I just got home from two three-quarter-days at Disneyland. Last night was all California Adventure Park and today, all Disneyland. It’s already all decked out for Christmas, and holiday carols are heard throughout the park. Christmas trees and Santa Claus are everywhere. The crowds were enormous, throngs of people just trying to get from one side of a pathway to the other. The waits weren’t so bad, mostly because I had younger children too afraid to see Pirates of the Caribbean, and we mostly went on things like Autotopia and the spinning teacups.
Today - Frances, my assistant/nanny, who came along, had an idea where each child got to pick one favorite ride and we all just followed that clear agenda (that meant six rides; four children and the two of us.) My favorite: The Tiki Room, OF COURSE. I can’t help but get all choked up in that room. And even though it uses technology from 1963 (as the MC told us at the beginning, like he was warning the younger ones that it would be archaic and hokey) to me it was as enchanting as anything else there. The worst moment of the day was waiting for an hour in the sun just so we could order lunch. But otherwise, a good time was had by all.
Okay, I am so thrilled with all the posts to my blog! Wow. I wish I could respond to every entry. I thought all day yesterday AND today about Anonymous’ comment, the first one. He or she wrote:
“If I get pleasure or comfort from my religious faith, logic is not likely to change me. Why, because the "pain" of self-deception is less that the perceived or real pain of facing reality. I think it's only when life throws us a "sucker-punch from god" (the seminal event I mentioned in the email) that the pain of continuing to embrace our faith exceeds the pain of abandoning our faith.”
Yes! Wow, I thought about that so much. Even though that wasn’t what it was for me, in terms of God. I really just learned way too much about science to keep leaning on the vague crutch I had, the political correctness I enjoyed, the culture I dipped into. It was truly an intellectual crisis where I really felt I had to choose between my mind and my learned reflex of belief.
But in terms of the pain/change equation, what about people who have, like… their children die? And this horrible event is what makes them stop believing in God. That seems to have been a contributing factor for Darwin. I mean, supposedly, their faith in God is something that would be quite comforting in that moment. Hmmm…
I guess in that sense, their loss of faith is like mine, that you just can’t be comforted anymore by something that makes so little sense. It’s just mine didn’t involve a crisis like that one. I mean, actually I did have a crisis, and I believed that God comforted me. And then, I analyzing that comforting made me Uncomfortable. It embarrassed me. It didn’t make sense to me.
But I didn’t really think about this comment, this statement of fact by Anonymous, in terms of God. I was thinking about pain=change comment in terms of everything else! How this applies to almost anything – and how there are things I want to change about myself – habits, behaviors, I mean nothing gigantic, but still. And I wandered around Disneyland thinking, “When will the pain of behaving in the way I have been be bad enough that the pain of changing the behavior be less painful?”
It’s so elementary, but so potent – just thinking about things like that. Really – it applies to my inability to organize the papers on my desk or to stop over-scheduling myself or exercise or anything, just anything. Pain is such a great and useful and wonderful thing. The pain of frustration is such a powerful motivator. But not always the motivator I wish it were.
I am really appreciative of all the posts about the second law of thermodynamics. I do understand it better now. And Dan in the U.K. talking about the faithful fogging up their arguments so quickly! Yes, I find that too. It’s laziness – it’ such slutty-ness in thinking. They will quickly move from one argument to the next, without fully understanding what they are throwing out and not caring that the second or third argument they serve up is contradictory to the one before it.
But whom I want to address right now, and really only for my own practice really, is Pontifica, another person who wrote a response to my blog. I am going to break apart her post and answer it piece by piece.
“This specious binary opposition (God or Not God, faith or science) neglects the very many people who can unproblematically get behind both. Not all "Christians" believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance. There are many shades of spirituality.”
You are saying a lot of different things with those first three sentences. First of all, yes, you are right. There are millions of people who say they “believe” in science and in God. It is my opinion that most or nearly all of those people haven’t looked into either God or science very far. I was raised by people like this: well educated Jesuits who could debate with you with word games long into the night, doctors at the hospital who prayed with their patients before heart surgeries. These are the people who raised me. Well-educated, intelligent, mainstreamed – not fundamentalists or survivalists – smart people who had professions that required them to be at a high level of knowledge.
And yet, it is my experience that very few of them – including the Jesuits, I am so sorry to report – had really thought about the real cold hard chilly probably truth about the existence of a loving God and very few of them understood the nature of science. The doctors knew a lot of facts – they could use those facts to help people. So did the priests. But they were traders in bits of knowledge. Not people who thought deeply about the theory behind it or the implications of their belief or knowledge as it applied to God. Or even people (like the priests) who were capable of or inclined to confront the likely truth about what their faith was really based on. How that evidence stood up to the standards of good evidence. How what we all know about psychology and human behavior made the invention of God inevitable – or at least much more likely – than their Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.
Because, as Anonymous so rightly pointed out: what was in it for them to let their minds confront this? There would be too much pain in it, and for what? So they could become atheists – the most reviled group in America? A group that association with makes them unable to be elected to office? Un-trustable? They would be out of step with their culture. They would be out of their religion, the religion they loved. They would not be able to call upon God in times of crisis. They would not be able to let a vague sense that the world was in some way pre-ordained (the poor, the unjustly punished, etc.) allow them to look the other way. (And think about it. People who are attracted to the priesthood are attracted, probably, partially because they enjoy the "trust" that this job gives them. They like being this symbol of trust to a community. Why would they do something that would jepardize this -- just so that a few, a very few people who HAVE thought this through would have more admiration for them?)
