I debated ever since I started this blog, whether or not I would delve into the thick morass of religious belief. Almost everyone in my life has told me at one time or another that you cannot discuss religion, that it is dangerous, that it can break friendships, that it can be like a minefield. I thought that I’d simply write my occasional article about all of my other interests, including skepticism, but somehow avoid religion in those discussions. But, I also remember having great fun in late-night discussions in College with people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds. So, to hell with it. This may be the last time that I write about religion. But my beliefs are part of who I am, and I’m not ashamed of that.
I’ve asked people about what they believe, because I’ve always been curious. I think it’s a fine topic to discuss — I don’t attack, but I do question. Especially when I was in college, and while I probably was subconsciously forming my own beliefs, I was fascinated in the diversity of opinions that existed. There were things that I didn’t understand — words and concepts that kept coming up, and I was never quite satisfied with the explanations that I heard. Because of the diverse nature of my friends and acquaintances, I found that even when I was talking about the same things, it became obvious that there was no one consistent answer. Those questions included a very basic one “What do you think God is?”. People SAY that they believe in God. but if you ask two of them, especially, but not exclusively people of different religious foundations, how do you define the term “God”, you can get some very distinct, and sometimes difficult to understand answers. Sometimes those answers are not answers at all, because of their vagueness. It troubled me that some people had a difficult time putting it into words. How can you claim a belief and not even know what it is that you believe in? I’m not talking about doctrine here. I’m talking about what people actually believe.
Obviously, there’s the traditional Judaeo-Christian-Muslim belief that God is – by definition – the creator of the universe. The problem is that it creates more questions than it answers (it brings everything that we know to be true from direct observation and logic and science into question to the point of absurdity). But that’s not the only definition I’ve heard. I’ve had people tell me that while they aren’t sure that God created the universe, they do believe in a ‘Higher Power’. Higher Power is a term that has confused the hell out of me. It’s so vague that I once joked that “I don’t know if there’s a God. But I may have a neighbor is smarter than anyone I know, and is great with his hands — certainly he’s a higher power. I definitely believe my neighbor exists because I see him trimming his lawn. Maybe he’s God.”
Then there’s non-western Gods. When people around here talk about God, they often forget that the concept of God existed before any of the western religions. And there wasn’t just one God, so clearly the definition of God cannot include ‘the creator of the universe’. That certainly is one ATTRIBUTE of God that some people believe, but it CANNOT be the definition. Hell, some Gods actually DIED in the stories that you hear. One of my favorite stories from Norse mythology was of how Loki tricked Hodur into killing his own brother, Baldur, with a spear made out of mistletoe. Heck, the whole legend of Ragnarok says that all of the Gods are mortal. So there goes immortality as a requirement for Godhood.
Now, my point isn’t that belief in God is somehow ridiculous, no matter which God you believe in. My point is that there have been in the history of the world, numerous beliefs. And that is a problem to me. When someone asks me if I believe in God, what they are ACTUALLY asking me is not whether I believe in God, but if I believe in the same God as they do. And in the history of my hearing that question, the answer has always been “No”. There are things that I KNOW to be true, through my education in science and my experience as a human being that tell me that, for example, the concept of omniscience violates everything we know about quantum mechanics. If you believe in an Omniscient God, you have to throw everything you know about the Uncertainty Principle into the trash and start again from scratch. If you believe in an Omnipotent God, you have to pretty much trash ALL physical laws, everything from Newton to General Relativity to the conservation of matter and energy, and start from a belief in magic. Science, among other things, gives you the boundaries of what is and is not possible, and if there is even one entity that can violate all of those boundaries, then those are not boundaries at all. And as to the proposal that my neighbor is God, well I obviously was being facetious. But I’d still sooner believe in that than I would accept that all of science is for nought, because I know for a fact that science works, that it results in reproducible phenomenon that obey regular rules of behavior. Science gives us an orderly universe. Once you claim that all laws are violable, then there are no real laws. I simply cannot accept the kind of chaotic universe without rules that a Judaeo-Christian deity would require.
Does that mean that I am an atheist? For a very long time, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was. Sometimes I’d say I was agnostic, sometimes an atheist. I used to joke that “If it’s Thursday, then I’m an Atheist”. And then, I discovered a word that totally encompassed my struggle with the concept of belief. And that word is the title of this article: Ignostic. I had never heard that word before in my life. Ignosticism basically says that you cannot answer the question of belief until you have a definition of God that is unambiguous. And there is nothing more ambiguous, in my mind, when talking about UNIVERSAL truths, than a definition that varies based on what culture you are in.
When it comes to any particular God, my belief varies from Agnosticism to Atheism. But one day, I know that someone is going to come along and say that their neighbor is God. And he will introduce me to his neighbor. And I’ll ask him “How do you know he’s God’, and he’ll tell me. And I’ll probably say that that’s the dumbest definition of God I’ve ever heard. And then I’ll think… But that guy certainly does exist. And while it may not fit my definition of God (because I don’t have one, really), it certainly fits that guy’s definition. So yeah, I guess I can buy it on the principle that given a million impossible things, and one improbably thing, that I’m more willing to accept the improbable over the impossible.