Sunday, October 08, 2006

In Defense of Us Cowardly Agnostics

When I started the post, I had no idea it would end up being so damn long, so Tim, go ahead and skip this one, and the rest of you, grab some snacks and refreshments, cause it's gonna be a long, strange trip indeed.........

In an examination of faith, or lack thereof, on another blog, I felt that some responders were rather hostile to the idea of agnosticism, suggesting it to be an escape mechanism in case the atheists are wrong and something divine wants to hold you accountable. They even went so far as to describe it as somewhat of a cowardice, and that's when I felt the concept needed some sort of defense.

Yes, there but for the grace of (who the hell knows?) goes I, the almost atheist, for I fully realize that the only concrete knowledge mankind has ever gathered has been derived from the scientific method, shared and recorded knowledge of events and experiences, and solid things one can touch and feel, or witness with the help of a microscope or telescope. Even the magic of math has pierced the veil of mystery surrounding so much of the physical world, enabling us to comprehend things that mere observation cannot bring to light. Yes, the atheist has all the proof in the world of what IS, and very little in the way of philosophy to suggest what could be, sans any scientific evidence. The atheist is much more likely to make their way through the world based on sound reasoning than the religious, simply due to the fact that one is led by what IS, while the other is led in directions having nothing to do with what is, but how they believe they have been directed. For instance, a poor, unmarried, atheistic woman might choose abortion based on the fact that she can't provide for the child and is not ready to start a family, while the religious woman in the same situation would probably have the child, out of fear of damnation, the religious influence totally overriding any practical consideration. The agnostic would at least agonize over the choice, before deciding for herself what would be the best course of action. But tell me, what is so flawed with that?

You have to give the agnostic credit for not necessarily forming a concrete picture of what divinity might be, or even defining it as a force of creation. Many agnostics are simply failed adherents of established religions, such as I, the lapsed Catholic. But let's start at the beginning of this label. Why was I a Catholic? It certainly wasn't by conscious decision. My parents, who were Catholic, for whatever reason, at the appropriate time as dictated by that dogma, baptized me according to the laws of the church, and WAH-LAH, I "became" Catholic, to young to even know it. Then, later in life, those who were my guardians took it upon themselves to see to it that I was indoctrinated by the teachings of the Catholic church, seeing to it that I attended Mass and Sunday school, so that my immortal soul remained intact and untainted by the evil surrounding us. That "evil", I presume, was the teachings of other religions, or the possibility of my questioning what I was being taught. I had no real problem with this early on, since I was to busy coming to grips with the basics of human existence, and didn't have time or motivation to even want to challenge the "facts" that had been presented to me. However, I can't even begin to count the sleepless nights I suffered as a child wondering if something sinful I did or thought would result in me being cast into a lake of fire for all eternity. Such are the sins visited upon children in their formative years.

All throughout my life I spoke to this invisible man who I had been taught was the creator of all things. Never once did he reply. Even in my darkest moments, when I needed him most, he remained silent, and I was left with nothing but what I choose to do to deal with the moment. Sometimes I would say I moved in the right direction, other times I didn't. Only in distant retrospect can I suggest which direction was which. Even now I can't say with certainty whether or not I would have done the things I did knowing what I know now, or whether fate would have held me to that path regardless. But here I am, and not once did I detect the influence of divinity. And still, I refuse to declare one way or another whether or not I would have been able to.

The most valuable aspect of becoming responsible for one's own self is that you are finally free to think independently, if you are strong enough, or even adventurous enough to do so. Although I had plenty enough to keep my mind occupied, with such things as survival, emotional succulence, and achievement, I did have the thirst to know how others approached this thing called God. I was amazed at the different interpretations that cultures all over the world, and even those within my own sphere of existence, formed of this concept. Perhaps it was with the grace of being so spiritually lazy that I was able to think that all I had been taught might not be the final word on the subject. And yes, when the hypocrisy of it all began to weigh on me, with such a violent history, wars, injustice, the very nature of man, I tilted heavily towards tossing the whole idea that something divine could possibly exist.

