Connecting With Agnostics

connectingI said in a previous post that my life is getting really busy this year with some big changes with my job. I don’t have a lot of time to post new content but definitely want to keep this site up as a resource. I’ll only have the occasional moment and burning desire to say something about agnosticism. I recently had two requests to connect with other sites that give me a small burst of desire to write.

Agnosticism Done Right

I can recommend everyone check out The Black Agnostic. I’ve looked over the articles and that site gets agnosticism right in my humble opinion. The author questions religious beliefs around us without resorting to simple dismissive approaches I often see attached to atheism. Sometimes I think strong atheism is easier. It might be easier to speak of absolute disbelief in theism as a knowledge-based answer. You could easily harden your mind against the mysteries of the universe with strong atheism.

The focus of The Black Agnostic is on what we know and what actually rises to the standards of human knowledge. It does speak of Christianity but the voice is one of an outsider with a critical eye towards Christian claims. If you want more frequent posts about agnosticism then you could watch that site.

Agnosticism Not Done As Well

I also received a request to share blog posts from Jess Hubbard’s Blog. She’s a Christian actively questioning her faith. In posts like ‘Mere’ Christianity and Are You There God? It’s Me, Jessica, she’s obviously focused on Christianity as her religion of choice and doesn’t talk about any other religions. She still clings to the Christian god with her questioning mind. Being an agnostic Christian has as much to do with the agnostic noun as being a left-handed Christian has to do with human handedness. The core of her thoughts remain in the Christian vein. Using agnostic as an adjective doesn’t meaningfully change her Christian beliefs so she may as well continue calling herself a Christian as long as she sees some validity in the belief system.

I use some Christian examples myself because of my own past with that religion but I also try to focus on religious beliefs as a whole. If there was a god, then I’m certain it wouldn’t be anything like the Christian god imagined by our ancestors and I can’t say that such a thing continues to exist or has any care for us as beings in this universe. I’ve moved well beyond the Christian “God” of my ancestors and use my agnosticism to question the entire gods concept as something obviously beyond human understanding and description. I don’t know where this universe came from and just understand the first origin of this universe is the greatest mystery. I don’t even know that this is the only universe that exists and if it isn’t something that was created in a larger natural existence. “Vell, Jeff’s just zis guy, you know?” – paraphrased from HHGTTG describing Zaphod.

Jessica’s focus is on how Christianity is done wrong and not how religions as a whole aren’t based on knowledge. She believes Jesus lived and was the “most enlightened person” even though Jesus supposedly killed a fig tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t the season for figs. There are many other problems with the Jesus stories but that one was the first seed of my doubts that woke me up from the fog of human defined religions.

Universal Signs

Jessica simply calls herself an agnostic in the post Signs but then speaks of knowing she’s living the right way because of various signs from the universe. She quotes a friend as saying “all God requires…” well, I won’t bother going on with that quote because I’m sure her friend has no clue what a creator of the universe might actually require. We each experience the universe and what we see as signs are tainted by own perceptions. It’s like when we buy a car and then start noticing all of the other people that share in that same car. Our perception is filled with filters created by our minds.

Everything in the universe is connected by many forces we understand with physics and many other forces we may never fully understand or know. We’re made of stardust and every bit of us will return in some form back to the universe when we die. When you stop and listen to the universe around you then you can pick out the car you own all around you or notice any other thing you’re naturally recognize in the vast noise of existence. You can spot a smiling face in the clouds if you’re looking for a friendly face to smile down on you. Seeing very specific signs in the universe comes from your filtered perception and projecting your own meaning to what’s around. I highly doubt the universe specifically sends us personalized messages. These signs are most likely echos of our own thoughts and desires and that’s a pretty good reason to pay attention to them since they’re actually signs from ourselves.

My advice to Jessica and anyone else struggling to reconcile religious beliefs with reality is to focus first and foremost on reality. It will help you recalculate your filters and biases to live with knowledge instead of blind faith. It will help you exist as a honest being in this universe instead of shrouding your existence with unlikely fantasies about how and why we exist. Quit worrying about what the first cause of existence may think about your one little life (if such a thing existed and could think) and just make the most of the short time you have to live as a human.

A Hallucination is a Fact

A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.

