Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Is So Lonely About Doubt?

I have titled this blog, "The Lonely Man of Doubt." It is a play on the title of a book written by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik titled: "The Lonely Man of Faith." Both titles are true, though in opposite circumstances. A believer in a sea of atheists surely feels the loneliness that surrounds a claim in which he strongly believes. Conversely, I feel in my situation, except it is not a belief that I possess that is causing the loneliness, but a lack thereof in a strongly religious community.

I do not always feel a sense of loneliness. I have a lovely and loyal family, an embracing community, and other deep and meaningful relationships with friends. I can be, though choose not to be, surrounded by friends, or at the very least friendly acquaintances, all day and night. I am, by the look of it, the least bit alone.

Yet, because of my doubts and lack of faith, I am alone. I do not perceive the same world as the people around me. We read the same scriptures, yet where I see inconsistencies or immorality they see misunderstandings and God's will. We witness the same occurrences and they see miracle and I see nature or coincidence.

I will challenge a point in religion or faith to the believers and they seem calm and undisturbed by it. They shrug and say they don't care if they could prove it, or that they feel no desire to challenge their faith. To them God is so real, that his denial is an act of philosophical foolishness. Who has time to discuss the validity of a claim they know to be true? They are unfazed by my questions and are not provoked to search their inner soul for the truth. Though, they seem to indulge in it as delightful table talk, and to them, it is just that.

There are few places I can go to converse with people of like-mindedness. Most of the time, I retreat to the the writings of the great philosophers (both secular and religious) to find my solace. It is in their brilliance that I find an escape, not from the questions, but rather to people who also heard them.

I do not wish to give off the impression that I am not happy -- for I believe myself to be -- rather to convey the unfortunate lot of he who trudges against the current. He, who will not just lie on his back and let the river drag him along, but will stand against the raging waters and move in the opposite direction.

Yes, I am aware, and never falter from saying, that there exist, as well, religious people who in the face of mockery by non-believers still held their ground, so to speak, against the tide. They too, I'm sure, would agree that there is a great loneliness to be found in such a life. Hence: "The Lonely Man of Faith."

Where it is faith that is praised, the non-believers are viewed simply as they who do not want to believe and/or are searching and eventually will find the truth in faith. In the world of belief, it is the atheist who is the blind fool walking along the river banks.

This is the great loneliness I feel. The intellectual island upon which I stand. They cannot see my world, as I cannot see theirs. I still believe it better to be true to thyself, than to march in-step with the herd. It is for this reason that even if I could somehow find a way to eradicate my doubts and become a believer again, I would not; unless it became apparent to me that it was, in fact, in truth that I had once believed.

And when, in the times of great loneliness, I wonder if I should just "switch off my mind" -- though I am not sure that is at all possible -- I am comforted by the words of the hero in George Orwell's 1984: "Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad."  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Dangers of Religious Thinking

There is a grave danger to be found in religious thinking. When one views the world through the context of a particular religion he will eventually have to cast reason aside in the name of a higher truth.

We are seeing it play out before us in our days. The homosexual community is fighting for equal marriage rights and their most staunch opposition is coming from the religious who must -- if they wish to hold dear their scriptures -- declare that homosexuality is wrong and must therefore not be allowed.

To try and reason with them would not help. It is not reason that they answer to, but God. This would be something quite noble, if they knew, in fact, it was God instructing them and not ancient man. I used to be embarrassed when my secular friends would challenge me on homosexuality. I would have to shrug and admit that God didn't explain why it was wrong, he simply said it was, and therefore, I must.

Knowing in your heart that something is true without having fact to back it up, should make one deeply suspicious of his beliefs. I am always astonished that religious people are comfortable saying they don't care whether their faith is in fact true (though they no doubt think it to be), because it offers them a structure for life that they enjoy. Perhaps it is just who I am, but I am not going to suspend my reason simply because it feels good! I am not going to condemn someone as immoral if I can't present a logical argument to prove that claim.

I know there are many religious people who do not judge others and would not say their beliefs should be used as objective truth. Rather they live quiet lives, worshiping their God and living by his word. With such people, I have no complaints, and as you will see further, I think this is the only way to be religious today.

The danger inherit in this type of closed religious thinking is clear: When someone will suspend his reason in the name of an unproven religious commandment, what's to stop him from performing the greatest cruelties in the name of religion? The extreme factions of Islam are certainly our most recent example of the dangers in such thinking. I need not bring other examples here, for you only need to read the Old Testament to see that many children of Caananites and Amalekites were killed in the name of Divine command.

I am not saying that we need to abandon all religious thought. To say that the system which brings happiness and meaning to the lives of millions of people needs to be eradicated, I am not so bold. I cannot, without overwhelming proof, say such a thing.

What I am purposing is a certain humility that needs to come coupled with religious belief today. An understanding that since no god has stepped forward on a global sense and the arguments for a particular religion are, at best, a metaphysical hypothesis, means that religion is an individual decision and not to be pushed on others. When faced with a logical argument combating faith, the believer must step away. Religion cannot impose itself on anyone, and religious practitioners should know they are acting out of an inner feeling and therefore should not try to force others to feel the same way.

