10.24.2006

Flawed Theologic

Religion is a topic that can make anyone cringe, no matter their faith, or if they even believe in anything at all. I've already commented on Richard Dawkins' views on Catholicism, but much of what he said is troubling. That he considers being raised Catholic to be mental abuse worse than sexual abuse is appalling enough, but then he goes on to defend and define atheism:

”The word atheism sounds negative; let me call it rationalism. It is a rational view of the world where you stand up proudly, in your humanity, you look life straight in the face, you look the universe straight in the face, you do your level best to understand it, to understand why you exist, what the universe is about, you recognize that when you die that's it, and therefore life is very, very precious and you devote your life to making the world a better place, to leading a good life so when you die you can say to yourself I have led a good life.”

What? This life is all we have, so our ultimate goal is to feel good about it right before we cease to exist? There are many arguments an atheist or agnostic can give against any given religion, many questions they can raise, but this is one of the thinnest, and bleakest, defenses I've ever read. Many people, within and without Christianity, can misperceive it as an oversimplified reward system. If we do good, we go to heaven. If we do bad, we go to hell. Over time the idea of limbo or purgatory arose, a sort of “waiting room” for people not quite good or bad to go to either place. Yet if an atheist truly believes that this life is all we have, then what does anything matter? If our consciousness ceases completely when we die, if we no longer exist, as terrifying as that notion is, nothing will matter when we're gone. We won't experience punishment or reward. We won't experience anything.

Why lead a good life at all then? Why not do whatever we want? Some would argue there are laws. You can't just kill someone; you'll go to jail. If you get caught cheating on your spouse, the lawyers will bleed you dry in the divorce. If you speed, you'll get a ticket. So many of our Earthly morals are governed by a system of reward and punishment, it's no wonder we might equate the same system to an afterlife. Is that the only reason to have faith, so we don't get in trouble? An atheist might argue that a society has laws which define morals, and not vice versa, and anything that isn't illegal is fair game, no matter what a religion might say. After all, life is short. We should do what we want and enjoy ourselves, because that's the only reason we're here.

Preaching can create deaf ears. I'd never issue a lecture, or try to convert people to becoming Catholic. That probably makes me a bad one. I think it is important though to question one's belief system, or lack thereof, from time to time and consider all possibilities fully. Do we follow a faith because we believe it, or simply to please our parents? Do we reject faith because we sincerely believe it to be superstition, and can definitively disprove the existence of any supreme being or life after death? Sometimes a bad personal experience can mar our views of a group. It's a very difficult time right now, and the world is hostile toward religious groups. “How can you be Catholic? All those priests molest children! Remember the Crusades!” “All those Muslims are terrorists!” I won't make the same mistake as a drunken actor and make even a hypothetical quote about another religious group, but the basic idea here is that the actions of individual, flawed humans in the name of any given religion taints that religion for the rest of the world. Stereotypes such as these are dangerous on a cosmic scale.

And so people abandon or attack faith. They turn to science fiction like Scientology, or made-up religions like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which I predict in a few generations idiots will take as seriously as Scientology. I've been raised as a Catholic, gone through periods where I questioned things, and experienced and survived things that reaffirmed and strengthened my beliefs. What if Mr. Dawkins is right? What if there is no heaven or hell, nothing but the void of nonexistence awaiting us? Those of us who followed a certain way of life will have wasted our lives, but will never know it. Abortions won't be a problem because the babies wouldn't have been conscious long enough to know how much they missed out on in an infinitesimal existence. Anyone with a fatal illness might as well commit suicide. They won't feel pain anymore, they just won't exist. Of course then they won't know how their favorite television shows end but again, what would that matter to someone who simply isn't. In Dawkins' world, maybe we'll appreciate friends and family more, because when they're gone, all we'll have are memories. We'll never connect with them again and while they live on in our memories, it will be only as long as we ourselves live. Apart from fame, there is no immortality.

What if Mr. Dawkins is right? It's terrifying. Now, what if he's wrong? What if after those last moments feeling satisfied with his perception of a good life, his consciousness awakens to the great mystery on the other side? What then? Personally, I'd rather take my chances, and err on the side of faith.

7 Comments:

Blogger Lorna said...

Running in circles can be exhausting but I can't seem to give it up---faith, questions, doubt, memory, fear, faith, questions, doubt, memory, fear, faith...........

10/24/2006 4:29 AM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

The Flying Spaghetti Monster...

How could I have been so blind? The truth has been on my dinner table a couple of times a week and I just would go on blithely eating a diety... I must say 3 Hail Ronzoni's and as an act of contrition, I must dress like a pirate and distribute candy to Italian boys and girls.

10/24/2006 10:40 AM  
Blogger Rey said...

His use of terms is pretty foult too. He takes atheism labels it Sane or Reasoned Thinking then puts faith in opposition to that--then we start thinking like that ourselves when in fact faith isnt the antithesis of sanity or reason at all.

A human example which ends only on the point I'm making: when you call 911 because there is a burgler in the house you are making a rational decision yet there is also the belief that they will come to help because that's what they do.

Faith isn't in contradiction to rationalism. Atheism is in contrast to Theism. Two different things which he conflates to bolster Atheism.

10/24/2006 11:10 AM  
Blogger The Unseen One said...

Ah yes, Pascal's Wager was one of the first things to set me on the road to Christianity.

And MCF, quit nursing on the glass teat of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!!! *ducks*

10/24/2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

Great post. Two things:

1.It's gotta be killing Darrell not to get into this discussion.

2.I had a teacher in High School who told me somethinig that I never forgot. "There is going to be an awful lot of people in someone elses Hell." His point being that nobody truly knows what religion is the "one true" religion. So why knock someone elses? They could be right!

10/24/2006 4:30 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

"We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable."

I will agree to disagree with you. :D

10/24/2006 8:48 PM  
Blogger The Unseen One said...

Several things that athiests have to ask themselves: Is matter eternal? Do systems tend to go from a state of disorder to order with no outside influence? How is it possible for a mass of practically randomly firing neurons to generate conscieceness and a sense of "self"?

Another question when deciding which religion is right: Where are the leaders of that religion now? All are dead, except Christ, who was ressurected. And if Christ was not ressurected, why were so many of his followers who witnessed his ressurection willing to die absolutely horrible deaths to perpetuate something they knew was a lie?

10/26/2006 4:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home