I used to wonder (and believe I even asked you) if an aging agnostic would eventually ask, “is this all there is?”
The answers to that question could be mind-blowing.
You probably mean atheist and the fact is that most atheists die quite contentedly without ever asking that question. It comes from giving thought to life and belief and faith and knowledge and thinking is a pretty good thing.
I am agnostic however many people, you apparently are among them, who think that agnosticism is a belief or a faith. It is simply the acknowledgement that metaphysical notions are not known. If a genie appeared and offered to give me one wish it would be that everyone in the world become agnostic; there would be agnostic Catholics, agnostic atheists, agnostic Jews, agnostic Muslims, etc. Everyone would retain their belief/faith and they would freely tell others if they wished, spread the word like the Mormons do, but they would understand the difference between belief and knowledge. I like to think that if everyone understood that their belief was not any better or worse than any other belief and that we should be respectful of others’ beliefs the world would be a safer and happier place.
What do I believe? I believe that this life is wonderful. I like to make an analogy that fits well into the Christmas season. I like to think of life as a gift and I know that if I gave someone a gift that was unwrapped and the recipient exclaimed “great gift, Thank you! What else did you get me?” I would think that person was an ingrate. Just in case the analogy escapes you I’ll put it in terms of your belief. God gave you life and you are saying “is this all there is?” I think this life is wonderful and I give thanks for it frequently. I’m not looking forward to something else. If this is it, thank you! If there is more, wow! But my job in this life is to live it fully, to use the gift well and with appreciation.
I recently picked up Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins and couldn’t put it down. I may go back and reread his other books soon; so many laughs and such good thoughts like:
Of course, as long as there were willing followers, there would be exploitive leaders. And there would be willing followers until humanity reached that philosophical plateau where it recognized that its great mission in life had nothing to do with any struggle between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but was, rather, a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics was simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.
One of the arguments creationists use to dismiss evolution goes “If we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” They ought to look at their own religion for the answer. Catholicism evolved from Judaism and yet there are still Jews. Islam evolved from Catholicism as did Protestantism yet there are still Catholics. There are divisions within Islam and numerous forms of Protestantism all leaving still intact their origins. For those who are confused about how evolution works, I hope this helps.
Understanding evolution doesn’t mean you have to abandon or even question your faith. I would hope this brings you a better understanding of your faith. Genesis is a myth. It is interesting to contemplate how that myth came into being. The majority of Christians, Jews and Muslims already understand it as a myth and yet they remain Christians, Jews and Muslims. Take the good messages on living that the Bible holds and use them. Enjoy the myths as part of your heritage.
I get great pleasure out of thinking. Concentrating on the meaning of life is as satisfying to me as, I presume, it is for a golfer to concentrate on an important putt. I don’t place any greater or lesser importance on my pleasure than on the golfer’s pleasure. I write these thoughts largely for myself though it is quite possible that if I were the only person in the world, I would not bother.
Would I still think if I were alone? One of the things I have found when I am alone is that I frequently think in the past tense. “As I walked up the road toward Mt. Vesuvius from where the bus had dropped me …” I was 27 when I was having that thought in those words while climbing Mt. Vesuvius. I wrote them down in my diary along with the thought “If there was only one person left on earth, and he was I; He would die. Why?”
Why? Because the thought in my head seemed to indicate that I was not climbing through a flowering orchard on a spring day with the cone of Vesuvius ahead of me for my current pleasure but rather for an experience that I could relate to others. Otherwise, why were not my thoughts in the present tense?
Deep breath. “Ahhh. The air is so sweet. God! I love this.” I breathe the air again. I look toward a sound and see a bird. As I emerge from the orchard and start up the cone I can feel my body carrying me upward smoothly. I pause and turn to look out over the bay of Naples. No words in my head about what I am doing. I’m just doing it. No recording necessary.
Would my mind be blank, blank of worded thoughts that is? I shouldn’t think so. The bird might call to mind something I know of birds that could be added to. The fragrance of the air might recall a spring day somewhere in my past. The pull of gravity on my body might bring thoughts of pride at my fitness or a resolve to become more fit. But I’m glad my thoughts weren’t in the present tense. Realizing that brought the philosophical thought, that I was not doing this for myself alone. It is those somehow larger thoughts that I enjoy most, larger and ever so debatable.
