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I saw the light.

April 12, 2013

I am the ultimate layman. I don’t have a doctorate or a PHD in science. My knowledge of the universe & the planet we all live on is limited. I’m trying though. I’m 29 & I’m a little sheepish in saying it’s taken me this long to find out about it. I wish it had been taught to me at school but then to be fair, perhaps it was. I was never interested in learning at school. Which is a shame as at the grand old age of 29, it’s only now that I seem to have developed the thirst for it. If I encounter an interesting subject I know very little about, I now have the urge to look it up. It’s a phenomenon for which I have no immediate answer for.

However, whilst I fully admit my knowledge of the world & how we came to exist is partial, every bit of scientific evidence I pick up merely compounds the view that not only is there very little proof of a deity, but that there is no need for one either. It’s important to note both these points as often there seems to be two questions being asked of religion. Or perhaps they are the two versions of the same question rhetorically asked by either side. Is there a God? (asked by atheists) & should we believe in a God? (asked by the religious). Now of course I can’t answer either of these questions definitively as 1) in theory, you cannot disprove the existence of anything & 2) the second question is one of philosophy.

What I can do though is add my thoughts & considerations to the ever growing mix of opinion & hope it positively fuels the debate & in some way asks some previously unconsidered questions of those friends & family around me.

It’s possible to brush over the first question as in my – albeit short – experience of this debate it often ends up in a cycle of “disprove God exists” & “well ok then, you disprove fairies exist” statements which – certainly for the rational adults among us – don’t get us anywhere. I appreciate the following statement on this argument shows fairly obviously where I stand but if you choose to believe in the possibility of God’s existence merely because you can’t disprove it as a fact then there is no debate to be had. You need to remove yourself from the activity of rationale discussion & not take part in any other logical conversation. I say this as there’s simply no argument to this. We can’t disprove anything 100%. Not God, not fairies, not goblins. Nothing.

Of course, for a lot of people, the sheer number of seemingly unanswered questions of the world & wonderment of everyday life allows them to believe in ‘something’ that transcends their current comprehension. This view I am more empathetic to. In fact, I would say I am of similar ilk. There are a lot of unanswered questions out there. However, my take on this is that I will spend much of my life seeking answers to those questions I have an interest in & then form my opinions on them once I feel I am in the position to do so. If instead I chose to form an opinion of those gaps in my understanding with the notion of a God, there would be implications.

For a start, it would probably diminish my appetite for seeking answers. Answers that could be out there & provable via evidence & facts. Rather than find a scientific answer for something, I would have plugged the gap with a pseudo answer & naturally my mind would most likely deem that as acceptable & move on to something else. But this is not acceptable in my opinion. We shouldn’t be forming pseudo answers to questions we don’t know. If someone asked you what was 458 multiplied by 346 & you answered with “Er…God?”, you’d sound like an idiot. If you don’t know, go & get a calculator. And now metaphorically speaking, if the calculator didn’t exist & the method of working the multiplication didn’t exist, don’t just make up the answer. Put it down as ‘unanswered’ & if you have an interest in finding out the answer, work on a method to find it out. Once you have that method, test it. Then test it again. Then get someone else reliable to test it. If all the tests align, it’s likely you have your answer. And until you have a testable & provable answer, be humble & modest about the possibility of the answer. If you form an opinion of that answer before being able to prove it, don’t force that opinion on others. You may think this plea largely hypocritical coming from me as I write this but remember, this is simply my view on the subject. Where possible, I’ve tried to base my views largely on evidence & facts but also, rather confusingly, it’s a view that is encouraging you to question what you hear that is not evidence based. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t end up believing in a God as that may give you great comfort. But what I am suggesting is that there are very likely other answers to the questions you ask where simply ‘God’ is your current answer. I’m also suggesting you look to seek those answers out for yourself. Don’t take my or any other layman’s word for it. I sought them out & they’re fascinating. The truth, in my opinion, is far more interesting & thought-provoking than what I used to believe when I was 15.

Now to put a view forward for the second answer around whether there’s a need for believing in a God. Well, let’s refer again to the first question. An implication of believing in a God (any of the 2700+ Gods out there), is that for a lot of people, this means believing in & acting on a certain set of rule or principles. For many of my friends & family, I imagine this doesn’t apply. They may believe in a God of sorts but that doesn’t mean they necessarily conform to a certain religion. And for others that do conform to a religion, most of the resulting actions could only be described as good natured & socially beneficial. For now, let’s put to one side the pure intentions of these good deeds & agree that the (positive) actions – charity work, sense of belonging, social gatherings, etc – are good & acceptable for society. But what about the negative implications that derives solely as a result of religious influence? I’ll gloss over such events as the Spanish Inquisition as my knowledge of the event is very sparse & I’m sure – even if it could be used as a relevant point – many would argue that this would never happen again on the Christian side. But what about the violent form of (lesser) Jihad where the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam result in many deaths of – what we would refer to as – innocent people? This may be an extreme case but it’s still an example of a seemingly harmless belief resulting in a huge negative implication. Perhaps this is too an extreme an example & as a result not applicable as an argument for the majority of people reading this. Fair enough. So let me flip the question somewhat. Do we need religion for people to be good? I don’t believe we do. I, as an atheist, would class myself as good. I think it’s very important to be good. Not because I think I’m going to be rewarded in heaven for being good or because I think I’m going to be punished in hell if I’m not. Nor because I’m told to be good by a set of commandments established some 2000 odd years ago.

