Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why I Am Not an Agnostic

Why I Am Not an Agnostic

Since I started using the term atheist for myself, there have been a few incorrect responses that have come back to me (and to be honest, most people aren't brave enough to discuss the issue with me, so kudos to those that are!).  Here are a few of them:

"Atheism is the same as religion, it's just faith that there is no God instead of faith that there is."
"Atheists are all so pissed off all the time"
"You're not really an atheist  - I think you're an agnostic"

The last one has been said to me twice, despite my repeatedly assurance that I'm pretty sure I know what I am more than someone else does.  In any event, the first and third statements both relate to definitions, and the misunderstandings people have about them.  (I'm saving #2 for another time)

To start with, let's define agnosticism.  Agnosticism is the philosophical position that the question of the existence of God(s) cannot be known.  This is NOT the same thing as saying "I don't know," or "I doubt it but I can't say for sure," or " I'm on the fence."  To be a true agnostic requires a whole lot more philosophical insight than most people have, and those that have it tend to not be agnostics.  Why?  My theory is that it's silly to give up on a question just because the answer hasn't been found yet, and philosophers aren't quitters.  How many philosophical or scientific answers have been found long after religion and society decided to attribute the answer to the supernatural?  It wasn't too long ago that famine was considered God's punishment, but then science came along and not only gave an explanation for it, but in a lot of cases, taught us how to solve it entirely.

So why quit on the existence of God?  If you've got a reason, I'd like to hear it.

An atheist, on the other hand, is not someone who "believes" there is no God.  An atheist simply lacks the beliefs in any gods.  There are prominent atheists, Penn Gillette being one, who will proudly state that they DO believe there is no God, but even he makes the distinction between actual atheism, and something that goes further than atheism.  But if the word atheist is being used, it should not be assumed that the people has made a faith statement that is equally unprovable as saying God exists.  I view it like this:

Belief in God | Lack of Belief in God | Belief in no God

The first is theism (or deism if you prefer your faith a little bit less attached), the second is atheism, the third is something else that probably has a name, but I don't know what it is.  For me, the visual is even simpler:

Belief in God   |          

I'm to the right of the line.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I don't believe there is NOT a God because I can't prove that point any more than I can prove that there is.  Being to the right of the line also does not necessarily make me anti-God or anti-Christian (I should point out that with one exception, most of you are just as atheistic as I am.  You just happen to believe in one more god than I do).  The search for meaning and value in life leads a lot of people to faith, but that doesn't mean that everyone who chooses not to take that step thinks faith is stupid and meaningless.

Quite the contrary.  As I hope I've made clear on this blog in the past, I think religion has tremendous meaning, and is undeniably understandable.  Truth value aside, faith provides answers to the most important questions, and to hold onto those answers, even in the absence of valid reasons to do so (or proof if you like that word better - there's not much difference in my opinion), makes a lot of sense.  Why would someone WANT to live their life in uncertainty?  I sure don't.  But I've discovered that faith is not something a person can choose to have, and it's usually not something a person can choose to let go of.  It's there or it isn't, and while knowledge and personal relationships influence a person's faith status a great deal, in the end I think it's largely outside a person's control.

In closing, if there's one thing I'd love to see in the theism vs. atheism discussion, it's the correct use of words, in their correct context.  If someone says they're agnostic (and this is a broad generalization), they're probably not educated enough in philosophy to know what they're saying, and are more than likely an atheist who doesn't have the courage to admit they're not a believer.  I'd go so far as to say that by definition, an agnostic IS an atheist.  After all, if you don't think the question has an answer, you're certainly not a believer, which by default makes you an atheist.

So let's say what me we mean and mean what we say.  If you're an atheist, don't be afraid to say so.  As I've learned, there are a whole lot of religious people that will still want to be friends with you, can have faith conversations with you without taking your atheism personally, and will support your journey even if your conclusion isn't the same as theirs.  And if you're a believer, find out what your atheist friend means when they say they're an atheist.  It probably isn't as mean and nasty as you imagine.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Friends in Lonely Places

I’m coming to realize that one of the most untrue things I was taught as a child is that people are fundamentally bad.

My work sometimes takes me away for weeks at a time, and during those times, I have a lot of choices.  Choices about what I eat, what I do with my evenings, etc..  For each of the last 2 summers I’ve been sent to one of the plains states to handle hail claims for 21 days in a row, usually about 12 hours per day.  At night, if I choose to let it be, life can be awfully lonely.  Last year I spent the evenings of my first week in Rapid City by myself in the hotel, mindlessly watching crap on cable and trying to cling to my normal life via Facebook.  In the second week, I happened to meet a roofer who was in town chasing storms.  We got along pretty well, and started to hang out in the evenings, mostly on the weekends.  We talked about UFC, our families, sports, politics, a little of everything.  He called me Obama’s boy, and I accused him of exploiting cheap Mexican labor.  It was fun.  But above all, it was a connection - another person to share that brief section of life with, and keep life from being lonely.  Through not much effort, I had made a friend, and we keep in touch still today.

This year was no different.  Right off the bat here in Colorado, I met a roofer who lives in town with his wife and 3 kids, one of whom is adopted from China.  As 2 of my siblings are also adopted, we had something in common right away.  Glen has a PhD in audiology, and after selling his private practice, decided to become a roofer.  It got him outside, he got to meet lots of people, and he didn’t have to hassle with health insurance cuts and Medicare issues.  Over the course of the 3 weeks I’ve been here, I’ve probably had dinner with Glen and his family 5 times, and got together on jobs many more.  I introduced his teenagers to the UFC, and told him about my wife, who studied audiology in college.  I’m sincerely sad to be leaving him tomorrow.  Were we living in the same town, I’m sure our families would be great friends.

These experiences have made me view life a little bit differently.  It seems that no matter where I am, I can always find someone to share the human experience with, and it makes my life better.  People are the same in so, so many ways, and if we’re willing, they can enrich our days simply be being there to share the time, and the occasional beer.

I’m not very good at self-awareness, but I’m learning that as much as I’ve always believed myself to be an introvert, I’m really not.  I’ve gotten good at making friends, and I’m proud of myself for it.  This past year I’ve made at least a half-dozen solid friendships through OneGeorgeFox, a few more through work, not to mention my annual catastrophe companions.

Over the last few weeks, it’s become clear that in a few years, my best friend since I was in diapers is going to move away.  I’m not very happy about it.  I can’t blame him - after all, I moved away in 2006, not necessarily intending to move back.  But it still sucks.  He’s always been there, and you can‘t replace 30 years of history.  My hope is that my new awareness for great people lurking around most corners will help fill that void, and that transition won’t be as awful as it sounds.  But it certainly makes me appreciate people - not on an individual level, but as a collective.  People, on the whole, are amazing.  And given a little bit of effort, and a little bit of patience, we can all find a few people to make this life better, simply by showing up and letting them be a part of our experience.

When I talk to Taylor on the phone, she tells me that I’m the best daddy in the world, and she “misses my lips.”  I miss hers too, and hopefully after I get home tomorrow, I’ll get to see most of yours as well.