Thursday, March 10, 2011

Existence of God

In the 21st century, few issues are debated with as much passion and intensity as whether or not God exists. One of the reasons I often refuse to enter this dispute is because it almost inevitably descends into ad hominem attacks. To me, the purpose of any debate is not to defend my beliefs and/or an attempt to change someone's mind. The point is to learn and understand. You must enter a debate with a willingness to modify your beliefs. However, that almost never occurs in a debate about God's existence. People often initiate this debate for the sole purpose of converting their opponent. They have no actual desire to honestly consider their opponent's point of view.

The main rationale for this, I believe, is the profoundly personal nature of this enigma. An individual's belief or disbelief in God helps to compose the foundation of that person's identity and the meaning they place on their life. It is so integral to who we are and how we perceive the universe that the notion of changing is absolutely terrifying. I have firsthand experience of this both ways. As I have mentioned before, I was raised a conservative Christian, became an agnostic leaning towards atheism, and then proceeded back to theism, albeit in a radically different configuration than before. Both transitions were an emotional roller-coaster. It's a transformation of your complete self; your soul is ripped apart and pieced back together. Nothing is left unscathed.

Unfortunately, we do not get much assistance either. Of course, both sides claim evidence for their belief, but neither side can reasonably, empirically, scientifically prove their theory. No one can hold up an item or event and say "Here is proof beyond all doubt that God does/does not exist!". Despite all the books, the arguments, the claims, and, sometimes, even the threats, in the end, we have nothing but our own faith to rely on.

Although I do consider myself a believer in God, my beliefs often leave me feeling extremely isolated. My religious journey has put me on a controversial path. A majority of religious believers consider me a heretic. They are certain that I shall be tormented in hell for the sin of advocating universalism. A couple even seemed to take pleasure in this fact, something beyond my comprehension. On the other side, I am a scientist. Religious belief is generally regarded suspiciously. Although I have discovered that a belief in God of some form is more common in scientific circles than the evidence first suggests, it is not a topic widely discussed. In fact, it is almost a taboo subject. To top it off, because of the staunch fundamentalist Christian beliefs in my family, my own beliefs must remain hidden from them.

So, I am an exile in the religious world and an outlier in the scientific world. Honestly, it is not a place I ever imagined I would end up. The isolation itself is a challenge. It forces me to examine my beliefs all the more. However, despite the isolation and the doubts, I feel secure in my faith. When someone asks me why I believe in God, I find it difficult to answer, especially if I am attempting to explain to a non-believer. The only way I understand how to explain it is a deep and profound certainty. I know it in the very core of my being stronger than I know anything else. It is the astounding realization of God's absolute and unconditional love for myself and all others. It is the enduring recognition that no matter how terrible things get, no matter how alone I feel, God is always with me and supporting me, even if I am not always aware of it at that moment. It is the undeniable comprehension of what it means to say that "God is love". But what genuinely amazes me is that is it so far beyond anything I expected to ever find. I went from sheer terror of God to complete trust in my Father and Creator. It is worth being the outlier, the exile, and even the heretic for, a billion trillion times over.

Of course, I realize that my feelings and my experiences cannot prove a single thing to another person. Nor do I attempt to make them. I believe each person must find their own path. I enjoy sharing my beliefs and experiences with others, and in turn, I love learning about theirs. Instead of being a debate, it should be a dialogue. If we become convinced of our own superiority, we shall lose valuable interactions and insights from those who have chosen a separate path. Both sides can learn much from the other.

3 comments:

  1. "Instead of being a debate, it should be a dialogue." However we choose to define it - debate or dialogue - the problem is that the Goddists are controlling it. Morality is so connected to religion in the minds of most folks that unbelievers are presumed to be "bad" people. Even a liberal believer - but still a believer - such as yourself faces scorn as a heretic or infidel. As long as those attitudes exist among the "Godly," I will do all in my power to oppose such notions.

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  2. I completely agree with you. The negative conceptions many believers have of non-believers is a major problem to having a rational, polite discussion. In my experience, this is usually caused by stereotypes learned from a young age and lack of contact with non-believers. Not only are children in conservative Christian churches taught that non-believers (or members of another religion) are evil and desire nothing more than to "lead you astray", they are told not to communicate with them. Of course, without real world experience, those learned stereotypes never get challenged in a meaningful way. In high school, many of my conservative Christian friends were shocked to learn that I considered myself an agnostic (which they of course assumed equaled atheist). I cannot remember how many times I heard "but you're such a nice person!". They honestly expected atheists and agnostics to be mean and sinful.

    However, the disbelievers aren't completely innocent either. I have seen staunch atheists who think that anyone who holds religious or spiritual beliefs must be ignorant, foolish, and stupid. That stereotype is just as wrong.

    I try quite hard not to judge people based on their religious beliefs. The nicest person I know is a fundamentalist Christian. She is not stupid, nor does she consider those who do not share her beliefs to be evil. One of my best friends is an atheist. She just got married and her wife is quite religious. They have mutual respect for each other's point of view.

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  3. I certainly agree with you that unbelievers aren't always as polite as they should be. But the truth is that atheists and agnostics are a very small minority, at least in the United States. And unbelievers do suffer discrimination because of their minority opinion in this land of "In God We Trust."

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