I’m good because that’s what I think everyone should strive to be. I guess I haven’t figured out why that is yet but perhaps that is one question that doesn’t need answering. Though, I do know that being good – for me – feels far greater overall than being bad. The definition of good in my head is influenced by many things. I don’t judge it on any of the religions I know of but then I don’t necessarily believe there aren’t things to learn from religious principles. If the Bible or Quran are considered moral fables that can be learned from, then it doesn’t really matter whether they were true or not. The points are still as clear either way. A bit like Jeffrey Archer’s fictional novel ‘Kane & Abel’ having as much to learn from as the Bible’s ‘Cain & Abel’.

But my definition of good & bad could – & does – change with every day that goes by. It can change when I take on knowledge or experience. Sometimes my views don’t change. Sometimes they are simply compounded & vilified. Does following a religion allow for this level of interpretation or flexibility? I am governed by my mind. And only I am in charge of that. If I want to change my opinion on something, I don’t grapple with any outside influence other than that of the law of the land I live in & those close to me that may be implicated by my view. I am certainly not influenced by an archaic set of disciplines handed down through generations & generations by someone unknown to me. If I followed these views to the letter than am I really taking part in my own life or am I just acting out a complete stranger’s philosophy? Homosexuality, abortion, contraception, stem cell research, gender equality – all topics I make my own mind up on.

Do I think the world needs to be told to be good? No I don’t. By all means there should be laws in place to deter & punish people who are – by their very nature – bad (or those who cross the line to do bad things). And by all means take the good work religion produces & promote it but let’s do it because, quite simply, it feels good to help people & because it feels nice to be good. Let’s not do it because our religion tells us to be this way & then talk about how good religion is. If we all conformed to this, I believe the planet would be a lot better off. It certainly wouldn’t be perfect as we will always have bad people but the negative implications of religious behaviour & belief would hopefully be largely eradicated whilst the positive ones continue & flourish. Yes there will be those who will continue to do bad things in the name of something else (i.e. previously using religion as a cloak) but there’s no denying that a lot of the despicable & downright horrible things going in the world right now is down to an absolute genuine belief that it’s at the request & demand of (their) God.

For those who say “but believing in God or an afterlife or a religion gives people hope”, I would argue that you can still get all of the good things you need & want in life by being a non-theist. And for those who think a life without God or Intelligent Design or a Creator or an afterlife is boring & depressing, well then you haven’t read, seen & wondered the things I have. There’s so much in the world that is simply amazing. Whether it’s the sheer scale of how long our ancestors have been around (or what they used to look like), whether it’s how we’re all made up of fallen stars from the universe, whether it’s the ability to turn off our pain receptors in our brain with the right thought techniques or whether it’s the fact we’re even able to contemplate the question why we’re all here in the first place; there’s so much that has the ability to blow our minds. And in my opinion, the stuff that’s out there that we all individually have yet to discover is more amazing & wonderful than the notion that the idea of God gives us. To come to the conclusion that God created stuff (however much) or that God is out there somewhere is – for me – capping your mind. You are actually stopping yourself in one way or another from exploring further. If you’re one of those people who believe in a form of God, just imagine for a minute that there is no God. How do you feel? Scared? Lonely? Exhilarated? Inquisitive? Good. For me, that’s how it should be. In order to defeat your fears, you have to face them first. To stop yourself from being lonely, surround yourself with knowledge. If you feel exhilarated & inquisitive about finding out the things you don’t know yet, then that’s how I feel! Embrace it!

I am no stronger than you. If you pray or ask God for strength, I believe you’re simply talking to yourself (though of course you may not think or believe it). What you may call God is what I call my mind. So if you’ve ever asked God to help your mind overcome something, don’t credit anyone else but yourself for that request being successful. Pat yourself on the back. Your mind did that – & you are your mind.

As an atheist, I can assure you I feel strong, I feel loved, I feel part of the world, I feel happy, I feel empowered, I feel free & I feel independent. I have my mind. I’m quite aware I’m probably not utilising anywhere near the capacity of my brain but I’m also aware that all those feelings & intuitions I get (like love, desire, happiness, courage, etc) come from chemical reactions in my brain somehow. And one day I’ll hopefully know how it happens. But for now, I’m quite happy leaving those unanswered questions, quite simply, unanswered.

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