But there were all those sunsets, those wondrous paintings on the horizon that no artist could ever match. There were the constant miracles occurring, when people diagnosed by medical science to die, instead would live, cured when no cure was possible. There was the music, the art, the kindness so many people were capable of in the most dire of circumstances, and the literature that transcended what I knew of existence and what one could imagine. And the night sky......ah.......back in the day when one could see the heavens in a pitch black night in ALL their glory......oh my....if that could exist, anything could be possible!

Then, as I delve into the wonders of biological diversity and how complex this web of life surrounding us actually was, it dawned on me that there was no need to to believe in a creator, an invisible man with strange rules, or a heaven and a hell. When one watches an anthill, sees a flight of geese flying formation, watches the mating rituals of hammerhead sharks courtesy of the discovery channel, or strokes the fur of a cat, one can sense a force more powerful than anything if one only pays attention. This is a segway, so pay attention.

Day by day, it seems, we are finding out more intricate details about how this universe was created, going back to a distant time, far more distant than one can easily comprehend, when a mere speck in a sea of nothing exploded violently outward in a cascade of creation, the laws of physics, perhaps even changing second by split second to accommodate each moment of split second of situation, eventually spread out to form the universe that we now witness as our reality. It is suggested that eventually this reality will begin to collapse upon itself, to return to that speck in the middle of a new nothing, only to repeat the cycle, and has done so since forever. Try and grasp the idea that there never was a beginning, and that there cannot ever be an end. Try and wrap your mind around the idea that there never WAS a creator, because eternity hasn't ever provided the need for one. So, if that is the case, then were does this idea of something spiritual fit in? Well, we know that the universe is composed of matter, and energy, and who knows what else. But there is one component in this soup of stuff that transcends mere rock and fire and element and gravity, and that is LIFE. Life, according to science, is the consequence of the right elements combining to form the right molecules in the right order in the perfect environment, and mathematically, all these conditions can arise, sooner or later, all over this universe. Rarity is relative, once you consider the sheer size of it all. Gold is considered rare, but tell me, don't you see plenty of it? So, lets take all this life, distill it down to the amount of it that produces sentience, then take all that sentience, and distill that down into a possible form of energy that has a physics all it's own. The physics I refer to is all those things we think might exist but still have a hard time pinning down, such as the astral plane, ghosts, an afterlife, clairvoyance, past lives, reincarnation, so on and so forth. The very physics which allow radio waves to bring us Three Dog Night or The Beasty Boys might also allow for a dimension that collects all this ethereal energy we think of as our souls, or life-force. Hell, even blades of grass or the tiny sparks of life-force that bacteria might posses could even be a part of this grand party. Now take this life-force, this collective consciousness if you will, and imagine the combined bank account that has accumulated since the dawn of time, or at least since the first tiny spark of life was deposited. Wouldn't such a thing be a force to be reckoned with? It would not necessarily resemble anything we could label as a "God", but it could be something even more wondrous than something we created in our own image, in our own imaginations.

In the earliest times of our precarious existence, we have looked for ways to explain all those strange things around us, like volcanos, thunderstorms, death, disease, and the feeling that comes over us when we produce a child. All this wonder had to come from SOMEWHERE, and to a primitive mind, a God of some form or another was as good an explanation as any. And so we created many of them throughout our history, writing and rewriting the rules we believed these Gods wanted us to live by. We even created punishments to go along with those rules in order to keep ourselves on the same page and not go confusing the issue by challenging them. Being human, that has never really worked, but even in this day and age, we refuse to relinquish the desire to inflict these rules on each other to avoid difference and the conflict that creates. But that has only created more conflict, and the wars of faith go on and on.

