Monday, September 28, 2009

On Atheism

I spent 22 years of my life as an agnostic.

Pronunciation: \ag-ˈnäs-tik, əg-\
Function: noun
Etymology: Greek agnōstos unknown, unknowable, from a- + gnōstos known, from gignōskein to know — more at know
Date: 1869
1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

So it was a very big step for me when, a few months ago, I made the big leap to atheism.
Pronunciation: \ˈā-thē-ist\
Function: noun
Date: 1551
: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

 For some time I believed that atheism was level with theism in the unsupportable assertion that there is or is not a supreme being as defined by theist organizations as an omnipotent and omniscient conscious entity.

Function: noun
Date: 1678
: belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically :belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world
\ˈgäd also ˈgȯd\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German got god
Date: before 12th century
1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as a : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe b Christian Science : the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind
2 : a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality
3 : a person or thing of supreme value
4 : a powerful ruler

I find it interesting that Merriam-Webster dictionary places a special subsection of the definition for the capitalized God, as opposed to the lowercase. God the presumptive supernatural creator as opposed to the idea of any supernatural being.

Pronunciation: \ˌsü-pər-ˈna-chə-rəl, -ˈnach-rəl\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin supernaturalis, from Latin super- + natura nature
Date: 15th century
1 : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2 a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)

So, as an agnostic, I was defining myself as impartial, that I was incapable of making an informed opinion on whether God was a realistic idea I could pin my beliefs on or that it's an unsupportable claim with enough evidence to the contrary to disprove its existence. God, ghosts, spirits, bogeymen, angels, tooth fairies, goblins, unicorns and any other mythological creature have the same amount of empirical evidence as the other. I do not believe the tooth fairy exists because I found out my parents were the ones putting money under my pillow and they were lying about it. That wasn't incontrovertible evidence of its nonexistence, but my faith in the tooth fairy was shattered by that breach of trust.

A few months ago I realized that deep down inside of me, no part of me is capable of believing in the uppercase God.

This has been an important part of the whole 12 steps thing -

  • Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  • Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7 - Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.
     I think it's very well-established by now that I have trust issues. Why should I trust the same creature who I'm told put me through all these "tests of faith" that have had such horrible lasting effects on me, just because he wants to see if I can trust him afterward? That is an abusive relationship, and so I am avoiding it and having faith in myself instead.

    I have faith that I am greater than I have allowed myself to be, and that everyone is greater than they are told they can be. I believe strongly in the power of the individual person and feel that if any 'miracle' occurs it has less to do with a supernatural god meddling with our lives and more to do with the individual person who made that miracle occur.

    Accepting a power greater than myself is a poor wording at best for what I will need to do to make it past step 2.

    And then, now that I have humbly accepted that I am an inherently inferior creature, for step 3 I need to turn my will and my very life over to this very same entity that has been supposedly responsible for all the trauma I have been through? Why should I trust it? Because I have no choice? Again, the power dynamics of this relationship make it inherently abusive and I need to escape it, not embrace it.

    But let's say that I do give in, I do stop fighting the fight because I see that it's not getting me anywhere, I do accept that I am broken and inferior and that I need guidance from something greater than me, greater than anything human, and that I can define it however I see fit so long as it's superior to me. I need to then make a moral inventory of myself to find every single way I am inferior to it, humbly ask this entity to remove my defects, and then somehow accept that this creature has a specific 'will' for me, a purpose, which is to spread this message to other defective people.

    I understand that there's a much more humanistic interpretation of these steps hidden between the lines, and that there is group empowerment in individual disempowerment, and so long as one is associated with the group one gets the benefits of empowerment because the individual was clearly unable to handle the power themselves and became an addict.

    This whole process is ultimately what made me realize that I am an atheist. I am absolutely unable to even humor the idea that there is a conscious supernatural being watching over us all. If I could it would be much, much easier to accept the 12 steps and work through them. Instead I have to fight the wording and find what it is that is conceptually beneficial to it all, what it is that they're really meaning for me to feel, and then move through them with that in mind. As a side note, that approach makes it much more likely I'll really integrate the lessons into my life as opposed to lip servicing them which is a major issue in AA.

    So, I can no longer claim not to have taken sides. My trust issues made that decision for me.

    I'm definitely an atheist, and it would take one hell of an amelioration of that broken trust for me to think otherwise. And since I don't think that sort of thing is really what this God creature is known for, I'm just cutting it off. Agnosticism is humoring it too much for me.


