Religion

My agnosticism is not pure in the sense that I would be less surprised than not to find out when I die that after all there has been a distant and aloof God floating out there all along. It sure would do a lot to explain the plethora of riddles and conundrums mankind has not been able to solve, not the least of which anthropic reasoning attempts to answer (unsatisfactorily, in my judgment)…

While I sit on the fence, my legs are dangling over one side in particular. Nevertheless, on the fence I do sit.

From this comfy position I must confess to a bit of smugness as I watch the side which these days seems on the defensive more often than not react to the attacks coming from the side which these days seems on the offensive more often than not. They cope with the attacks in various ways–weekly Sunday rituals of indoctrination and groupthink, apologetic efforts, willful ignorance, prayer. When you’ve invested for years in a certain world view, it can be disturbing to have that world view challenged so thoroughly by critics.

Why aren’t I more sympathetic? Because I’ve been there myself and I reacted the way I would hope anyone would in the face of contradictory evidence–I changed my world view.

Yes, it tickles me to see the religious made uncomfortable… just a little, and just as long as the attacks coming against them are fair. Very often they are not, which may be why I find myself defending religion more often than otherwise. Or it may be that I haven’t completely shaken off the bias from the side of the fence I climbed up from. Or it may be the numerous positive relationships I’ve had with wonderful people who happen to be devoutly religious.

But I suspect it has at least as much to do with the haughtiness of a fair number of those in the atheist camp, many of whose writings I enjoy reading, even when, or perhaps because they sometimes go too far in their criticisms of the God-fearing.

You see, I don’t know but that there might be something to those “spiritual experiences” that religious people are always telling me they have, which I can never relate to. Just because I can’t get any kind of a grip on it, just because science can’t get any kind of a grip on it doesn’t prove there is nothing there. Perhaps the devout know something I don’t know.

But the atheist seems to want to insist that yes, you can prove a negative! That is a taller claim, is it not?

So when I discover an atheist of the brand of Lewis Wolpert who I mentioned yesterday, the kind who far from wishing for the eradication of religion actually thinks religion is a good thing (because of the evolutionary advantage it bestows), my curiosity is piqued. I like this guy. He almost speaks for me. To find him quoting Hume makes me like him even more. His theory really isn’t all that revolutionary, but it’s the kind of thinking that seems so obvious it’s surprising nobody else has stated it like he has (some have come close).

And what does he theorize? That it was an understanding of cause and effect that gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage in the form of toolmaking. That this understanding of cause and effect led to the contemplation of existential questions, which ultimately gave rise to the invention of religion.

The conclusions he draws from this come close to my own. Whether or not religion really is nothing more than a magnificent delusion passed down to us from less-enlightened generations is a question that will remain unsettled. But religion certainly can be, when harnessed correctly, a helpful tool. If believing in a God makes one more optimistic and therefore less prone to or better able to recover from high blood pressure or strokes, then why have contempt for it? The devout will tell us that the benefits that can come from having faith only begin there, and they are probably right. While I join Wolpert and others in refusing to subscribe to the faith approach, neither of us feels a need and neither of us should feel a need to tell the faithful that their approach to life is all bad.

Contrast this position with Dawkins, who characterizes all religious belief as “viruses of the mind“.

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2 responses to “Religion

  1. I recently saw Lewis Wolpert take on an evangelical Christian ‘academic’ who sought to prove the existence of God using cock-eyed scientific formulae (his argument hit the rocks somewhat when he had to resort to claiming that God was outside time, space and, ergo, science).

    Wolpert was perhaps a little too dependent on withering sarcasm and theatrical condescension, but given that the audience of 2,000 was 90% Christian I can forgive him that.

    The problem I have with his argument is that treating religion as a harmless opiate overlooks the fact that religion tends, often, to act as an amphetamine on its users.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Michael.

    Amphetamine is probably a better descriptor. Amphetamines are widely recognized to have beneficial uses, but they can also be abused.

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