The reason God never reached down and touched me is because he never could. It wasn't personal. But what has touched me is the life that surrounds me, within me and without, and somehow assures me that I am not alone. The spark of life within me will record all I have experienced, all those mistakes I made, all the good deeds I performed, and how much I loved. All the pain, agony, ecstasy, joy, fear, stupidity, all those things that my brain chemistry enables me to experience, will not go to waste, but will add to the collective savings account which resides somewhere beyond my comprehension, and I only have faith to carry me through to that day, when my body fails me and releases that which is me back to the whole. How do I know this? Bob told me so. You have your own voice telling you many things, and he/she/it may be called Shirley, to you, but it's all the same. If you listen hard enough, you'll hear. If you are a hard core Baptist, Buddhist, Scientologist, or Atheist, it doesn't matter. You will end up in the same place, and that place is unknowable to you until you are released from these bonds of logic and perception and you hear that voice too, in all it's high powered magnificence. Either that or you'll be playing harps on fluffy clouds or doing the back stroke in a lake of fire. You choose what you want to have faith in. I've chosen my own path, and I'll gladly walk it alone, even if all you atheists think I'm a cowardly agnostic, and the rest of you think I'm toast.......


Buffalo said...

That we are still exploring faith/philosophy based issues at our age is a statement of some kind or another. I'm not sure just what it is saying.

Believer, agnostic, atheist - I do know my life would be simpler if only I could believe.

Since all philosophy is based on an assumption, which can be a very sandy foundation, none of us will know the "truth" until we die. Even then, if there is nothing further than this existence, we won't know.

If there is a hereafter I have chosen to face it on my terms - based on my actions and thoughts - not on the thoughts of a sky pilot or soothsayer.

Anonymous said...

Being agnostic is probably the most logical thing to be. Hedging your bets just in case the big guy (or gal) is up there is a smart thing to do. Drop in to the Catholic Bulletin Board to discuss these and other issues like it with friendly, thoughful people. No registration is required. Peace.

The Michael said...

You're right, Buf, If there's nothing, you'll know nothing of it, but if there is, and it's nice, then, it's all good.

This last "comment" had to have been from a spam machine, for I never once said I was hedging my bets. I flately stated I did not believe in the invisible man, and if I run into him in an afterlife, well, me bad. I will NOT crawl on my knees to such a concept and beg forgiveness, so he/she/it, if it exists, better have a sense of humor.

Homo Escapeons said...

Wow that was a magnificent account of your view and a perfect blend of calm reasoning and pertinent personal experience.
Your apologetics present a realistic approach to life from a guy who is comfortable in his skin....and like me someone who is happy to be where he is.
It is being able to enjoy the journey that makes Life enjoyable...when you are on the right path.
What a difference it makes when you realise that the trail that you finally ended up on has so many wonderful things to see...and the best VIEW to see them from.
Outstanding post.

The Michael said...

Thanks, HE, I'm just glad SOMEone could follow my line of reasoning........I have a hard enough time myself!

I_Wonder said...

For some reason, the question of the existence of God or gods has ceased to be pertinent for me. I see some validity for arguments for theism, atheism and agnosticism but I no longer weigh the arguments or ponder them. Life is good and I'm basically content. I have some inner values that guide me that are based on experience, science/research, some logic and a gut level feeling. I don't fear death and the unknown so I guess I don't need a religion.

Of all that you wrote, for me the heart of the matter is "The most valuable aspect of becoming responsible for one's own self is that you are finally free to think independently, if you are strong enough, or even adventurous enough to do so."

I've found that I respect and prefer the company of people who think for themselves, question authority and challenge what is commonly accepted. From my experience, "true believers" are more afraid and less alive than than the person who says "I don't know; I'm not sure; I'm still thinking about that."

Where's the joy in life if we have all the answers?

The Michael said...

Right, Paul. Even if we do this over and over again, I suppose it's because it takes more than one experience to come close to the answers, IF answers even exist. I believe the more devout one is, the more fearful they are, and I lost that fear a long time ago.

darlingina said...

An outstanding post indeed Michael. Your writing always has a way of allowing me to take a good long look inside of who and what i've become, where i've been, and most importantly what lies ahead. Now my mind will never let me get to sleep. Thanks Sir.
Love & Respect,