Molecules in Motion…

Monterey 2011 - Oceanside Highway

 

A theist told me that without god I’m just molecules in motion… 

Correctamundo!

We are molecules in motion.  Only not just.

We are also heirs (at the very least) to 5 thousand years of history, 14 thousand years of civilization, 50 thousand years of behavioral modernity, 3 billion years of biology, 14 billion years of physics, chemistry, and cosmology.

We are descended from the cosmos — “A way for the universe to know itself.”

Not  a p a r t  from it, but a part of it.

We are particles that dream. Atoms that love. Star dust configured to comprehend its own existence.

We are kin and kindred to every earthly organism that is or ever was and perhaps ever will be.

We sail across an ocean of  human toil and pain and blood…and of  hope.

We are curators of knowledge. Co-authors of the human story.

At our feet, all of human achievement, above us endless possibility, within us untapped potential.

And the truly beautiful part, the sweetest, most succulent, warm and fuzzy, spine-tingling, uplifting, stupefying, humbling, unequivocally, undeniably most beautiful part about it…

Is that everything I say is true and proven true.

We are all molecules in motion.

You’re goddamn right.

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What I Believe

I have a love/hate relationship with labels.  The clarity is great but the rigidity sucks.

When I noted that I am a spiritual atheist, some people ascribed to me their stigma of atheism.  Others considered spiritual atheism paradoxical.

I am a human being who does not believe in deities nor any connections or derivations thereof (divine books, origins of birth, miracles, etc.).  I do not deny the existence of any god, I just don’t subscribe to it.  I don’t know what happens after we die (of course, what I don’t know is infinite).

However, I am a believer and proponent of the connection I share with other people–all people, in fact, all living things–the earth, and the universe.  We are cosmic beings, made of celestial material; we come from the universe and to it we will ultimately return.

And we are alive.  I know of no other comparable fortune.  What’s more, we are aware of this gift and can enjoy it for the blessing that it is.

Plus, we are the inheritors of 200,000 years of human history.  I am the beneficiary of the sacrifices and accomplishments of all those who came before me from families, merchants, soldiers, kings, scholars, and philosophers to theologians, artists, inventors, and masons, even bakers and cobblers.  Their achievements have made our lives possible.  They have progressed us–technologically, scientifically, and morally–to our highest point in recorded history.  I believe we have a responsibility to continue their work and leave an even better world than we inherited.  They are examples, not the pinnacle, of how high we can go.  We honor them by striving to exceed them as they exceeded those who came before.  I believe it is our duty, our obligation, to do so (We have a LOT of work to do).

I believe in a world without suffering, where we are each free to pursue our own happiness, so long as it does not infringe on the happiness of others or abandon our sense of responsibility to one another.

Some will call it a pipe dream, an impossible quest for a perfect world; but I respond (echoing Vince Lombardi), perfection may be impossible, but in striving to achieve it, excellence may be attained.

And that’s what I believe.

Losing My Religion?! I Lost It!

Note:  I’m talking about faith and religion here.  Just a warning in case the topic is not your thing.

To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.

-Benjamin Franklin

I come from a Church-going family.  We didn’t go every Sunday, but most Sundays for the majority of my childhood.  When I got older my mother allowed me to choose whether or not I wanted to attend.   Predictably, I stopped going–although more from a lack of interest than a lack of belief.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Still, over time Sunday became more synonymous with football than church.

A good decade after I’d last set foot in a church, I got a job as a custodian for the Park Village Elementary School (I know, lofty ambitions).  It included an overtime gig opening up the gymnasium for a Nondenominational Christian church group on Sunday mornings.  I did it from time-to-time.

The church was called the Vineyard and they were some of the best people I have ever met.  They were friendly, jovial, courteous, and kind.  And more than that, they seemed genuinely happy.  They were able to actively enjoy each others’ company and each moment as it came.  The key was their faith.

I grew curious.  The pastor readily made time to talk to me about life and belief and whatever else.  Those conversations were amazing.  They helped define the 2nd half of my intellectual–and spiritual–life.

