In my last post, I wrote about my own ups and downs with knowledge and belief about God, and the several-years-long transitional phase where I was truly neither a theist nor an atheist. Today I want to dig into what I think was going on with that.
I’m inclined to compare my transitional phase with the apparent beliefs of a lot of non-theists who nonetheless talk about things like “the universe,” “fate,” or “karma” on a regular basis. There’s a kind of animistic habit of mind which seems very common to human nature, which insists on attributing intention and consciousness to everything. It’s this habit of mind that remained when my explicit God-belief had vanished from my brain; it’s this habit of mind that made me say “God took away my belief in God.”
On top of that animistic habit, I had a deep and thorough understanding of an internally consistent Christian worldview. Everything that I perceived in the world could be interpreted through the lens of Christianity in a way that made sense on its own terms. Even my loss of belief could be interpreted that way. It did not require mental effort or self-deception to come up with an interpretation of the world that was consistent with Christianity: having grown up Christian, it was easy, almost second nature. That meant that it was still possible to continue believing in (a form of) Christianity with full intellectual integrity; what had changed was that it was also possible not to.
I did some studying; I read The God Delusion and some other writings; and I came to the conclusion that an atheist worldview was also internally consistent. I had hoped that there would be features of reality that couldn’t adequately be explained without a deity, but in my search I found none. I found myself looking at two complete, coherent accounts of reality, both plausible to me, both accounts that I could accept with full intellectual integrity, and entirely incompatible with each other. At that time in my life, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that I was a theist or an atheist. I found both believable, and consequently couldn’t truly believe either.
I said before that I don’t like to use the word “know” in relation to questions of theism, because of its ambiguity. But if asked at that time in my life whether I believed in a god or not, all I could have honestly said was “I don’t know.” For a few years there, I’d say I was a true agnostic, an agnostic lacking both knowledge and belief.
Halfway through those transitional years I returned to Christianity, not because either my beliefs or my assessments of the truth had changed, but because I wanted it to be true. Not a strong reason, but it was all I had. If I’d had more unbelieving friends at that time, it probably wouldn’t have happened — I’d probably have continued in my agnostic paralysis until the unbelieving neural pathways clicked into place. (I just made that up, but it’s a terrific way of thinking about it… the whole thing was basically like a gear shift, and there was a long period there where the chain was suspended, adjusting over the gears, neither one thing nor the other.) But I was lonely, and all but one of my close friends and family were Christian, so I was looking for a way back in. I never thought that my desire for the Christian God to be real made it more likely that he was real; I just seized on desire as an acceptable stand-in for “faith,” since I didn’t have any of that. And I was backed up in that interpretation by some statements in the first few chapters of Introduction to Christianity, by Joseph Ratzinger, who did rather well in the ranks of his faith profession.
I’ll write more about my ins and outs with religion later; now I have to go rant about truth!
3 thoughts on “Gnosis, pt 2”
It is interesting is it not how all our learning haunts us, neither fully transforming us nor completely abandoning our thinking. I suppose that is why the Old Testament admonishes the father to raise his son in the ways of the Lord so that he will never depart from them.
As for me, there is truth and there is Truth and I’ll search for both wherever they lead.
I understand your struggle because I struggle the same. I never took the atheistic route simply because I was never able to convince myself that Divine Will does not exist, even if I was often furious and rebellious against such influence. I did however examine all other religions I could find and was eventually lead to the concept of personal myth-making which I work diligently now to explore for myself and for others.
I appreciate your apparent critical thinking skills as well as your succinctly clean writing style and I look forward to reading more.
I’m curious what you mean by “personal myth-making.” I have not heard that term before, and would like to know what you mean by that.
Its a concept of my own I am developing. Basically it operates upon the idea that mankind creates myth so that s/he may have a temporarily functional understanding of concepts and realities that continually evade complete understanding. One of my own blogs discusses in brief the idea that ‘gods’ are a man-made internalizations of elemental forces without which mankind would be hard pressed to manipulate. On a grander (though more personal) scale such myth-making abilities act to restore our sense of union with ourselves and cosmic divinity. Say I come across some symbol or archetype that attracts me strongly (or conversely repels me) and I find I cannot escape the symbol. It continues to pop up in my life and influence my thoughts and actions. Such a symbol becomes (and already is) an element of my own personal myth. It means something to me because it is symbolic and therefore I cannot help but to integrate it into my psyche. I believe all people do this though most are not aware of the symbols they take up. My intention is to increase my own awareness of this fact as well as the awareness of others so that we might be more conscious in our arrangement, assemblage and discrimination of such symbols. I believe art is a natural bi-product of personal myth-making. I simply attempt to be aware of the myths I create for myself. It becomes the merger of art and philosophy and takes upon itself many of the qualities that religion has attempted to isolate within its own boundaries. I also feel personal myth-making cannot help but put a person in touch with two cosmic forces; that of the ideal self who waits at the edge of time and space for our arrival and that of Divine Will which waits beyond that edge for us to cross over. In this way it is a tool for conscious evolution of the spirit.
The long and short of it is that such a concept allows me to simultaneously examine existence both as temporal reality and eternal myth.
Was the Christ Figure everything we’ve been told? Or the Buddha? Yes and No. Much more in fact. Does it matter whether their stories actually happened as passed down to us? Not so much because the concepts behind the stories show a much deeper truth to us if we choose to use their stories.
The parables of Christ come to mind. Were they true happenings? It does not matter. They were Truth regardless.
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