Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You Have to Give Up

Notice the Fingers Remain Separate
Over the course of a few weeks, I found myself wanting to officially leave behind the atheist label and re-enter the theist camp. I had been wondering about questions of epistemology and, without denying that evidence for the existence of God was sorely lacking, found that I wanted to place faith in him all the same and began to think that it would not be unjustified if I did. I cannot deny that there were a lot of emotional and non-rational reasons I found myself wanting to return to God, but I refused to actually return until I had settled the issue of what a rational faith in God would actually entail.

It all stemmed from a realization I had: given that determinism is true, every event in your life could be considered ordained by God so long as he arranged the particles of the universe at at least one moment in time. From there, I speculated as to what is meant by a “soul.” If we accept determinism then we also accept that the human body is no less a part of the motion of particles in the universe, and that while we have a will we do not have a will that transcends the workings of the Great Machine, which meant that any idea that life was a test or that we were going to judged according to our success or failure in any particular area had to be abandoned since all of our successes and failures could ultimately be traced back to an act of God. What then is the self, I wondered, and I came to the conclusion that the self, if it was anything, was something that could be called “I” that was tied to the motions of my body but that, nonetheless, transcended the universe.

From here I had a view of the cosmos I found that I could believe in: the universe as a work of art and as a refinery, that every tragedy and every triumph was ordained by God through natural processes for the means of creating a diversity of souls. Souls which would otherwise be perfectly equal and homogeneous, could be given diversity by in some way causing their nature to be determined by the natures of the meat machines on earth. Since they would transcend time, their nature would be determined by the entirety of the machine's life, not any one particular instance, and there would be no reason to suppose that eternity operated according to its own timeline as though we had to wait for the body to die for the soul to be released. Life, then, was all about experiences. Experiences that defined us and, somehow, our eternal souls.

The fact that the world had numerous competing views of God would no longer be an issue, since I simply said that all ideas of the ineffable were, by nature, wrong. Nonetheless, I did not need to get rid of religion altogether, I could say that religions sprang up because they were deterministically ordained by God to spring up as they served his purpose of refining our natures.

God is transcendent. Our souls are transcendent. So the lack of scientific evidence is irrelevant for them. It would be impossible to have any kind of sensible evidence, or even any kind of sensible notion of these things. Since they transcend our universe, they transcend our thoughts. Whether they're nonexistent or super-existent, the universe would look the same to us. And from this basis, with God and selves safely beyond anything we could possibly understand, the concept of 'faith' finally began to make sense. Faith is trusting in something incomprehensible, unknowable, and non-rational. It was not a contradiction of reason, it was a moving-beyond, it was traveling into territory where our reason would not do us any good.

With this conception, it would be impossible for me to ever gain ground in a debate with a skeptic, since by my own account God was not existent. But at least I had something I thought I could believe in. Besides, if I came to such a belief and someone else did not, by my account, both of us came to our respective beliefs through the arrangement of particles ordained by God. I no longer needed others to believe as I did for me to be reassured about the fate of their souls.

Everything was falling into place. But I waited. I wanted to examine matters from all the angles. I wanted, if necessary, to be able to write a book explaining my transition. I refused to take the decision lightly. [EDIT: although you may not be able to tell by this blog. Reading through it the next day, much of it seems sloppy. I wrote early this morning before sleeping]

And what I found was that such an idea produced a change in my everyday life. In the course of a day I was in constant anxiety over facts. That is, I was in anxiety about the the fact that I was putting my weight on a step that I had no reason to believe was there. This took the form of anxiety over my nature as a human being (am I a transcendent soul? Or am I just a meat computer?) most of the time, other times it would be the fact that I was starting to define myself in relation to something that I knew I had no reason to believe was there; but neither of these corresponding ideas had to be present, at almost all moments of the day I had a palpable sense of wrongness, anxiety, and insecurity even without a thought accompanying the feeling. The worse part of it all, though, was that every everyday occurrence was accompanied by a feeling that there was something not to be trusted in it, that there was some devastating fact lurking in the shadows that would invalidate everyday life.

It was the little things: talking to my girlfriend on the phone, cleaning up a back room, doing a little exercise. I couldn't shake the feeling that all of these things would be somehow invalidated, and I do not even know what I mean exactly by “invalidated,” except that I would somehow see that my typical responses to these occasions would seem inappropriate if I just discovered some new fact that lurked out there somewhere.

It all reached a head one night as I lay in my bed. I realized that I had made knowledge, certainty, facts, and reason into enemies. This would not stand, I lived in a world composed exclusively of facts, I could not survive making them my enemy. As I lay there thinking, I realized that I had overlooked the obvious.

God was outside the universe, outside existence, whether that meant he was transcendent or nonexistent. That meant that from my point of view, he wasn't there. And, if my idea about souls was true, then it did not matter a single iota if I believed in them. All my ideas were aiming at some idea of epistemic justification, but I did not even really believe in epistemic justice to begin with, due to my ethical nihilism. God had given me no real reason to believe in him, and presumably that either meant that he did not exist or that he did not particularly want me to believe in him.

And from there the world started to make just a little more sense again. I could act in everyday life without feeling as though I were participating in something low and broken. I am not even certain I can put it in sensible language, it was all stomach acid and nerves that I was interacting with. So, to resort to cliché, I had to give up a heavenly mind to experience any earthly good.

For what it is worth, there is nothing about this that contradicts, at least, Christian thought. 1 John 2: 15-17 makes that clear to me, anyway.

It seems to me that, given the situation that we are in, we have to give up. We just have to give up. Give up on God, give up on objective ethics, give up on souls. That is not to say that all of these things are not actually in some way out there, simply that we are not in a position to know anything about them. And while there may be other possible explanations, if we only consider the possibility of us being the creation of a transcendent being or the possibility of the universe containing everything necessary for its present state, then in both cases we may as well just go about our lives since either God has not seen fit to show himself to us or there is nothing for us to be shown.

And with that, I think it's time to step away from religious thought for awhile. Not forever, but for now. I remain, for the time, an atheist. I end my thought on the subject with this thought for now: where we previously might have lived in faith, now we can live in hope. You can hope there's a God. You can hope there's a heaven. You can hope that there are souls. That has not been taken from you, these hopes are still available. You can choose to turn the hope into faith, if you like, but if you're anything like me you won't function well looking at the world that way. For those people with characters similar to mine, we must just live in hope. Once you do that, you can set some of those unanswerable questions aside for awhile, and focus instead on the little mundane questions that must be answered daily, the little stupidities that make life worth living.

And if there is a God, trust Him to manage His own will.

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