Sunday, September 29, 2013

Faithless, Redux

I'd like to explore some things differently than I usually do. Someone once told me that I am very good at "taking the head with the heart," a tendency I've always valued, and I think one I have gotten away from of late. The reasons for that are varied and are unimportant at the moment, but I may get to them at some point.

For some time, I've been wondering what step is next for me. I've gone through many labels in my life, and regular readers or people that have known me through some of them will know that very well. I change my mind frequently, depending on data and depending on another factor. That factor is what I want to talk about today.

Firstly, a disclaimer. I speak of labels a lot, using ones like theist, atheist, christian, calvinist, agnostic, etc. I do this only for the sake of clarity, and only so I can avoid explaining in 4-5 sentences what one word will suffice for. I will define something further if I feel there is a need to beyond what would normally be implied by the word, as some labels are not at all clear. Moving on.

I am 28 years old. To some, that means that I am very young, that I haven't even begun to really live or really come to good views about life. To some, that means I've been through some things that they have not yet, and that I might have a little wisdom. Both are wrong. My wisdom has always turned out to be pretty empty in the grand scheme of things, and I pretty much am never going to stop changing my views, until I just run out of steam. Regardless, I've found a lot of adversity in life so far because of my tendency to ask questions and to never shy away from showing my innocence or experience with things. Some might call that transparency, but those that really know me know that I'm very much not a transparent person about most of who I really am. It's an odd way to live, I admit.

What seems like a long time ago, I was a fundamentalist christian. What this means is that I grew up being taught the "Essentials" of the christian faith, and how not to associate with those who were labeled as "liberals." I moved from that into a strict calvinism, which is kind of an extension of determinism. Basically, the only thing with true freedom in a strict calvinism is god, and humans are puppets. So if a baby dies and goes to hell, then that's according to god's good pleasure. I poured myself into everything I could find, everything that seemed true according to my data set, and eventually, when my knowledge expanded to begin to ask questions about the book I grew up being taught to revere and idolize, I was eclipsed by vast cognitive dissonance. The type of people that used to be my allies became my enemies, a skill I had been developing and am still very good at, unfortunately. From there, I moved into liberal christianity, and eventually out of religion altogether.

Regular readers can breathe a sigh of relief at this point. Don't worry, I am not redescribing ad nauseum my deconversion or the scientific and historical reasons for it. I don't mind doing so again, but I don't think a lot of people I've spoken with care.

Let me clarify. When I speak to a lot of people that have known me a while about god, they have a dissonance of their own to deal with. They must deal with the fact that I poured myself entirely into christianity, and that it is no longer relevant to my life. They're not thinking about the history of the church, the scientific reasoning for leaving a theistic worldview, or even logical inconsistencies that one must get around to affirm something like the inspiration of the Bible. I know this because I've been there. A few years ago, I would've been the same.

This brings me, finally, to the other factor with which I make decisions like this, one that has bugged me for a long time. I can only describe it as an intuitive grasp of the psychology behind a philosophy. To clarify that needlessly confusing description, I invite you to try out a thought experiment.

A man believes in god, and sees god in the order of the universe. He investigates scientific theory through his bias and sees god in fine-tuning things so we can live, so we can exist, and so we can bear his image to others. He sees god as the ultimate control, the mechanism for the universe working how it does, and the ultimate determining factor of the eternal fate of all things. If this god wants to create a hell for those who do not know him from the obvious fingerprints of him in the universe, then it is his creations' fault for not acknowledging it, even if he made them thusly destined for destruction. As the ultimate cause and control, god's ways are higher than our ways, and he never had to make us at all. We should glory in whatever he brings our way, for it's all for him.

Another man is revolted and disgusted by this image of god. He also has faith in god, even claims the same religion as the other man, but he sees god in our ultimate freedom. He also believes that man is the special image-bearer of god, but he sees the universe as constantly changing, humanity adapting by the power given by god, and the ultimate love pouring through the universe from his power and his grace. This man does not see god as the one ultimately in control, even though he must believe he has the power to do so, but as someone who gives up his power to give his creations the free will. Man must freely choose god, or love is meaningless. We are, therefore, ultimately free, beautiful, special, and so forth, necessarily distinguished from other forms of life on our planet. Except for cats, because we were made to serve them. Clearly.

