Hello again. I’ve been thinking about the future of metapunk lately, and I’ve decided I’d like to overhaul the site a little bit; give the theme a facelift, and get rid of that redirect page on the main URL to the blog. I’ll also be re-focusing the content somewhat, including a bit more structured attention to the “holodoxy” aspect of the site. The process will take some time, but hopefully it will make the site much better. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going, and let you know when the new site goes live.
In the meantime, I’d still like to develop holodoxy a bit more on the current site. Just remember: what I’m trying to convey with the label of “holodoxy” is not really a formal system of beliefs or principles, but rather an outlook, or a set of attitudes toward life and knowledge. It’s a personal form of spirituality that I think is useful, but by no means finished, conclusive, or necessarily universal. Food for thought, and that’s all.
With that in mind then, I’d like to spend the next few articles on metapunk on some definitions, in holodox terms, of some words which frequently show up in discussions of spirituality or religion. Our word for today is “faith.”
Dictionary.com defines faith as follows:
- confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
- belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
- belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
- a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
Take careful note of the distinction between definitions 1 and 2. The first definition is an emotional attitude that has very little to do with knowledge or belief. The second is an epistemological claim (I know X, despite not knowing, or caring, how I know).
It’s been my experience that debates about the relative merits of faith vs. rationality, or religion vs. atheism, etc., are almost exclusively framed in terms of the second (epistemological) definition for faith. Yet it is my contention that the “faith” of any genuinely spiritual person is almost entirely of the first (emotional) sort. It means: “having confidence and trust in life, being, existence.” Even if someone says they have faith in God, as we’ll discover as we explore religious words further (in later articles), “God” is in large part just a reference to life, being, or existence.
Think about it. Claiming to have knowledge that you can’t demonstrate is decidedly idiotic. Atheists are not wrong to feel that people who say they believe without evidence are simply being stubbornly contrarian, and irrational.
However, someone who adopts an attitude of trusting oneself, trusting life, and trusting people in a general sense is generally much healthier, happier, and more stable than someone who doesn’t have that attitude. It’s the feeling that you’re going to be okay, whatever happens to you; and it’s eminently adaptive, if not rational, compared to either a constant state of anxiety about life’s inherent unpredictability, or the false certainty of denying that unpredictability.
And this really gets at the heart of the whole religion versus secularism debate: spirituality is about mental and emotional health much more than it’s about metaphysical claims. The metaphysics is only there to support the health aspect, even though it seems to overshadow it.
So, whether you’re an atheist or a believer, please stop framing the debate in terms of beliefs and evidence. Genuine spirituality is not about what a person believes or doesn’t, and why. Rather, it’s about how a person is able to respond to life: with clarity and confidence, or with anxiety or cynicism. That’s what real faith is about—and it’s not exclusive to any one point of view. It’s just a way of being in the world.
Addendum (Feb 19, 2013):
I came across this quote as I neared the end of what is now one of my favourite SF stories:
“I believe,” he thought. “I have faith.”
He jaunted again and failed again.
“Faith in what?” he asked himself, adrift in limbo.
“Faith in faith,” he answered himself. “It isn’t necessary to have something to believe in. It’s only necessary to believe that somewhere there’s something worthy of belief.”
—Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
Although Bester uses the word “belief” here to describe faith, I think he’s talking about the same thing I was referring to above. ”Belief” here refers to a recognition of possibility, rather than a statement of fact (or some metaphysical claim). It’s a recognition that the future is always uncertain, and thus always contains the possibility of something better.
It’s all too easy to forget this, and convince ourselves we know everything there is to know about ourselves, our lives, our relationships, and our world. This kind of certainty is seductive. After all, we can always look for and find evidence (real or imagined) that supports our views on life. But when we do that, it we risk dwelling on what we can’t change or control, and spiralling into despair and cynicism when life doesn’t go our way. But the future is always wide open, and if you invest your attention in the wonderful possibilities it holds, and act toward that… if you have faith (or hope, or dreams)… you’ll always find a way out of whatever trap you’re in at the time, and your life will be an adventure.
There was an interesting post over on io9 today, speculating about what a new Star Trek show might be like, and why we need one. And it got me to thinking.
It’s obvious why we need one: Star Trek set the standard for optimistic, forward looking science fiction. It dared to imagine a world where very different people were able to not just tolerate each other, but actually draw strength from each other’s differences and create a better world for everyone. It’s the noblest interpretation of the founding principles of the United States, and it’s this ideal that I most admire about that nation, and which I most admire about my native Canada, too (we approach it a little differently, a little more quietly, but no less idealistically).
