Saturday, July 30, 2005

Thoughts On Religion


"Atheist" and "Agnostic" are terms that are often confused and misunderstood.

Atheism is the absence of belief in any gods.

Agnosticism is absence in the knowledge of any gods.

In 1883, when writing to Charles A. Watts, publisher of the Agnostic Annual, Thomas Huxley said, "Some twenty years ago, or thereabouts, I invented the word 'Agnostic' to denote people who, like myself, confess themselves to behopelessly ignorant concerning a variety of matters, about which metaphysiciansand theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, dogmatise with utmost confidence...."

People with agendas will have many other definitions of those terms, but the basic, core definitions are simple. The atheist has no belief in supernatural beings, and the agnostic has no knowledge of any supernatural beings. The common misconceptions are that all atheists have an agenda to destroy other people’s beliefs and that all agnostics are still making up their minds.

I don’t care for labels, because it has taken most of my life to come to terms with what I believe and what I don’t believe, and my beliefs can’t easily be explained by one word. Among other things, I believe that we are all "agnostics" because no one can prove (or disprove) the existence of any God or gods. (I am well aware of the fact that it isn’t possible to disprove the non-existent, but the nature of faith suggests we are to believe in something that by definition cannot be known so I stated it that way.) We can "believe" or "not believe" but we cannot "know." Some people are shaking their heads (on both sides!) saying "I KNOW," but I don't believe that they do. I know that I do not know.

I do not call myself an “atheist,” but many religious people would classify me as such. I believe in the natural world. I accept that many things that are not yet proven may yet one day be, but in order for me to believe in the existence of something, there must be a certain degree of evidence supporting that belief. People who play golf are called golfers. What do we call people who don’t? Why does there have to be a label for people who don’t believe in things that are unsupported by evidence? Why is faith held in higher regard than reason? Christians and Jews believe in Jehovah, Muslims believe in Allah. Christians believe in the divinity of Christ, Jews do not. Each believes in their own God or gods, while disbelieving in the other’s God or gods, but they unanimously condemn the ones who refuse to believe in any god.

I am tired of people hating and killing each other because of their religious differences. I’m tired of people justifying hatred based on the ideas and superstitions of our ignorant ancestors of 2000 years ago. I’m tired of people who believe in myths thinking that they are somehow morally superior to those of us who believe only in facts.

Throughout history, the leaders, especially the evil ones, knew the power of organized religion. If you teach people to accept the simple answers to complex questions that do not hold up to scrutiny, without debate and unconditionally, you can get them to fight wars, crash planes into skyscrapers, give up their freedom and their money.

I have met people of all faiths, and people devoid of faith, who are generous, thoughtful and kind. While I have never met an admitted atheist of whom I was afraid, I remain terrified of the religious fanatics who have such a strong voice and influence here in the USA. The evangelical Christians believe that the time of Armageddon is near, and some of them support policies that appear to hasten its arrival!

The Christian gets a second chance: it is taught (by example) that you can lead a lifetime of evil and at the hour of your death you can be saved if only you repent and profess your faith in Jesus. The message here is that your actions do not count nearly as much as your willingness to believe! Well, I can afford myself no such luxury. I have to live with every stupid, selfish and evil act that I have committed because I believe that this is all there is. This alone is more than enough to compel me to do the right thing.

I don’t wish to obliterate other people's faith. It is up to each of us to find the answers to our own questions. Debating faith is like a dog chasing his own tail. You can’t disprove that which does not exist, and no one has proven the existence of any of the Gods that have crowded our skies since the dawn of civilization. Smarter people before me have tried in vain to do both. Belief in some supernatural being or force or whatever you want to call it, or disbelief in same says nothing about the inherent goodness or character of a person.

Someone once said to me, with regard to belief in an afterlife: “In one lies hope, in the other lies futility.” While I can't deny the attraction of an "afterlife," I really don't hold out much hope for one. I will never be able to convince myself to believe things that my own powers of reason deem anywhere from "highly unlikely" to "blatantly preposterous" as a gamble for an afterlife. And I refuse to pretend.

I love life. I love my wife and our children. I like to spend alone time with my wife, work, read, eat, drink red wine, exercise, play, and listen to music. Granted, this is easier for a middle class American who doesn't have to worry about food and shelter than it is for someone who has to fight for survival, but I count myself very lucky that I have this great life. I also know that it is fragile and things could change in one instant. I try to find something good about every day. I love to make people laugh, and to lend a hand where I can. I try to avoid negative, angry and evil people, and to acceptand enjoy everyone else.

Futile? Hardly.

What hope is there if you end up in Hell? According the Bible, each of us have a much greater chance of landing there than heaven, [depending on how you interpret "Hell" - some Christians believe that it is a real place with fire and demons poking you in the buttocks with a pitchfork while others define it simply as the absence of God, and still others as non-participation in the afterlife] and no one knows for sure where they will land. The overwhelming feeling I experienced once I realized that I no longer believed in the biblical answers to life's mysteries was relief. The contradictions, injustices, and randomness of human existence are easier for me to accept in context of a world devoid of benevolent gods. Suddenly it all made sense to me. Questions like “Why do child-molesters exist?” and “Why do we wage wars over trivialities such as who’s myth has more merit?” are more easily answered by science than by religion.