What of these two men then? Do they worship the same god? Are they even of the same religion? Some say yes, some says absolutely not, and some say it's irrelevant.

The first man's god is one of security and control, necessarily so. Perhaps if god exists, this is an "aspect" of god, just like the second man's perception of a loving and freely gracious god is an "aspect" in an eternal "paradox."

The thing is, paradox is unnecessary. For both of these men are not telling you about god when they describe him, they are telling you who they are. Perhaps they debate each other one day, proof-texting like crazy, citing church tradition or instances in their personal life or verse after verse or grudgingly agree to disagree or come to blows and burn with anger. What's really happening here? Are they debating something academic? Not at all, they are debating philosophies born out of who they are. They are literally gods clashing, at odds with each other.

This is the other factor that I use to decide what I believe is true. You see, my "god" is one of allegiance to the truth, regardless of what that is. Throughout my life, I've allowed social ostracization, ridicule, massive consequences, and ultimately my current state of loneliness because of this alone. I don't give a damn what this group or that group says or how long they've been saying it, I care if they can show me, factually, that what they say has evidence and is defensible. Sure, humans are subjective creatures, prone to whimsy and folly and shenanigans and emotional displays of ridiculousness, but we have the potential to cut through that, to suspend our views at any time for the sake of considering the evidence. This is all I ask of myself, and when I say I've paid a price for it, I am not understating what has come about because of it. But that's irrelevant, because I recognize this tendency in myself for what it is. It's who I am intellectually, it's integrity, and I value it above almost anything.

I can relate to the martyrs of my former faith for not sacrificing what one truly believes, one's truest self, just to satisfy the sickening whims of those in power. No doubt, many have been persecuted when a discussion might have done better. It is not my job to blame persecution on christians, muslims, atheists, or whatever other label. This is a misuse of labels to me, because it brings about needless drama instead of clarification. It doesn't matter what I am, what matters is whether I'm still thinking, challenging myself, and pestering other people to be better.

I would not, for a second, trade this tendency for anything. Perhaps that makes it my "faith," though I really have no idea what to call it, and it is certainly not something I believe in or think is important for no reason. "Faith" is a bad word for it, but it may suffice to convey my point. It's not christianity, it's not atheism, it's not agnosticism or nihilism or anything else I've ever heard of, except, perhaps, for critical thinking. I don't really care what the truth is, as long as I can keep looking for it. Give me more data, more information, more experiences. Challenge my perceptions, and don't for a second think I have so much ego that I won't throw it all aside if you're making a good argument.

A good argument is free of personal attacks, free of needless verbosity in the name of "holistic thinking," and free of summarizations that throw aside nuance and detail. A good argument is not reactionary, it is not based in tradition or appeals to authority, and it is not petty. A good argument is based in good information, consistent interpretation that can be done by anyone, and is falsifiable. It does not appeal to risk or consequence, and it does not needlessly assume things. It is baseline, and deductive from there. A good argument shows the integrity of the person making it, and their ability to adapt to new information, regardless of their disdain for the opposition.

This is my meaning, and I'm proud of it. Those who hold their meaning in equal pride and can be respectful and honorable doing it have my respect as well. Questioning of motives does not become anyone, and that is the main reason I wanted to write this. Not to puff myself up or talk about how awesome I am (okay, maybe a little bit), but to clarify the most pervasive misunderstanding I've seen to date of those who try to talk to me. It is frustrating, because I come off so wrong so often, and I can't stand it. People think I'm apathetic when they present me with petty and trivial reactionary nonsense instead of what they really think. People think I'm arrogant when I deconstruct and disagree with their most deeply held views, and they get infuriated when they can't do the same to me, because my views are self deconstructing by their very nature. Most of all, I think people mistake my approach to things for coldness or lack of caring, when nothing could be further from the truth.

I am bad at small talk, have suffered from social anxiety all of my life, and I often do not know what to say, so I either say stupid things, ask about things that apparently everyone is supposed to know about, or just say nothing and appear to think I'm better than everyone. I'm nothing special, but I think my unique blend of growing up how I did, psychological tendencies, and philosophical orientations have lead me to this point, and I'm pretty happy it did. I love discussion, but I sadly have almost no positive views to throw out into discussion, because I tear them all apart the instant I have them. Perhaps this is what it means to be truly faithless.

I'm sure I'll have more on this later on, but that's enough for now.

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