So, I’m as inspired by Star Trek as any other sci-fi geek. That said, I’m pretty much Trekked out. The Trek universe just doesn’t do anything for me—I’ve seen too many random aliens of the week or something—it just doesn’t excite me any more. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have something like Star Trek on TV. We need that optimism and that strength in diversity. We need it desperately, these days.
So, what would I like to see?
Well, in an era marked by America trying to bring American democracy* to the rest of the world, with dubious results; I really don’t want to see the Federation trying to bring a taken-for-granted Utopia to the rest of the galaxy.
I’d rather see how we humans get from here (Earth, circa 2012) to the Federation (or something like it), ourselves. I want to see a show about how people learned to eliminate war, poverty, and ignorance and make a truly better world. I want to watch people struggle with the moral issues and the basic pitfalls inherent in seeking utopia. Maybe a bit like the open-source nation-building from Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Most of all, I want to see this handled in the really compassionate, intelligent way that Star Trek: TNG and DS9 handled moral issues. I want to imagine a world which is certainly not perfect, but certainly better than the one we have today.
It should stay close to home; maybe a handful of colony worlds, or maybe even set entirely on Earth or within our own solar system. There should be no sapient aliens or true artificial intelligences. I want to see human problems solved by human beings, not hand-waved away by letting AI do the hard work!.**
I wouldn’t object to other types of post-humanity though. Genetically engineered / uplifted life forms, cybernetics, and limited AI might be permissible; but they should either be secondary characters, or they should be essentially human in nature, for our purposes. The point is that it should be regular people, like you and I—not super-powered beings—doing the hard work of building a better world.
Damn. This is a good idea. Get on it Hollywood, or I will.
*Arguably, the United States has become a kind of Dark / Corrupted Utopia. It’s founded on some very powerful and noble ideals, but it seems to have been disintegrating for a long while now. While their various political & religious/intellectual factions squabble over who is right and what is just, the whole country is being stolen out from under them by big corporations. For what it’s worth, it’s happening in Canada, too. But Canada isn’t as interested in exporting its way of life (well, not as a nation).
**The Mundane SF movement—which makes great sense as a sort of writing experiment; not so much as a prescription for the whole SF genre—they really ought to add AI (and the technological singularity), to their list of speculative unlikelihoods. Sentient AI seems no more realistic than FTL right now; and certainly shouldn’t be excused as a plot device to avoid making humans grapple with their own humanity.
“We are what we think. With our thoughts we make the world.”
I’ve been contemplating that quote a fair bit lately. I’ve been on an emotional and spiritual roller coaster spanning two decades, and what I’m really coming to see is that this quote is literally true—each of us lives in a reality of our own making. This is not a matter of metaphysics. In fact, it’s very practical.
Experimental psychologists have long known about “priming.” Priming is about as close as we get to actual subliminal messages. It works like this: If I tell you to repeat after me: soak, bloke, folk, and then ask you what the white of an egg is called… you’re going to be tempted to say “yolk” because the word “yolk” is both similar to “folk,” and related to eggs. Your brain will most likely make that association before you’re even aware of it, and it might take you a moment to remember that the yolk is the yellow part of an egg, not the white.
I’ll give you another example: Take two randomly chosen groups of undergraduate students and get them to fill out multiple-choice surveys. The content of the survey is not important. The important part is that the first group gets a survey with ordinary questions and answers, and the second group gets a survey where the questions and answers are loaded with words like “old, aging, disabled, feeble, sickly, dying…” and so on. Then, you time each group as they walk back to the elevators to leave the building. Consistently, the people in the second group walked more slowly to the elevators. The people given the old & sickly survey feel old & sickly after reading it.
What does this imply?
Well, it means that the messages the world gives us, and the messages we give ourselves—our thoughts—can alter how we feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. It also means that the way we feel is something we can control, if we choose to identify with certain thoughts, and to let go of others. We can psych ourselves up, psych ourselves out, bring ourselves down, work ourselves into a worried frenzy, or feel a state of serene and genuine confidence, all depending on where we invest our attention.
This is key, because most of the time people rarely even notice their thoughts. They blame the circumstances of their lives, or other people, for the way they feel. They feel like victims of life, because they have yet to take responsibility for their thinking habits. This leads people to try and control the world through cunning manipulation, or by sheer force of will—and it causes them to be unhappy when they don’t get the results they wanted.
