ATHEISTS, AGNOSTICS, AND BELIEVERS
Is There A Place In My Life Where I Lack For Nothing And I Live Beyond Skepticism And Even Beyond Belief?Click thumbnail to view full-size
What's In A Label?
Nice To Meet You, Some Of My Best Friends Are Atheists, Agnostics, and Believers. Sometimes, I’m one myself!
I wonder if you asked God to choose one of those categories for Godself, which one would God choose? Just being silly! Come on, get a grip! Laugh! I had a professor once who used to say, "Only God knows, and even he’s doubtful." Love that one!
This is not a blog for convincing. I don’t think! Might be fooling myself! Convince comes from the Latin, com and vincere which means to conquer with and ultimately to conquer with an argument, as if there is a battle to win. Well, I’m fresh out of battle energy. So I prefer to make this a blog of exploration, in particular, of our human experience of LIFE!
I love words. So let’s begin our exploration with a look at the words.
ATHEIST. The word comes from the Greek. The "a" means without or lacking. "Theist" comes from the Greek word "theos," meaning God. So the atheist, technically, is not someone who is anti God or against God, nor one who does not believe in God as such, but someone who is without or lacking an experience of God. M-m-m. That’s an interesting way of looking at it.
How about AGNOSTIC? Again the "a" comes from the Greek and means without or lacking. Gnostic comes from the Greek "gnostos," meaning known. The verb is "gignostein," to know.
So the agnostic is one who is without or lacking a "knowing" of God in his or her life experience.
If we look at atheists and agnostics from the root meaning of the words, we are not really talking about beliefs here, but life experience.
How about the word BELIEVER? The word comes from the Middle English "belefan." "Lefan" means to allow. Wow! That’s interesting. The Middle English ‘lefan" is derived from the Old English "leof" which means "dear." So a believer is one who allows him or herself to have experiences of God, and holds onto them dearly. Oh yes, we hold on to our beliefs for dear life, perhaps so dearly we are willing to die for our beliefs, or worse, kill someone else who does not hold our beliefs.
Something else we might want to look at here is the difference between beliefs and values. A belief, according to Wikipedia (sorry!), "is a psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true." Hey, not bad!
A value, on the other hand, is moving our beliefs to the level of behavior. So my behavior is consistent with my belief. I believe God is love, and so behaving lovingly is the real value, the proof of the pudding, the authentic gem. That’s why a believer trying to convince someone (conquer with an argument) of God’s existence is perhaps an oxymoron!
I wonder if our alignment with any one of those labels, has more to do with our experiences of disappointment, disillusionment, pain, and abandonment, than they do with any philosophical, scientific, psychological or spiritual exploration and discovery. Even for the believer, I wonder if the adamant insistence that there is a God is a way to ward off the despair that looms on the horizon. I mean, for anyone, even the great Saints, life’s mysteries include both God being there and sometimes God being difficult to locate amidst the chaos.
And what’s with the atheist and agnostic both being so certain about their beliefs? What about those mysteries which at least make one scratch his or her brain for a moment. The fact that any one person makes it out of the womb with ten toes and ten fingers, two eyes and two ears is pretty phenomenal when one considers all the other possibilities. There is probably more good reason for us to pop out missing or with extra stuff than there is for so many of us coming out as "perfectly" as we do.
I wonder what the atheist or agnostic would think if he or she were to walk in the door and find there beautifully woven crepe-paper streamers of varied colors, balloons, and signs on the walls reading, "Happy Birthday, Vern...Happy Birthday, Dad....Happy Birthday, Good Friend....Happy Birthday, Sweetie?" And then thirty people suddenly jump out of the walls screaming, "Surprise!" How random or unpredictable could that be?
Or let’s take another scenario. You walk in the door and you see beautifully woven black crepe-paper streamers with signs that read, "Happy Birthday, Jerk....Happy Birthday A**hole....Happy Birthday, you SOB." What would you think? Might you say, "Whoa, what happened here?" And there are no thirty people jumping out at you screaming "Surprise!" "Surprise" would be screaming out all by itself, and it’d just be you and the room and the "greetings." Just a random act of kindness by those who hate you? Or is it predictable? And interesting enough, even being a jerk, folks could still care enough about me to wish me Happy Birthday!
What I think the Atheist and Agnostic have to offer those who consider themselves believers is their capacity to decide to live a "good" and "loving" life without the promise of a reward. What is with that? So the only reason I treat people kindly, the only reason I control my impulses, the only reason I choose not to shoot people on the freeway who cut me off, is to get to heaven? That’s a little scary because it means that my motivation is pretty tentative.
When the Atheist or Agnostic decides to live life to the fullest and to his or her best, he or she has to go to the roots of what makes us tick as human beings, which I believe is a kind of innate goodness. We’re pretty good people if left to our own devices. For me, that is another one of those feedback loops that points to at least an inkling of God’s existence, sometimes referred to as the small still voice, but obviously not for them.
Unfortunately, as we grow up, we lose our innocence and the connection to our innate goodness because of experiences with the big people in our lives. By the time we are eighteen and ready to venture into adulthood, most of us are pretty tainted and sometimes beat up. If there is a judgment day, that’s what we adults will be held accountable for, not loving our children enough to keep them connected to that place deep inside where they can know and experience God.
There are so many experiences in life that do connect and have parallels, and for me those connections and parallels point to God. I know there are lots of folks who do not see it that way.
Some days, I experience God in my life quite indisputably. Other days, I’m just not sure if God is there or not. And then there are those days that God’s presence is a void, which sometimes I can actually tune into, but it is a void nevertheless. My experience of God’s presence or lack of seems to transcend those three labels. To attach one of those three labels, atheist, agnostic, believer, does not adequately describe my experience.
Life is so much more complex than God is here, no he isn’t, I’m not sure!
When I asked my sister if the brown carpeting which was about to be laid throughout my entire office would dictate the colors I painted the walls in the various rooms, she said something very profound. "The rug is your dirt, and like a gardener, you can plant whatever colored flowers you want, and you can paint the walls whatever colors you want." And I did! In its own interesting way, my sister’s observation is godly. I know for some of you this whole paragraph appears schizophrenic!
I’m a firm believer in ALL of the current scientific theories of how we got to this point in time and space. I’m especially a believer in evolution, and I find myself evolving with each passing day, sometimes into species no one likes, including myself, but then other times, into species that everyone seems to love. That part is really awesome! And for me, it is ALL about God.
I’ve given up trying to make sense of the starving children here in Yucaipa, China, Bangladesh, Calcutta, or wherever. But I know this. If any one of us really wanted to make sure there were no starving children in our own bailiwick, there wouldn’t be any, and maybe that’s why God doesn’t do much about it. God is waiting for us to do our job. And the tragic earthquakes and hurricanes and tornados? I have no clue. But I don’t know anything about quantum physics or quantum mechanics either. I don’t even know how my car runs or why my computer blows up. So it does not become a crisis of faith for me. AH! There’s that word, FAITH. I think faith is important, especially having enough loved ones so that I can experience faith first hand. Yep, there are plenty of bad people around, but like the fact that we pop out as well as we do, I find a lot of clarity in the love ones around me. Even when I can’t seem to touch God, I can touch them and that takes me to some place far beyond the dimensions of time, space, or randomness.
And speaking of randomness. You know what I really like about randomness? That probability distribution thing. That is so cool and so godly in my eyes. I mean chaos and unpredictability is perhaps at the heart of all creation.
Well, you must have some thoughts to share, and for God’s sake, please do!