Bertrand Russell

This is an interesting quote from one of the historical agnostics. A hallucination is a perception in the absence of apparent stimulus that has qualities of a real perception. The perception is a factual experience for the person experiencing the hallucination. The error comes when you compare your individual facts to the perception of others and to what’s logical for the circumstances.

Along the same vein, I could say Santa Claus has been perceived and experienced. A child’s perception of the provided stimulus implying Santa Claus is real can develop self-generated biases. I saw this in action many years ago with my young son. The promotion of Santa Claus as a real person caused his very young mind to truly believe my Dad was Santa Claus when he came in dressed up in a red suit and carrying presents.

The perception of Santa Claus was a fact. The belief that it was the mythical character was the erroneous judgement. My son eventually discovered his error when he found out Santa Claus wasn’t real. Other people told him the myth wasn’t real and he was able to better observe the actions of others propping up the illusion for everyone else.

Santa Claus is a training ground for understanding religions. Experiencing and perceiving God and Jesus was as real to me as Santa Claus. Fortunately, I was able to make better judgments about my perceptions as I learned more about religions. I now see the religious hallucinations for what they are even though they are very real to other people that experience them.

Faith isn’t knowledge but faith definitely exist. On the face of it, having a faith in a god is a fact. It’s a perception in the absence of apparent stimulus that has qualities of a real perception. Blind faith without any basis in knowledge is the same as a hallucination.

This is why I don’t tell people they shouldn’t believe in gods simply because I say it’s unbelievable. We have to figure out hallucinations for ourselves since it’s our self-generated biases that have to be corrected for us to stop generating false perceptions in the absence of legitimate stimulus.

For something as important as a proposed creator of the universe, we should compare our perception to the perception of the billions of humans around us. Here’s the top 6 religious perceptions according to adherents.com:

Christianity: 2.1 billion
Islam: 1.5 billion
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
Hinduism: 900 million
Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
Buddhism: 376 million

There’s an obvious lack of consensus across humanity for any of the current religions to be considered a fact or real perception. Agnostics are sitting there lumped in with the #3 position. I observe many human actions propping up the religious experiences on the rest of the list. Religious groups routinely talk each other into experiencing the same hallucinations just like we do with the Santa Claus myth. I experienced it myself as a child growing up in a religion.

We don’t have to actively reject and prove all of our hallucinations are verified as false. We need to simply admit the true limits of our knowledge and live within the boundaries of what we know. Theism and religious beliefs aren’t knowledge. Not being able to imagine any other cause than a god says more about the limits of your imagination than it does about the truth of the claim.

The only “sin” in agnosticism is to claim knowledge of the unknown and possibly unknowable. We should quit judging our lives and each other on hallucinations and just stick with what we actually KNOW and collectively agree are verifiable truths. For me, this is the essence of agnosticism and the reason why I lack religious beliefs. I’d much rather live using knowledge instead of blind faith.

Agnostic vs Atheist Deconversion

Engaging in conversations through the Internet with strangers is generally useless and futile. This was definitely the case today on Twitter with an antitheist called Flying Free @FlyingFree333. He refuses to let agnostics use the agnostic label. He insists lacking belief is the only important thing for having a label. I tried to explain that knowledge is much more important to me and I’m also an atheist with no problem saying it. He called me a moron, pretentious poser, agnostic twit, and not worth the oxygen I cost. This is a prime example of the ‘angry atheists’ or ‘asshole atheists’ I sometimes read about.

I don’t believe in the religions of the world. I agree with his atheist viewpoints except for anything really antitheist. I can’t prove theism is entirely fiction no matter how much I believe it to be false. Somehow I’m the worst kind of person to him because I use agnostic as my primary label. It’s so hard to get anything meaningful across in short tweets. However, the idea of theists watching that banter made me think agnosticism will always remain a better viewpoint for deconversion from putting faith in mythological fantasies.

Antitheist Deconversion

Based on his tweets, Flying Free’s antitheist response to religious belief claims is to tell them their beliefs are idiotic and unbelievable. I’m sure he’d push the burden of proof on the believer like any good antitheist. However, I’m sure it would be confrontational instead of trying to be educational. He would reject every proof by just calling them an idiot for thinking it’s true. He’d push disbelief as the only answer to any question. He’d push disbelief as what a believer should adopt simply because of his assertion that their beliefs are obviously false to anyone with half a brain. Who would listen to such a person?

