A spur of the moment post


Beksinski
I’m going to write what almost amounts to a short summary of my last post because I very much want to get my point across, although the scant response to that post suggests that some readers tire of the subject, while others simply won’t read such a long post. So…

I’ve written much of my admiration for the writer Margaret Deland (1857-1945). She was raised a hardcore Calvinist Presbyterian (a viciously cruel sect that, like my own boyhood church, I would label as child abuse), but married a Unitarian, and the two of them eventually became liberal Bostonian Episcopalians. One day during church, it came upon Margaret that she no longer believed any of the central doctrines of Christianity, and this led her to walk out of the service. Having thus discarded religion as the foundation of her life, she became obsessed with the question of how to survive in a world that contains both love and death.

This is also my challenge. Without love, I suppose I would kill myself, but with love comes such pain that I can’t see my way to survive it because I know that death ultimately destroys both love and the belovèd. Margaret means a lot to me, not because she found answers that I can accept, but because she struggled with the same question, a question that partially erases the chasm of the 140 years that have passed since she asked it.

I try very hard to understand how people can believe in God in order that I too might believe, yet I know that belief isn’t based upon verifiable evidence, and this makes it untenable for me. Just as believers sometimes suspect that I really do believe—based upon my inability to walk away from religion—I suspect that they don’t, or else they wouldn’t be forever “praying for faith,” going through “crises of faith,” and experiencing “dark nights of the soul,” terms that would seem to imply a hell-bent determination to believe that which one knows isn’t true. I cannot imagine that a person who thinks deeply can be a believer. Rather, I think it requires putting a brake upon one’s thoughts, only how can any intelligent person do so?

But don’t atheists don’t do the same thing? Just as believers set their face toward ignoring doubts about God, is it not true that atheists tend to ignore doubts about whether humanism justifies existence? Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, but perhaps he was wrong, and it’s the superficial life toward which we should aim. Otherwise, why would those believers and atheists who imagine themselves happier than I, tell me that my problem is that I think too much. Think too much?! Can it really be that a good life depends upon floating on the mind’s surface, because to dive into the depths is to trade light and warmth for frigidity and death? Such observations as I have been able to make would seem to suggest that it is so. But what then, does our choice come down to buying happiness at the expense of intellectual integrity?

This is where I get stumped. Namely, do we have a moral right to be shallow, if not outright dishonest, with ourselves, in the pursuit of happiness? I just know that I can’t do it. You could entice me with money, or you could beat with a rod, and I still couldn’t pull it off, yet it would be senseless for me to boast of my integrity when I’m only doing that for which I have no choice.

While it’s true that one can live a good life without God—that is, a life of kindness and caring—this doesn’t resolve the dilemma but rather accentuates the fact that love exists against a background of eternal non-existence that swallows-up both the love and the belovèd. It is therefore true that love gives limited meaning to life even while accentuating the ultimate futility of life, and of what comfort is this?

In a very deep sense, it’s true that I am religious because of my view that only religion can give a foundation to life. I was taught this from my earliest awareness, and it is, perhaps, the only part of what I was taught that I cannot abandon because while I can laugh about whether God cares about baptism by immersion, or whether women should remain silent in church, I can’t laugh about whether God represents the only eternal meaning to life, and, yes, eternity matters to me, deeply. Despite what religious people think, this is not a common sentiment among atheists, but it is who I am. While most atheists view religion as a disease to be cured, I view it as the sine qua non of life, yet I can’t embrace it, and the efforts of religious people to help me only accentuate the gulf between us.

33 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

It seems to me that you've painted yourself into a spiritual corner. As I get older I accept the fact that God is a fairy tale designed to shield primitive minds from fear of the unknown. I regret that I've come to this conclusion but it isn't a focus of my life. Leaving something of myself behind after I'm gone remains important and I'd like to feel a connection to something greater than myself, but I'e finally given up on anything substantial being provided by religion.

lotta joy said...

I hope I don't take up too much comment space, but you hit on something that has bothered my heart for two decades. I have no one to mention this to, yet was near tears earlier, remembering the day and time it happened. What won't seem like much to others, it happened between me and my sister whom I love with every breath as she does me.

My family used to "tease" me for being the one who suffered "paralysis of analysis". It's the only way I know how to operate and is definitely the number one reason I tossed all religions. I thought too much.

But the day that bothers me is due to what I DIDN'T say in my defense. I was pacing the floor and trying to "talk sense" with my sister regarding her "I know what I know that I know" etc. approach to her deep convictions.

