Posts Tagged ‘belief’

What do you have to lose?

December 10, 2008

What do you have to lose?


After Thanksgiving, when I wrote about Pascal’s Wager, I meant to follow-up on the question, “What do you have to lose?”  Because when I set aside talk of probability and evidence for God, it was a question that gave me pause.  What, exactly, do I have to lose; why not just say, “Ah, screw it, I believe in God.”  It would make my husband happy, it would make it easier to have a social life, it might even make me happier.  Why is atheism so important?


First of all, truth is important– truth as best as we know it.  If the truth as best as I can tell is that there are no gods, then I have a duty and obligation to that.  I have a duty to hold to the truth when faced with persecution and scorn, and one might even say that I have an obligation to test it and make sure it holds up against rigorous testing and investigation (i.e., the scientific method).  Generally speaking, without truth and conviction, or at least an opinion that one prefers, I’m not sure what sort of life a person can have.


Second, what I have to lose.  My self-respect and my intellectual integrity were the major factors that decided me on atheism.  When faced with the absurdity of Christianity, I could have gone to spirituality, or Buddhism, or some similar agnostic fence-sitting position: the “Well, there might be something out there that we don’t understand” or “the source of life” or “energy” or whatever.  My dad chose that path.  He also smokes a lot of pot, though, so I don’t put a whole lot of confidence in any intellectual rigor that might be behind his spiritual life.  🙂  And that was what I couldn’t get past: my own mind, faced with the evidence, coming to a clear conclusion that I had no choice but to accept.  To betray that would be a rejection of my very self.  To try to convince myself out of a position that I feel to be true and right would be so schizophrenic!  I would have to have some serious evidence before I did such a thing– and then, being convinced by evidence, there wouldn’t be any faith or hedge-betting involved. 


I tend to think that Richard Dawkins has it right when he says that the existence of God is a scientific question; either God does or does not exist.  If a person was truly curious about God’s existence, I suppose the best course of action would be to hypothesize that God does exist, and try to disprove it.  This isn’t too hard, in theory. 


But then, consider that according to most accounts, God is invisible, unalterable, immortal, omnipresent, and all the rest, including the fact that God does not like to prove his own existence.  Fine.  But this makes God, by definition, un-testable by practical, scientific means.  How convenient.  But that wouldn’t keep you from trying anyways.


Then we can test the claims of various religions to determine whether or not they are accurate; for this, history, logic, and archaeology would be useful.  But even that would not prove God’s existence since the veracity of certain claims does not establish the cause of those claims.  Once you’ve exhausted all those means of discovering God, you can begin to interpret the data and determine whether God 1) probably does or 2) probably does not exist.


That was a really long way to say that I’ve come to the conclusion that God probably does not exist.  This is not the final word on the matter; I’m not closed-minded to arguments or evidence.  But for me to abandon my conviction for no better reason than fear of my soul’s eternal suffering would be to give in to intellectual terrorism.  And I have a no hostage policy.


Besides… who’s to say I have a soul, anyways?  How can I possibly survive my own death?  I am conscious; but does that mean I existed before I was born?  Based on my understanding of the soul, it is basically the claim that there is an ultimate Alice that is manifesting itself in this body.  Is that really necessary?


Think of this.  I suffered from mild depression recently.  I wasn’t responding to life the way I usually did.  I didn’t see that something was wrong, until one evening, when I found myself thinking about death.  This made me realize, “Whoa!  This isn’t me!  Why am I so down lately?”  I was seen by a doctor and prescribed a low-dose of anti-depressants.  And within six hours of my first dose, I felt like my normal self.  What a relief!  But isn’t it a little disturbing that so much of one’s identity is dependent on and alterable by chemistry?  Doesn’t that seem like evidence against the idea of a soul?  If I have a soul, what do you suppose the drug did to it?  As for people who undergo brain surgery and lobotomies and whose personalities are permanently changed, what has happened to their soul?  Does an amnesiac have a soul?  Where is a brain-dead person’s soul; is it in the afterlife or is it hanging around in the body waiting for the body to die?  What does a soul do? 


Anyways, I will be seeing a counselor and working on myself so that I don’t have to be medicated.  I’d rather understand what is making me depressed and work on changing it than go on living a medicated life where I continue to ignore whatever is wrong.