It started me on a journey to rediscover my own faith.

Only problem was, try as I might, I couldn’t find it.

I am a student of history and philosophy.  And in studying those fields, I learned things that irreparably damaged my road back to religion.

I have a much more objective understanding of the Bible’s historical context. I see syllogism and allegory in the Christian Bible.  I do see truth, but what I don’t see is even remotely believable literality. I know how the Bible came to be.  I know where many of the stories come from.  I know how the meaning of certain biblical terms has changed over time. I see how the various denominations pick and choose what they want to believe.

Besides, time exalts and mysticizes history.  People freely believe that phenomena considered impossible now was somehow possible a thousand years ago.  I understand why they believe it and why they would want to.  I just can’t believe the same.

When I try to look at Christianity objectively–which is virtually impossible since Christianity is the foundation of my values, morality, and culture–I see the same holes and inconsistencies that I do with, say, Islam or Mormonism.

However, I also understand the very human desire to continue, to not end once this life is over.  I share that desire vehemently.  I likewise share the desire to have a greater purpose for my life.  I’ve felt the comfort of believing there is a God who loves us–me as much as anyone–and wants the best for us all.  I, too, can see the beauty of a world without suffering.

Those hopes are indescribably powerful.  I think they’re essential to the human composition.  It drives our social and moral evolution.  It’s why I find logic in Pascal’s Wager.  It’s also why I find Atheism lacking even though I find it logical.

But these are issues of faith, not religion.

Religion is the rulebook.  And I admit, part of me wants that rulebook.  Part of me wants the religion of Jesus Christ to be true, for cruel and evil people to suffer while the virtuous are blessed for eternity.

But the rest of me looks at some of those rules (eating shellfish being an abomination, stoning disobedient children, the submission of woman) and not only do I NOT accept it, I don’t see Providence in it.  All I see human judgmentalism in those rules.  I only see inequity.

And I don’t buy the whole “His ways are mysterious” bit.  Strange, he made it possible to understand astrophysics yet made an enigma-hidden-in-a-riddle-lost-in-a-mystery out of why eating lobster is a sin.

I find the idea that someone must burn in hell with rapists and murderers–simply because they are gay, and despite any other qualities they might possess–not only offensive, but ludicrous.

What’s more, I don’t believe in evil.  I think people learn and continue cycles of abuse and neglect.  People have chemical imbalances and structural deficiencies in their brains.  People get indoctrinated into belief systems that embrace fear and anger and hatred–and they have mental and emotional compositions that make them susceptible to that kind of messaging.

Not only could an omnipotent God see those potentially insurmountable flaws within us, It would have CREATED them.  Damning or saving us based on a rulebook, inattentive of  those shortcomings, is cruel and unfair.  It’s like condemning someone for being blind.  What “loving” God, ruled by nothing but Its own Will, would choose to be cruel and unfair?

However, from a human perspective, punishing those that hurt others can be appealing.  The thought of Adolf Hitler burning in hell makes me all warm and fuzzy.  And I don’t possess the magnanimity to wish him anything better, but that only reflects the cruelty within me.

So, for the above reasons (and enough more to fill a book), I came to the conclusion that I reject religion.  It’s a personal conclusion, of course.  That decision is profoundly individual.  And it’s trans-rational.  Echoing the sentiments of St. Paul, it has to make sense and it has to feel right.

I consider myself a spiritual atheist.  I could perhaps call the force of creation in the universe, God.  The fact that everything, from the most insubstantial subatomic particle to the most enlightened abstract thought drives instinctively and unstoppably toward organization suggests, to my mind, a possible kind of intelligence.  However, the nature of that intelligence is factually unknown and unknowable thus far.  Will Durant expressed it best:

We are moments in eternity and fragments in infinity.  For such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth.

As for what happens when we die, I can’t say, and I don’t think that’s the point.  I hope there is some kind of eternal me (and you!) that lives on.  I continue to hope, but it’s not my focus.