I said "But WHY didn't god just snap his fingers and wiggle his nose and say 'that part about blood sacrifice? GONE!' Just forget I ever said anything. He didn't have to kill himself/son, especially since only a few in the world would witness it."

She said "Dana, Dana, Dana. You think too much."

I gave up. I used to "give up" all the time in all areas of my life. I never knew how to bob and weave, throw a punch and move out of the way.

Now, HOW I WISH I HAD SAID "And YOU don't think at all, or else you would see all the flaws in this story."

What bothers me? No one ever took me seriously, because I was the one who THOUGHT too much. Shouldn't that BE the one that is taken seriously??? Arghhhh. Water under the bridge, but still on my mind.

kylie said...

I did read all of your previous post but as is usual with the subject of religion, I can't offer anything new on the subject so I refrained from commenting.
I believe that many people live an unexamined life but it would be intolerable for me and so I think. I may not have answers but the process is valuable in itself.
Often times the most important skill in life is to be able to sit peaceably with the unresolved and I dont know why religious belief would be exempt from that

Strayer said...

What if we are nothing more than animals, which is what I believe, sure we can think, but thinking deeply produces no more meaning than being shallow. There are not great dilemmas. We evolved and struggle, as a species and as individuals, to survive. Our angst can involve the troubling issues of death and suffering and yet these come for all creatures. Our bodies are soft and time limited after all.

we interface our bodily needs with our brain and that is supposed to help us eat and all that. Big brains, big problem if we don't really need them for outright survival. If our lives were much tougher, in finding food, just surviving, most of our time would be spent scavenging for food, not thinking.



Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

Scant response to your last post? I see pages and pages. As I see it, to have faith, one must not question a single doctrine. Just close your eyes and especially your mind and just believe.

Now I can't do that. The mystery is why so many can. Why am I different?

Renae said...

"I know that death ultimately destroys both love and the belovèd". How can you be so sure of that? If you have been open-minded in your life-long quest to find proof of god's existence then surely you have to give the same thoughtful consideration on the possibility that matter cannot be destroyed. Like BBC, I believe that there is a nonphysical aspect of every living thing (animals included)that goes on after the physical death. I don't base this belief exclusively on what people who have had an NDE have said because if you can be resuscitated that means you weren't dead to begin with. What HAS convinced me are the verified out-of-body experiences that many people have recalled while supposedly clinically dead. Examples are too numerous to mention but include leaving the body, traveling to another location and overhearing conversations between other individuals. I am the world's biggest skeptic but I know there is more going on than what most of us can perceive with our five senses. Even our military has used remote viewing tactics. If consciousness is not localized in the brain then why would it end at physical death? This is not an argument for the case of religion. What I am proposing is that even though I don't believe in a "god" that doesn't mean we don't continue on in a spiritual form.

Snowbrush said...

“It seems to me that you've painted yourself into a spiritual corner.”

I can I keep hoping that there’s a third way between dogmatic belief and atheism, and, of course, many claim to have found it, but I simply can’t see why such beliefs as I have encountered are of comfort. For instance, Deland became a spiritualist (something that was extremely popular and taken very seriously back then), and my sister believes in a “force for good that permeates” the universe,” but I can’t for the life of me understand why she believes, or why she finds it personally comforting since that force seems so weak and offers no promise for personal survival beyond this short life.

“I've finally given up on anything substantial being provided by religion.”

Yet, most people would disagree, so what separates them from you? I tend toward thinking that it’s something genetic, but if this is true, why would the degree of religiosity vary so much by region and country.

“I hope I don't take up too much comment space…”

I had just soon that people not worry about that. I write blogpost length comments sometimes on other people’s blogs, so I can hardly complain if they do the same on my blog.

“She said "Dana, Dana, Dana. You think too much.’”

She was echoing Christ in his statement about how, to believe, one must be as a little child.

“Now, HOW I WISH I HAD SAID "And YOU don't think at all, or else you would see all the flaws in this story.’”

We all, I suppose, tend to later think of what we wish we had said. I do it all the time, which is one reason I prefer writing to talking. I don’t suppose I’m below average in framing an instant response, but it doesn’t appear that being average is any too good. If our conversations were recorded, I’ve no doubt but what most of them would be utterly boring to others, but because we’re engaged in them, they seem meaningful to us, at least at the time.

“What bothers me? No one ever took me seriously, because I was the one who THOUGHT too much. Shouldn't that BE the one that is taken seriously???”

