Sunday, January 22, 2012

I heard the voice of god, looping and looping...

Well, I guess it was written in the sands....  There is an ongoing argument over at Selavy.  It is mostly between myself and an adherent to the ancient religion of ignorance.   In a nutshell (If that term is not heretical to the stone worshippers), I made a joke in response to the assertion that somebody should carry moonstone and amethyst with them for "safe travels."  They had also critiqued a photograph as having "killing energy" because an arrow was pointed towards the viewer. My subsequent thermodynamics joke did not go over well. It resulted in an ongoing thread in the "comments section" of the link above in which somebody suggested that I have a "reading comprehension" issue and that I should die, but to do so quickly.  They did use quotation marks to pretend that there was some semblance of compassion in their "almost" saying it. 

I responded in kind and now the thread has finally reached proportions of interest.  

We are expected to grant all manner of "belief" its due respect.  We are told to be tolerant of others' beliefs in the hopes that the world will be a better place.  I fail to see the success of this initiative.  But I also recognize that mixed in with some ancient superstitions there can be useful knowledge, as well as insight into the development of mankind in terms of their need to believe and the ways in which they go about doing so.  Now that fanatical religious factions have risen to power in areas of the world we will see how much longer we are encouraged to be tolerant of the myriad effects of religious belief. 

We are also told a parallel value, that is to eradicate ignorance with education.  When we see ignorance and superstition we are meant to shine the light of education and intellect on it so that it might one day be extinguished and we live in a world that is free from its misty constraints.  The likelihood of paranoia and superstitions being used to exploit willful believers runs very high, as history richly shows.  

Yet we remain stuck between these two ideals, respect for beliefs on the one hand and the purpose of education to eradicate falsehood on the other.   There is no easy answer, especially when the believers are convinced of "the truth."  Hordes of people remain uneducated and the desire to practice some sort of faith runs very strong, even among the educated.  It has lately become popular to question knowledge as being counter to faith because knowledge, above all other forces, is perceived as a threat to faith's sanctity.  Alternative forms of faith-knowledge are presented and with little exposure to collective examination these hotbeds of alternative faith thrive, eschewing any outside interference from intellect or scrutiny. Again, the cycle repeats and people cling to a system which encourages them to suspend their intellect, even proposing that intellect itself might be a hindrance to spiritual progress.

It's true. I've experienced it. Throughout my life I have been encouraged to suspend my questions of a faith and to give myself over exclusively to the "feeling" of it, as if one does not achieve feeling through thought.  I'm not talking about meditation, where the purpose is to clear your mind of unwanted thought, the noise of daily living, so that you can better focus on centeredness.  I'm all for that.  I'm talking about people actively discouraging me from asking questions about faith.  The accepted response is that curiosity at certain levels is a form of evil, or at least an unneeded practice, an impediment to self.  It is a badness that creeps into us in many ways, and there is only one solution for it, it must be fought off with feelings.  

We are told to pursue feeling as truth, counter to the false truth of thought.  Feeling being the only true way of knowing....

This misty new-age era we are in is the triumph of suggestion and projection.  People want to be seen as spiritual beings, by themselves most of all.  So they embrace whichever system agrees with them the most and they internalize it.  They then project that internal belief to the outside world.  Having had knowledge of this internalization process they are often very touchy about the methods of their acceptance of their faith.  You will hear them often speak about how it came along at "just the right time in my life. I was going through a lot..."  But this admission never seems to raise the question that perhaps they only embraced it as they needed it, not that it was divined by celestial forces. Because that is not how they want to feel. Even if these questions do arise, which they often do, they are beaten back with the communion of fellow believers.  Most belief systems are social in nature.  The ones that are capable of existing, or even thriving, in individuals outside of a social structure take on painful attributes of piousness and sanctimony.  Most, that is. 

