Thursday, March 6, 2008

Coming out: My spiritual orientation

I've decided that I'm a theistic agnostic.

Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. I believe that there is a God, but I don't believe that I or anyone can ever *prove* that.

I know that the deck is stacked against there being a God. When I was a kid, about 7 years old, I was scared to death of dying. Now, if I were a good Catholic, like I was raised to be, I shouldn't have been scared.

Clown: Good madonna, why mournest thou?
OLIVIA: Good fool, for my brother's death.
Clown: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
OLIVIA: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Clown: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's
soul being in heaven.
--William Shakespeare, "Twelfth Night"

In plain English:

Skinner: Ah yes, Renata. How is she?
Linguini: She's good…well, not g…she's been better. I-I mean, uh…
Horst: She died.
Skinner: [awkwardly] Oh. I'm…sorry.
Linguini: Oh, no, don't be. She believed in heaven, so she's covered…you know, afterlife-wise.

But I'm not sure about that. The whole possibility of non-existence after death has scared the shit out of me for years. And the only way I can deal with that is to believe that there is an afterlife, and, by extension, that there is a God. I can't not believe. (I'm not believing in God because of Pascal's wager, either. Hell is much less scary than non-existence to me.)

It's irrational, but faith is irrational. You can't prove faith, and those who try are seriously misguided. That's one of the main reasons that I think Intelligent Design and Creationism are so silly. Additionally, the debates over the Shroud of Turin or the James Ossuary should be meaningless for people who really have faith. Faith is believing something that can't be proven and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's very counter-intuitive. But we all do it to a certain extent. For some, religion is their faith, for others, it's secular things, like democracy.

The argument runs something like this. "I refuse to prove that I exist", says God, "for proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing." "But", says Man, "the Babel Fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It proves you exist, and so therefore you don't. QED." "Oh dear", says God, "I hadn't thought of that", and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
--Douglas Adams "The Hitchikker's Guide to the Galaxy"

I'll live my life on this world doing my best to improve myself, be nice to others, and leave things in better shape than when I got here. Maybe leave an heir if I'm lucky. And I will do it for the benefit of that heir, and everyone who comes after. And, because it's the right thing to do. Not for some fear of divine punishment.

I'm also still going to pray sometimes, go to church sporadically, and search through religious texts to find meaning. I'm not going to consider those texts inerrant and infallible, and I won't just keep to religious texts, or texts older than 500 years old. There's wisdom everywhere. Even in Oprah magazine. Sometimes.

I'm coming out as a theistic agnostic for several reasons: For one, writing it down helps clarify my thoughts, to figure out exactly what I believe. Second, it's a confession of sorts. There's my Catholic roots showing again. Many times, I present myself as far more religious in the company of my devout friends and acquaintances, but I present myself as more atheistic in the company of skeptics and rationalists. I do this mostly so as not to get into huge debates, and not to hurt feelings. But that practice is intellectually dishonest.

That doesn't mean I'm going to randomly blurt out to my mother "I'm not a Christian," or post “I believe in God” in the comments of the Geologic Podcast, but I need to say the words out loud, write them down, get them in order, so I can learn to be true to what I believe, and not change how I present myself because I'm worried about what other people will think or how they will feel.

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