I’m delighted with how well you put this, but, as you’re painfully aware, thinking too much is simply not a societal asset when it leads one to point out the inadequacies in what other people want so much to believe. The question is how could you and sister grow up in the same household and be such extremes in regard to religion? Peggy has two sisters, and they all grew up in a strict Southern Baptist household. None of them have gone to church in years, and Peggy, at least, is an atheist. Her older sister was the only one who was ever deeply religious, but when the “prosperity gospel” did nothing to help them, and even led her husband into one bankruptcy when his business failed, she abandoned religion, and has said that she doesn’t believe in God, but I have no idea if she meant that, or if was simply expressing her anger about feeling so let down by God. They gave so much money and effort to the church in the belief that it would make them rich, and instead, they have far less than Peggy and I, yet we worked half as hard, and never for a moment thought that belief or non-belief would make a smidgen of difference in how much we owned.

Snowbrush said...

“Often times the most important skill in life is to be able to sit peaceably with the unresolved and I dont know why religious belief would be exempt from that”

I gave my reasons in this post. As Stephen pointed, I’ve boxed myself into a corner. As for the process being valuable in itself, I doubt that this true. Rather, I think of religion as being much like my former pursuit of women in that it possessed me for so many years, and for what? The ONLY good thing I can say for myself or for what I got from what I did is that I didn’t feel at the time that I could do differently, and I still believe that that was true for me. So it has always been with religion. I’m taking Pauline’s class because I had hoped it would give me a way out, but instead, I feel that it’s waste of time to even try to talk about what brought me there. As Dana pointed out, most people don’t understand, can’t understand, and don’t want to understand.

“thinking deeply produces no more meaning than being shallow.”

And probably not as much. This was what Dana’s sister was trying to tell her.

“If our lives were much tougher, in finding food, just surviving, most of our time would be spent scavenging for food, not thinking.”

You’re probably seen Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the bottom is the physiological, and at the top is self-actualization, and this does make deep questions dependent upon having enough to eat, but it doesn’t necessarily make them less important than having enough to eat. Rather, the satisfying of the physiological could be thought of as like the necessity of building a house’s walls before adding the roof.

“As I see it, to have faith, one must not question a single doctrine. Just close your eyes and especially your mind and just believe.”

Oh, but people do, yet they still have faith. For instance, my sister, Anne grew up fundamentalist, abandoned it as a young adult, and became a very liberal believer, but she’s still very much a believer. So, it’s really not so black and white as you paint it.

“'I know that death ultimately destroys both love and the belovèd". How can you be so sure of that?”

Because I see no reason to believe otherwise.

“I don't base this belief exclusively on what people who have had an NDE have said”

NDE’s can be created in both believers and atheists in a laboratory setting, but the atheists still come away being atheists because, to the atheists, the fact that such experiences can be created in a lab by stimulating various regions of the brain that they’re physiological rather than spiritual.

Snowbrush said...

“What HAS convinced me are the verified out-of-body experiences that many people have recalled while supposedly clinically dead.”

So far as I’m aware, none of these can be proven, and when scientists have tried to prove them (for instance, by writings words in places where only one who was having an out of body experience—or on a ladder—could see them), they have failed.. I know that one night in a dream, I saw a specific event that happened the next day. The event was a trivial one, but it wasn’t one that I could have anticipated, so I was very impressed by seeing it ahead of time. Yet, I have to admit that the dream could have been a coincidence, and, according to Occam’s Razor, it probably was. I know of a someone whose relative loved foxes, and after the relative died, the bereaved started seeing foxes. So, she could go various ways here. She could assume that the deceased was sending foxes her way, or taking the form of foxes, or she could think she was imagining foxes, or she could regard seeing foxes as a coincidence. The question is, which is the most likely to be true? Believers would tend to go one way and skeptics another. Think of all the Catholics who have seen Jesus’ face in mud splatters and so forth. If your sources are indeed verifiable, it’s one thing, but who verified them? As James Randi showed in his studies, anyone can be fooled, including scientists. So, as much as I want to believe, I wouldn’t be quick to do so. At the most, I would be open to the possibilities, as I was with my dream. To me, it FELT like strong evidence of another plane, but to someone else, probably not. If I were to have such dreams all the time, I would believe, but one such event just isn’t enough to do other than to tantalize me.

“Even our military has used remote viewing tactics.”

I should think that this would be a highly reported event. I do know that the CIA tested extrasensory perception but found no evidence for it.

