“But men labor under a mistake. The better part of man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”
Henry Thoreau, Walden
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21, from Thoreau’s old book: The Bible
I am an atheist. I think. “A heathen conceivably, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one”; to quote Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man.
It wasn’t always this way; once I had a unshakeable faith in God. It was lost not by design, but by accident.
When I was young I felt God walk with me, as though having a friendly spirit riding on your shoulder. Never judgemental, only slightly annoying by making me never take the easy road; it was deeply felt and I was happy for it. Around the age of 17, I got ill. It took me around 3 years to recover and when I was better once more, I found that my faith, this personal God who walked with me; had disappeared. Gone.
No conscious effort or reading played a part, it simply happened. That was some years ago now and even to this day, I still don’t have any faith. But that’s not to say I don’t respect faith where I see it, unless it’s misplaced in some human creation of caricature or demagoguery.
Whenever faith and lack of it are mentioned; swords are drawn at the concept of morality. That those with faith require a greater being to tell them what is moral, or those without forego greater issues by reduction to logic and reason. Logic and reason are useful tools; in fact I try to give students the concept by using an analogy:
If you imagine yourself as a child, a toddler and you feel tired; what do you do? You collapse on the spot and generally start bawling. As you age and reach a maturity where you’re expected to eat in a dignified manner rather than smearing food all over the floor, you sit on a chair instead. When you are tired, you sit in a chair, because it’s more comfortable than the floor. You may or may not start bawling.
Sooner or later, a question arises, why is it better to sit in a chair? Well, obviously it spreads the mass of your body more evenly than standing on two small feet over a larger area, pressure over a larger area creating comfort. Plus they have cushions. Hands up who’s never had that inane thought about why exactly we sit on chairs. See me after class.
Logic is not common sense. I have a major deficit of common sense but an over abundance of logic. It’s amusing to watch me approach a task I’ve never attempted before. Over-planning and over-complicating the easiest of things is the norm.
As usual, I digress. Oh yes, morality. And atheism; got it.
“All mathematicians would then be intuitive if they had clear sight, for they do not reason incorrectly from principles known to them; and intuitive minds would be mathematical if they could turn their eyes to the principles of mathematics to which they are unused.”
Blaise Pascal, Pensées,
I have, in my ignorance, never actually read any Richard Dawkins; in something so personal I wanted to understand and develop it myself. I wrote a logical critique of religion a few years ago. In an attempt to understand further, I even tried to use mathematics to understand the phenomena.
Pascal’s Wager, written by the eminent mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal and published in the posthumous Pensées, an anthology of fragmentary thoughts; had the concept that God either is, or is not. It was better, in Pascal’s opinion to err on the side of caution and to accept the possibility of the existence of an almighty deity.
To me the mathematics appeared wrong; if we consider God to have the value of 1 and the non-existence to have the value 0, in a binary fashion; it would appear that Pascal has taken the average and rounded up. Not the most accurate maths. So what could the mathematics of godly power look like?
Imagine G stands for godly powers; what does it equal to? Miracles(M), creation(C), guardianship(S), judgement(J), mercy(Y), leadership(D), wisdom(W), law(L) and so many other variables. I once got lost trying to make an equation, it went something like this:
G = M + C + S/JYDWL
Clearly I’m no Pascal. What if my mathematical simplification of Pascal gave the wrong value, that God = 0 and No God = 1? Another avenue to ponder along with the fact more and more variables could be added. What can and do we attribute to God and what exactly is the purpose of doing so?
In the piece I wrote on religion, I saw it as a method of explaining the unexplained in ancient society; to attribute personality and meaning to the impossible and the dangerous. Perhaps my loss of faith derived from an understanding of the world; but that wouldn’t be true, as the world and universe are still not entirely understood; the science being far from complete.
“According to the theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than light. Thus if light cannot escape, neither can anything else; everything is dragged back by the gravitational field. So one has a set of events, a region of space-time from which it is not possible to escape to reach a distant observer. This region is what we now call a black hole.”
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
I’m not religious yet have a great respect for faith; I’ve been there myself and yes, it is something other than the ordinary. I’m not especially sad, nor happy about losing my faith; it just happened. I’d love to pinpoint the exact moment, the singularity; but I cannot. Upon disappearing over the event horizon, my faith has been dragged into the unknown.
I try to be a moral man; not the one developed by scripture and oral traditions; but by actions. I still take the hard way instead of the easy without the personal God and it still is difficult, but just as worthwhile.
My wife is currently learning Hebrew, entirely of her own mad volition. I’m helping her and it reminds me of the time I learned it; and the six months I spent preparing for my Bar Mitzvah. Happy memories, not guilt or loss; just good thoughts of a time once spent knee deep in biblical scripture.
Perhaps because of this I don’t feel the need or right to invoke the flying spaghetti monster, celestial teapots or Pastafarianism in discussion. It seems disrespectful, rude and condescending. Faith is a personal thing and to me it deserves respect and tact.
However, I still remain an atheist; even if an accidental one.