There are many things I would not do were there not other people to tell but that is a different thing from thinking. If all other people on the planet suddenly disappeared, would I stop thinking? First I would probably think that was strange. Then I might think it a bit frightening. My life would clearly be different with no one to talk to. I would have to sort out my needs and figure out how to meet them. There would be no one to generate electricity or make matches. How would I cook food? Where would I find food? There would be a lot to think about, at least at first.
At age 27 I thought that I would die if I were the last person on earth. Now, I’m not so sure. Of course I would die eventually but I’m not sure that I would just curl up and die because the only reason for living was to communicate with others. I think I would want to solve the important questions like food and shelter and then I think I would be able to amuse myself with thoughts about the meaning of it all. What was going on? What was I supposed to be doing? The thoughts might not be global or cosmic so much as “What is over the horizon?” “Am I truly alone in the world or are there people that I can find somewhere?” “How did this happen?” Ah, the thoughts seem to progress toward the more philosophical fairly soon.
It is difficult to try to understand thinking before there was language. One model would be animals, I suppose. What does the woodchuck think when it’s nose touches my electric fence for the first time? How do animals learn to be fearful of predators? Are they fearful or merely cautious? What did the early hominid think before language? Can there be thoughts before language?
If I try to think without using words, I think I can have thoughts. Are they thoughts or emotions? Certainly they would be extremely limited absent thoughts from others through written and spoken words. Hunger, shelter, sex are processed through the brain. Those are the “thoughts” I can imagine without words as I sit here half a million or so years later. It was clearly thoughts that brought about the development of tools. It has only been within the past 3,000 years that we have been thinking philosophically. Most of our thought up until then, I suspect, was focused on survival and on improving the quality of life.
What is my dog thinking when she huddles close to me during a thunder storm? What is she thinking when, alone in the house during a thunder storm, she gets into the bathtub? If dogs could communicate about things like thunder, would they exchange ideas on how to cope, try out each others ideas, and come to a general agreement on which strategy worked best?
Before language did hominids wonder what thunder was all about? Did they try to figure out a reason behind it? Once they developed language how did they come to the conclusion that thunder was caused by a god driving his chariot across the sky? As I try to think myself into the skin of people living under those conditions it seems a pretty logical explanation for something that was inexplicable at that time.
I wonder if fundamentalists understand parables. My own experiences lead me to believe they don’t. For example, I have had fundamentalists tell me that the reason no one stoned the adulteress when Jesus said “let he who is without sin throw the first stone” was because all of those men had committed adultery. If there had been just one who had not, he would have thrown the first stone and the woman would have been stoned to death.
“So,” I asked, “this story doesn’t pertain to you at all?” “Right,” he answered. I’ve never committed adultery so if I had been there, I could have stoned her.” It seems to me that is a story about judging others as in “judge not lest yea be judged.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan does not translate into “love thy enemies.” Enjoy this quote from a Christian site on the parables: “Like his aphorisms, Jesus’ parables were often surprising and paradoxical. The parable of the good Samaritan, for example, turned expectations on their head with the despised Samaritan proving to be the wounded man’s neighbor.”
Follows is a dialogue in which I tried to make a point using allegory:
Me: You believe life is a gift?
CF (Christian Fundamentalist): Yes.
Me: A gift from God?
Me: God the Father?
Me: Do you think life is a wonderful gift?
Me: You are a father. Have you given your children gifts?
CF: Of course.
Me: Imagine giving your son a wonderful gift, the best gift you could imagine and he said “Thank you Dad. What else did you get me?” How would that make you feel?
CF: What’s your point?
Me: God gave you a wonderful gift, you say, but you turn around and ask for another life, a heaven that you know nothing about other than you are sure it is better than this life, this gift. How do you think that would make God feel?
CF: I’m not God.
Me: You believe you were created in God’s image. God shows lots of feelings and emotions that you can identify with including rage. You call him your Father in Heaven. If I gave my son a beautiful bicycle that he wanted and he said, “Thanks Dad. What else did you get me? I’d be pissed.
CF: I’m sure you are a good father.
Using allegory when having a discussion of religion with fundamentalist Christians may not help advance your point.