“What I am proposing is that even though I don't believe in a "god" that doesn't mean we don't continue on in a spiritual form.”

No, but it doesn’t mean that we do. The key here is replicable verifiability in settings that are tightly controlled to eliminate other factors. So far, James Randi hasn’t had ANYONE take him up on his million dollar offer for doing this. The usual excuse is that if you try to do such things in the presence of skeptics, they won’t work, and this puts them squarely out of the realm of science and into the realm believing people in the absence of verifiable evidence. I would NEVER believe a popular author in regard to anything that couldn’t be explained in physical terms.

Anonymous said...

This link showed up on my FB page, I found it interesting especially aftner reading your blog.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20160422news-secularism&utm_campaign=Content&sf24840198=1

Kris

Renae said...

"So far as I’m aware, none of these can be proven, and when scientists have tried to prove them (for instance, by writings words in places where only one who was having an out of body experience—or on a ladder—could see them), they have failed".

That is true which is a shame because I think it would help a lot of non-believers.

"NDE’s can be created in both believers and atheists in a laboratory setting".

That is true and is the reason why I reject anyone's experience unless it can be collaborated. For a skeptic like myself, verification must come from first-hand witnesses, such as statements given by attending medical personnel who were able to collaborate what the resuscitated person said about very specific events or conversations that had taken place elsewhere in the hospital. Sure, I guess everyone could be in on a hoax but that seems highly doubtful. I take each individual case and analyze the integrity of the witnesses - such as doctors, nurses and EMTs - and how many actually witnessed and collaborated all events surrounding what the person who had the NDE described. It simply can not be chalked up as a coincidence when someone describes very specific conversations or detailed descriptions of a specific event that had occurred elsewhere while they were "clinically dead". I am at a loss to think it could be anything else but verifiable proof of an out of body experience. Someday we may get "replicable verifiability in settings that are tightly controlled to eliminate other factors". That would be great but I don't need it to be a believer.

"I know that one night in a dream, I saw a specific event that happened the next day".

As far as personal experience, I have had several eerie premonitions. The first occurred many years ago when I announced to my fellow passengers that the car we were riding in would end up in the ditch. Within several minutes one of the tires blew out and the driver lost control and we ended up in the ditch. The second time happened a few years back. My husband and I were in the car and I told him someone was going to hit us broadside. Of course he thought I was being silly. But he could see how upset I was so he slowed down a little. We continued on down the road for awhile and the further we went the more panicky I became. Eventually we topped a rise and up ahead we saw a semi get broadsided by a car which had been traveling on an intersecting gravel road. The driver of the car flew right through the stop sign. Since we were the first on the scene my husband went over to offer assistance. The driver of the car was decapitated. The driver of the semi was fine. Were these two examples coincidence? I don't think so. Thankfully I have never had any other premonitions.


"I should think that this would be a highly reported event". I guess I thought it WAS a highly reported event. I have been aware of it for quite some time.

Thank you, Snow, for allowing me to voice an opposing view.

PhilipH said...

For centuries people have craved PROOF of a god. None found.

No proof, no god. That's my take on it.

People will still be seeking proof when this tiny planet is destroyed by an asteroid or similar collision in space. Ah well, think on...

lotta joy said...

"Can it really be that a good life depends upon floating on the mind’s surface,.."

Yes, dear Snow. That does seem to be the primary gain of not thinking too much. Most people travel hither and yon on the highway, viewing the scenery and listening to music, and their trip is enjoyably replayed for everyone who will listen.

By contrast, I go on a trip via car only if it's a life or death situation as I fear all the "well thought out" possibilities. Oddly, none of them are fun. I carefully watch the other motorists, turn the radio off so I won't be distracted, and worry about having a wreck, breakdown, or a flat tire. My trip is NOT enjoyable other than when I can say "It's over and I survived."

Regarding religion being owned by those who do not waste time thinking, there's more to it: such as gullibility and acceptance of what others say as being right.

Just because there are SO MANY christians in America versus atheists, tells a lot of people there is more plausibility given the numbers who believe.

Safety in numbers? Tell that to 8,000,000 jews during the Hitler regime.

But it's more a form of mass delusion. In our evolutionary trail, belonging to a family, group or clan, secured our survival. The urge to belong is still alive and well, even if it means never investigating the facts or "not thinking".

Believing gives my husband peace, yet he goes through the same trials as I do. I've asked him HOW can something that might not even be true, give him peace, even if the peace is a delusion. But the fact is, IT DOES for him what it never did for me.

