Sunday, January 31, 2010

Doubt, Skepticism, and Faith

I just finished the movie ‘Religulous’ by Bill Maher, and I realized the guy has a point. Religion of any kind is illogical. It is. Think about it. Take any religion and break it down to its most basic premise; I’ll do the first one for you. (Yes, it’s probably the one you’d jump to first, too.)

Christianity: A guy who is also his son and a third thing that’s genderless got a girl pregnant without touching her and wants you to telepathically acknowledge his three-in-oneness so that you can join him in the sky when he blows everything up at the end of time. Which might be tomorrow.

Yeah, it’s easy, and it’s the first religion that everybody goes to. There are a lot of holes in Christianity, and most of them come from the disparity between the different books of the Bible and the sermons preached from modern day pulpits. Sin. Wrong-doing. Morality. The modern Christian church in America (and I want to specify America, as Christianity doesn’t have the hold on the rest of the world that it has here) has a monopoly, seemingly, on telling people how awful they are. It’s so easy to make fun of these beliefs, because thanks to recent interest by Hollywood and the publishing world, we all know about the aforementioned holes.

But, what about other religions? Let’s cut to the chase and talk about Paganism. Or, is that paganism?

Paganism: A bunch of people that don’t want to consider themselves part of anything that can’t decide what exactly they believe, but they’re pretty sure it has something to do with magic and multiple deities, unless you don’t think it has anything to do with magic and deities, then it has a lot to do with sitting in a bookstore arguing about why your beliefs are right and Christianity – specifically – is bad, while simultaneously arguing how you’re 100% accepting of everyone… Wait…aren’t we supposed to be worshipping something?

Yep, pagans, there are tons of holes in our own ‘religion.’ They begin from the fact that nobody really knows, or can categorically define, paganism. Who are the Gods/Goddesses we believe in? Why can’t we agree on them? What about the Goddess, is she better than the God? And the list goes on…and on…and on…

I’m an academic. I’m not a philosopher, and though I made A’s in all my Philosophy courses in school, I cannot possibly consider myself a true philosopher. I’m a social scientist. I study the human condition, specifically what happens when we do harm to one another. I’m what philosophers would call a naïve realist. A naïve realist is someone who completely accepts that the world is real, that it does not require perception to be real, and that it would be real whether or not I thought it was real. To me, that is a leap of faith in and of itself. I don’t question the realness of the bullet; I just know I don’t want it to hit me.

I know doubt on an intimate level. I question everything: motives, definitions, reasoning, thought patterns, what I read, what I see, and most especially what I hear out of people’s mouths. I’m the first to encourage pagans to call one another out on their claims of superpowers and claiming ridiculous titles like High Mugwump Magus of the 7th Seely Court – or whatever your particular World of Warcraft guild calls you. So, why, then would I ever talk about having faith? And how is the acceptance of reality a leap of faith?

Second question first: it’s a leap of faith because it’s much easier to continue questioning everything, but at some point you have to stop and say, “This is where I shall beginning leaning on faith.” The point where you decide that to not believe is more ridiculous than believing, that’s where you begin to have faith. I believe firmly in gravity, because not believing is ridiculous. That’s something real and measurable. It’s easy to believe in gravity, and you have to start somewhere.

But let’s jump to the big questions. God(dess). Any God(dess). How in the hell do you believe in a divine force that you can’t go visit in person or smell when they haven’t showered in a while, who can do anything and be anybody, and who made absolutely everything but can’t seem to get rid of things like disease, natural disasters, hunger, rape, gang violence, or gravity. (Hey, I’d like to fly… Leave me alone.)

For some this is answered by simply not believing. It’s really easy to not believe, because there are so many holes in a belief in God(dess). For others, it might start with one little thing: a request, a wish, a need, something that came true. Sometimes it’s a faith placed in deity, because it makes more sense than the randomness that mere science seems to suggest.

Atheism: A whole bunch of absolutely nothing suddenly exploded and rearranged its former nothingness into everything by beating the absurdly mountainous odds against it and transformed into self-replicating molecules that suddenly became stuff. And nobody else had anything to do with it whatsoever. Yep…totally random.

The funny thing is that everybody has a leap of faith about something. I believe that I will be safe and the other cars are going to stop when the light turns red. I believe that my locked door will deter burglars. Naïve, yes, but it’s real, it’s measurable, it’s trustworthy.

My doubt reinforces my faith. The more questions I ask, the more I find that while dogma might be utter crap, the idea of God(dess), the notion of magical and mental power, and the sacredness of nature makes sense. It makes more sense to me to believe in these things than to not, and it’s because of my doubt and constant questioning that my faith is constantly becoming even stronger.

Why are things done the way they are? Why do certain individuals not provide complete answers? How were things made? How come science leans on the statistical randomness of things? And, again, these questions go on and on and on. It’s easy to pick apart a particular faith, a set of beliefs and dogmas. It’s unbelievably easy to pick apart religion, because with religion comes things we must consider hard truths. If you’re a Wiccan, then you absolutely believe there are only two deities. Once you make a claim like that about something you cannot prove, you’re allowing the opportunity for others to pick it apart. When you legislate morality through religion – as is apparent in many of the world’s major religions – you’re setting yourself up for failure, because at the end of the day you cannot answer why something is wrong. Because, when a religion tells you what is right and what is wrong, the best answer you can respond to the question of ‘Why?’ is, “Because that’s what God(dess) said.” That’s not an answer.

However, at some point, there’s an acceptance of faith. It’s because of those ‘Why?’ questions that we either do or do not become believers, but I firmly believe that a healthy amount of doubt is required before we can commit to believing in anything.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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