Dec 26, 2007

Atheist vs. theist: Let the baffle begin

I have a friend who is an atheist. She's an atheist because she sees no evidence to the contrary, though she has tried. I have another friend who's an atheist, but he has figured out the "where do we go when we die" thing: We live on forever, not as who we are but as the stuff we are made of, coming from the stars, going back into them, and so on. Recycling, as it were, rather than reincarnation. So I may not be me, but I won't be no longer existing, either, and I like that idea. When the more mystical ones seem a little too theoretical, I like the recycling idea.

I have a third friend who is not an atheist, but she's having trouble with being a theist because none of the definitions of God[1] feel quite right. She wants to believe, but she doesn't know what to believe. I have suggested to her earlier that perhaps her deity is nature itself - as it is for many people. Just drinking in the world in all its mundane glory, rather than focusing on the unseen hand that made it.

You don't have to have a god to be spiritual. The experience of the spiritual side of things does not require religion.

But why do some of us believe in the big invisible hand, and some of us can't even imagine it? I read an article in some psychology magazine a number of years ago that suggested that faith may be genetic. Some of us seem hardwired for believing, and some of us aren't. A few biologists in recent years have explored religion from an evolutionary point of view: Why did humans evolve with what looks like a superstition? What good does it serve? I'll admit I haven't read their conclusions because I was put off by their supposition that faith is one of those wasteful things that has survived because it doesn't harm - like the appendix or homosexuality. Faith hasn't been a waste for me. Without it, I might be seeing a psychiatrist.

Yes, I am one of those theists. My atheist friends cannot understand why anyone believes in an unseen force that is labeled the boss of everything. I cannot understand how anyone can go through life without something bigger than themselves to be awed and inspired by. Prayer works for me. Feeling a connection to the divine works for me. I've tried to go without and I felt so lost it hurt. Atheism baffles me as much as theism baffles atheists.

These discussions are as helpful - and as fair - as arguing about vanilla vs. chocolate, football vs. baseball, Coke vs. Pepsi. We are drawn to certain things because of genetics, upbringing and personality. Because of our own personal likes and dislikes - and needs. It doesn't go deeper than that. No one has the whole truth about anything; we all see pieces of it, and we are all pieces of it. Each one an equally valuable piece. You can add a god to it or not; it's still about being human and connecting with other humans, doing your best, and being happy while you're at it.

Sometimes the discussion of atheist vs. theist is about where we go after we die. Or about morals and how you can't have any unless God smote you with His. I was raised by a theist and an atheist. They were married. They had the same values, were equally fond of and tolerant towards people, they were pacifists, and they both had a lot of humor about life, neither taking themselves seriously. Both loved me completely and wonderfully. The theist joked about haunting me after she died. Both she and her atheist husband did visit me after they died. Apparently, having a spirit doesn't depend on having a religion. Life is far bigger than that.

So I don't understand why someone doesn't believe in God[2], but that's because I personally cannot go without. It has never occurred to me that atheists must be lacking and/or are destined to go to hell. And contrary to what some atheists claim, all theists are not superstitious morons. The truth is, most people are good and most people try to do good, with or without a god. Love matters to all of us.

I think that is where atheists and theists can find common ground: Love and goodness are what matters. That is what makes humanity shine.

[1]I understand her search; I didn't find a religious home until I found Science of Mind. I couldn't and can't relate to the Christian God.

[2]Sometimes people become atheists as a reaction to the one not-so-nice God they were force-fed growing up. Unless they go exploring, they may never discover that each religion is a blind man trying to describe an elephant so pick your definition. The more fanatical theists need to realize this, too.

6 comments:

Miz UV said...

~nods~ We were just discussing this on misc.writing. (You can imagine!) I'm an atheist, and while I do go along with the recycling idea, it's not much of a comfort. I do envy (some) theists for the comfort they seem to get in believing that something bigger is out there connecting everthing. To me it's all cold and random. I'm sure I'd believe if I had any evidence, but so far not. There have been a few coincidences, but not enough to pull me all the way into belief yet. I'm open to it though, not hostile.* And it makes sense that people's brains evolved for belief, but to me that's neutral--it could mean there is something to perceive, or simply that thinking it's there has survival value.

*I am hostile to arrogant theists who insist they alone are in possession of the "truth" and want to shove their morality into everyone else's face when half the time they can't live up to it themselves.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I choose theism (or mysticism) to avoid feeling it's all cold and random. I've been thinking a bit more about this since I posted, and what I enjoy is magic. I love the idea of magic in our lives, of wonderful stuff we can't quite explain that enriches our lives (and sometimes saves lives). I could have been attracted to witchcraft, but instead fell for metaphysics.

max said...

I'm still a militant agnostic. 'I don't know and you don't either; not scientifically. So pick your poison.'

max
['God can sort it out on his own, I imagine.']

Keera Ann Fox said...

Those are fighting words. ;-) I don't know, either, and I'd love a lightning bolt of instant insight and revelation, but instead I get my answers in little sparks. It'll have to do.

As for why we're here, one reason is not dissimilar to the premise of why planet Earth in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy": The mice needed some questions answered.

max said...

They are fighting words, if you're dealing with the militant athiests or the shiite baptists.

I avoid them, myself.

max
['The mice will probably turn us off soon.']

Keera Ann Fox said...

Not if they can get a TV show out of it. (Didn't you see the 2005 movie THHGTTG?)