There MUST be a genetic or chemical difference to explain how and why our brains differ so radically.

kylie said...

when I talked about sitting with the unresolved , I was thinking of my own life. My employment situation is odd, I haven't entirely given up on doula work but I also can't expect to continue with it. The financial strain is bad enough, it's easier to deal with if I can at least be philosophical about the unknowns of the future.
For me, religion is a little the same: there are unanswered questions about God but I have decided to work with what I do understand and maybe the other parts will come. Or maybe they wont.

I am sorry that you and Dana appear to feel your tendency to think a lot is a burden. I truly believe that thinking makes people better, even if they dont feel it achieves anything. I believe that people who think a lot have more considered responses to the people and events of their lives, people who think a lot experience the world in a more nuanced way and there is beauty in that.

My daughters have a friend who hurt them deeply. When confronted about it, she said "oh, i'm just a happy, positive person, I dont think too much about that"
Admittedly she is only 20 years old but to me, that way of going through life is not something I can respect. A deep thinker would never say anything so .....well, thoughtless

rhymeswithplague said...

I have given up trying to convince or persuade you to come around to my way of thinking, and I believe you have given up trying to convince or persuade me to come around to yours, yet we remain friends. Hooray for us! We are a good example of how absolutely civilized two people can be who will never fully understand one another. ISIS should take notes. I do want to thank you publicly on your blog for the very generous and loving comment you left on my blog recently urging me to continue to blog. That is, in fact, my intention. I was so overwhelmed by the sentiments you expressed that I never responded but it certainly didn't go unnoticed.

Snowbrush said...

“No proof, no god. That's my take on it.”

You’re typical of most atheists, and I do see your point. It’s just that for me, there is an unbridgeable gulf between the intellect and the emotions. A world without God is a world without safety. Of course, it’s not less safe for believing in God (all of America’s recent natural disasters have been in the Bible Belt where churches are as likely to be flattened by tornadoes as casinos), but there

“My trip is NOT enjoyable other than when I can say "It's over and I survived.”

That is SO true of me too. I had rather go someplace in someone else’s car because at least that way, I don’t have to worry about it being my car that breaks down, and the older I get, the more I worry because I know that the train at the end of the tunnel is getting closer.

“Safety in numbers? Tell that to 8,000,000 jews during the Hitler regime.”

But there is also such a thing as the tyranny of the majority in a democratic system, the idea being that the majority always wins, and individual rights be damned.

“There MUST be a genetic or chemical difference to explain how and why our brains differ so radically.”

I know, but how, then, to explain why nearly everyone in Scandinavia is an atheist, and nearly everyone in the Bible Belt is a theist?

Snowbrush said...

“I am sorry that you and Dana appear to feel your tendency to think a lot is a burden…I believe that people who think a lot have more considered responses to the people and events of their lives, people who think a lot experience the world in a more nuanced way and there is beauty in that.”

You’re right, but there is also a heavy price to pay for for uncertainty. I would guess that most of our problems in America are caused by most (not all) religious people being CERTAIN that they’re right based upon beliefs that have no verifiable foundation. For instance, they deny global warming because they claim that God wouldn’t do that to his creation, and they deny evolution because it conflicts with the Bible. I should think that these people would be happier for believing that they KNOW what is true, whereas people like myself who find gray zones everywhere would be less happy, but are they? When you look at the part of the country in which I spent my first 36 years (it’s called the Bible Belt because of its religiosity), people are anything but happy, partly because their religion creates so many problems for them. For instance, their discrimination against gays and transgender people is costing them economically because corporations don’t want to be there. When I was a boy, the same thing was true, but then it was racial segregation and gender oppression that religious Southerns supported based upon the Bible. So, what to think about whom is happier. Denmark is supposed to be happiest place on earth, and it’s socialist. This causes me to look askance at capitalism because in a system like America’s, the rich are ALWAYS going to run things, and there is no end to what they’ll do in the interest of money. Destroy the environment? No problem. Work twelve year old children eighty hours a week in coal mines? Why not? That’s what capitalism will do. Of course, here in America, it doesn’t work children to death anymore, but that’s not because the wealthy wanted to do the right thing but because public outrage ended it.