And if that goes on long enough, they might get angry and resentful, and downright miserable, and as a result might make life difficult for the people around them as well as themselves.
So, what can you do about this? Just pay attention to what you’re thinking, how those thoughts are making you feel, and how those feelings are reflected in the experiences you allow yourself to have. And take the time to think about things that make you feel good; and act in ways that make you feel good.
Chances are, before too long, you’ll see ways to feel happier, healthier, and freer, simply by being a little more conscious about which thoughts you choose to entertain, and which thoughts you’ll dismiss. And chances are, then, that you’ll have a little more energy to deal with difficult situations or people; a little more patience with yourself and with life, a little more ability to recognize fruitful opportunities when they come along, and a little more courage and motivation to act on them.
It certainly can’t hurt. And it sure beats feeling miserable and angry because the world won’t conform to your vision.
Seriously—this is the most important thing you can do, because our thoughts and emotions are at the heart of absolutely every experience we have, and every action we take. If you don’t do it, well, then you can’t really expect your life to change, because you’re still thinking and acting the same old way you always have.
It’s up to you.
I was just thinking recently about some political conversations I’ve had over the last little while, and some thoughts came to mind. There’s a number of reasons I’m not a conservative, or a libertarian, or a liberal, really. Here are some of them.
I’m not a conservative, mainly, because I don’t believe in arbitrary authority, or in immutable tradition. Conservatives seem to believe in the need for a hierarchical social order, mediated through strong traditions and values. Without some strong and capable person (typically a male) at the top, running things, nothing productive would get done, and total chaos may soon follow.
But I don’t hold to that. First, there’s a real problem with authority. Namely, people are human. Authority or no authority, we all make mistakes. But a person with power can make mistakes that can affect multitudes of people, whereas a person without power can only make mistakes that affect their immediate self, friends, and family. This is why I can’t ever believe in a monarchy. I mean, a monarchy is great when you have a good leader, when the monarch is intelligent, mature, and happy. But monarchs are human, too, and just as likely as anyone else to be stupid, crazy, corrupt, or evil. And if they’re any one of those things, they’re going to make a mess not just for themselves and their immediate friends and family, but for the entire nation they govern, and quite likely for other nations as well. Heck, even a good ruler can have a bad day, or a bad experience, and make life miserable for the masses as a result.
The same goes for representative governments; at least those where the representatives are chosen by popular vote. Just because someone is charismatic and popular, and/or successful in law or business, does not reduce the chances that he or she is also stupid, crazy, corrupt, or evil. In fact, I’d submit that the chances are higher, because the person has sought out this position of power. It could be that they want to really change things for the better, or it could be that they simply want power for its own sake, because they like pushing other people around or feel that they can benefit personally from the position. If we really must have representative governments, they should be chosen by random lot from the entire population, terms should be limited (as should lobbying), and government (or maybe the whole populace) should have the right to vote to replace (also through random lot) any members who incompetent to the task. No campaign contributions to confuse representatives about who they serve.
The other reason I don’t believe in arbitrary authority is that I reject the idea that people are incapable of looking after themselves. Average people aren’t as stupid, crazy, corrupt, or evil as they’re normally assumed to be by believers in hierarchy. Or rather, they are, but only sometimes. Most of the time, people are pretty level-headed.
Yes, I’m well aware that this disregards a lot of history, and a lot of what you see on the news. But the fact of the matter is, the news, and the history books—all the stuff that journalists and commentators have found worth commenting on—is not an accurate picture of humanity. Watch the evening news in any major city and you’ll hear about another brutal homicide every other night. But what you won’t hear about is the millions of other people who live in that city that did not go out and murder someone that day—the millions of other people who just went out to work that morning, and came home to their families when the day was done. That’s most of humanity, under most circumstances.
Having said that, it’s important to point out that certain conditions can throw a monkey-wrench in that. Put people in a prison—you can even arbitrarily assign them to be guards or inmates—and they’ll start behaving like sadistic guards, and cowed inmates.
Likewise, people tend to listen to authority—even when the authority is telling them to do something horrifying; most people will do it, rather than stand up to that authority figure. If there is a better argument against entrenched authority, I’ve never heard one.
And finally, social hierarchies and widespread inequality are just plain bad for people, and for a nation. When there’s huge inequality in the distribution of wealth in a society, the wealthy tend to live in fear of losing what they have, and the poor tend to suffer tremendous social burdens in terms of physical and mental health, criminality, and a variety of other factors. More unequal countries are also not as innovative as more equal countries. Bottom line: huge class divisions, although Conservatives seem to favour them, are bad for everyone.