What do people think they will do for eternity? Life is found inside the risks and the challenges.

It disturbs me that people make decisions, judgments, and laws based on dogma of any kind, religious or otherwise. I like the concept of a secular constitutional republic, which is what the founding fathers of this great nation had intended. Freedom of religion means the freedom to practice any religion we desire, or to not practice any religion at all. Separation of Church and State was not a concession to the atheists and agnostics - it was meant to protect all citizens' rights to believe and worship as they deem fit, free from the intervention of the government, and should perhaps be counted as precious by the deeply religious even more so than by the non-believers.

In the end, it isn’t what we believe in that matters; it is what we do.

12 Comments:

Blogger fuckstick2020 said...

I know exactly what you are talking about. I hate living in a world where you are judged for not commiting to a particular brand of religion. How can I when people run around spreading hate under the guise of religion? These idiots don't even stick to their own belief base. They make shit up and misinterpret everything. I live not only in fear of fanatical foreign religions but the fanatics that are currently running our government. It is scary.

9:29 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Thanks for your comments and for the visit.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Wolf said...

I agree, Viscount, and would much rather that people who are willing to explore these questions - rather than thinking they already have all the answers - were the ones in charge. There's being resolute; and there's being stupid and stubborn. I for one have had more than enough of the latter.

1:51 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

I keep hoping the tide will turn and things will go that way. Thanks for your interest and comments.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Sticky said...

I enjoy drinking wine and spending time with your wife as well, Viscount!

7:43 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Watch it Sticky...

8:09 PM  
Blogger XTCfan said...

Well said, Al. I would encourage anyone who hasn't already heard this episode of This American Life to check it out, to follow up on the Viscount's good words. Each part of the show was revealing and thought-provoking, to say the least, and Julia Sweeney's recounting of her Bible studies is laugh-out-loud funny.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes people will drink and marry just as the days of Noah, up until the return of the Lord see http://jesus-survival.com/Abomination-desolation.htm

12:47 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

I believe a more complete definition of an atheist should stress that an atheist actively believes that a “god” does not exist. A true atheist should believe in the absence of a god with the same conviction as a religious person believes in god existence. It is possible to become an atheist zealot, you may even knock on peoples door and try to convert them to your believe system, you could only do this because you are so supremely confident that you are correct.

If you accept the point above, then the definition of an agnostic can also be expanded, like so: An agnostic is not certain of a gods existence nor is he certain of a gods non-existence. An agnostic is someone who remains sceptical of gods existence. I think we are agreed on this point. The point I’d like to make is this, an atheist would alter his action based his beliefs for example an atheist should refuse to take a blessing on his death bed. Were an Agnostic may accept a blessing, an agnostic would not loose anything by receiving a blessing on his death and in the unlikely event that a blessing would curry favour with an ultimate being.

Being an agnostic and accepting a blessing is like being given a lotto ticket were the odds unfathomably unlikely that 1 a god exists, and 2 that this particular god likes that particular blessing.

Being an atheist is also like gambling, by refusing to take the blessing an atheist is betting against the fact that a god exist. Like the agnostic the atheist pays nothing, but unlike the agnostic the atheist cannot win. If the atheist is right he wins nothing.

In a circumstance where accepting the possibility of god costs nothing why not do it?

On the other hand where accepting the possibility of believing cost anything for example your Sunday mornings, you right to dress how you like, or more seriously your life (I’m talking to you Mr Suicide bomber) I believe that you would be a fool to buy a ticket in this lottery.

In summery an agnostic gets the option of a free ticket in the god sweep. At the price of 0 the ticket is good value. An agnostic would not pay for a ticket, the odds aren’t good enough.
An atheist does not get a ticket in the sweep even when it cost nothing, therefore he can not win.
If lotto tickets are free you should always get one. If the tickets cost anything its too much, as the draw most likely will not take place and even if it does the ticket is most likely worthless.

10:42 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Joel:

Thanks for your comments. I would like to respond but currently I am away on vacation and have very limited internet access. Come back next week.

7:54 AM  
Blogger kathleenmaher said...

Labels and brand names and people destroying entire nations and populations for the sake of one over the other: it's beyond sickening. When does evolution kick in and human beings get to the point where, you know, freedom of religion is, um, a given.
What if people who believed in freedom of religion and/or no religion happened to land on a continent, kill its inhabitants without advertising the fact until decades later, and set up a nation dedicated to religious freedom?
I think I read about that happening once. About the time, a school teacher told me--and this I'm clear on--those who never doubt can't know whether they believe or not. Belief is not a country or an inherited trait. The teacher said one should spend a lifetime looking for faith, any faith, and if you can't find it--well, at least you'll die trying.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous End Times said...

Praying that people find the truth about Jesus Christ and get saved before it is too late. God bless.

12:03 AM  

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