So, the public can control things, but the odds are stacked against them until they get so mad that they’re at the point of revolution, but the fact that religion is nearly always on the side of the wealthy tends to mollify the public. I don’t think that religion EVER leads the way when it comes to social changes that, after the passage of a few decades, even most religious people come to support. The religion of the masses is forever under the thumb of the powerful. This is so obvious in America’s Republican Party, where candidates who support the wealthy by opposing desperately needed social programs nevertheless win the support of impoverished religious people by taking the moral stands that religion supports. Nowhere in America are government run social programs more needed than in the Deep South, but nowhere are these same programs more opposed than in the Deep South, and this is because of the marriage of religion with politics. If it comes down to a choice between keeping transexuals out of public toilets or starving to death, religious people seem to prefer starving to death, based upon the candidates they support. So what if scores of corporations leave the South, at least the
Southern religious community will have succeeded in preventing them damn perverts from going potty. This is exactly the kind of trade-off that religion makes.

Snowbrush said...

“This link showed up on my FB page…”

Thank you. I’ll copy and paste a little of it:

“The religiously unaffiliated, called "nones," are growing significantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.“

“As far as personal experience, I have had several eerie premonitions.”

Me too, but not once have mine come true. How do you account for our difference?

“For a skeptic like myself, verification must come from first-hand witnesses”

If it can’t be reproduced by multiple researchers, I wouldn’t be convinced because in this, as in jury trials, eyewitnesses are the weakest kind of proof. Ten people could see a duck cross the street and give very different descriptions of the event. Also, we tend to see what we want to see, or what other people say they saw. Besides, when we’re remembering an event, we’re partially remembering previous memories of that event, and memories can altered. Finally, it would take sworn affidavits for an eye-witness account to impress me even a little.

“I guess I thought it WAS a highly reported event. I have been aware of it for quite some time.”

Do you mean the Stargate Project? It was abandoned because it didn’t work. I’ve tried to find what else you might be talking about, and I failed.

“Thank you, Snow, for allowing me to voice an opposing view.”

Always.

“My daughters have a friend who hurt them deeply. When confronted about it, she said "oh, i'm just a happy, positive person, I don’t think too much about that”

As with Dana’s sister, she equates happiness with superficiality, and intellectual integrity be damned. The trouble here is that, if whatever makes you happy is what you should believe, the only reason you believe in God is that believing in God makes you happy, therefore, if you found something that made you happier than believing in God, you would dump your belief in God because it’s not God you worship, but rather happiness.

“I have given up trying to convince or persuade you to come around to my way of thinking, and I believe you have given up trying to convince or persuade me to come around to yours, yet we remain friends.”

I never knew we tried. I was aware that you preferred that I be a Christian, but I never felt you were attempting to offer proof of your religion. Likewise, I never expected to convert you to atheism, but instead tried to make my own views understood, both to you and to myself. It’s easy to imagine that I record fully formed thoughts, but sometimes, writing allows my thoughts to develop

“I do want to thank you publicly on your blog for the very generous and loving comment you left on my blog recently urging me to continue to blog. “

Thank you. I love you and, better yet, I respect you.

Sparkling Red said...

One of the reasons I stopped going to church after 4 years was because I couldn't stop myself from asking all the hard questions. At this point I suppose I am functionally an agnostic. I have experienced living at both ends of the atheist-theist spectrum, and neither was entirely comfortable, so now I float in the middle and just try to live a good life.

BBC said...

I attended a Unitarian Fellowship for a few years but started having issues with them. I don't think there is any such thing as an atheist even though there are many folks that don't believe in god as presented to them. We are all spiritual beings having fucked up human experiences.

Snowbrush said...

“I float in the middle and just try to live a good life.”

I don’t understand how anyone can be in the middle because to be in the middle, as you put it, is to take the position that there is evidence both ways, but what evidence? The ONLY things I can think of are that most people throughout history have believed, and that it is comforting to believe. Other than that, what? That to believe in God would explain the universe, or our moral sense? True, but wouldn’t you have to have an inkling of what God is for such an explanation to be meaningful? Otherwise, God just a word. “Why do experience love?” “God.” “Why thunder and lightning?” “God.” “How did we get here?” “God.” See what I mean. To posit God as the answer to anything isn’t so much an answer as an evasion because no one even knows what God is. Even the people who say the creeds don’ t really claim to know what God is, so they say “God is beyond our understanding.” Okay, fine, but if God is beyond our understanding, where is the evidence that God exists? I would hold that a belief in God is almost surely an evolutionary adaptation that, perhaps, our species is still holding onto, although it is now working against us. I mean, really, if you could take God out of the equation, Islamic terrorism would cease, Sharia Law would cease, opposition to stem cell research would cease, many forms of discrimination would cease, etc, etc, etc.

