Partly sunny, 7C (4C)

One of you ([ profile] earthbound01) asked me something relatively simple :
Did you used to be an atheist? What changed your mind?

My reply got a little long for LJ's comment length limit, and I don't feel like breaking it up into multiple comments. I also think this is something more of my friends should read--in order to promote a richer mutual understanding and, hopefully, foster some discourse.

Here's my answer :
There is always a chance that someone knows something I don't--but actually in some areas, and with some ppl, that chance is much smaller than in others.

Hmm... did I used to be an atheist? That's a really good question. Maybe I was an atheist ; not entirely sure. But I was definitely strongly agnostic for a very long time.

Even in my earliest memories of learning about the world, it was so wondrous--both elegantly simple and blindingly complex that my instinct was that there had to be something beyond it or transcending it that directed that, even if that something was only "chaos" and the order was an accident that happened over and over again because of the nature of chaos ; I always recognized that the world was finite, was therefor created and that that creation had a common bond in having been made together and/or by the same force(s). Growing up I was never told, "yes, you're right" or "no, you're wrong" but instead always prodded to "look into it" and "figure it out for [my]self". I don't think I even heard the word "god" in the house until well after the time my family started watching TV in the house so that I could also [without breaking about a dozen rules], which was when I was around six or seven.

My father's mistress used to put me in frilly pink dresses to show me off at her church--which generally made me sick, but there's not much a seven-year-old can do about these things--and besides, the idea of god was only given lip-service there so it didn't give me any ideas about god persay so much as it gave me ideas about the people who talked about god. I was pretty disgusted, actually. There were many very ugly things about the world that I noticed and the more I learned about them the more I tried to ignore whatever was holding them all together because it was all just a little too emotionally overwhelming.

Some people did talk about what god was about, and I tried to listen to them carefully until, eventually, the ring became dull. Actually, in most places I found god mentioned they weren't really rationally talking about god or what god was/wasn't or what god did/didn't do--until I found myself in a Chabad house, that is. By then I was already 19. I recognized those conversations immediately as incredibly valuable and took about as much of it as I could stand for the next few years--which I know now was barely brushing at the surface. My priorities were such that it went to the backburner for a while. I didn't start digging more seriously--as a nearly-daily occupation--until maybe two-and-a-half years ago.

So, of course, I'm coming at most discourses on god from a perspective of "you call this transcendental thing that organizes the universe god, well god's got some 'splainin' to do". Of course, I have questioned the very existence of such a transcendental force but then absolutely everything becomes meaningless. I lived as a nihilist for a while ; there really is no point. Having stood in that vantage point and left it I know how silly and sad it is on a level that I find difficult to communicate. It's something a person must experience to their bones, I think, to really understand what that perspective is (just like you have to do to really understand anything, it seems...) ; and I don't see how any thinking, rational [sane] human being who has done that can possibly, honestly argue that it is correct or right [that there is no infinite ruling over finitude] in any way whatsoever. I can't really articulate why because it's just so obvious to me, from my experience with it, that I can't imagine anybody else not noticing it, also. You could probably understand enough of it even just imagining such a scenario, without even having to go through trying to experience it to gain the full appreciation.

I think a lot of ppl who claim they're living under this belief [that there is no infinite, no 'god'] are actually living under a series of unquestioned misunderstandings and failures to define or understand what questions they've asked and what questions they've answered. Usually they cling to science saying that's all they need [or want], but science is just another face of god--a mechanical face. It's like holding a box full of springs and tubes and wheels and circuit boards and saying you've got a robot. In a manner of speaking, yes you have every major physical component you need for a robot--but you've got to put it together and work out a few kinks before it's even rudimentarily recognizable as what we mean when we say "robot".

So science is one facet of understanding existence, but it's not complete and it's only the hows (and some whats)--nothing about the whys. Human life, like children's questions, is more about whys. Of course, the hows are also ~very important~ and we absolutely NEED the hows, science is an astounding aide to comprehending the initially incomprehensible ; but as a Jew might put it, the hows are not the ikur (the main thing). Ppl make science their religion and it's just pathetic to me. Why limit yourself like that? If you want the main thing, you need to talk about transcendence and order that encompasses even chaos (where chaos is a necessity and serves a purpose or a role), about infinite ruling over finitude, about ultimate truth and/or meaning : and that's god.

Ppl say, "there was the big bang and now we're here" and it screams to me that they've never actually thought about (or so much as tried, really, to think about) what the big bang is/was, or the distance between the big bang and us and all the intricate, miraculous whats and hows that've happened between them, not to mention they've never crunched the numbers (the numbers, for god's sake!) and have absolutely zero appreciation for any of the springs or tubes or wheels or circuit boards that they do have--and there's certainly no way in hell they can even begin to make them into a robot. It's completely unreasonable.