Agnostic Deconversion

Yes, I lack theistic beliefs and I’m an atheist regarding theism. My primary label is and may always remain to be agnostic. If you present me with specific theist beliefs then I do respond with agnosticism first. Does what you claim to believe actually rise to the standards of human knowledge and a verifiable truth? If not, then it shouldn’t be believed. I have no real reason to say you can’t believe in your fantasies just as I won’t tell a child to quit believing in Santa Claus as long as the belief remains harmless.

I really enjoy certain fictions and am fond of science fiction. I suspend disbelief as I enjoy it. Maybe you enjoy your life by wrapping your mind in your religious fiction just like I might enjoy thinking of Gandalf as a real wizard. If we each keep our fictional nonsense to ourselves then why should I care about yours? If you bring your beliefs to me and ask me to share in them then I’ll test your hypothesis and reject what isn’t knowledge. I won’t believe it. The faithful see me the same as any other atheist.

My atheism only exists as a continuously examined and tested byproduct of my agnosticism. It’s likely that I will always be atheistic towards every theism my fellow humans try to share with me. But I can’t guarantee that there won’t come some theism that I end up deciding to be true human knowledge. Pantheism and the notion that this universe is god has some plausibility simply because saying there is no “why” for the universe to exist can be unsatisfying. Scott Adams wrote a novella called God’s Debris which was an interesting thought experiment about the universe being a god’s debris. I wrote about it in this blog post: Omnipotence and Scott Adams’ God’s Debris.

There are just so many unanswered questions and limits to our knowledge that primarily being agnostic makes the most sense to me to remain open to a theistic possibility. I’m very sure the truth is nothing like our religions. I imagine the real truth is well beyond anything we could imagine or possibly understand.

If you’re an angry atheist and hate your fellow freethinking agnostics for not fully embracing your preferred label… well then all I can really do is shake my head and say you’re obviously the one with the problem. I don’t see how your views help anyone else in their own understanding of the universe, so good luck with that.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Purpose of Life

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of Life.

This is the fictional motto of Life magazine in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It was a feel good movie that advocates for making the most out of the lives we have. One key ingredient I think it misses is laughter, but otherwise it’s good advice for freethinkers. It applies to everyone that understands this moment in time, this one physical existence, is all we truly know we have.

Anything beyond this universe is wishful thinking and fantasy. Walter Mitty often zoned out and lived in fantasies beyond his mundane existence. He didn’t fully live and feel his most alive until he went beyond his fantasies and went on true adventures that rivaled the fictions he created for himself. The real moments were so much more vivid, impressive, and satisfying because they were real.

The Sean Penn character of Sean O’Connell really captures the truth about the beauty of life and our existence when he said, “beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” I think that aspect of the movie speaks to the human relationship with religions which don’t just beg for our attention; they practically demand it.

You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure (Worship), You Were Formed for God’s Family (Fellowship), You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship), You Were Shaped for Serving God (Ministry), You Were Made for a Mission (Mission)

The quote above is Rick Warren’s religious view of a Purpose Driven Life. It really sucks. It distracts people from their reality and tries to refocus them on fantasies outside our universe and wishful thinking outside our actual lives.

Yes, a Heaven and eternal life might be nice. However, it’s the type of thing nobody can give you a guarantee for its existence. It makes little sense that a god would pluck you out of an eternal Heaven to live one little blip of a human life in this universe and reward you with going back to your eternal existence. It makes even less sense that our purpose is to worship an egotistical god and spread a religion among the same souls that were also momentarily pushed into human existence. If we’re really eternal souls, then why bother with this human life?

If that weird fantasy is real then I could also imagine the same god pushing us into a million lives in a million different beings and universes beyond our comprehension. Why not keep doing it to us for the worship and entertainment value? If so, then maybe we’re more entertaining if we don’t blindly worship such a god and the real test is how gullible we are to believe religious nonsense. Maybe “human” isn’t an important form in our eternal existence. Maybe a selfish and jealous god isn’t worthy of our worship… but that would assume such a god is believable.

I really believe that the religions that appear to be an invention of primitive imagination simply are what they appear to be. Each religion is a fiction that proves all others are false and ends up making the whole mess of them false. What we do have is this life and the real moments we live. You may choose to keep to your zoned out fantasies like the early Walter Mitty, but I’d prefer to be the man he became at the end when he really started to live his life to the fullest.