Ok, so if you’ve read my other posts you’ve probably decided I have a somewhat liberal view of the world. In my curious and inquisitive approach to life I have searched for answers that probably will never come. I’ve explored numerous religions and philosophies, from Christianity to Buddhism and from Socrates to Nietzsche. I’ve picked up bits of what I consider to be wisdom from all sorts of places. I like to collect the thoughts of others to remind me of all the little lessons in life. Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan… they all have contributed to my growing understanding of the world in which we live. And as I grow older I become more convinced that my pursuit of knowledge will never yield “The Answer”. I now firmly believe that human beings cannot, will not ever understand with any certainty the wholeness of life. Our greatest minds, Newton, Einstein, Hawking, Tesla and others have scratched small etchings on the surface of the great mystery but our poor amazing brains simply cannot conceive what the cosmos displays before us with such candor. We can speculate and postulate and observe and measure and test and retest and in the end if we are truly honest, we can only be left with the humble realization that we know almost nothing. And that is now why I consider myself Agnostic.
I don’t really like labels. I don’t like that we self-identify with categories. Yet the orderly nature of our minds insist that we organize our thoughts so we create concepts like race, religion, sexual preference, ancestral heritage, etc. I hate feeling like I have to attach an ‘ism” to myself to describe my perspective on life and the universe. I would rather think that I am simply a man who is filled with wonder and questions about all that he sees and all that he is. The only thing I know is that I don’t know much of anything. And unlike so many souls I encounter, I am comfortable with that.
I think perhaps that humans use knowledge like we use the ground under our feet. It gives us something solid upon which we can stand. As we course through life, the things we “know” and the things we learn change, which can seem like trying to walk on water. The ever fluid, ever-changing understanding of life can cause some to look for more stable footing. And perhaps it is the need for solidity that prompted the creation of religion. Maybe we instinctively crave firm structures around us to help us navigate the waters of existence. Religion does that.
I think of myself as a positive agnostic. I don’t know, therefore I’m open. I don’t know, therefore I’m interested. ~ Grace Slick
Religion gives us a focal point; a supreme being (or beings) that embody all that we do not know or understand. That becomes the place marker for all which hasn’t been discovered through science and reason. Religion provides structure through rules and rituals. It gives us a sense of belonging and helps create community. It reminds of our human connectivity.
But what happens when we start to understand some of the things we once attributed to the gods? At one point, man believed thunder was caused by mighty beings in the sky. Once we discovered meteorology and physics, the Thunder Gods became myth. We have slowly begun to replace those things which once were Divine with common understanding and the power of the gods diminished.
And what of the rules and rituals of old? Once they served a very practical purpose. In his cultural infancy, man lived simply and survival required a different kind of lifestyle. Pork can contain a parasite called Trichinella spiralis which can cause a disease called Trichinosis. Thousands of years ago humans had no understanding of microbiology but they knew that eating pigs could make one sick, so avoiding pork became part of religious ritual for some. Religion is brimming with ancient rules of survival and community law that at one time made sense for those that practiced but have since lost all meaning. Yet followers of so many belief systems cling to these traditions and concepts without really questioning why they persist.
Within a small religious structure, humans still feel a sense of connectedness and community, but as the religions of the world splintered and developed mankind began to use religion as a way of seeing our differences rather than our similarities. The fear that someone might believe something different than what we believe drove people to commit acts of terrible violence. Join us or die. This is especially true of Western religion. There seems to be some kind of innate need to convert outsiders into the religious fold at nearly any cost. It’s as though the “believers” feel that non-belief somehow weakens the strength of their own resolve. Could it be the seeds of doubt growing in the backs of the minds of the devout? How could someone possibly think something different than what I believe? Does this mean I’m wrong? Never. I shall assimilate all who think differently because in faith, there is strength in numbers.
I know of no wars started by anyone to impose lack of religion on someone else. We have lethal Sunni v Shia, Catholic against Protestant, but no agnostic suicide bombers attack crowded atheist pubs. ~ Simon Hoggart
What drives me away from religion most is the firm, absolute belief that each system has found the answers. Christians are certain God exists and the Bible is divine documentation from their Almighty. Muslims have no doubt that the Koran should be followed and that Allah blesses the faithful. Even softer religions (as I call them because their rules and structure are not so defined and rigid) like Buddhism and Hinduism claim to provide instructions to life and answers to what lies beyond the doors of death. All profess to “know”. Each has discovered “the way”. And this is all based on nothing more than faith that those that came before us, those that passed on these ideas were correct. There is no evidence, no proof, nothing at all based on what we can observe or substantiate that can be traced back to the source of any religious belief. ALL religions are founded on nothing more than the imaginations of frightened, confused humans who conjured stories and images in their minds to explain the things they did not understand. These ideas were then passed on to future generations and the ideas grew and changed and were tailored to fit the needs of humans as we developed as a species. And we have reached a point where the remnants of these ideas still cling to us like the rags of tattered clothing that should have been discarded but are kept for sentimental value.
At this juncture, I suppose I have made a case for those who identify as Atheists. Those folks who reject all religion may be reading this and nodding in agreement feeling justified for their strength of mind to have rejected the silly notion that God, any god exists at all. Religion is for the weak of mind and anyone that believes there is some kind of Cosmic Entity, a Universal Intelligence, a Primordial Force must be deluded. It is clear that no such thing exists. And Atheists are certain of this. As certain that God is not real as those that are certain that He is. And therein lies my issue with Atheism. For in that certainty lies the same basic conundrum that religion poses. How can anyone “know” that there is no God? Science has taken us a long way from the darkness of the caves but it has by no means provided us with the blueprints of the universe. Conviction is a good thing in many aspects of life. If we seek success, it’s best to commit to a plan, a task, a goal. But conviction in our belief that we understand the universe retards our ability to see truth. Once we have made up our minds that we know something, we discard anything else that does not fit into our belief system, including the possibility that the universe may indeed have an order and presence that we cannot comprehend.
I reject Atheism for the same reason I reject religion. I will not allow myself the dreadful conceit of thinking that I, a tiny insignificant organism on a tiny hunk of rock and dirt and water which is swirling around a vast emptiness could possibly be certain of ANYTHING. I accept my ignorance and face the fear of the unknown with eyes as open as I can manage. I cannot warm myself with the blanket of illusions that faith provides but I will also not stand behind the shield of firm disbelief. I am naked and alone and will continue to swim along the river of life with only curiosity to guide me. All I ask is that my fellow humans respect me enough to allow me to wander on my own journey without trying to give me directions from a map that does not exist.