Saturday, July 15, 2006

I'm a Wishy-Washy Agnostic

I don't post much on theological topics, mainly because my agnosticism leaves me with not much to say. And not having thought much on the topic for many years leaves me inadequately equipped to express cogently what I would want to say.

Even now I'm having problems beginning this. So let's go to what prompted this particular post, the comments thread to PZ Myers' post, Moran on Theistic Evolution.

In fact, it's a reaction to the general anti-religious sentiments I've come across over the years on the Darwin Awards Philosophy Forum, on Pharyngula, or wherever else I've come across very scientifically-minded people who congregate and rationalize away religious belief. I just can't get totally behind anti-religious sentiment, even though I greatly respect and trust the scientists about their conclusions and I know religion is one of the most destructive forces on earth for humanity.

That is, it's a tool which has been most effectively used by bad people to get large groups of ignorant people to do bad things over sustained periods of time. Large groups of people may do good things prompted by religion for short amounts of time; even during the bad times, small groups of people may do good things prompted by that same religion. But overall, I think religion's history is pretty dismal.

And I know that religious beliefs about deities and the natural world are fictions, expressions of primitive understandings of scientific phenomena and human nature, or out of a more sinister intention of power and control.

I know that science is not a faith, although, being a non-scientific person myself, I have to take on faith what scientists tell me. I keep trying to understand science. I did a math workbook from the library in an attempt to learn the math I never grasped in high school. I read TalkOrigins and Pharyngula, and I think they know what they are talking about. But I don't understand it, not really. My mind doesn't work that way, apparently, and it never has.

And maybe that's why I can't shake the feeling that science is not all. Maybe that byproduct of evolution which allows humans to be self-aware is not fully developed in my brain and it makes me feel more consciously connected to everything else. Maybe that other byproduct of evolution which helps humans see patterns in nature is over-developed in me causing me to detect meaning in unrelated events.

Am I biologically built to be agnostic? Am I just smart enough to not be a blind follower, but not smart enough to fling away all superstition? If so, is it beyond my ability to change? Is everyone who is intellectually limited doomed to religion and everyone who has a finely attuned scientific ability doomed to godlessness?

But it's not that clean cut. I would bet (based on a most unscientific supposition) that most people are somewhere in the mushy middle, and based on particular mental makeup and life's experiences, fall on different places on the theist/atheist spectrum.

For me I don't think it's just social conditioning or brainwashing. At first it was. But I chose to be an atheist for a short while. It was a very cleansing experience. And though I tried, I could never find a religious belief system that suited me.

I know that a month of intellectual atheism can't overcome several years of half-assed religious indoctrination (my parents were not big church attenders while I was growing up and for years have gone to church about as much as I have, which is not at all. Oh, wait, I've been to a Catholic mass in the past several years, so I've actually been to church more often than my parents.) And it did take me a long time to totally banish the superstitious fear of Satanic forces and things that go bump in the night. Actually, I'm still afraid of a thing that goes bump in the night, but I think it could be a genetically-altered beastie that escaped from a local science lab.

I hate to see my son as an experiment, but it'll be interesting to see how my son's belief systems turn out, since we're raising him in an a-religious home. The closest we get to indoctrination is telling him what we believe (and that's pretty wishy-washy, as in "we're deists or agnostics, we tend to believe that there's some sort of god-like entity or something, but we don't know").

He gets more indoctrination from friends, neighbors and television than at home. When he comes home with religious ideas, I tell him that some people believe certain things, but no one knows, and that he doesn't have to believe anything, not to let anyone else tell him what to believe, except this one thing: THERE IS NO HELL and YOU'RE NOT GOING TO HELL, DON'T LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT, THEY'RE WRONG. Other people can believe and go to hell if they really want to, but I don't want my son growing up with that particular fear.

But anyway, back to the conflict.

And it is a conflict. Here I am stuck in the middle of two sides. I have an intellectual side that wants to embrace fully and exclusively the scientific view of the universe, but I have a, for lack of a better word, spiritual side that won't let me. My spiritual side makes me want to believe in something beyond the known physical reality, but my intellectual side won't let me. So I feel the attacks of both sides who hurl accusations of ignorance and confusion.

Thing is, I am ignorant of and confused about many things. I never had an affinity for scientific subjects. They don't come easily, like the general arts. If I could get some intensive tutoring and fully understand science, would that fix me, explaining away my spiritual feelings? On the other side, I have enough intellectual ability to think somewhat logically about things. If I dove headlong into a religious discipline, repeating mantras until I brainwashed myself, would that drive away the pesky intellectualism and make me feel whole and at peace? Do I even have the ability to do either?

I don't care what either side says, there has to be a reasonable way for those of us who are inadequate in both religiosity and intellectual ability to be able to find a way to bring those two sides together.

In geek terms: we have to find a way, like Batman, to learn to live with and embrace the two sides of our nature. Otherwise, like Two-Face, we will be destroyed.

Progressive Women's Blog Ring
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