Wednesday, August 18, 2010

i pray at the temple of anti-snark, but in a snarky way

This morning I went to the dentist, where the technology was very 2010 and the soundtrack was 1996. Hello, Blues Traveler. Hello, Goo Goo Dolls. I felt like I was milling around the lobby of Rieber Hall my freshman year at UCLA. It was a tough year, but still probably a better mental space to occupy than the current one, where someone was scraping my teeth with a sharp object.

On the way into work afterward, I listened to AirTalk with Larry Mantle, the fun, less current-events-oriented second half of the program that I usually don’t get to hear. A theology prof named Velli-Matti Karkkainen (<--spelled with multiple umlauts, which I don’t know how to add) was debating an atheist magazine publisher named Michael Shermer about mortality and faith.

Shermer proposed that humans like the notion of an afterlife because, like all animals, we’re wired to want to live, but unlike all animals, we know that we’ll eventually lose the battle. So we make up a myth to comfort ourselves.

Having made up plenty of myths to comfort myself (“You keep staring at her legs because you want to look like her, not fuck her,” I told my 14-year-old self, except I don’t think I used the word “fuck” even in my head at 14), I could see his point. But the thought I always come back to whenever someone makes an “isn’t God just too convenient?” argument is that God is not the myth. God is the wanting. God is the comfort. I imagine God as this sort of shimmery net that can’t be separated from living creatures, so if God is our own creation, that doesn’t make him/her/it any less real.

Shermer vacillated between fair-enough science-based arguments against the existence of God and snarky jabs at the hypocrisies of religion: “How can a deathbed conversion count more than a lifetime of good works, huh?”

Well, it can’t, but just because certain strains of Christianity have some (gaping) holes doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist. It just proves people suck. You’d think that, as a scientist, Shermer would be more into logic. Karkkainen politely advocated for a religious practice that does not take earthly life for granted, but I wanted him to focus less on preaching kindness and more on taking Mr. Snarky down.

Shermer kept saying things like, “There’s either an afterlife or there isn’t” which reminded me all too much of arguing with my dad, who gets all, “Which is it, A or B?” And if you say, “Actually it’s C,” he reminds you that that wasn’t one of your choices. Which means he’s defining the terms of the debate, which makes him…God.

I mean, what about the version of quantum physics that fiction writers and self-helpers love to run with, where every possible fork in every possible road has been taken in an infinite number of universes? Is that an afterlife? Or is that somewhere between “is” and “isn’t”? Some paradoxical third thing. To me, God is the existence of paradoxical third things.

I get atheists who don’t believe because they just don’t feel it. And I get agnostics because on some level I am one—if an agnostic is someone who doesn’t know, it seems like we should all be agnostics. But an atheist who treats science like a religion is just another zealot in my book. (And since plenty of scientists are open to the possibility of a world outside the known rules, I’m definitely not calling them all zealots.)

Sunday morning D practiced long-distance Reiki on T-Mec. Monday she emailed to tell me that T-Mec has a sweet and peaceful soul, and isn’t feeling sick but does need more rest than usual. Also, that butterflies are her spirit guides. They flutter around her.

I’ll quote what another coworker said re: astrology: “I don’t believe in any of that stuff. Except that I totally do.”


Tracy Lynn said...

Yeah, I don't mind believing in stuff, I just don't want to talk about it. Ever. TO ANYONE.

deetles said...

Cheryl, great stuff! Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am reminded that even though there was a time when I thought I had it all figured out, I find peace these days in knowing that God probably doesn't intend for me to have a perfect understanding of the universe or himself - yet. Interestingly, my faith in God has grown stronger as I've learned to hold my beliefs with humility.

Claire said...

I saw a cool episode of Morgan Freeman's Through the Wormhole (a science show covering topics like time travel, what everything's made of, black holes) about just this topic: does God exist? And there are scientists out there actively trying to prove it and others to disprove it.

One theory is if everything can be explained by a single unified theory, then that must be evidence of a creator.

Others consider it fantastic rolls of the dice that we exist.

One version was that God is in our heads as a relief to the anxiety of our awareness of our mortality.

One guy has a God-helmet. You get put in a lightless, soundless room for an hour with his helmet on. After a while, he activates a magnet over the right hemisphere of your brain. His subjects all sense presence(s) in the room with them when the magnet is on that they perceive as existing apart from themselves. The scientist's question becomes, how would you react to such an experience alone in your room at night? He mentioned one religious figure who went all religious after being struck by lightning. It's interesting stuff.

Another version was that we're all someone else's simulation, so an advanced version of humanity is then like a god to us.

I consider myself an atheist, but I'm down with it if I'm wrong. I'm not worried because this was how I was made if that's the case.

For a lot of people religion/spirituality is a positive thing. That's cool. It's just when it becomes a means to judging or coercing people to be a certain way that it bothers me. Oh, and the idea that I have no moral compass without a threatening God in my life? That pisses me off. Especially considering some of the choices I've seen 'believers' make.

(sorry for the long ramble)

Christine said...

This is a good one, Cheryl. Really really good.

Sizzle said...

This, " atheist who treats science like a religion is just another zealot in my book" rings very true for me.

That last bit about astrology. Yeah that's me. Heh.

Cheryl said...

TL: This, from the woman who blogs about stool samples!

D: Sometimes I think about how much my life would suck if all the stuff I'd prayed for when I was 12 had come true. Not knowing is a nice place to be.

Claire: I definitely don't think faith and morality go hand in hand. The "See, it was only a magnet" school of disproving God doesn't quite work for me because the fact that we're these crazy creatures who run around making God helmets and trying to produce love in new ways is its own kind of weird proof. I do think God helmets would be a big seller, especially if they came in a variety of colors, like the iPod Nano. iGod?

Christine: Gracias.

S: Spoken like a true [insert your sign here].