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.
Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, has some very interesting things to say about human emotional health, mythology, and religion. In fact, his ideas are profound enough that they ought to be required viewing for anybody who has ever had a strong opinion on the topic of religion.
His ideas are drawn from diverse sources besides mythology: art, literature, philosophy, history, and all of it grounded in science; specifically experimental and clinical psychology. So, it probably shouldn’t be astonishing that he makes so much sense when he explains, well, basically everything. But really, you have to hear him for yourself. I realize that some of these videos are long (no more than an hour), but they’re really worth it. Make the time.
In this first video, Reality and the Sacred, he explains how we actually ignore most of reality, and only really notice it when it becomes a problem for us—and how that fact is symbolized in stories.
In this next one, The Necessity of Virtue, he talks about the nature of virtue, and the nature of evil through examples from religion, literature, and atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust and the mass murders of the Soviet Regime.
Here he explains the story of Genesis and how it relates to consciousness, suffering, and historical acts of evil such as fascism and the Columbine shootings:
So, the good news? My computer malfunction is more or less solved. Without getting into details, it turns out I wasn’t being cracked, specifically. The software was out of date on one of my firewalls, but not where I could easily update it. Now that it’s been taken care of, I get almost no link spam and sites like this blog are now accessible again.
So, problem solved. I’m back baby!
Big news? Not really… just some quick updates:
- Although the game is approaching a more final form, it still hasn’t gelled properly in a couple of important ways. I’m thinking of consulting the Forge about this, but the Forge is entering the “Winter” of its intended lifecycle, and so activity there has slowed down a bit. I haven’t been active on there for months myself, either.
- The Christmas holiday was incredibly busy and tiring, and I’m only now really getting back to normal.
- Got a couple of new & interesting videos to post on the topic of spirituality / psychology. They’ll probably be the subject of my next post, so tune in if you can… if anyone can hear me…
Oh well. In the meantime, be good, keep it real—or as real as reality gets—and enjoy your evening!
Yup, so this time it’s not my fault that my posts are infrequent. My home network has been badly cracked and/or infected by some sort of crazy redirect virus, which prevents me from actually seeing my blog page from my home system. And with only modest computer experience & resources it’s taking some time to resolve. But have no fear, it will be resolved, even if I have to call on the c00l p0wurz of y3 0lde d1g1t4l g0dz of y0r3! Or the power of Grayskull. You know… whichever.