Some might find such a perspective restricting.  I find it liberating.  I search for what affirms and optimizes existence.  It’s things like life and love, compassion, kindness, honesty, sincerity, truth, friends and family, faith and philosophy, music and story.  They all profoundly enrich the experience of being.

I can’t imagine that any wise and loving God would wish for us anything else.

I don’t.

(Angel image from: http://samscotti.blogspot.com/.  Atheism image from: http://chan4chan.com/archive/tags/arrogant)

Fundamentalist Atheism

“We are fragments in infinity and moments in eternity.  For such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth.”

-Will Durant

I hate fundamentalism.

I’m okay with people holding strict beliefs in whatever religion they choose (I almost never agree with it but I respect it and on some occasions even admire it).  What I cannot abide is the intolerance in which fundamentalism–fanaticism, really–is awash.  This fanaticism isn’t about a particular religion.  It’s about the dictate that one’s own belief system is must dominate all others.  Any belief system can fall victim to fundamentalism, most of them already have.

Fundamentalism is not about piety.  It’s not about faith.  A person can believe devoutly yet respect other people’s choice to believe differently.  Fundamentalism is about cultural destruction.   It’s a gloved word.  The ironically fundamental flaw of fundamentalism is cognitive dissonance.

We are imperfect beings; our beliefs and behaviors conflict with each other.  This conflict inevitably leads to exaltation of one belief (or set of beliefs) to either the repression or oppression of  others.  In a fundamentalist’s cognitive dissonance, the belief is always exalted.  For example, a fundamentalist Christian father, who abhors homosexuality, learns that his son is gay.  Fundamentalism would force the father to either use his paternal  influence in oppressing his son to prevent him from being actively gay or in repressing his love so that he may disavow his child.  This in turn forces the father to disregard contradictory biblical teachings and promote those that support his actions.  It’s hypocrisy.  More importantly, it’s virulently unappealing to those who don’t share the belief and therefore doomed to fall short of its goal.

Most religious fundamentalists are counterbalanced by their share of detractors.  For some reason, atheistic fundamentalists do not.  All atheists tend to get lumped together.  This may be because atheism is typically not a religion.  There isn’t really a shared system of atheistic beliefs–outside of the assertion that there is no God.  However, atheism is a faith; it’s a faith of oblivion, but a faith nonetheless.

Many atheists shroud their belief in what they would call deductive reasoning.  But the existence of God is scientifically unprovable.  Either way.  Anyone telling you there isn’t a God is stating an opinion, not a fact.  Of course, it’s their right.  And my problem is not with atheism in general, but rather with its fundamentalist manifestation.

I’m sure you’ve seen the type.  Brazen.  Rude. Dismissive of  the cultural and even evolutionary significance of faith in the human experience.  They forget about hope and purpose and belonging.  They ignore the soul’s requisite to continue.  They mock piety as simple-minded credulity.  They laugh at people’s most dearly held beliefs.   Atheistic fundamentalism, like all fundamentalism, seeks only to destroy opposing views.  And worst of all, atheism offers scant metaphysical assurance in return.  It’s pure vitriol and psychological violence at its worst.

I am an agnostic theist.  I don’t believe in the Biblical miracles and I am cynical about the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Still, I find profound truth in Christ’s teachings as well as hope and inspiration in the tenets of many religions, especially Christianity.  I am a product of Judeo-Christian culture–as is half the world.  My social and moral values are defined by it.  Yet it’s not how I identify myself.  I think people take the bible far too literally and interpret it through their own neuroses to justify their own moral point of view.  But that doesn’t invalidate the entire belief system.  Personal faith is a fiercely intrinsic, trans-rational choice.  We are wholly ignorant of other people’s spirituality and have no place in trying to define it.

I don’t begin to think I have any kind of answers.  I’d be audacious to challenge whatever answers others may come to.  But I do take umbrage with anyone who tears down another person’s faith to glorify their own.

(Coexist image from: http://www.geardiary.com/2010/11/29/coexist-a-shirt-for-every-os-at-woot/)