April 20, 2006
I don’t blog on this sort of thing very often, but I wanted to explain a little bit about how I came to be an atheist, and what it would take for me to change that. I got onto the subject as a part of this post by Kay of Left Brain Female. Her post is regarding the power of prayer, and how a recent scientific study has “debunked” the idea that prayer works. Part of what Kay said:
Having people from a number of different religious backgrounds praying for people whom they donâ€™t know cannot be expected to show much – except that God is not the author of confusion, and we have more than enough of that going around.
My own personal belief – and it is through first hand experience – is that while we who are believers should pray for others, and our country, the world, etc. the area where weâ€™re going to see the most effectiveness is in our prayers for ourselves. Does that sound egotistical? Itâ€™s not – itâ€™s what weâ€™re commanded to do – to pray to the Lord, to have a real connection with Him, and to humble ourselves enough to say that we need Him. And, when He has answered our prayers, we need to acknowledge to Him that we understand that all things good have happened because He ordained them.
In all honesty, I can’t say whether prayers are answered, and I can’t say whether there is a God. In my own mind, I have a lot of questions about the possibility of God’s existence and his nature (if he exists). There are too many questions.
I enjoy learning about it, though. One of the issues that’s always troubled me is when I see good people suffering. I ask how a just God can allow it to happen. When I get the standard answer, that “God has a plan”, I just want to retch. I’m sorry, but if someone in my family succumbs to terminal cancer, I don’t want to hear that some asshole of a supreme being is trying to work out his “plan”. That’s a recipe for anger, not for reverence.
But I got a different viewpoint recently. My wife and I have been attending one of these big-box, nondenominational churches, where we have Creed-like rock music. It’s the kind of place where they welcome non-Christians, and really seem to try to open their arms and welcome people. A few weeks ago, they gave me a whole different perspective. The entire sermon was about the theme of the Bible, and that it was a miracle that one book, written by 40 authors over the span of 1500 years could fit together so well. In the story of the Bible, from the start of creation, to original sin, to numerous times in which God explains that he will forgive us and accept us back, culminating in the final act, in which he creates a world without pain and sin.
Original sin is the key point there. The pastor explained that God gave us free will, and offered us a perfect world if only we wouldn’t eat from one tree. We defied his authority, and in doing so, broke the world. Why do bad things happen to good people, and vice versa? Not because God has a plan, but because we are living in a broken world. That, at least, I can accept. I know I’m a flawed person. There are parts of my own behavior and my own head that I don’t like. I can understand the idea that the world is broken, even if it’s postulated that it is humans that broke it. I’m not ready to follow the rest of the narrative down the rabbit hole, but at least that’s not someone trying to tell me that God’s causing wonderful people to exit our world in pain as part of his “plan”.
Over the years of debating the existence of God, though, I’ve learned something. There is no compelling proof either way. There are no conclusive arguments either way. When I studied philosophy at Purdue, I took a class on Philosophy of Religion. We spent the first half of the semester going over the arguments for the existence of God, and the last half was spent going over the arguments against. Every one of those arguments had a flaw or a hole somewhere. And some, such as Descartes’, were filled with so much circular logic and faulty premises to make your head spin.
But at the same time, I look at some of the believers I know, some of those who may have been atheists in the past, or who are critical thinkers who question the world to the extent that I can at least trust their judgement. What makes them believe?
I can only think it is faith. There is a point at which you make the jump from what you can prove to what you know in your heart is true. How did they get this faith? What path got them there? Why did it find them and not me?
These are more questions I cannot answer. All I know is that inside of me, I don’t have that reassuring feeling that God exists. I can’t make that leap of faith. There are days where I wish I could, but I’ve already talked about the line of BS that is Pascal’s Wager. Any manufactured faith is a lie to myself, and I do my best not to lie to myself.
What I know of myself, though, is that I have looked places for that faith. I’ve never found it in organized religion, or in a church of any form. I really think that most religion causes more problems that it solves. The times that I feel closest to having that faith, though, is when I start to experience profound wonder at the world. Back in California, I used to regularly take trips up into the mountains on my motorcycle. Up there was a level of majesty that was just awe-inspiring. Something about being up there just seems special. When I experience the growth of spring, or when I met my new little nephew last weekend, I am filled with happiness. But then I come back to the pettiness, the stupidity that I see in much of humanity, and it spoils that awe.
Again, as I said when I started, I don’t blog about this sort of stuff very often. Because I usually try to act like I’ve got all the answers, and this post is full of questions. But I guess Kay’s post got my mind going on the subject, and that was coupled with the experience of attending a funeral yesterday, to support a coworker whose father just succumbed to cancer. There a lot of unanswered questions rolling around in my head, and sometimes things like this just need to be written down.
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