Why would I write a blog exposing myself to the world as a nonbeliever? There are plenty of virulent atheists on the internet hiding behind screen names; I’m not one of them. I’m not trying to convert anybody nor am I trying to put down those who believe. I admit to making fun of believers now and again but I counter balance it by remembering that these are people who believe I am going to burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. Is it really fair to begrudge me a few laughs at their expense while I have the time?
But I digress. Harold Camping recently and wrongly predicted the rapture and the end of the world. I found out about this while driving down to South Carolina for the weekend. I had finally completed my BA and was heading down for the commencement ceremonies. My wife and I love road trips and through North Carolina at least we had good weather. So there we were with the top down streaming down the highway and we saw the billboard informing us that judgment day would be May 21st. I was a bit put off by this as I was just about to receive degree and would be able to put it to no real use if the end of the world were to come but a week later.
During following week, surfing the internet, mostly for my own amusement to find out what was going on, I found I was surprised. What surprised me were not the virulent atheists I mentioned earlier, I had expected them to be on the attack. It was the faithful Christians that really floored me. They were attacking the Camping prediction with the same fervor as the nonbelievers, sometimes using the same arguments. This intrigued me because both sides of the debate, the Camping folks and the mainstream Christians believed very similar things regarding the rapture. The chief difference being that one side claimed to know the date and they other disputed that. Words like “insane” and “irrational” were bandied about by the Christians, as if believing in the miraculous was “rational” yet believing the miraculous would occur on a certain day is not.
One site let to another as web surfing often does and I stumbled upon the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). Therein are contained the writings of Matt Slick. Mr. Slick defends not only Christianity but his particular brand of it through a series of articles and arguments. After reading some of Mr. Slick’s articles I felt I needed to address some of the issues he raises. In addition, some of the other explanations offered by the religious on the various websites are just crying to be well…doubted.
I think only fair to give a little background on the root of my own views. I was born a Catholic but at various times in my childhood and early adulthood have attended different churches including Methodist, Baptist and Nondenominational. I am not a religious scholar and other than a few religion classes and Sunday School hold no formal training in that area. I claim no insight into truth. I am a skeptic…a Doubter if you will. I chose the name of this blog based on that and of course the Biblical Thomas would not believe unless he saw. As you might suspect, my middle name is actually Thomas.
I remember a Sunday school lesson on Thomas when I was nine or ten, this was in a Methodist Church. The teacher told us disapprovingly about how Thomas had doubted the resurrection. I was struck by the hypocrisy of that disapproval, although I certainly didn’t know the word or really even how to express it at the time. That teacher and all my classmates were certain that THEY would not have been doubters. I doubted that too.
Such an event that defies that notions of he faith to which you have been indoctrinated occurs and defies the natural law and you wouldn’t doubt it?
I don’t know if that was the seed that began to make me doubt but it was certainly near the beginning. I did try to believe, I wanted to believe. But the contradictions started mounting, many of which I will address individually in separate posts. For a while I did what a lot of Christians do, I took the faith as a buffet style, taking what I wanted from it and leaving, discounting or glossing over the rest.
But then I realized that I was clinging to belief as do many religious for three reasons neither of which was enough to prove God. I truly did not believe but was forcing myself to make the wholehearted attempt. The three reasons are really just three different forms of the same root and that root is FEAR.
The first fear was the fear of society. How am I to be viewed by most people if I state I do not believe in God? The views of other people are certainly very real and they affect us in very real ways. But at some point I found that other’s views were not as important to me as I once thought. And in truth most people don’t wear their religion or lack thereof on their sleeve anyway.
The second fear was the fear of punishment. Having been indoctrinated virtually since birth that to not believe was to invite divine punishment, it was difficult to shake the worry that if they were right and I was wrong I might be in big trouble. I am certain I held on for a while to hedge my bets. I will probably do a post on Pascal’s Wager in the future but for now I will simply say it doesn’t work. As I became more convinced that I was right and religion wrong I began to realize the fear and that I was afraid of something I didn’t believe in anyway. By realizing it and confronting it I found that it had little hold over me.
The final fear was the hardest to get over because it is the biggest fear we humans harbor, the fear of death. I am mortal like everyone else and will die someday. No one likes to think of their own demise and religion provides an escape for the most unpleasant of thoughts. Even as I woke to the problems with religious belief and it did feel like an awakening, I cling to the belief that there must be something after death. Surely there was force out there even if every religion had it wrong, at that point I suppose I was truly agnostic. Then I wondered at my reasoning for believing even that. I had no rational grounds so why did I believe it? The answer was simply because I wanted it to be so. The universe has never yet arranged itself in the way I wanted it to be and does not seem likely to in the future. Therefore it doesn’t follow to believe in something because I want it to be true. In the end that was the thought that quelled all the fears.
Finally, and this is getting far more long winded than I intended, there is the question as to what I am now. Some might call me an atheist all though some would argue that if I admit even the remotest possibility I might be wrong then I am really an agnostic. This is an argument Christian use against atheism. Again I will probably address that in a later post.
What I know is: I am neither a God nor any other form of omnipotent being. Therefore I cannot say that there is no possibility that I am wrong. What I believe is: That there are no Gods or other omnipotent beings. Agnostic? Atheist? Does it matter? I have come to accept that which of those labels applies to me depends on the person doing the applying rather than one me in particular. I’ll accept either.
Karl Marx wrote on religion that it is, “the opium of the people.” While I disagree with his politics, I believe Marx had a good insight into religion here. Religion makes you feel good. That is what it is designed to do. If your lot in this life isn’t so good then it will be better in the next. The purpose of this blog is not to convert anyone. If you are happy with your beliefs; if they make you feel good; then I am happy for you. If however you would like to read some of mine feel free. Also feel free to question or refute them. I welcome the conversation.