As for tradition—well, I’m not a very traditional guy, although I understand the need for it. Tradition can keep people grounded. It lets everybody know what the rules are, and in a perfect world, everybody would follow the rules and nobody would be unhappy. But it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes the rules are unrealistic, or unfair. Sometimes the rules that worked a century ago won’t work in today’s world. Life is change, after all. No matter what traditions you follow, your traditions (and laws) should come up for review every so often, and they should be changed if they get in the way of health and happiness. The rules of law and tradition were made by people. They are tools, and they’re supposed to serve humanity. Humans aren’t supposed to serve their tools.
I should note here, that this is true even if you believe that certain traditions were revealed by God. God may be perfect and limitless, but words are finite, and imperfect. So, even a prophet who encountered God still had to use imperfect words to convey that vision to other people—whether he or she wrote those words down, or used them to teach disciples. So, anything anyone might say or even think about God, or God’s law, is necessarily an incomplete and flawed facsimile of the real thing. Do not confuse the moon with the finger pointing at the moon. If the moon is God, words are the finger; and they’re not the same thing. The traditions revealed in the Bible and the Koran are words about God. They are not God him/her/itself.
This is why we must, in the end, trust our own judgement. We have free will, and we’re expected to use it.
But I digress.
Let’s talk about why I’m not a Liberal. Actually, I am more or less liberal; at least in terms of my values. But I hesitate to identify myself as such, because Liberal political parties are still part of the whole screwed up political game—they seem either too ineffectual, or too willing to maintain the status quo for my liking. I mean, they may differ considerably from Conservatives, but Liberal political parties still want to lead the people, when in fact average people need to start taking responsibility and engaging their communities themselves.
I guess that makes me (frustratedly) apolitical. I don’t believe in political parties at all, really; as if controlling the fate of nations were some prize to be won in regular contests, like the Stanley Cup for lawyers.
As for why I’m not a libertarian… Well, there’s a number of reasons for this, but let’s summarize it with two basic statements:
One, selfishness is not a valid moral position. If all you believe in is your own self-interest, then you’re acting in a moral vacuum. The word “morality” only has meaning when you’re speaking about relationships between feeling beings. I mean, if you lived all alone in your own reality, there would be nothing to tell you what you could or could not do. There’d be no need for morality, because nothing you did would have consequences for anybody but yourself. It’s only in relationship to others that morals can develop.
Now, that doesn’t mean individuals should be slaves to others. It means that a person must balance his or her own interests with the interests of the people around her, even if that occasionally means spending time or money to help out a stranger. What goes around comes around. If no one helped anyone but themselves, we’d still be single-celled organisms.
The second reason I’m not a libertarian is because generally speaking, libertarians seem to want to replace government with the market. As if somehow the aggregate of everyone’s self-interested financial transactions can actually advance the interests of all of us, and not simply the interests of the wealthy and savvy individuals and corporations who know how the market works, and can manipulate it.
I mean, it’s a curious thing in itself, because libertarians don’t generally believe in “society.” That is, they seem to believe that ideas of the common good and social interaction above the level of the individual are all just soothing fictions. And yet somehow the “invisible hand of the market” is something real and trustworthy.
But they’re wrong. I mean, if the market is the aggregate of everyone’s self-interested financial transactions, “society” is just the aggregate of all human decisions, financial or otherwise. Society includes the market, but the market does not encompass all of society. And that’s really the ultimate point here. If libertarians hate government because false authority interferes with freedom, then how can we just replace human authority with market authority? At least a human governmental official can reflect on his or her decisions. The market is just a blind process, and really can’t be trusted to be any sort of guiding force for human life, unless your only interest in this world is financial.
But finance amounts to so little in the course of a human life. It’s the relationships we have with others that have the greatest impact on us as living, feeling people; not the change in our pockets. Likewise, doing the right thing often costs money, or means losing money, or means not making as much money as you might otherwise. There are plenty of things in this world that trump money, and to pretend that something like money is all that matters is the absolute height of hubris. But that’s exactly what modern economics does.
In the end, replacing government / human authority with the market is just another way of avoiding responsibility. That’s the responsibility all human beings share; to make decisions together, through honest and patient discussion. That’s the only real way to ensure both the well-being of society, and the freedom of the individual… all of us must be willing to set aside our differences and work together on solving problems.
