Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Below is an email I received from a man with whom I've had occasional conversations about religion. They usually break off after a couple of exchanges, and, reading his thoughts, it's not hard to understand why. The picture above is the "conversion" to which he refers. Below his note is my response, to which he's not replied yet, but he will. I post this not to mock him, because he's as sincere as can be. But, I think, it explains the difficulties when one tries to apply logic to belief. They're not compatible; nor are they intended to be. This back-and-forth isn't much different from ones we've had before.
Good afternoon Sid,
Although I had no intention of swaying your convictions; I believed hard core atheists could not discern the truth on their own; I was caught by surprise with this evident conversion. As I reflected upon this I realized that this conversion was not of his own rational processes and must therefore come from another source. Has he been misinformed, or misled?
Other personal testimony by well educated former Muslims as to having searched for the truth (truth is vital to a Muslim) and having discovered that the truth lay not in the Muslim (way of life) Islam, but through revelation by revealed established facts.
Similarly, one might consider a Muslim, one who follows a "way of life" rather than the way that God intended for them to follow. Therefore, that leads to radical formation that elevates self; Id, Ego, and perhaps even the super-ego to support efficacy of life style.
That makes it appear that I place Atheism and Islam in the same bucket. Not really. Separate buckets is more like it. Why? Well, it would seem that; there is the main difference between a faith that has been instilled by the creator God, and a faith that has been instilled by a creator man.
You are a very intelligent person, Sid. A savant if I may say so. therefore, I ask you to reflect on these comments, and without a scathing diatribe, comment upon these from your perspective.
Sam, I’m sure you know I could send you testimonies from atheists who converted from every faith on the planet. In fact you’ll agree that virtually all atheists began as believers of every sort, eventually finding that the faith into which they were born made no sense to them.
I could also point out many devout Christians who accept the fact of evolution, starting with the Pope.
I find it interesting that this “Ron” fails to supply us with a last name, and that the email is a solicitation for donations. Is he real? Do you know? If so, is his testimony real? Given the slick solicitation, might he, like PT Barnum, have discovered how to separate suckers from their money? Or if not Barnum, then any of the countless high-living multimillionaire TV and megachurch preachers, many of whom have been discovered to be frauds, or sexual perverts….
Whether or not the man exists and is sincere, it’s as unpersuasive to me as my lack of faith is to you. You see atheism and Islam as similar enough to occupy buckets in the basement of your mind, to be kept as trophies. I see all religions as belonging in the same bucket, and atheism as in another. There are, who knows how many, countless religions and sub-religions and modifications thereof, personal and otherwise, in the world. Each adherent believes as sincerely as do you that they’ve found the one and only that is true. Logic tells us it’s impossible that they’re all right. Logic also tells us that IS possible that they’re all wrong. In fact, the fact that there are so many, so fervently held, makes it pretty clear that they are, in fact, all wrong. All made-up.
You claim your faith is given by God and that atheism is created by man. We both have brains, Sam. So do all the believers around the planet: Christians of how many varieties including Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Holy Rollers, Shakers, snake handlers, Presbyterians, Catholics, Pentecostals, followers of David Koresh and Jim Jones and many more cults meeting in basements….., Muslims, Rastafarians, Hindi, Zoroastrians, Jews (reform, conservative, orthodox), Shinto, Wiccans, Satanists, dozens of Native American beliefs, countless tribes in Africa, the jungles of South America. Who’s to say which of those was created by God as opposed to by man?
In the face of so many religions, it makes most sense that it’s because the human brain EVOLVED to look for patterns. It’s a survival mechanism. It seeks explanations for that which is not understood. And given that certain answers are yet to appear, and that the need to form groups is an instinct with obvious survival benefits, there evolved a tendency to create beliefs that organize people; and, importantly, that keep people from spending all their time in fear of death. Religion evolved in perilous times, serving a needed survival purpose. The question, in these times, is whether it still serves humanity well. It serves you, clearly. Does it serve those dying daily in the Middle East? Did it serve those fellow humans in Orlando? Is it serving the planet as, in this country, the Christian right refuses to address climate change?
So what explains the difference between you and me? I’d certainly not claim my lack of belief is a higher form of intelligence than is your need for belief, your accepting of the truth of one derivative of one kind of belief over the truth of the thousands of other choices. I’m sure I’m not smarter than you. But we think very differently; I don’t know why. I began as a believer. At some point I was able to take a look from some sort of outside view and I concluded it made no sense. For many reasons, including the conclusion (obvious, I’d argue) that the very existence of so many faiths so devoutly held while so incompatible with each other speaks loudly for faith being a creation of man. To fill a need. To be able to face the recognition that we die. To view the pain and suffering and fallibility and hatred and ignorance and starvation and disease, the decay of Alzheimer’s, the cancers in the brains of children, and to be able to conjure an explanation that makes it okay, that tells us, because we’re believers, it won’t happen to us; or, if it does, that there’s another life in which it’ll all be fine.
And I think your need to convert me (or, if you’re not, really, then that of the doorbell-ringers and the TV preachers) speaks to the fragility of clinging to a belief so clearly selected, by circumstances of random birth, mostly, from a planet-size buffet: the fact that there are people who believe differently from you (and I mean “you” in a larger sense that the specific Sam) and people who don’t believe at all, threatens, if ever so slightly, to force “you” to consider whether you’re the one that’s wrong. And for most “you”s out there, that’s intolerable. For what is faith, if not “faith”? By definition, it overlooks certain aspects of reality. When those aspects contradict or challenge one’s faith, they must, because that’s what faith is, be ignored or explained away as heresy; especially, for most believers, the kind deserving of present or future punishment. (Why is it, I wonder, that some believers have no problem knowing there are billions who believe differently, while others find it so threatening that they wish death upon them?)
I can’t explain why I don’t need that sort of papering-over. For some reason, reality doesn’t create the need in me. I understand that for the majority of humans, facing death requires some sort of assurance that it’s not the end; and I’m sure I’d be happy if I could believe it, too. I do think, however, that if I’m not smarter or more evolved than you, it’s good for you that there are non-believers like me who don’t stop looking for answers. It’s no coincidence that most scientists are non-believers. It’s they who continue to seek knowledge of the sort that’s led to cures for diseases, solutions to hunger, and so much more. No, not all scientists are non-believers, and not all religionists look away from science. But I think it’s pretty obvious that without us non-believers, the world would be a much worse place. So you can thank your God for creating us.
And as to “Ron,” I’m sure he’s collecting handsomely on his “conversion.” It’s a good life, ain’t it?
I guess I failed his request for no diatribe. "Scathing?" Eye of the beholder.
Immediately after sending my reply, I read of the two-year-old boy, same age as my adorable grandson, who was killed by an alligator at Disney world. The thought of it makes me physically ill, as I picture my beautiful grandchild. I could never, no matter how much rationalization was offered, believe in a god who allowed or caused that to happen. Never. And if there is a god and that's who he is, I'd hope to have the decency, were I to stand before him, to tell him to stuff it.
I sent Sam a followup.
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