time or three. I guess one person's tired old story, though, is fresh (and hopefully interesting) to someone else.
Today, I thought I'd drop some of my thoughts on religion. Some of my views seem to all but encourage folks to make certain assumptions about who and why I am. Maybe I can clear up a few things, today... and maybe muddy up a few other things.
First, allow me to semanticize a little bit. (Yes, I made that word up, but I kinda dig it so it stays.) I'm hoping the following will give the perceptive reader an idea of where I'm coming from... where I'm truly coming from when I make certain statements.
For instance, I believe there are three general states of being, opinion-wise:
- the affirmative state, in which you believe "it" is so.
- the negative state, in which you believe "it" is not so.
- and, finally, the neutral state, which could mean "none of the above" or even "all of the above."
Lemme throw out some nuanced examples. If someone says, "I believe God exists; do you," the respondent might say any of the following:
1) "Yes." This is the affirmative state, in which the respondent believes "it" is so. (i.e. "Yes, I believe there is a God.")If I asked you, "Do you think DLP projectors are better than LCD models," you might say, "no," meaning, "No, I wouldn't say that because I don't know enough about either to choose one over the other."
2) "No." This could be a negative state or a neutral state. When asked if one believes something is true "No," simply means the respondent is not prepared to say the above is so.
2a) Negative state - That may be because the respondent definitely disagrees (i.e. "No, I believe there is no God.") or...
2b) Neutral state - ...it may be because she thinks it may be true or untrue (i.e. "No, I don't believe there is a God." or even "...I don't disbelieve, either."
So, the person who says, "No," isn't necessarily condemning or actively disagreeing with those who believe in God, prefer DLP projectors, or think there were WMD's.
It's all about how the topic is framed and how much the respondent wants to explain. So yeah, as with so many things, it really comes down to a question of semantics.
Labels and Assumptions
That said, "No, I don't believe there is a God."*
I'm no atheist, but I'm not prepared to say they're wrong, either. I'm becoming more comfortable with the "agnostic" label, but even that can be confusing, depending on which definition stands out to you.
Some folks tend to see agnostics as an indecisive lot, confused and befuddled by existential exploration - spineless souls without the conviction or confidence to stand for anything, so they're likely to fall for everything.
That's about as accurate as saying that people of faith are a herd of lemmings with no capacity to reason, bound by rusty chains of logic. It's about as accurate and fair as saying that atheists are a cult of devil-worshipers with no moral fiber and less compassion and respect for the natural world.
To even begin to have an atypically meaningful, illuminating discussion on religion, participants must be prepared to actively disabuse themselves of the temptingly one-dimensional assumptions and characterizations of everyone who disagrees... simply because they disagree.
Knowing & Believing
I can respect someone who believes there's a God or that there isn't one. One thing that concerns me, though, are people who say that these things are definitely so. Many theists and atheists do just that.
Many atheists say they KNOW that the universe(s) is Godless, despite being incapable of proving this. Many theists say they KNOW there's a God, despite being incapable of proving this.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with believing something is likely so or even being convinced, but to state that something is objective fact is to take it out of the realm of belief and raising it to a higher standard of proof, discussion, and debate.
Some atheists condemn the very concept of faith, without realizing how much of their own position is faith-based. Many are unaware of the fact or unwilling to admit that they more or less have embraced science as if it were a religion. In a lot of cases, science is their belief-system, despite how much they hate to hear me say that.
We know that science offers many answers, but we also know that it raises many questions. What we know pales in-comparison to what we don't. Still, many believe that science is perfectly capable of drawing definitive, objective, timeless conclusions about not only what is, but what cannot possibly be.
It is an act of faith to draw such all-encompassing conclusions (i.e. that there is no God) based on comparatively little evidence.
Religion as Science
Some religious people mistake faith for reason and religion for science. It's the flip side of the coin I describe in the previous section, but it's just as flawed, in my opinion - perhaps even moreso.
In either case, drawing conclusions based on false, inconclusive, or incomplete information and perspectives is very different from uncovering universal truths. Let's compromise and call them the truth... as you see it.
Science and religion attempt to answer many of the same questions, but there are areas that are better addressed with one or the other. I don't look to science to figure out why I am here and I don't look to religion to tell me this world is thousands instead of millions of years old.
Maybe by now, those who are still reading this are thinking that I spend more time saying what's wrong with others' perspectives than I do sharing my own. You may have a point, but I share many of those perspectives, except in the places where I find fault with them. It can be easier to say, "I agree with everything except..." than to itemize one's worldview. Still, before bringing this rant to a close, I'll try to focus a little more on what I do believe than on what I don't.
More Than You Can HandlePlaying God
I do not believe that "He won't give you more than you can handle." Okay. I know I said I'd focus on what I DO think, but this qualifies. To rephrase, I think He, life, fate, or whatever WILL give you more than you can handle. I think that believing otherwise would require willful ignorance of the world around you and the lives that preceded ours. People suffer so much that they break. This happens today and it happened to Black slaves, despite how much they believed in their new religion.
Touched by God
I believe there's value in acknowledging what subjectively appears to be the influence of a higher power on your life, the lives of those around you, or the world in which we live. I have a hard time confirming whether this person or that person really was touched by the Hand of God, abducted by aliens, or saw the Virgin Mary in some alphabet soup, but I know that I've often felt as if my life were going well or poorly due to some outside influence. I've felt that I've experienced things because there were lessons I needed to learn and put to good use. Kinda like how you learn a word, then it seems like you encounter it everywhere - almost as if you learned it just so that you could understand or cope with what was to come.
I believe in love as a concept that is greater than any electro-chemical processes that may take place within my brain or my body.
I don't know if we have a soul.
I believe many people embrace the concept of God or the afterlife because embracing the reality of their existence is too scary or painful for them. I believe this is beneficial in some ways and harmful in others.
Some people are praying like they're playing Lotto. Oh, they'd hate to hear me say it that way, but I can't count the number of times have I heard someone say, "Well, why NOT believe? I mean, if you're wrong, so what? You lose nothing. If you're right, then you saved your soul from eternal damnation!"
Sorry, but this ain't about the odds. It's not a crap shoot. It's not a trip to the dog races. It's not a visit to Biloxi.
I question the sincerity of any believer who suggests the idea that one could or should fake or force belief in something so marvelous and all-encompassing as a Higher Power. I mean, if He's all-powerful, he'll know you're faking, anyway.
I'm not brainwashing myself or my future children in this way. If I find my own path to God or away from Him, it will be because that is what makes sense to me.
And that brings me to what I hope will be my final point, for now:
If searching for, exploring, and embracing the path that makes the most sense to me, while treating others with respect, is the kind of thing that would make this or any God divinely pissed and prepared to torture me forever, then He's unworthy of my Love and I never truly had a chance of proving myself worthy of his.
* - If, after all that, you don't now what I mean by this, I'm going to have to ask you to see me after class.