But that takes maturity, and courage. It takes people who can really listen, and listen without judgement. Sadly, these are traits that are all too lacking in today’s politics. I feel they’re lacking in all the major political camps, and in the populace too. And we’re paying the price with divisive rhetoric, widespread corruption, and a general sense of apathy and cynicism.
And things definitely won’t get back on track if we try to avoid the responsibility every citizen has to themselves and each other by fixating on leaders or systems which are supposed to solve all our problems for us.
There’s only one way to solve this mess, and that’s for us—you and me and everyone we know—to sit down, shut up, and really listen to what the other guy (or girl) has to say without judging him or putting him down, without being distracted by celebrity gossip or the latest fads or how much better your neighbour’s clothes are, and then to talk it out and keep talking, and keep listening, until we all understand each other. That’s the only way there is to give everyone the best chance at a healthy, happy, free life.
I just read an interesting post on Kotaku called The Rules of Religion, about the intersection between spirituality and game design. It was quite thought provoking in a number of ways. In particular the author, Patricia Hernandez, advocates the “gamification” of religion—that is, taking a crowd-sourced, game design approach to creating a new spirituality for the modern era. It’s reminiscent of an idea I had a couple of years ago for a spiritual wiki-project; a kind of open-source religion. I still think that’s a good idea, and incorporating game design into it seems like a natural fit.
Of course, I have no idea how to begin a project like that, but it really seems to be an optimal approach to modern, inclusive, and pluralistic spirituality. Maybe while we’re at it, we can get open-source political, legal, and economic systems, too. True democracy… I really think that’s where we’re headed—not that there isn’t already a lot of resistance from the people who like to believe they’re in charge; but call me an optimist. Let’s make it happen.
Anyway, the post also reminded me of just how much I’ve learned over the past few years about how spirituality really works; and what it says about the fundamental conditions of human existence. One day soon, hopefully, I will post at length about the psychology behind what I’m about to say. But for now, let me just sum up what I’ve learned into four axioms to remember at all times.
1) At all times remain aware that your awareness and knowledge are limited, and that the world around you is vast, changing, and complex. The “world” you can see, the reality you know, is just a tiny, filtered fraction of the world that actually is.
2) At all times remain aware that because you are limited, and the world is vast, you will suffer. Throughout your life, you will frequently be unhappy. However…
3) At all times remain aware that whatever befalls you, you can choose how to receive it. You can deny it, get angry or afraid or depressed about it. You can have a tantrum or a breakdown. There’s no shame in this. But you can also accept what is happening. You can look at a tragedy, and see it as a challenge—a gift, even—an opportunity for learning and growth. At all times be grateful for your life and the people in it—even, and especially, when things are difficult.
4) At all times remain aware that the world, the universe, is vast, changing, and complex; and you are a part of it. And because you’re part of everything, nothing, no torment, no fear or pain or boredom, perhaps not even death, can affect you forever. All things come and go and come again. Follow your heart and enjoy the ride.
I hope that’s useful to someone.
Sometimes around Christmas, I send my family a wish list of practical things I need, so we can both be sure I’ll make good use of whatever they get me. Some may find that a bit crass, but I figure: I already have a lot of stuff I don’t use. I have a strong impulse toward minimalism, and a heavy dislike of pointless materialism. So, while there’s no dissuading my family from getting me something (I’ve tried), at least I can let them know what I can use and everybody will be happy. Here’s the list I sent them, for the lulz:
Things I can use:
Realistic Gift Ideas:
- 1 pair of decent running shoes
- 1 pair of durable work boots
- Simple, sturdy wooden chair (office chairs are not cat-proof, and rolling chairs won’t stay still).
- 2 pairs of inexpensive pants
- Set of queen sized bed sheets
- Amazon gift card
- One 14 & 1/2 inch by 18 & 7/8ths plank of 3/4 inch chipboard, and a can of matte black spraypaint
- Kitchen sink (okay, just kidding. This is just here so you can’t say this list has “everything but the…” … Actually, now that you mention it, we could use a new aerator nozzle head for the kitchen sink. I keep meaning to pick one up from Home Hardware, but keep forgetting. We almost got one at Canadian Tire, but they’re obscenely expensive there—ten freakin’ bucks! I remember seeing one at a Home Hardware five towns over for 79 cents! I should have got one there but I wasn’t thinking.)
- Fall / spring jacket, bomber style (used / thrift store is ideal and inexpensive, as long as it’s in good shape).
Full on Pie-in-the-Sky** Wishes:
- Class in basic C or Visual C programming
- iPad 2 & some reader apps (mobi, epub, pdf, cbr) for it.