So perhaps it is my separation from God that is making me depressed, and if I go back to Christianity, I will cheer up again.  I know my husband thinks so.  But if so, why is it then up to me to betray my self and go back to God like everything is okay?  In other words, if God really wants my belief and service, couldn’t he give me a little hint?  Would I really benefit by believing in God against my better judgment?  And if so, how would that be different from living a medicated life in ignorance of what my issues really are?


So the short answer to the question, “What do I have to lose?” is: my self-respect, my identity, my ability to trust myself, and my intellectual integrity.


Weekend notes on activism and church

November 17, 2008

I went to my local Join the Impact! Rally for gay marriage rights on Saturday, and it really wore me out.  I followed that up with a visit to my hairstylist because I was risking a neck injury from all the head tossing needed to keep my bangs out of my eyes.  So I got to the salon and sat down in the lobby and a couple women were in there eating lunch, so I ate my burger and fries with them.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the only hetero in the room. 


For some reason, that awareness helped me see that I am still repressed in my own sexuality and I still don’t know what to do about it.  The problem isn’t so much gay sexuality but sexuality itself.  I still see sex as something vaguely shameful, thanks in part to church teachings on the subject. 


But beyond my childhood indoctrination, I suspect that I am the queer one since I have almost no sexual desires whatsoever.  That’s the problem– no, I will not say it is the problem– it is one of the main sources of my confusion about sexuality.


What a confusing mess!


But the protest went well.  My sign was super-cute and I temporarily traded with a lady to wave her rainbow flag around because her arms were tired.


If all that wasn’t enough, church on Sunday really did a number on me.


Worship made me sad because it was one of my old favorite worship songs, but I could hardly jump to my feet and sing hallelujah when I just complained about hypocrisy, right?  So I sat there and tapped my foot a little.  Thank Darwin that ended eventually.


The pastor started out by saying that this sermon was gonna be amazing and it would blow our minds.  I should add that I’ve been vaguely annoyed and amused at church lately on account of them doing a big sermon series on the building project.  “God will do this!  We trust in Him!  He is able! — all it takes is your money.”  So … what part of it does God do, again?


Which reminds me: as much as I like NPR, I get that same feeling when they do the pledge drives.  I mean, a reminder every hour or so would do the trick, you better not fucking cancel the afternoon’s episodes of “Prairie Home Companion” and “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, the bright shining happy places in my weekend, so you can go on and on about how great NPR programming is…


Sorry, I’m getting off the subject.


So the sermon Sunday was good advice: give away what you don’t need to help people meet their needs.  There were two twists: one, that the “extra” you have was given to you by God so you can give it away to someone who needs it; two, that when you give away your earthly goods, you’ll have rewards in Heaven.  How do we know?  We believe and have faith.


So we have guilt on one hand and bribery on the other.  Heaven– uhm, Denmark forbid we tell people that helping makes you feel better and that charity is good to practice for its own sake.  Plus, it’s tax-deductible.  But then again, I guess that doesn’t get people to give when we’re in a recession.


The point of the sermon was that the church doesn’t need a new building just because we are growing, we need a new building because that will enable us to do more good for the community, give more resources, provide more meeting space, etc.


So that wasn’t amazing in the slightest, and I can’t honestly say it was untrue, either.  But then there was a sort of drama presentation by members of the church sharing how the church had helped and healed them.  Drug addiction, divorce, child abuse, sexual abuse, sicknesses, failed suicide attempts, addictions…


It was powerful.  I bet they made a million that day.  Seriously.


And I made a connection between the pastor’s preaching of faith and belief and how all these people get saved.  It’s belief.  Not God, not Jesus’ sacrifice, it is belief– but not in the way that the pastor means when he says that God can’t work through disbelief.  When people believe that they can change their lives, that they can make their life worth living, that they can make the world a better place, then poof, they can.  When we believe in ourselves and in our goodness and our abilities, we are confident and good and able.  You don’t have to believe in fables and myths to change your life… just… change your life.  Belief in God does happen to be the most popular sort of belief that I see, however.


What does religion have that atheism doesn’t have?  Instant community, a proven track record, millions of followers, and billions of dollars.


This church helped my husband when I left Christianity. 


Who helped me?  Nobody. 


Hurray atheism.


What can we do about this?  How can atheism help people?  Religion (in America) serves so many people and meets so many needs that we would be fools to undermine it without fully understanding what religion does and how we can do it better.