Thursday, January 05, 2006

MILITANT AGNOSTICS UNITE: I DON'T KNOW AND YOU DON'T KNOW EITHER


I tend to be an agnostic for the most part, and I enjoy lurking and reading at a site called "God is For Suckers" at http://gods4suckers.net/ . None of the theists who post there have done anything to convince me that God exists, and the athiests haven’t done a great job in proving to me that God doesn’t exist, although I do tend to lean in that direction.

I was a regular churchgoer until about seven years ago. My family and I attended a liberal Methodist church, the people there were friendly, and there was a genreral atmosphere of tolerance for people regardless of belief, race, gender or sexual preference. I was actually rather comfortable there. So what caused me to leave?

Part of it was my conflict with some of the basic tenets of the faith, including the virgin birth, the resurrection and the concept of salvation. I’ve always been a “show me” guy, and I guess I don’t really believe in miracles… I tend to believe what can be proven to me. My feeling was that if I couldn’t believe Jesus was a supernatural being of sorts who was sent by an omniscient being to save the world, that Jesus died to save the world but rose from the dead, and that if someone believes in Jesus they can live forever… these things stretch the boundaries of science too much for me.

Another major factor was that I had been depressed for years, and I realized some of this was coming from my relgious conflicts. I had always been a chronic worrier, and I was developing some strange behaviors that turned out to be manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I am OCD to a moderate degree, enough that it was interfering with my quality of life… so I got some counseling and got some medication. I think the old saying “Better living through chemistry” came from the Eisenhower era, didn’t it? At any rate, I think it still applies today. Part of my OCD involved superstitious behaviors, and I realized that, to me, the rituals performed at the weekly church service were very superstitious in nature. Needing to avoid superstitious behavior at all costs, I stopped attending church. I haven’t gone back in nearly seven years, I have come to grips with the fact that I have never really had a “personal relationship” with “God”, and I have stopped worrying about it… and I have never felt better about myself and about my life.

It’s almost like I got off of some bad, mind-bending drugs. I feel like my mind has cleared enough now to see how the GOP has co-opted fundamentalist Christianity in the U.S. for its own nefarious agenda, and it breaks my heart. People who prey on the fears of others? I think it’s reprehensible. I was a moderate Democrat until Bush assumed power. His bull-headed stupidity and stubbornness, combined with his fundamentalist religious beliefs and too much testosterone, has caused me to become a rabid leftist. So, the final straw for me during the past decade has been the way in which people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Dubya, et al have used people’s fundamentalism-generated fears to control vast numbers of voters.

I know a lot of people find comfort in their beliefs, in believing they will never die, that they don’t have to think a whole lot about why things are the way they are in the world… they are the way they are, simply because of God? If that floats a person’s boat and they aren’t pushing me to believe the same thing, and if they aren’t going to talk down to me or pity me because I don’t share their beliefs… I can be as tolerant as anyone. And I do know quite a few believers who fit that description. I even believe most believers in America fit that mold. So why don’t those believers stand up and put some pressure on the fundamentalist control freaks who seem to be always squeaking and who therefore always seem to get the grease? I think Christianity in America is getting taken over by lunatics. And that the ultimate goals of those lunatics are political in nature and have nothing to do with salvation.

I am not a gambler by nature. I cherish life, and the simple fact that I am alive in such a wondrous place as the Earth brings me great joy. Sometimes I find myself feeling like I am part of something much greater but which I could not begin to describe or theorize about. Could this be God? I don't know. I find great joy in the company of other people too. I don’t want to stake my life on something, a belief system, that I find preposterous in many ways. I can’t say for sure that it isn’t all true, because it might be. But if I have a choice, which I do, I’m going to live in what I see and know, which is the here and now, and take things as they come. As I see life, a cookie-cutter approach would only create a tendency for me to use less critical thinking and to be less inclined to see past myself and try to help better the world.

From Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary:

FAITH, n.
Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

That’s just my .02 worth.

3 Comments:

Blogger Sheryl said...

As usual, you have summed up my position rather well, except that I was never a believer to start with. Actually I think you are extremely well adjusted for an agnostic bordering on atheist.

I think a lot of atheists and agnostics have anger about having been duped that they need to deal with. When I joined the secular humanist society in NZ, some of the members made me uncomfortable with their obsession about how religious people were taking everyone else down. I have seen that from some atheists here as well, and I don't think it is a healthy think to fixate on.

On the other hand, I think the whole "war on Christmas" was a right wing PR stunt, and perhaps the abuse of religion for political gain is something to fixate on. The idea that the christians are being persecuted it so ludicrous that I would laugh if I didn't know that some people take it seriously. But that being said, I do think that some atheists need counselling. There is some anger when people realize that they have been had, especially when they have been had by their own parents or love ones. I don't think it is productive to damn people for using psychological crutches, which is what religion is.

It's really a matter of how those crutches are used. Sometimes people need crutches. I think religion is good for dealing with loss of loved ones, for example. And sometimes when life really sucks, I fantasize about some external souce I can blame things on. Just so I don't have to internalize it or vent it inappropriately on others. But I am glad that you have found that healthy balance of tolerance without compromising your own perspective.

It's really weird to me when you say you have OCD, Snave because you seem like one of the best adjusted people I know, Snave. Maybe things just don't come through on the internet, but you seem to have a very healthy outlook on things. :-)

4:57 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

What a great post. I know exactly how you feel.

I grew up in a moderate Protestant church and I've never been able to completely give up on Christianity.
I don't attend church often but I'm still very interested in the subject.

I must be getting more agnostic and objective all the time because I can certainly understand how weird it must be for non-religious people to live in this country. It must be like you're sane and you've been committed to an asylum by mistake.

I'm also having a harder and harder time understanding why we scoff at the stories from other religions but totally accept the parting of the Red Sea or the Rapture...

Sometimes I think the afterlife is basically a "safety valve" concept mankind cooked up because our collective egos just can't handle
the fact our existence is over when we stop breathing.

5:02 PM  
Blogger David said...

Great post, J. (And thoughtful comments, too.) This subject takes up a lot of space in my vast cranium, too. A lot of the fiction I never get around to finishing deals with it, which shouldn't be surprising. The stakes are pretty high.

As a junior high kid, I really did feel like I had a "personal relationship with Jesus." It was a feeling of great contentment and assurance. But then girls and the almighty pursuit of them happened...and then the meaning I found (or at least felt suggested) in great literature and movies (already big forces in my life) expanded to fill that void.

One of the things that interests my about Catholicism, at least as it's portrayed in novels (!), is the idea that even priests often have to DECIDE to have faith. The feeling isn't there, but they make that conscious decision and have faith and then, maybe, glints of real mercy shoot through once in a while. I suppose some protestants would say they do the same thing: keep praying and praying and trying to believe, and then they break through and get hang out there for awhile before they lose it again.

Cynicism is too much a habit for me now, I guess. Hard for me to imagine deciding to have faith in something that honestly doesn't feel plausible to me -- a single "right" spiritual answer that must, by definition, exclude the bulk of humanity. But maybe if enough terrible things happen to me (or even one terrible-enough thing happens), I'll be willing to grab at whatever crumb I'm afforded, just for a little comfort.

Another lighthearted, hard-partyin' Friday night at Dave's...

10:00 PM  

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