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An Agnostic Critique

Posted on November 25, 2007 in Agnosticism

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto
I am a man; nothing that relates to humanity do I deem alien to me. – Terence

square412Hemant put up a link to an interesting set of propositions governing “non-belief”. As usually happens, I was impressed by the good intentions but poor thinking-out in some particulars. I had to laugh, for example, at #12, “Do not denigrate believers” because the URL of the site is www.nobrainer.me.uk. Yeah, we’re not putting down anyone who doesn’t think like we think here are we?

I will state that when not otherwise expressed here, you can say that I have little or no problem with most of the propositions put forth. (Even my Christian wife said she had little problem with most of them.) But having just had a bizarre conversation with an atheist who tried to convince me that Jesus was imaginary (don’t start) has put me into a little bit of a feisty mood. For a start, look at #3:

Do not accept the intellectual and moral authority of believers or belief systems.

This statement leads to internal contradiction, especially when coupled with #14 which states “Do not confuse non-belief with immorality or an amoral state”. There’s a dogma afoot here, one which states that “we got the truth, so it ain’t belief”. Nice try. It’s the same dodge many religions use. As an agnostic, I believe that by the very limitedness of my all-too-human-senses I can’t be certain about what I might call those “higher absolutes”. Damn if I can tell you if there is a God or not. I don’t fault people who do and I don’t fault people who don’t. I will grant many of them — including the author of this tract — authority on moral questions because they have thought them through. What I don’t grant any of them is absolute authority which this author, oddly enough, seems to be grasping for.

#7 “Do not accept the ‘truth’ of religions, mysticism, or political philosophies” is also problematic for me. What does the author mean by “truth”? I think many religions — including a few that profess concepts — such as the inferiority of women — and prescribe practices — such as [[purdah]] — that I find rank — have takes on reality that are worth listening to. None of them — except perhaps mock religions such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster — is so unreal as to leave me unmoved. I think it takes a very cold heart indeed to read the Song of Solomon without feeling, at least, a mild state of ecstasy. To appreciate that work without acknowledging its concept of the erotic union of divine and mortal is naive. Does making it untrue make it worthless? Do we learn nothing about what it means to be human?

I don’t rush to trash all religious literature, all religious thought in my daily affairs.

#15 orders us “Do not search for a meaning to life.” I would temper this in the spirit of the first proposition, namely to rigorously test your beliefs against the world using the best findings of your time understanding that as a human creature you are limited and can not know all the truths of the Cosmos. If I were to state my principles or poles around which I align my thinking/feeling, I would include humility among them, which implies this sense of being limited by my being. It smacks of the old “earth-centered-heavens” when I hear an atheist going on about how we humans can arrive at final, fully-fleshed conclusions about the universe — when we are less than mites riding half a grain of sand in space. I say “do the best you can, but don’t expect to know everything.”

Why does this last point always seem so lacking when atheists try to explain what they think? I hear the dungy cow-bell clank of absolutism or, at best, naivite….

[tags]atheism, atheist, non-believer, nihilism, agnosticism, religion, faith, reality, belief, meaning[/tags]

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