- Good Government and Gainful Employment
- A genuine Hattori Hanzō katana. Or a Masamune. Or a Lightsaber. And probably Kendo lessons.
- Winning Lotto Ticket
- True Love (Wub, Tawoo Wub may also be acceptable)
- World Peace (But please, no whirled peas)
- A wish granting genie and unlimited wishes?
**I was tempted to add “flying pie” to my list of pie-in-the-sky wishes; but I realized I’d probably get that wish—and that the pie would be flying toward my face.
It comes down to a natural, but frustrating part of human psychology: the tendency to assume things when we don’t know the facts.
The world is complicated. Far too complicated, in fact, to fully grasp with the limited processing power of a human brain. So, evolution blessed us with a shortcut. We put things into categories. We label them, so that we don’t have to think about them too deeply, so we can get on with other things. But I don’t have to tell you how often this screws us up–because quite often our assumptions are dead wrong.
A little while ago, I was at a somewhat formal social function when an older gentleman I had just met engaged me in conversation. He asked me about my life and how old I was. I explained that I was in my mid-thirties. He asked if I was married, and I said no, I wasn’t. Then, with a pause and a meaningful look in his eye, he said: “You do like girls, don’t you?”
I almost facepalmed. Yeah, I wanted to shout, I like girls so much that I can barely converse with them without my palms sweating and my vision going dark. So why must extended bachelorhood automatically imply homosexuality? And what the heck does it matter anyway?
It bugs me because the implication is that I should like myself less because I’m chronically single, or if my sexual preference were different than his. And the really infuriating part of it all is that this man was perfectly earnest in what he was saying. There was no hint of irony, or even awareness that his preoccupation with other people’s sex lives was a little disturbing.
Oh well. I suppose I should have said all this to his face, although I’m not sure what good it would have done, and in any case, open argument would not have been appropriate for the occasion. Still, it’s frustrating when people are like that.
At the risk of writing a minor rant, I wanted to discuss a comment someone made to me recently, which won’t rest until I write it down.
Recently, an atheist friend inquired as to my religious beliefs. Because I was tired, and because I didn’t want to bore him with all the complicated details of my spirituality, I said I was agnostic. I regretted it as soon as I said it, because his response was very predictable.
“Oh, I get that,” he said. “As Richard Dawkins says, you’re just an atheist who hasn’t made up his mind yet.”
I’ve tried not to be annoyed by this because he’s not agnostic, and therefore he doesn’t realize how profoundly ignorant that statement is. But at the same time: he doesn’t realize how profoundly ignorant that statement is. Like any of Dawkins’ fans, and Dawkins himself, he’s an intelligent guy who has utterly failed to apply his intelligence to the subject at hand.
Agnosticism does not mean sitting on the fence between strong positions of theism and atheism. It’s not some kind of half-assed, waffling maybe. It’s a strong position that the entire question of theism versus atheism is a stupid one—that the fence between these poles ought to be torn down (because, despite fears to the contrary, tearing down that fence won’t make those poles identical). It is the firm belief that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs (or non-beliefs, as the case may be). It is the understanding that the reality of these ideologies, and of the universe, is far more complex and nuanced than this simplistic, either/or debate will allow for.
Many atheists will argue that scientific understanding is impossible unless there’s a clear line separating the world of faith from the world of physical evidence. But if you follow the evidence, particularly in psychology, it’s clear that:
- Human rationality is deeply bounded by intractable and inherent limitations in perspective and processing power;
- Assuming those limitations don’t exist is foolhardy;
- Spiritual traditions are ultimately just frameworks for dealing with those limitations.
And maybe 4: Scientific materialism, by itself, is not a viable substitute for such a framework.
Does that mean religions should be followed blindly, or that atheism is an invalid position? Of course not. But it does mean that religious traditions have insights to offer if you know where to look, and that a smart person won’t discount religious stories and practices out of hand, simply because he finds them distasteful, or primitive.
So, on the contrary: Agnostics aren’t just atheists who haven’t made up their minds. They are people who refuse to be limited to a single set of possibilities, or to be told which ideas they can and cannot explore.
I look at people with fixed concepts of God or the lack thereof, and to me they are like people standing in cages arrayed around an open field. I can move freely around the field and still find my way back home, while they are locked inside prisons of their own making. They could walk out any time, but they don’t.
So, no thanks. My intellectual freedom / sovereignty is non-negotiable, and this business of sorting each other into ideological camps and then making war on each other is not for me.