[This is what I've come to understand is the position of true atheism : there is no infinite (see above regarding the definition of god). I find it hollow, and, perhaps even more disconcertingly, insane. It's also almost entirely incomputable to me. Ppl who claim this are like ppl happily going about their afternoon tea in a burning building to me : they must be hurting themselves, living like this, or at the very least not getting as much as they could (allowing themselves to be cheated, or rather cheating themselves) and I hear wailing sirens, I feel like I am responsible, like I should do something--as a fellow human being--to help them get more out of their life ; because, frankly, it's already only barely enough to excuse the anguish of existing. It takes a lot of effort to restrain myself, sometimes! This is certainly a result of all the effort I've invested in understanding the situation and the ramifications of what conclusions I've come to--I used to be perfectly happy letting ppl delude themselves about reality however they liked and as much as they pleased so long as they left me alone with my constructs in return. Now I must invest much more energy in carefully defining and assessing reality itself, which has brought me to caring more about how others do it as well....]

I don't really blame them for never thinking about these things--it's not actually particularly easy and if you're a true nihilist it's not pleasant, either (if you're not a nihilist, it's still might make you pretty uncomfortable). I'm at a bit of a loss at that point in the conversation--I mean, where do I begin? With my own intellectual journey, with how I've just perceived them, with all the flaws in their thinking, where do you start!? I haven't figured out, yet, how to start when it's someone else... And not come off as a complete and utter creep, anyway. Then I remember that I was never told, "yes, you're right" or "no, you're wrong" and was instead encouraged to "look into it" and "find out for [my]self"--and I realize that this is the most that I can do... so I try to do it the best way I can.

And then they usually say something like "every time I meet someone smart who says they believe in god it surprises me". Well, maybe they should think about that--smart ppl don't just "believe" stuff [at least not smart ppl with so much as a whit of integrity!], they think it out and come to a logical, intelligent, integrated solution and if those ppl (who they clearly admire) say "I know there is a god" maybe they seriously should ask themselves whether they know there isn't. And be sure to also ask Why.

But first, I think most ppl need to decide what god is, before they can even begin to ask these other questions--which I feel every life worth living must answer. Maybe it's hard for me to pass what I've learned in this arena over to them because the overwhelming bulk of my quest has not been to prove or disprove god itself so much as it's been to come to clarity about what god is, precisely.

Maybe that sounds like I'm working backwards--like I've already decided there's a god and I'm just trying to find a definition that fits ; but that's not how it's been. I can say so with confidence because I've lived in that place where nothing has meaning--including whether or not there's a god--which is perhaps why the existence of god was only a real question for me for such a comparably short time. That and I was also able to access the relevant data relatively quickly and painlessly to make my judgment. Answering that has taken far less energy and effort than really understanding and coming to grips with the answer.

...I suppose that would be the answer to your second question.

=====Side note :

Ppl who blather on about privilege and simultaneously fail to critically examine and recognize their own paradigms and how those relate to others' are also problematic for me.

Enough of the heavy, I think I'll watch some anime and start sorting through this nonsense physicality that is the fillings of my apartment... ;-P
Mostly cloudy, 22C (21C)

Someone I met IRL from online, here, is trying to convince me that it would be a good thing if he could help develop some kind of drug regimen to perpetually keep people in their 20s for their whole lives--extending youth and also life. I'm trying to explain how that is not only Not The Best Idea, but that before he start trying to do it, he ought to give a little consideration to what will be done with his technology and how to prevent the most heinous of obvious abuses. He's sure it'll become like vaccinations--"that everybody gets basically for free." He's better traveled than I am and doesn't seem to "get" that vaccinations are not given equally. I mention Central and Eastern Africa and he brushes it off, "they'll get it eventually"... Social justice aside, there are a zillion other moral-ethical, socio-political and practical reasons why he should never experience success in this little enterprise. But he's like a crazed scientist and refuses to comprehend...


But this brought up another realization for me--why don't I want to live forever? Other than how being poor sucks and how nothing seems to work the way I want it to (hell, I don't even know how I can go on for another year most of the time, much less another decade...), living forever has just never been something I've wanted to do. Even the appeal of becoming a vampire, which kept me reading and re-reading vampire fiction to this day, is not about living forever but about observing history. I want to know what my place in the grand scheme is--I want to either know that my life is utterly pointless, or that it has a lasting effect on the world. And you can't know that while you're in the world. Vampires leave the world--they become observers and with the same consciousness with which they lived, they come to understand the full richness of the context of their lifetimes. That's what I want. You don't know the context until it's over. Living forever, living in youth forever, means you'll never know what your place is or was--you'll just keep filling it, until perhaps long after your time to have vacated it passes.


sjcarpediem: (Default)


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