Friday, July 13, 2012

Why I am an Atheist

Whenever I write about religion, I write sympathetically. Every so often I even post thoughts that I fancy might lend credence to the existence of a God. My philosophy writings tend to revolve around different ways of seeing the limitations of reason like a man desperate to widen gaps so he can stick a god in one of them. I even have an admitted Religion Addiction. So why is it that I identify as an atheist rather than a theist?

When I initially began identifying as an agnostic (for the purposes of this post, I am not really going to delve into the distinctions between atheism and agnosticism. I am going to just conflate the two positions) it was for the simple fact that I realized that there was no good reason to believe in God. What do I mean by no good reason? I mean that whatever you said about God was just as likely to be wrong as it was to be true. Whether you said God is love, God is hate, God is an elephant, or God is not there, it all amounts to talking about something that is unreachably distant from us. One claim was as good as another until we could get in there and start doing some investigating.
So, at the time, I came to the conclusion that mental health required that I only believe in propositions that rise to a certain level of evidence, and those things that were asserted without evidence I intended to dismiss without evidence. For the first time I could see many of my philosophical problems melting away, as did western civilization when it began taking doubt as a starting point. By instituting a certain threshold of evidence, I was able to get rid of many ideas that clashed with each other, and my thinking was able to proceed along smoother ground.

My views have changed over time, but not in a repentant way. I have tried to proceed forward with doubt: you could say I have doubted so much that now I am turning doubt on itself. Presently I have been writing about things like epistemic lenses and the rules of reason, which are basically investigations into why our thinking does not really work like a tool trying to reach the absolute of truth, but rather the particulars of different situations. Using the idea of epistemic lenses or particular epistemologies, I should be able to create a particular epistemology for myself that would leave room for religious faith, so why have I not?

The reason is the one I gave back in February. When I contemplated making a leap of faith like that, I could palpably feel the dissonance it produced in my life. The mind believes in certain ways, and even though we can have the mind believe according to the particular rules of a particular epistemology, we cannot have the mind believe in a way other than the mind believes. This is as plain as saying you cannot punch someone except by punching them.

And the mind believes in a roughly experiential way. I can not conceive of any other way for the mind to believe. Without data from the world, we do not believe, our beliefs lack content. Once you accept that God, if there is one, would be transcendent to the world, it becomes mind-blowing to believe in Him because it means believing in something that you know you can not even comprehend. Like saying, “I do not know what this sentence means, but I believe in it!” It tries to believe in the absurd through the strength of will. For me, at least, this produced a dissonance that I could not live with.

This is not blasphemous, if one supposes that God is pleased with the minds he created. But why would I be concerned about blasphemy while being an atheist? Would it seem too wishy washy to say that once you step outside of the question of God's existence, I am a full theist? Suppose I say, “I love God. I place my life in His hands. I trust in Him to do with me what he will, and I aim to love him no matter how thoroughly bad my life gets. I just do not believe that He exists.” Is there any way of twisting this so that it is not just blatant self-contradiction?

If I were to try to explain it, I would say that the proposition “God exists” does not ring true according to any of my rules of reasoning, for the simple fact that I say existence is a property of the world and God is said to be outside the world. So I do not believe in Him. He is utter absurdity, a priori absurdity perhaps! Now, if there is a God, I would expect him to be utter absurdity. If there is a creator, I expect that I should not be able to believe in Him. And if there is not a creator, I expect that I should not be able to believe in Him either. If he is not there then he is too far beneath my thinking to believe in, and if he is there then he is too far above it! I suppose that it is the attempts to fit God into the order of existence that causes religion to start sounding so absurd: you're trying to pour a solid block of ice into a glass that can only hold water. When you break the block into cubes to fit it in the glass, there's a lot of ice missing, and what made it in is just going to melt.

As for why I love God, this is because it seems like the only reasonable thing to do given my position. This is a half-truth, it is reasonable, but it is also a result of my will. You can say amor fati or you can say love God. I do not say that “God” is a metaphor for “fate.” I am saying that I can see that my life is not in my own hands, and I am making the willful decision to love rather than hate. The world is indifferent to my attitude on the matter, it is only my own experience that is affected by it. But why introduce God into it when fate would suffice? This is one part hope and one part personal benefit. You do not love laws of physics, mathematics, psychology, and biology that lead you to become a broken alcoholic laying on the side of the road or a prestigious millionaire with fame, accolades, and respect. But you can love God for setting the forces in motion, or you can curse him. And I do not say that God gave us the good and Satan introduced the bad: it's all God, but the categories “good” and “bad” belong to us. This is not a statement about God, though, it does not require God to exist to make sense. This is a statement about my attitude, and it holds whether God is above or not.

I am an atheist, because it is what my reason demands. This is the field of epistemology. But I love God, because it is what both my reason and my will demands. This is psychology and cosmology. I have hopes pertaining to theism, but all of my hopes hinge on a fundamental change in my nature. That is, God could not reveal himself to me, but rather God would have to elevate my mind so that it became transcendent and therefore capable of grasping transcendent truths.

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