Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bad Atheist

As of this writing, I've lost 35 pounds on my journey of health and fitness. Things have been going great, but I'm taking a few days off from the gym due to a pulled muscle in my back. My fault, of course. I let my technique get sloppy. As I wait (impatiently) for my body to recover so I can get back to my routine, I decided to make an attempt to write. I know, three blog entries in one week. That's unheard of for me these days. But here you go. I remember the days when I'd crank out articles every other day, and sometimes every day. Dead-Logic has been an online account of my spiritual journey: where I've been intellectually, what I've believed, how I've progressed in my ongoing search for truth and meaning. I've never considered Dead-Logic an "atheist blog." It's just my blog. That said, the focus of my blog has been foremost on my struggles with faith and my religious background. What I'm about to say might come across as pretentious if I'm not careful, so I write with mild trepidation: I have moved beyond that struggle.

I am not suggesting that I've answered all my questions, or reached definite answers. I'm not claiming absolute knowledge. When I say I've moved beyond that struggle, what I mean to say is that it's not a struggle insofar as it relates to my own sense of purpose and meaning. I've reached a place both intellectually and emotionally in which I am comfortable - not complacent, but at peace - with who I am and where I derive purpose and meaning for my life. When I experienced my major crisis of faith, I lost that paradigmatic foundation for my life, and thus I also lost my sense of purpose, meaning, self-worth, and identity. I had to find a new foundation upon which I could build myself back up. As of right now, I have that foundation.

On my Facebook profile, under "Religious Views," I have the following: Veritas et Aequitas, Compatior et Libertas. "Truth and justice, compassion and liberty." The search for truth is in itself a source of meaning for me. Defending justice, equality, fairness, and human rights serves to provide my life with a deep meaning; concordantly (I love that word), practicing a life of compassion, charity, love, and kindness is key to a meaningful life. My moral code rests on the base of reciprocal altruism and the "pay it forward" mentality, for the sake of mutual benefit for each of us. There is a selfish component to morality, to be certain. I want to live in peace, so I practice peace. I encourage compassion so that I might receive compassion. That's the pragmatic basis for such axioms as the Golden Rule. Sure, there is a level of selfishness in such a view of ethics. I don't see anything wrong with an ethical system in which I'm concerned with what happens to me. Seems inherent to any good system of morality. Christian morality is no less selfish, in spite of what the common religious rhetoric may claim. Why do you think Christian theology has a hell? In fact, one could argue that Christian theology is much more selfish than a secular worldview vis-à-vis morality.

I'm comfortable with the search for deeper truth. I'm comfortable with the ongoing challenge of improving myself and becoming more and more the kind of person who helps other people improve their lives. I still think about all the issues and topics related to skepticism and freethought: probably more now than ever. But I don't lose sleep over them now. I seek truth and meaning out of a sense of inspiration rather than desperation. I look up at the stars with awe rather than dread. That's how I have been able to achieve my goals. That's how I'll be able to achieve my future goals.

In my search for truth, I wonder sometimes whether I'm a bad atheist. That is, I think, as far as the status quo for the atheist subculture goes, I don't do the whole atheism thing very well. I've never liked the label. I like "agnostic" better, but even that is unsatisfying. It's still a negative; i.e., it only says what I'm not rather than what I am. I like "freethinker." Positive, and more reflective of the views I hold and who I actually am as an intellectual. I know, the more we make use of the atheist label, the more we can attack the negative stigma attached to it. Atheists are still a mistrusted minority, and wrongly so. I think part of the reason I don't like the label is because I still wonder - out of genuine curiosity - whether there is something out there. A god? As my brother-in-blog Tristan explained in our interview, "the term 'God' as traditionally understood is rendered incoherent by the superfluous existence of competing God concepts and propositions." When we speak of a god, to what exactly are we referring?

My curiosity about any kind of something in the universe, whether a god (whatever that means) or not, isn't a belief as much as an inclination. Granted, my inclination to think that there's something transcendent is likely rooted in my religious background. I spent most of my life believing in God and living according to Christian theism. I spent my teenage years and the first part of my adulthood dedicated to serving the God of the Bible. And if that's all it is, then such roots run deep in a person and become intertwined far down in a person's emotional core. It's natural, given my context and my past, for me to instinctively lean towards (for lack of a better term) theism. But I'm not a theist, because my weltanschauung contains no positive truth claim for either the knowledge of - or the existence of - any such being that could rightly be called "God." But, emotionally, I'm inclined to think that there might be something out there.

An emotion is never a lone wolf. Feelings always run in packs. Sometimes - most of the time, actually - there are conflicting emotions within the same group. Excitement and anticipation is often in the same group as fear and hesitation. Desire often runs with the same pack as regret, as does joy with sadness. Humans are complex creatures. The same cluster of emotions in which I feel the inclination to believe in (for lack of a better term) Brahman also contains the emotion of my desire to validate my membership in the skeptic community. I almost didn't write about my inclination out of fear that I would be branded a pariah. After all, what kind of atheist talks about how he thinks there might be something (regardless of how vague that sounds) out there? But I want to clarify: Having a thought isn't the same as "I think it's true." Playing around with an idea in my mind the way one bounces a ball off the wall for amusement isn't the same as faith or even belief. Even the things I believe or accept as truth are ideas I hold with an open hand. I will change my view when better evidence presents itself to suggest I should let go of a current idea I hold in lieu of an idea better supported by evidence and logic.

I've said before that I have no desire to merely swap one set of prejudices for another. Overcoming the bias I had for my religious faith took years of work. I would hate to see myself become equally biased towards atheism. This raises the question: if (and this is a huge IF) sufficient evidence presented itself to show that there is in fact a god (let's assume we actually know what we're talking about when we use this word), would I accept it? I consider the asking of this question to be an intellectual exercise. If I am to be a freethinker, I must rely on dispassionate reason.

I wrote about dispassionate reason before: [the examined life to which Socrates refers is] the pilgrimage towards truth; involvement in the great conversation of history; the application of critical thinking; the pursuit of wisdom; a questioning habit – the genesis of the Socratic Method – grounded in the presumption of objectivity. One cannot learn without asking questions, and one cannot learn when one’s prejudices distort the answers one may find to the questions; therefore, one’s life must be examined with dispassionate reason.

Dispassionate reason, which I have referred to prior as the presumption of objectivity, does not imply apathy; rather, it implies the discarding of preconceived notions and bias so that one may seek truth, follow the argument wherever it leads, regardless of what one might discover the truth to be.

That remains, and will remain, my life's mission.

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