There is SO MUCH that not-really-thinking-it-through provides. There is a big gigantic incentive not to look at this stuff deeply. The facts are profoundly unsettling. Our vulnerability, in this spinning world without God, is frightening. Denial of our vulnerability is necessary on some level, just to get through the day. Religion offers us that denial, it gives us so much. It’s perfectly reasonable that people feel they can accept religion and science. But that doesn’t make them compatible or meant that the person really understands either line of thinking very deeply.
Then, when you say that people have “many shades of spirituality.” I really don’t like that you throw that sentence in there. What do you mean by spirituality? A sense of wonder and connection to the material universe? That’s what I feel. I think the feelings I feel when I contemplate myself as a living, breathing, temporary piece of matter to be deeply profound. Profound in a way that most people would call it spiritual. The word spiritual is used to mean so many things that it’s really wrong to label a person who doesn’t believe in God as a person who is not “spiritual” in the way that you mean “spiritual.” I try not to use that word, in order not to be confusing. But the experiences I have, the feelings I have, the connections I feel, are all things that I would have used the word “spiritual” to describe before I became careful about the words I used.
“ I find it reductive and insulting to paint all people who believe or have faith in a force greater than our little, temporary, individual selves as stupid, weak, and unable or unwilling to let go of a crutch.”
What you are saying, when you make a statement like that, is that people who don’t have faith are people that have an overly inflated view of human intelligence, and in particular, their own human intelligence. You are basically saying that people who believe in God are people who are humble, and see that humans are small and limited in awareness. But the truth is that the opposite is really true. People who believe in God are people who think that their limited ability to intuit truth should take precedence over a concillience of evidence pointing in another direction: towards a world that evolved without the help of a God, without the intervention of God, and without the guidance of God.
Pontifica: “If you don't believe in god (and believe me, many Christians and other people of faith don't believe in a vengeful, bearded guy passing judgments and thunderbolts from a pink cloud either), it doesn't somehow make you smarter than and superior to those who do. I truly admire you, Julia, and yet I seem to pick up that this is really what you and your atheist friends think.”
This is a hard one. It really falls under the heading of an ad hominum attack. I mean, I don’t think it necessarily makes me smarter. I think I am right about this. I think I am right that there is no God. I may be wrong. Or I may be not as smart as you in a hundred different areas. Or maybe I’m right. But this kind of stinging statement is made so that a person is humbled, and fearful that others think that “they” think they are smart. I think it’s insufferable to be around know-it-alls or people who have an inflated sense of their own intelligence, just like anyone is. I think it’s really beside the point. And this kind of remark is made to let the person know that if they come off sounding like they think they are so smart, others won’t like them. What does that prove? Maybe they are smarter. Maybe they aren’t smarter, but they are right! Maybe the smarter people are wrong. What difference does that make? I’m not sure. I just hate statements like that.
Pontifica continues: "This seems just as wrongheaded as the so-called religious right (which is just about as un-Christian a bunch of villains as you could hope to find) claiming that anyone not in lockstep with their worldview is going to hell."
Why do you think the religious right is un-Christian? Jesus said in Matthew, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus told parables where he asked people to bring those that did not have allegiance to him and slaughter them. That is Christianity. Granted, there are a lot of admirable, or loving things that Jesus said too. The point is that… well, what is Christian anyway? I was brought up on what I consider to be the best type of Christianity – the Jimmy Carter – Vatican II type of Christianity of my Jesuit high school. I loved their view of the world and their call to social action. I liked what kind of social movements they were part of in Central America. They felt their worldview was inspired by Jesus. So do the fundamentalists who would happily see me burn to death in a rapture. Who is Christian? All of them, or none of them. The bible gives you a smorgasbord of views, a Jesus that is a character that could say wildly divergent things – a hodgepodge of views. Movements pick and choose based on what they want their church or personal view to be. Who is right? How can you say what is right when it’s a mythical character (most likely) who has had a stew of ingredients thrown into his character profile. Christianity can be anything and still be Christian as far as I can tell, after reading the Bible.
Pontifica: “You can't prove that god, or, let's say, an eternal force of love and creative intelligence of which we are all a part, perhaps, doesn't exist - any more than you can prove that it does. So if you're an atheist, you're just like every single other person on the planet: someone with a theory. No more, no less, no smarter and no dumber. Maybe we should all label ourselves agnostics. Because no one knows!”
Yes, yes. I can’t prove that there isn’t a purple dinosaur in my garage either (to use the classic analogy). I mean, the dinosaur is invisible, so I can’t see him. But is he there? You can’t prove a negative! Well, yes, you are right. I can’t definitively prove that the invisible purple dinosaur is not there. But I would say that the probability that the dinosaur is not there is really high. I am going to conduct my life under the most likely scenario – that the purple dinosaur is not in the garage. I think that makes me smarter. Yes, I should – technically – be agnostic about the existence of the invisible purple dinosaur, but then I might be afraid to enter the garage – not committing to any one view on whether the dinasaur exists. And that makes my life very limited. Because my garage has lots of space that I can use! Blah, blah, blah. I can’t go on. I just had to take a stab at that one.