Last week I went a few comment rounds over on the Moment Matters blog under the Breaking Prejudice on Atheists post. The post’s lead topic—that a study showed that atheists are just as caring as theists—doesn’t surprise me at all. Atheists, after all, believe that all meaning in life comes from within and that the universe is a cold, empty, uncaring vastness dotted with little sparks of life here and there.
Now, I’ve always found fanatical atheists to be just as annoying—just as wrong (in my view, obviously)—as fanatical theists. If you are incapable of acknowledging that your worldview is not factually based and therefore could be incorrect, I basically consider you to be… well, insane. That is to say that the reality inside your head does not correlate accurately with the external reality.
But what I wanted to write about today was the idea that agnostics are indecisive. As an agnostic with spiritual leanings, I think that is bullshit.
What set things off was a comment that “an agnostic is nothing more than a lazy atheist.” I’m an agnostic who has spent decades pondering the question of god, so I know that to be a false statement. Naturally I spoke up (to those of you who are beginning to know me, that hardly need be said).
One thing that’s interesting to me about the idea that agnostics are indecisive or lazy is that I’ve heard the same line regarding bisexuals. (And I just know that adding “bisexual” to the tag list is going to result in some really ill spam from the spam turds.)
Ever since high school, I’ve thought bisexuals were the smart ones. They have double the chances for sex and love! Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have the knack for it. As far as I can tell, I’m about as straight as they come (no pun intended, but ha ha, wink, smirk).
I’ve always taken the Frost poem as a life map, and the people who tend to interest me most are those whose life path is also less traveled. I’m (sometimes painfully) aware that I live on the fringe, and I’ve found others who live outside the mainstream more compatible, more understanding.
The point is, my bisexual friends have told me about how they get crap from both sides, how they are considered indecisive, on the fence. I think it may boil down to some straights finding them as threatening as they seem to find gay people, and some gays finding them “unsupportive” of the “cause.” While I find the first position stupid, I can at least grok the second one.
One reality here is that human behavior doesn’t pigeon-hole neatly. We vary not only in the mixture of our feelings, but over time as well. The infamous Kinsey Report graded sexuality on a seven-point scale, with only the first and last categories being exclusively straight or gay. The other five categories involve a mixture. Only the middle of the seven is truly bisexual.
Now, first of all, I suspect religious belief verses non-belief operates on a similar “grayscale” where only the end categories contain the ones who see only black or white. Those in the middle see some shade of grey.
There is a key difference however! Back in the early days of this blog I wrote about Vector Thinking. Briefly, it’s a way to avoid thinking in terms of the push-pull of opposing positions. It’s a way to avoid being caught in the middle where it seems like one has no opinion. Or is indecisive. When you get off the number line and into two-dimensions, you can chart your opinion as two numbers: each representing your opinion on a single thing.
I first began using that concept when talking to my gay and bi friends, and in particular began using it as a way of showing how bisexuals were not at all indecisive. They could feel strongly on both the homo- and hetro- axes. (I hope to return to the topic of Vector Thinking in the near future.)
The key difference is that religious belief (or the lack thereof) is not a two-dimensional space. It is a true linear scale. To some degree, it is the presence of something (belief one way or the other) or its lack. In my early Yin and Yang post, I spoke about how some opposites are true opposites while others are “cup” opposites where the cup is empty or full (or half-full/half-empty). As you’ll see, belief forms a true opposite pair.
As I wrote in my initial comment to that blog post on Moment Matters, “I tend to view it as a circle (rather than a line). It wraps around such that devout atheists and devout theists seem equally off-base to me. I consider them both deep into (possibly misplaced) Faith in their worldview.”
This idea of a line being a circle that wraps around applies to political left and right as well. Political moderates and agnostics occupy the lower part, the middle of the line. Both sides wrap up and around until they almost meet at the top. The point being that both extremes, while very different in some regards, share being at the extreme ends of the spectrum.
And while I suspect that political left and right are actually two separate vectors, religious belief is not. It’s a bit like electrical charge in that there is positive electric charge (such as protons have) and there is negative electric charge (such as electrons have). There is also, of course, a complete lack of charge (such as with neutrons and neutrinos—totally different particles, by the way).
[This, by the way, is different from electrical current, which is composed of electron flow. The positive pole on a battery is actually a lack of electrons and not a true positive charge. I mention this for those who’ve studied electronics, especially solid-state electronics with its hole-flow. Protons (their constituent quarks, actually) have true positive charge.)]
Believers have, shall we say, a positive charge, and non-believers therefore have a negative charge. Believers say yes; non-believers say no. Agnostics have no charge; they are neutral; they say the matter is undecided. As with sub-atomic particles, all three are valid positions as far as world views go.
And in a similar sense to my regard for bisexuals, I think agnosticism is the most valid intellectual position. One can certainly lean religious or lean atheist; one can even lean quite far in either direction (think of Kinsey’s seven-point scale). But to claim the matter—one way or the other—is certain is factually incorrect.
Stephen Hawking may have claimed that science has shown there is no place for god, but Hawking has (in my opinion) put his foot in his mouth more than once. Brilliance in one area doesn’t necessarily translate to brilliance in another. It’s just plain dumb at this point in our scientific understanding to make such claims with any certainty.
Science still hasn’t figured out some very basic things (such as exactly what those electrons and other particles I mentioned actually are). And in any event, any god that may exist certainly transcends physical reality, so science just doesn’t have much to say in the matter. (Although there are a couple of caveats to that. See previous articles.)
My bottom line is simply this: Strong Atheism is wrong, there is more to all this than just this. Yes, that’s an article of faith for me. Call it irrational if you must. Equally, I find that Strong Theism is wrong. I do not believe in a god that participates actively in our daily lives. (Although, to be honest, I do sometimes wonder. I have personal experience with things that could be coincidence or could be a case of being watched out for. Such experiences inform my tendency to lean towards belief.)
Note that there is a milder form of belief, called Deism. Deists believe in a god who created the universe, but not in a Daily Hand. Deists believe prayers are not answered, although they can serve as a form of meditation. I find I can accept Deism much more easily than Theism.
Mohandas Gandhi once wrote, “I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them.“
He also wrote, “Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different road, so long as we reach the same goal.“
And finally, “In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals.“
Smart man, that Gandhi. If you want to know the nature of my belief, that sums it up pretty well. There are many paths up the mountain. I’m not sure if the mountain is one we’ve made ourselves or if it’s part of the universe or put there by whatever willed all this into being.
But I do know it’s a mountain worth climbing.