Monday, October 15, 2007

Imagining God

Wow, Neil the Ethical Werewolf, writing at Ezra's, gives us an LA Times column by TNR's former embarrassment Lee Siegal where he absurdly suggests that atheism is an assault on the imagination. And while Neil and his commenters do a good job skewering that idea, I'd like to take it further. I think religion is little more than a lack of imagination.

In fact, the very idea that, of all the infinite number of possible creators imaginable, you happened to find the right one is entirely absurd. Even if every word in the bible is historically accurate, that still leaves TONS of differing ideas of what Yahweh wants us to do and what is to become of us. And that's just one book, and a majority of Christians don't believe that every word in it is historically accurate.

And as I've said before, no two religious people think alike on every subject. You can have twin nuns who have remained together their whole lives and worshipped together in the same pew at the same convent, and still you are sure to find subtle differences in what they think God is up to. It's simply inevitable. People are more than just empty computers being filed with data. We think.

Who Made Whom

And so the only people who think they have the One True answer are surely the ones who lack the imagination to realize that there just might be something else out there. Hell, I can't understand how anyone can trust one word of the bible, at least as far as ultimate truth is concerned. I'm ok with a lot of the grander ideas in it, but even if Yahweh helped men write it, how do we know He was right?

For instance, how do we know that there isn't an even greater creator who created Yahweh without letting Yahweh know? Perhaps this is all some big test of Yahweh, one which he might just be failing miserably; and that the only powers he has are the ones they gave him. It's absolutely impossible for him to know; and that's assuming that the bible is right. Maybe our true creators are militant jerkoffs who despise Yahweh for being too easy on us, particularly after the whole Jesus debacle. Who can know?

And that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. I can do this shit all night. My imagination can come up with all kinds of freaky-ass possibilities of what our universe is about, and they're all just as likely as any of the others. That's why I can't believe in any gods. Pascal's Wager gives us this absurd scenario, as if this is an On or Off thing; either you believe in God or you don't. But that's entirely bull. Stating a belief in a god just opens up a huge can of worms that only raises more questions than it solved.

No Answer

That's why the simplest answer is just to refuse to even bother. It's impossible to know which of these infinite scenarios you should follow, so the best thing to do is to live your life the way you want, and hope that if there is a creator(s), that he/she/it/they won't hold it against you. But really, that's all anyone is doing anyway. The only difference is that many religious people abuse their god by attributing their beliefs and actions to their god, as a way of justifying their lives and convincing other people to follow them. And as I've said before, if anything, I see these people as the true blasphemers.

And that's why we require scientific study. That's why we need facts. And if you don't have them, then you should avoid making the tough decisions as much as possible. If I died and some supernatural dude forced me to state which god I believed in, with the risk of going to Hell for picking the wrong one, I'd obviously have to give up my agnosticism and make a faith-based choice, until then, I'd rather just abstain. I don't have an info to make an informed decision, so I just won't make any decision at all.

Now, that's not to say that I want to deny other people their faith at all. If they think they've got the right thing going on, that's their business. I just have a problem when people try making it my business. While the bible says a lot about how people should live their lives, I've seen nothing in it to suggest that believers need to force the rest of us to obey. There is an issue of Freewill, from what I understand. And if God designed a world where I should have the Freewill to disobey him and act evil, I'm not sure why so many people invoke his name when preventing me from acting upon God's choices; as long as I'm not hurting anyone else, of course.

Religious Contrarianism

As for Lee's absurd idea that love and goodness are faith-based, that's just dumb. But he really didn't believe any of that. In fact, his entire column is a pile of rubbish designed to attack "militant atheists" but he never really does. I'm guessing that he just doesn't like them.

The main point of his piece seems to be that people don't need to write "anti-god" books because they're just preaching to the choir in a society that is mostly secular. As if there isn't some big movement with more power than Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and the rest of these god-haters combined, which is trying to make us far more theological. He points out that there are no important religious figures in political office, without mentioning that every important politician is a Christian, and that even that's not good enough anymore. Presidential nominees need to be very religious, particularly Democratic ones. Bush doesn't even go to church, but Obama and Dean have been attacked for going to the wrong ones. Can anyone seriously suggest that an open atheist could possibly win the nomination of either party? I think not.

Apparently, the fact that a handful of evangelical types are trying to dictate who can and can't be the GOP nominee is less important than the fact that Paris Hilton is popular. Hell, by Lee's reference to this as the "Age of Paris Hilton", you'd imagine that she was some sort of bigtime atheist power-player, rather than an empty-headed socialite whose fifteen minutes continues to be extended by dopeheads like Siegal who reference her as a person of importance.

And that's it. That's the crux of his argument. His column just island hops across tired culture war references before landing in a shallow bath of the routine "we're all faith-based" manure. But I don't think he means any of it. This stuff makes sense when it's repeated by the typical evangical types, but from Siegal, it's nothing more than standard contrarian BS by someone who feels some tinge of religiosity from his Christian upbringing of long ago, and just feels as if perhaps his team is under assault. Or perhaps he just doesn't like their strident voices, or resents the fact that their books sell better than his. But whatever it is, he never really did say what was wrong with all those books; not even from a religious perspective. It just amounted to a long piece on why these books didn't need to be written. I'm sure their publishers would disagree with that assessment.

As a blog post, Lee's piece would have been tedious and pointless. As a column in the LA Times, it's nothing short of a complete embarrassment. Lee indicated at one point that people should "cherish the idea of faith in the absurd." Perhaps he was just trying to show us how devoted he is to the concept.


whig said...

I think you are becoming Gnostic, my friend. Samael was the name of "blind God" -- the solipsist.



Doctor Biobrain said...

Whig - The whole point of this post is to say that god is clearly unknowable, so we shouldn't even bother attempting to know him. That sounds pretty agnostic to me.

I can imagine an infinite number of god/gods/creators/etc, and have absolutely no ability to choose one over the other and see no reason for doing so. Particularly as there's a perfectly good argument for thinking there might not be one at all.

whig said...

The totality of God is clearly unknowable to humans, but that does not mean God is unknowable, although one could argue that any knowledge one may have is imagined. And of course you may have completely different perceptions with completely different ideas of what constitutes knowledge in your own way. Language is a barrier here, but there is no condemnation that should ever be made because someone else perceives their inner connection to the universe differently, or describes it differently, as long as there is no intention to deceive.

Agnosticism is fine with me, in other words. I prefer zeteticism, which implies some desire to discover the truth as far as it may be knowable (and as I have said, I acknowledge there are limits to knowledge).

This is not something you get from me, or anyone else. Self-knowledge is what I am talking about, like putting your hand in the sink to see what it means to say that water is wet.

whig said...

The point of my first response is that the aspect of God you described has a name and the name of the aspect is Samael. I hope you understand how words delimit and describe a particular archetype, at least.