    1. this is so interesting, something I have thought a lot about over the years. I'll try to get my thoughts together for a real response.

    2. > Why should I trust the same creature who I'm told put me through all
      > these "tests of faith" that have had such horrible lasting effects on
      > me, just because he wants to see if I can trust him afterward?
      > That is an abusive relationship, and so I am avoiding it and
      > having faith in myself instead.

      Who told you that? :) That had me going, too. I went into earth-centered spirituality for a number of years because I refused to believe any theology that tried to justify God behaving like an abusive parent.

      One of the many things that I learned from that sojourn was that it didn't work for me because I'd already been in contact with my maker. It started as a shouting match in a big empty place when I was a teen and ended up as a deep friendship.

      I should have known better than to listen to people slandering my friends. I should have believed in myself, my own experience, instead of theological hearsay. The notion that God heaps all this shit on us personally makes me really angry. God isn't like that. Plus, it's so self-absorbed - the rationalizations inevitably treat other people like "supporting cast" in some epic personal morality tale. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

      Shit happens. The universe works as it works - overall a pretty cool design but with a bunch of edge cases. Nothing is built for forever. Asteroids, germs, and genetics aren't taking you or me personally. Plus, other peoples' bad dreams can kill you. Sometimes it all breaks people. None of it pretends to be fair. It just is like it is and we muddle through it together half-broken most of the time.

      So where do I fit God into all that? I count on walking with God to find my way through the confusion, to clear my vision so I can find my way out of the burning building, catch my breath, and then lend a hand in putting out the fire. Even if it means going in again, I'll be better equipped.

      Am I deluding myself? Maybe but it has helped me stay on my feet for a few years. Have I learned anything in the middle of all that smoke? Absolutely - but I don't think the fires were set to teach me those things.

      The sort of faith that starts with having faith in yourself is a lot stronger than a faith based on gossip. I'm not trying to convert'cha :) - you know that - but I just wanted you to know that not all faith means embracing an abusive relationship. Mine doesn't.

    3. I don't have a personal relationship with God. I don't have shouting matches with it, or any sort of conversation. But I do believe in a switch in our minds that allows us to see in 4d, to some degree.

      I like what you said about the universe, and how not to take things personally. Part of why I reject the judeo-christian God is that whole supporting cast thing - it's a bit solipsistic, and that's way too isolating.

      I think there is a sort of universal consciousness that we can tap into when we need a bigger picture, that's sort of what I mean by 4d vision. I feel like there's no reason why we should be stuck in our limited eye-perception in one moment in time, there's no mechanism keeping us frozen in the present with each moment being a specific amount later than the last. I definitely believe there is a type of perception that is more than what we commonly accept as all there is.

      But I don't personify it, I don't think I can ask it questions. I just think of it as another part of me, and as myself as another part of it, a shared consciousness of sorts. I feel like there is no higher power than the individual, but there is a certain shared undercurrent that can help us with our radical acceptance, 'wise mind' and greater vision.

    4. I have really never believed in God. Neither of my parents did, and once when I was young I asked them why they didn't tell me there was a God, because I felt that believing in one would be comforting. (I was a pretty anxious kid). I think they just said they couldn't tell me something they didn't believe.
      Of course there came a day when my kids asked me the same question and I answered it a little bit differently but maybe not too much. I said I didn't believe in what most people seem to mean when they say God. But I did believe in people, in the power of love, and in nature, the natural world, the web of life (including the universe). So at least I told them something I did believe in and not just what I didn't believe in.
      One thing that I have liked about Buddhism is that most of the many books I've read don't dwell on God, they often don't mention that at all.
      Although, I don't believe in reincarnation either, but that hasn't prevented me from getting a lot from Buddhist teachings and meditation.
      Do you get people talking to you a lot about God in your programs? Are you in a 12 step program? (I've lost track). My uncle was an alcoholic for many years, but in his 50's or 60's joined AA and stayed sober. The God talk was a problem for him too, I believe, but I think he was able to find some groups where that was not so central.
      I, too, have faith in myself, as you mentioned... it took a long time and many years of therapy to get there, though. Having a particularly caring church community is the other thing I lean on emotionally - it'll always be there for me. It took me years to get that degree of trust, too. There were times when I felt extremely alienated at church, but I felt if I kept going my trust would come back, and it did.