Archive for September, 2010

Mystery

Posted in Faith and Science on September 25, 2010 by RWZero

I wanted to write this down somewhere, lest I forget.

I have felt great tension between religious belief and the mystery of existence. It does not seem to me that definite statements about the meaning of life, the qualities of God are compatible with the wonder the one experiences when searching out the silent and shocking peculiarities of the universe. The more “devoutly” Christian the person is, the less he or she seems fascinated with all these things. Everything is already explained, inasmuch as we could wish to explain it. “This is why we are here, and that is what will happen when we die.” Well, what’s the point, if it’s that simple? Why not just skip to the end? Why search the farthest regions of space if there is nothing worth finding out there? What excitement can arise from plumbing the depths of reality if we do not expect to discover anything important that we do not already know?

But we do discover things that we didn’t know, and they have often been profound. We do come across exciting things by the glow of the full moon. There is something to revel in, because we actually don’t know anything more than we did before.

To anyone who has experienced this tension, or who has criticized religion because of it (and only to these people) I would like to profess my belief that God is not an explanation. God may be a solution, a relationship, an interpretation, or a point of reference, but he has never been an explanation. The playground is still open for those of us who enjoy it, and there is lots of room to stretch down here.

In reflection upon my recent musings on God’s invisibility: if there were no God, you would never have the option of living in his presence. If there were, however, it would be possible to live in his presence, and it would also be possible to live (just as we do now) in a world where he is not obvious to the senses; where such deep perceptions of freedom, intrigue, awe, fear and wonder exist. It’s such a beautiful thing that I don’t see any way it could be omitted from the Syllabus of Being. At this precise moment, I’m glad that it’s happening.

There’s a time for everything, and right now, I’m alive.

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Those Things Held Sacred

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on September 19, 2010 by RWZero

The Necessity of Worship

There is a saying, among the churched, that “everyone worships something.” It is a saying that I always detested, perceiving it as an attempt by the faithful to spread guilt among the faithless for their enjoyment of the simple things in life, despite the obvious harmlessness of enjoying these things. However, I have changed my mind about this. Worship is not enjoyment or obsession; it is adoration and reverence. It is the attribution of absolute value. I am now convinced that that there is truth in this saying that I have disliked for so long.

The most prominent instance of worship that I have observed, in the sense that I have described above, is science. I do not mean to imply that the obsessive pursuit of scientific truth qualifies as worship. I refer to the manner in which the human practice of science is regarded—as a moral obligation requiring no justification, and superseding most any obstacle that may stymie its advancement. If a religious concern should stall grants, funding, or scientific education, it is followed by outrage, because science is a sacred thing. This is intolerable; their bronze-age ideas are blocking the progress of science! But why is it necessary for us to make scientific progress? Why is the most efficient pursuit of scientific truth worth making a great many people upset and unhappy, even if only because of their bronze-age ideas? In order to answer this question, a thing must be valued absolutely.

Another instance of this that appears obvious to me is the valuation of miniscule individual rights. We are forced to do things against our will on a daily basis—why, when these restrictions can be blamed on another human being, are we set aflame with moral outrage? Why are your rights more important than the good that may result if you do not resist? Who gave you these rights, that I should respect them?

Worship is a natural response to our condition. We must ascribe absolute value to something. Without axioms, there are no conclusions. To worship God is to live according to the principles that follow naturally from the valuation of God, who is an arbitrator higher than the individual. When standing on principles alone, we are the arbitrators, and we suffer two detriments. Firstly, we assign the highest value to those principles that are sacred to us personally. Secondly—and this is only a rephrasing of the first—we must live with the knowledge that the whole thing is a farce.

On this point, I was once asked: what’s the difference between someone like you, and someone like me? I wasn’t able to answer, because the music got too loud, and everyone started to dance. But the difference is not that I am a better person than you (though I will take it as a compliment if you think so). It is that someone like me can actually believe that my principles exist outside of myself. Someone like you must admit that your values are merely your values.

The Efficacy of Prayer

Posted in Faith and Science, Faith Experience on September 12, 2010 by RWZero

A Tale of the Hardwood Floor by the Bedside

It’s a difficult thing to kneel down and release a prayer into the open air. There is no physical direction to send it. It can be a difficult thing to wait for an answer, because our own minds hold a thousand answers that we cannot take for divine. It can be a difficult thing to believe that it makes any difference, because prayers are known before they are prayed, and there will be only one tomorrow, with no comparisons.

To pray is to do all these difficult things. We should not answer our own prayers with the sentence that first comes to mind, we should not pick a metal object to direct them towards, and we should not perform statistical analyses on intercessory prayer offered to suffering people in hospitals. We are not praying to some heretofore undiscovered statistical anomaly arising from the interaction of brainwaves with the earth’s magnetic field. We are praying with the hope that we will be heard.

I have a small thought on the efficacy of prayer. Someone who prays may be resistant to the idea that prayer creates helpful self-fulfilling prophecies, as this is unexciting and naturalistic. But it is nonetheless true.

Santa Claus

Posted in Faith Experience on September 7, 2010 by RWZero

On religion, from an atheist commentator on the Internet, discussing causes of depression

“This myth is not only irrational but also harmful. It’s awful to think that someone is looking over our shoulder every minute or that someone is keeping a record of our good deeds and our bad deeds, like Santa Claus, who ‘knows if we’ve been naughty or nice.'”

Oh, but I can assure you that somebody is keeping a record, and somebody does know…

You.

The Hands of God

Posted in Faith and Science on September 5, 2010 by RWZero

Defining an Arm’s Length

Suppose I intentionally leave first-aid kits in the middle of a field, knowing that two rival gangs will fight each other on that grass, on that very night. If one of the injured stumbles upon it just in time to dress a life-threatening wound, have I saved his life? Suppose I dropped it with only vague hopes that somebody out there might need it?

Suppose that I run a company that assembles first aid kits, and one of my employees drops a few of them at the aforementioned location, acting on my instructions?

Suppose I pass the message through one of my other employees instead of telling him directly?

I am, of course, thinking of nothing more than the extent to which causality can be applied to the hypothetical involvement of God in the world’s events. If I had been inclined to think on the subject longer, I may have come up with a more elegant illustration.

Tracing an event back two or three steps cannot truly explain why it happened (especially when we are not agreed upon why events are happening in the first place). I do not know how so many people can argue over how God does—or does not—work in the world, digging themselves neck deep in uses of the words “coincidence” and “intervention,” while failing to recognize this.

Intelligent Design

Posted in Faith and Science on September 3, 2010 by RWZero

Smoke and Mirrors

To the proponents of Intelligent Design, I have this to say—is there anything you agree on?

To the detractors, I have this to say—keep in mind that if the universe has no intelligent design to it, then neither does your watch…