“I don't think there is any such thing as an atheist even though there are many folks that don't believe in god as presented to them.”

My god, man, I’ve seen atheists with my own eyes! On some occasions I’ve seen hundreds of them all at once, and I don’t mean in a photo but in the flesh, right there in front of me, cursing good and praising evil while strangling toddlers and kittens.

Snowbrush said...

“I don't think there is any such thing as an atheist…”

Okay, BBC, I’ll try to be serious. Sure, you can eliminate even the possibility of atheism if you claim that God is love, or that God is the universe, or that God is morality, or the animating spirit, and so forth, but when someone says he’s an atheist, he’s typically saying two things. One is that he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. The other is that to define God as love, or universal harmony, or so forth is redundant. In other words, why call the universe God, instead of simply calling the universe the universe? Or, why refer to love as God instead of simply referring to love as love? The word God, atheists would hold, adds nothing to our understanding of anything but instead confuses our understanding of many things, because it is so damn vague. It might make a person’s eyes misty or give them a warm feeling in their heart to talk about God, but it’s objectively meaningless unless you go whole-hog into such fantastic dogma as to claim that God (whatever God is) became man, and died for our sins.

BBC said...

"My god, man, I’ve seen atheists with my own eyes! On some occasions I’ve seen hundreds of them all at once, and I don’t mean in a photo but in the flesh, right there in front of me, cursing good and praising evil while strangling toddlers and kittens."

Another term for them would be "Assholes."

" Sure, you can eliminate even the possibility of atheism if you claim that God is love, or that God is the universe, or that God is morality,"

The closest thing that comes to "god" is nature cuz it is nature that creates EVERYTHING. Look, there is no requirement that you believe in any biblical god and if you haven't figured it all out by now why even bother to muddle through it? You are an old man and it simply doesn't matter, go fishing and stop driving yourself nuts over it.

I'll quote Richard Bach, "BE GOOD OR WE WILL KILL YOU."

E. Rosewater said...

I would guess that a very large percentage of people believe in god etc because they were indoctrinated at a very young age and had no choice in the matter. the question is, how many people would buy into it if they had zero exposure to religion until the age of 18 and then were given a sales pitch from each side?

Probably the skill of the salesman would be a larger factor in the decision making process than the content of the message.

fiftyodd said...

I read your posts and all comments with great interest and relief that there are so many deep thinkers out there. Recently, I have begun taking a sleeping pill as I lie awake at night worrying about being dead and eternally separated from my loved ones. I try so hard to imagine the nothingness that I am sure awaits but that thought is a no-brainer as it assumes I would have to be conscious to experience it. I will watch out for drug side effects though. Look what happened to you. It's hard to believe you recovered from most of your symptoms. I see you didn't get much sympathy on that front from some readers. You have mine though: I am humbly grateful that as yet I have nothing much (physically) wrong with me. NB. I hope you continue not to block any comments, except those with gratuitous swear words. A compliment: as your thoughts are so detailed lhave to concentrate so hard I am sure the effort is helping to ward off any chance of Altzheimers.



Snowbrush said...

“The closest thing that comes to "god" is nature cuz it is nature that creates EVERYTHING.”

If God has no reality independent of nature, why do you deny that atheists exist? Atheists believe in nature, they just argue that it doesn’t add to our understanding of anything to refer to nature as God.

“the question is, how many people would buy into it if they had zero exposure to religion until the age of 18 and then were given a sales pitch from each side?”

If a person was raised without religion in a culture without religion, I don’t think he or she would later be likely to embrace any religion that I’ve ever heard of. In fact, I think he would be utterly incredulous to hear of them.

“I have begun taking a sleeping pill as I lie awake at night worrying about being dead and eternally separated from my loved ones.”

You too?! This means that you not only GET it, but you’re the very first person who even seemed to have an inkling of what my experience is like. I have felt so alone until reading what you wrote. Between physical pain and the dread of death and separation, I can hardly sleep. I took two Ambien (ten mgs each) and 1,500 mgs of Neurontin last night, and I still didn’t get enough sleep. You reach a point where you have to take so many pills that, even if you’re able to sleep even nearly long enough, you still feel like hell the next day.

“I try so hard to imagine the nothingness that I am sure awaits but that thought is a no-brainer as it assumes I would have to be conscious to experience it.”