I have made it clear that I am an atheist, not an amethyst, but an atheist, one who does not believe in god or gods.  It is very rare that my position is accorded the same respect that others' are, those that are faith based.  Believers have respect for all beliefs except this one.  People will sometimes tell me that I have a lot of faith in atheism.  If only I were accorded the same respect that others are for having such a faith.  But it is not a faith.  I do not bow to it, nor the idea of it, in any way.  I do not meditate upon it. I do not seek wisdom from it.  I only try to share it with others when compelled to do so, when being confronted with the magical incantations of others, imbedded in the gibberish of well-meaning and mystical wishes.  I make jokes about rocks having magical powers or people having an invisible friend named Jesus.  If their invisible friend Jesus is real for them then what threat is there by me swiping the air in the vicinity around us to find him, to challenge him to an invisible karate match?  

I'm not evangelical about atheism, but I find myself becoming more so.  Because faith can be a threat to intellect, I am often put in the position of needing to defend reason, as opposed to faith.  I'm not saying that they can not co-exist. I only mean to say that I find very few people who are willing to profess and project both.  They might flip-flop from one to the other, but few are willing to apply intellect to their faith*.  

Atheism has not robbed my heart of poetry, quite the opposite actually.  If there is anything truly magical in this world then it is language.  All religion springs from language, but other things spring from that fountain also.  "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with god and the word was god." etc.  I find much of religion fascinating.  It is a measure of human need, desire and imagination.  There is something deeply beautiful about the social aspect of religion, the role it plays in many peoples lives, the meaning it gives them. I simply find that meaning to be false, or more accurately, non-existent, for me.  

But, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen."  Also, a good christian point.   Does the very existence of faith prove something?  Does it prove its own existence by virtue of its existence?  It is easy to pretend to reduce all of it down to ignorance alone, but even when much ignorance is evidenced in the practice of religion, perhaps the blanket term does not adequately explain all that there is.  Perhaps.  It has been shown that faith is a healthy activity.  But, does one person's atheism not also counter that claim with its own logic?

I mean, energy does flow through rocks... We have an enormous understanding of how it does so.  The process by which it occurs is spelled out in the laws of thermodynamics.  There is much to joke about with these laws but there is much that the worshippers of crystals would also deny about the limitations of these laws.  Most of them do not laugh at science.  They do not have the humor to refute, the way that an atheist does.  Laughter concerning sanctimony is verboten.

They would have you believe that there is a deeper understanding of energy cycles and this understanding supersedes traditional scientific knowledge.  It is hidden to the eyes of science because they are looking only with the mind.  This third-eye of theirs sees beyond what the mind sees, you see. The history of religious belief supports them in this belief.  I often wonder why they don't also believe the earth to be flat.  It would strengthen the historical claims they make rather than weaken them. Who knows, maybe even the third-eye recognizes the fallacies of the past.  All but one, I guess. 

I believe that the only way that carrying a moonstone with you might bring you safer travels is if you were attacked on the path through the enchanted forest and you needed it to ward of a warlock or an ogre.  I only pray that you had the clairvoyance to bring a large enough moonstone with you. That is the extent of my belief in magical rock power.  But there it is, upon much less faith have entire belief systems been built.

I understand how annoying the words of atheism can be.  But I find them to be no more insufferable than the mumbo-jumbo of rock power or anything else.  Yet few will come to the defense of atheism in the same way that they will demand and expect "respect" for their blathering. It almost makes me wish to present atheism as an actual faith, a religious sentiment on equal footing with theirs.  But that would be a mistake, a big one.  There is one main difference that I would like to draw the reader's attention to.  Ask an atheist how they came to their belief that there is no god, you will generally find a very different set of experiences that drew them there.  The path is called reason, there is no end to it.  

* - There is an enormous amount of mankind's collected wisdom that has come down to us through religious thinkers. The amount of philosophy that was developed by religious/spiritual writers is inestimable. I do not pretend to perceive all of it as useless drivel, far from it.  All of the various faiths have made contributions to thought.  To claim otherwise would be willful obliviousness. The summation of these contributions does not produce in me any feelings or belief in god, however.   Instead, I find in them the enormous human capacity for, and inclination towards, beauty.  I also find equal amounts of beauty in reason.