More about God, atheism, and agnosticism
Over the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve experienced what might appear to be a subtle shift in the way I use language and talk to other people. I hope my earliest blogging will confirm this, but I view myself as having always wanted to let people have their own experiences — especially if others will grant me the same privilege. So, I have tried to phrase my statements in subjective or personal terms rather than universal, objective terms.
In other words, I’m more likely to say, “It seems to me that…” rather than just saying that something is the case.
In focusing on the subjectivity of experience, I have had an underlying assumption regarding their supposed objective referent: that in many cases, the referent may not exist as the person believes or feels it to.
Here’s an illustration. Whenever people talk about their experiences in believing in God, I’ve wanted to accept that they’ve had these experiences. How dare I deny their subjective experiences?
But when I was conceding that — yes, they probably did have such experiences — I would also raise up that I wasn’t convinced that their experience pointed to the external reality of God. In other words, their experiences may have happened, and I can see how that impacts them, their actions, their beliefs, etc., but that doesn’t mean that they are interpreting them correctly. The same is ultimately true for me or anyone, so the important this is to have an awareness of that possibility — the conclusion you draw has meaning not because it actually is the case, but because it is the conclusion you drew. It is yours more than an objective reality ever was or could be.
So, that’s where I’ve started. Or at least, that’s how I hope I started.
Over time, however, I’ve had — as I said before — a subtle shift in the way I talk about others’ experiences. I don’t know if it’s just to be polite linguistically or if it’s a larger shift.
To state it simply, the way I respond to people (especially believers) is more likely to grant certain implied existence claims about God.
I want to reiterate that this is about language. I’m just wondering if it implies anything further (and I imagine that some believers probably think it implies something further, which I’ll have to deal with at some time or another.)
I’ll illustrate in a before and after scenario.
Suppose someone is talking to me about their beliefs in God. They believe that God is x, y, and z, and that they’ve had a, b, and c experiences with God and that’s why they believe what they do.
Before, I’d likely respond in a way that granted that they probably experienced those things, and so it was understandable that they might view attribute that to a deity…but why not consider that other people could have different experiences or that those experiences a, b, and c might be interpreted differently?
But now, I find myself responding something like this:
“Well, you might know God, but I haven’t met him. God doesn’t talk to me. Or if he does, it’s not in any way I can recognize.”
See the difference? This language implicitly concedes that there is a god to know, a god to talk to someone.
Now, I think that I could just be saying this to be polite and not challenge their understanding of their own experiences. That doesn’t mean that I accept that their explanations are true (e.g,. that they really have experiences with some being that could be described as God), but it’s possible that I could.
An Alternate Viewpoint
I’ve been entertaining a variation on the above theme of a shift in language use that implies a shift in underlying beliefs. But it hinges upon the ambiguity of the expression, “I believe in God”. What does that phrase mean? Is it equivalent to the expression “I believe God exists”? What does that expression mean, either?
The variation on the above theme is based on a split in the two expressions. In other words, I concede in the way I talk (and maybe in the way I think…but as I get further in this section, hopefully I’ll clarify why this is difficult to tell) that I can believe that something worthwhile of being called “God” exists and that others may have meaningful experiences with him — but that nevertheless, he has not made any meaningful intrusions in my life so far as I can recognize.
In this case, I have to wonder…what would my answers to the questions, “Do I believe God exists?” and “Do I believe in God?” would be?
The latter seems a lot easier. I don’t know how to tease out what it means to believe “in” something — at least with respect to God — but I can answer, no. I still have no reason to believe in God. He’s not doing anything for me, so far as I can tell. I haven’t even met the guy/girl/force/energy/whatever.
But the former question…for me to talk about God in this new way, am I conceding a “yes” answer?
Now, for a different subject…
In a slightly related (but maybe completely unrelated matter), I think that the question of existence doesn’t even seem all that relevant to me. OK, assume God exists. What the hell does that mean or imply? Increasingly, I’m beginning to feel that I have no clue what that bare fact would or would not mean. I can somewhat readily concede that God exists if I don’t assume that would have any impact on how things are.
The problem is that many believers (and nonbelievers too, I guess) don’t operate like that. If God exists, therefore…morality! Therefore…meaning! There are all these assumptions on what the universe would look like with God or without God, and I can’t mesh those with the universe I experience on a day to day basis.
So, religions don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. They are perpetuating these entire story lines that don’t seem to follow from…anything. They don’t follow from the bare facts of the universe; they don’t even follow from God.