I think of death as “feeling” the way one feels under general anesthesia, you know, when you’re so out of it, that they can cut you up and move you to another room without you being aware of ANY of it.

“as your thoughts are so detailed l have to concentrate so hard I am sure the effort is helping to ward off any chance of Altzheimers.”

Why thank you!

fiftyodd said...

On the other hand, maybe Altzheimer's is a blessing for the sufferer, if not for their families. (Imagine being unable to think clearly about anything). Interesting about one's exposure to religion when young. My parents were not church-goers although they sent me to Church of England Sunday School in the UK, (a very bland experience)- I think just because they went as children. It was the 'done' thing. There was no mention of religion of any kind in our house ever. So I guess since the age of 18 and receiving 'sales pitches from each side', I've ended up in the same place as you but by a different route.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have often thought that "ignorance is indeed bliss."

Helen said...

"do we have a moral right to be shallow, if not outright dishonest, with ourselves, in the pursuit of happiness?"

Yesterday a friend told me'I don't allow myself to be happy.' I don't think of myself as an unhappy person. No doubt it will come up again during one of our conversations over a meal and a glass of good wine.

The line from your post resulted in a lot of introspection on my part today.

Thanks!!

Joe Todd said...

"Only religion can give a foundation to life." Say what?????? If that is true who needs a foundation that many religions give.

robin andrea said...

I appreciated so much reading the comments here. I love how deeply thoughtful and honest people are when considering this subject. I have no answers or even very much insight. I was raised mostly without religion and found my way to the deeply spiritual awakening of just being. I suspect we each find our own way to the belief systems that most suit our natures, our brains, our inner workings. I don't believe in god, but I am utterly struck by the beauty of the swirling universe and our tiny, tiny little speck of a planet in it.

Snowbrush said...

“"Only religion can give a foundation to life." Say what??????”

In the sense of permanence, that is of life beyond this life.

“No doubt it will come up again during one of our conversations over a meal and a glass of good wine.”

I hate eating out. So many love it, and I wish I did too, but I always end up thinking about how uncomfortable being in a restaurant is when compared to being at home with my own refrigerator, bathroom, and cats—or else in someone else’s home with their refrigerator, bathroom, and, perhaps, cats or dogs.

“I am utterly struck by the beauty of the swirling universe and our tiny, tiny little speck of a planet in it.”

Well, there is that, but there’s also the misery that underlies life, that is the sickness, the hatred, the greed, the broken bodies, the natural disasters, and the killing that we all must do in order to live. True, at some level all things are beautiful (in a subjective sense anyway, which is the only sense in which beauty exists). For example, a hurricane seen from above, or the cells of a starving cat, or the might of tsunami, but I can never forget the misery, not for long anyway, because it as as constant as the beauty and, I think, more compelling.

CJ said...

I think we all have to make up our own interpretation of what is life, what is the meaning of it all, or the reasons for happiness or misery.

We can take reasonable precautions, but there are no guarantees. Why does an apparently young, fit person have a stroke & die and an old person in poor health survive for years while continuing to smoke and eat tons of fat, salt and sugar?

To me, it is all random. Neither a god nor the forces of nature don't decide to hit one home with a tornado and destroy the one beside it. It happens because of the forces of nature interacting with other forces of nature.

Man-made misery may be something else, but maybe not. A serial killer plans on killing one person, but that person runs into a friend at that moment and therefore the killer chooses someone else. One person runs a stop light and is fine, while another causes him/herself to be killed along with a car full of children.

I was once at a workshop for artists with my husband (1976). One of the participants worked at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. She mentioned that she had been mugged three times in NY City. Someone asked how she could stand to live in such a dangerous place. But she looked on it as the urban equivalent of a rural farmer experiencing a draught or having an accident on a tractor. Sure, she'd like NY to be a safer place, but it is what it is.

The world can be a beautiful place and it can be dangerous, too. Sometimes when I think of all the diseases a person can catch or the accidents that can happen or the natural disasters that can kill one, it's a wonder that many of us live past age 20. I'm 71 now, and consider myself lucky to me alive and in relatively good health. But I could have a heart-attack or be hit my a car and be gone tomorrow.

I just know that if I were made godess of the universe, I might find it necessary for people to die when their bodies no longer work well enough to keep them alive, as to make room for new people, but suffering, misery, and cruelty would be gone.

That's one reason why I cannot accept the existence of an all-powerful god. If the Christian god were all-powerful and real, why isn't the world a better place?