Let me try to background before i define.
I have found many born again Christians have their minds so unfortunately closed, (1), so firmly welded shut, they stand there with their fingers in their ears, eyes tightly held closed, loudly saying “lalala i can’t hear you”. They assume all atheists just need reeducating. I cannot count how many times i have been informed it is about faith, all i have to do is believe, and accept Jesus into my heart. How? Virally? Some sort of operation? Is that like getting a pacemaker inserted? Or is Jesus a nanobot? Really, it is a very silly phrasing.
One cannot force belief. That is ridiculous. One can force surface conversions, one cannot force anyone to suddenly have faith. I have attempted, quite seriously, to believe. When i was younger, i envied the apparent comfort of those friends of mine with faith. I attempted to revisit the church of my childhood, the Catholic faith, and found it (even pre scandal) woefully Middle Ages, mired in centuries of suspicion and control, the need to tell people what todo – even what to eat, when to eat it, how to think, feel, be, who to marry, what to do with their fertility. Really? When did you guys stop time??
Ok, not for me I have looked at the tenets of other branches of Christianity, of Islam, of Buddhism (probably some of the more enlightened teachings I found were in variants of that), Taoism, Hinduism, etc etc. I researched my subject on a personal level. I brand shopped, as a consumer, i did faith comparisons. I applied scholarly principles. I tried common sense. I tried even, with all my might, to believe. Nothing. Nada. Zip. No voice in the darkness, no still inner certainty in my soul that someone was out there.
In the end, even though i could find teachings cherry picked from each flavour and type that held some appeal, made some sense, in the end, the one thing that got in the way was the fact, the utter certainty within me, that they were wrong. It makes no sense. Their teachings, taken as a whole, make no sense. The concept of deities makes no sense.
I regard myself as a spiritual atheist. I can be moved, spiritually, by the large and the small — by the amazing wonder of the Higgs-Boson element, of the pictures from Hubble, of looking at my children’s beloved faces. I can echo the wonder of Carl Sagan in Cosmos, and also the awareness that this Pale Blue Dot is it, our cradle, our one chance. We are blowing it.
I have all the comfort i need in the now, in my friends, my family – and in the knowledge i will die. All else is unknown, but i suspect not much will happen when i am dead, as my brain will cease to function. If that energy in my brain moves on to something else, in a way that we have failed to detect as yet, well, i think highly unlikely, but won’t it be a nice surprise. Nor will it be me, as we define our sense of self. Our sense of self is so intrinsically linked to our bodies,we make a fuss about the disposal of our corpses – mummification being an attempt to have your body and take it too, as it were. So much for reincarnation.
Heaven it won’t be. I have long ago realised the Christian or Islamic concepts of the afterlife match my concepts of a hell quite well. Perhaps Jean-Paul Sartre should have not said “hell is other people” – perhaps “Other people’s heavens are other people’s hells”. Not as pithy.
Ok, that is the negatives – what i can’t, don’t, will not ever believe in. There is something in me that cannot possibly take in board a religious belief – to be honest, i respect other people having beliefs, i do NOT respect them forcing it on anyone else, and i do, oh dear, i do tend to find it all a tad – umm, silly, at times?
Some of religion is soaring – architecture, art, music – but those are human things, and can be soaring without religion. Yet Monty Python, and countless other satirists could not have invented religion to poke fun at – they merely pointed out the absurdities for us to see. Like a balloon when pricked, the pompous Wizard of Oz like machinery of religion, has, when the curtain is pulled aside, revealed itself to be merely smoke, mirrors – and a rather pathetic, funny little man, or men, attempting to control the show. Were so many of them not hell bent on forcing their beliefs on us with inquisitions, fatwas, and terrorism (the Crusades counts, Catholic Church, as terrorism), or through politics (the rise of the intolerant religious right), it would be – purely funny. Often, it is tragic, frightening, and terribly wrong. An eye for an eye leads to blindness.
So what do i believe? Will i EVER get to the point?
I do think we should live our lives here as intensely, as fully, as richly as we can. This is it. Other lives, afterlives, doesn’t matter – what we can count on is the here and now. We cannot even count on that, if you want to get into the realms of (brain injury, mental illness, and philosophical debates about individual perceptions of reality).
I think people can believe what they want. Teach their children this is what they believe – but let their children be aware of other beliefs, and be free to make up their own minds, without fear or intolerance. Stop telling me how to love my life, and stop trying to enshrine your desert herding aged historical texts, which are endlessly debated about, into laws and societal demands on my life. Back off.
Richard Dawkins came up with this way of defining belief in The God Delusion, and it is an attempt to make it simpler for people to understand what belief, non belief, theism and atheism are – should they wish to learn.
1. Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2. Very high probability but short of 100%. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
3. Higher than 50% but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
4. Exactly 50%. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
5. Lower than 50% but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
7. Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.
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