Friday, June 3, 2011

Why I'm Not an Atheist

Recently a friend caused me to watch an episode of Bill Moyers' show on PBS, Faith and Reason.  It was an interview with Dutch writer Anne Provoost, whom I had never heard of before, but she brought up some thought-provoking stuff.  The specific topic of this interview was her retelling of the Noah's Ark story.  She wants to know why God would destroy almost all life on earth, just because he didn't like the way people were behaving.  Didn't he create all these humans and animals?  If they don't function according to spec, isn't that a flaw in the original design?

At one point Moyers asks, "can you trust a God who doesn't get it right?" and Provoost replies:
Why would you trust a God that at this moment, doesn't come back to give us the right book. You know, through history, he's given the Jewish people a book. And he's given the Christians a book. And he's given the Muslim books, and so there's big similarities between these books, but there's also contradictions.  I would think that, you know, he needs to come back and create clarity and not let... he shouldn't let us fight over who's right. He should make it clear. So, my personal answer to your question, "Should we trust," I wouldn't.
She has a good point.  All the same, I'm not an atheist.  (Incidentally, Provoost is not an atheist either.)  Nor am I Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.  I don't have to believe in that god (and yes, the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god is pretty much all the same god.)  Some people say, if he doesn't come back and tell us which of those religions has his personal seal of approval, that proves there is no god.  I say, maybe it's not "his" job to provide a book with all the answers.

The other point that people use to disprove the existence of god is the question, why does he let good people suffer?  I actually think that this is an example of anthropomorphism.  God is not human.  God is not a person.  We don't ask, "why does god allow trees to be cut down?"  "Why does god allow our pets to run away and get hit by cars?"  "Why does god allow factory farming?"  Most of us accept those as valid forms of destruction . . . and even if we don't, there still seems to be an assumption that god is supposed to look out for people first.  If god were a tree, or a cat, or a cow (and god has been all of those things), wouldn't it have to protect those above all?

We think of ourselves as the Chosen People, or rather the Chosen Species.  Which brings up another comment by Provoost:
Now what strikes me is that never ever in history do you have a group of people that says well here's us, but that group there, these other people, they are chosen. So, whenever you have a proclamation of being chosen, it's always a self-defining process. It's always the people who are chosen who say they are chosen. They never say that about the other. They always say that about themselves.
I find that very interesting because in my experience, we as individuals do often feel that other people are better than us, other people are special and we are sinners, we are the bad ones.  And yet she's right that no group of people, as far as I know, have defined themselves as the un-Chosen.  It's as if we can only be rejected by God individually.  (Now, in the recent Rapture-that-didn't-happen many of us identified with those who would not be saved.  But if we really believed in that stuff we wouldn't say that, I don't think.)

I'm actually a Daoist.  The Dao fulfills many of the same functions as what people call "God," but it's not a person.  It's not an old white man with a long beard who lives up in the sky.  It doesn't talk.  There is an official book of Daoism - the Dao De Jing, which means "Book of the Way (Dao) and the Power (De)" - but it doesn't feel right to call it a "Bible."  And although Daoists are just as attached to their own religion as everybody else, I don't think any Daoist would say that the Dao De Jing contains The One and Only Truth.  In fact the very first line of the book says "the Dao that can be put into words is not the real Dao," thereby casting doubt on its own validity as a sacred text.

Like all religions, Daoism clearly defines right and wrong.  But one thing it's lacking is punishment.  The Dao (being neither a vengeful nor a jealous god) never sets out to punish anybody.  Perhaps the best Daoist metaphor for evil is "swimming against the current."  If you're out of harmony with the Dao, that's bad.  If you're out of harmony with the Dao, bad things are more likely to happen to you - but not because you are bad, just because you're not behaving the right way.  Here's another good analogy:  if you drop a rock on your foot, it hurts.  That's not a punishment.  It's just gravity.

So.  I'm not an atheist because I believe that there is something out there, a guiding force in the universe.  A power that is the universe.  It's not all random.  But it's not focused on humanity either - neither to exalt us nor to punish us.  It's bigger than that.

Here are the video and transcript of the Provoost interview.

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