Or, Why I am Such a Heretic
Do what your mother tells you! Always good advice, assuming your mother is at least semi-rational. I obeyed Dad because I didn’t think I had a choice. I did what Mom told me to do because what she said was somehow compelling. Other people might have ulterior motives, but you always felt that my mom said what she really believed. That’s why I had such a struggle freeing myself from ideas that I had been falsely taught, or that I had poorly understood, about God, life, and all that stuff.
Not that Mom ever deliberately taught falsehoods, the key word being “deliberately.” She taught what she believed, and she believed that which worked for her. It is ironic that I picked up an attitude from her that led to my current worldview, one radically different from what I understood when I was younger. Mom was both honest and pragmatic. If the Church taught an article of faith that conflicted with what she saw as necessary for her family or her own comfort level, she didn’t reject it. She simply ignored it. In that way, she could honestly say she was a practicing Catholic while not abandoning her Baptist upbringing.
The difference between Mom and myself is that I can’t leave things alone. My analytical curiosity impels me to pry into every dissonance that my learning creates. For instance, in church I was taught the God created the universe, more or less the way it is described in Genesis. From my readings I learned that we can use our intellect to discover some of the details of how the universe came to be. For many years I tried to figure out how to interpret the Bible in a way that was not incompatible with what the researchers were finding out about the great age and extent of stars and galaxies. I have reached a point where I can see that it really isn’t important to reconcile those things.
I have been asked if I “believe in” such things as Darwinism, global warming, the big bang. I have to give answers that are probably not satisfying to the questioner:
- I don’t like to use the term “Darwinist,” because it carries negative connotations in the US. I think that the theory of evolution best explains the diversity of life on Earth.
- I haven’t found any good evidence to contradict the consensus of climate researchers. At least 97% of climatologists agree that the climate is changing dangerously due to human activity.
- I don’t understand the big bang theory. It is a work in progress, and we may still find evidence that requires a radical revision of how it happened. It does seem to explain a lot of what we have observed.
I believe in what I experience — the love of family, the joy and the pain of existence, the value of friendship and constructive work, the idea that each human being is worth more than any amount of money or property. I believe in these things because of what I have experienced in my life, not because of any abstract philosophy or theology, not because of any religious or political structure.
When I am asked whether I believe in God, I have to respond with a question: What is “God”? When someone explains that to me, I will know whether it is a valid concept. I can say the same about the concept of “spirit.” I know what team spirit is, but I do not know what it means to say that angels are spiritual beings. Define that in a way that makes sense to me, and we’ll talk. Similarly, I know what angels, demon, ghosts, clairvoyance and telekinesis are, but I find discussion about them fruitless without some evidence that they exist.
The assurance of not knowing
I call myself an agnostic for the same reason that many call themselves atheists. I think they refer to themselves that way because they see no reason to ascribe to ideas for which there is no evidence. I am in accord with that position. I would just say that I am open to the idea that there exist things that I am totally unaware of, or have no understanding of, that don’t fit within the laws of physics, as we know them. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t have to know everything.
I am comfortable with my own mortality. A couple of years ago, not so much. Will my “essence” or my “spirit” continue after I die? According to what I have experienced, no, at least not in any way that I can understand. That is, to me, a freeing concept. I can live now, while I am alive, without having to give any consideration to the afterlife. Instead of focusing on reward or punishment, I can simply do what I know to be right and good, as much as I am able.