I am afraid of religious thinking. Afraid that many people are against certain groups simply because they have a feeling that a certain faith is the correct one; and that reason and logic are secondary to what one may feel in their heart is true.

This is not true of most atheists. Since he has no doctrines he must believe are true, when he finds out that the world is in fact round and not flat, he has no problem (or should have no problem, provided his pride isn't entangled it) correcting his world view to fit the facts.

We live all of our lives, or at the very least strive to make all our decisions based on logic. We pride ourselves, and rightfully so, when we best a man using a reasonable argument. Yet, when it comes to our religious beliefs, we hold tightly to them even in the face of reason.

I feel that where an atheist looks for supporting evidence to prove a claim is correct; the theist knowing the claim is correct tries to find evidence to support it.

Which system should we trust?

Of course, those who believe, believe. They therefore, would read what I have wrote and say: "I am not acting against reason, I am listening to my God; that may be the most reasonable thing to do!" The challenge I have for such a person is: Do you know that you are listening to God, or do you feel you are listening to God? Why have you accepted the claim of your religious leader? Do you always trust people without demanding facts? Are you not at all suspicious that just as there are many religious which claim to be true, and you would posit they are not, that yours, as well, may not be true? Why should you abandon reason for faith? And finally, and perhaps most importantly, what will stop you from causing harm to others, if your faith commands you to?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Value of the Mind and Society's Decline

Where has the glory of the world gone? The earth may orbit the sun the way it always has, but society seems to be spiraling downward. Spiraling into an abyss of consumerism and worship of the self. We live an age where physical appearance is all that matters. Young adults are preoccupied by the latest pop star and their unstable relationships, or drug abuse. The young disrespect the old, for what worth is their wisdom in a society which worships the body?

In a discussion yesterday, someone posited that it was in fact atheism that is leading society down into these shallow waters. I have heard the argument of athesim against religion and vise versa many times, each blaming the other for the current society.

I do not know the answer. I have heard very good arguments on both sides of the debate. In fact, I think both of them are wrong. It is clear that both atheism and religion have had repercussions on society and each has to answer for his own. Yet, I am not convinced that either can take the sole blame for the state of the present society.

I think a far greater evil is at play here. One that needs to be rectified on both sides of belief. The epidemic of thoughtlessness. Less and less people are taking an interest in philosophy. Less and less people today really contemplate the essence of life. When I tell people I want to study philosophy in university, the overwhelming response is: "What are you going to do with that?" I understand their concern. How is someone with a degree in philosophy going to make the big bucks? They are right; I probably won't. Today we want acquire more and more things, we want all the physical world has to offer and we could not care less of the acquisition of wisdom.

In Judaism, to it's credit, the mind is still very valued. From the time I was a young lad I was hearing stories of this wise man or that. They were praised for their wisdom and the hours they spent studying. Knowing scriptures by heart and reciting them is the hobby of many young Jewish children. Understanding the works of the many wise men of past and present, is what many Jewish young adults focus hours of their time on. Older Jewish men and women will continue to review all that they've learned with the hopes of seeing it from a new angle. I once saw it written that the Hebrew word for a scholar of the Bible is: talmud chacham. Which literally means "wise student." In Judaism no matter you're age or wisdom, you are always a student eager to learn. I would imagine one would find similar values in the other religions.

There are also an amazing amount of atheists whom I have known or had the pleasure of reading that stand for me as clear evidence that many atheists spend hours contemplating existence and what it means that there is no God. Throughout history many atheists have posited new ways for morality outside the bounds of religion. Within the company of these men and women one may find himself in shock by the value put on wisdom and reason. It is not the brute with big muscles that is valued by these thinkers, but the one who has perfected his art of reason and is knowledgeable in the field of discussion. I need not make a defense for these men and women for they are known by most. Their legacy and teachings have inspired centuries of thoughtful men and women. There are many amongst us today -- though most not famous or rich -- who continue to inspire the minds of young men and women across the globe.

My point is to show that I do not believe religion or atheism is to blame in any way for the decline of society, except that maybe they are failing to inspire their followers to value the mind over the body. We need to reestablish the pursuit of wisdom as a duty of all humans. For when man begins thinking, society will have a better chance of not sinking.

We need all men and women and even children to reopen the books of the past, read them, be inspired by them, and create a society of thinkers. The mind is all that separates humans from the beasts. What future can a society of thoughtless beasts truly have?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Taking the Red Pill

"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth -- nothing more." -- Matrix (1999)

If I could return to the days before my doubts, would I? Would I "take the blue pill," wake up again a   passionate believer as if nothing had ever happened? I know many people who would. I know even more people who are too afraid to venture this far off the coast of their convictions, thus the question is irrelevant to them. 

I must declare that, no, I would not want to return. I would rather die an honest person, than a happy person. I would rather a life steeped in insurmountable doubts, than a life lived blindly. 

My soul is in torment, my heart in pain. I seek and seek for the illusive truth -- the meaning of life. Truth, the very word is queer to me now. What it is, I do not know. Whether I will ever know what it is I cannot say. And so, on and on I stumble down a path beaten with the footprints of heavy-headed philosophers. I read their writings: their findings, their doubts -- their misery.  The way is dark and gloomy, and I would have it no other way. 

I do not criticize, nor look down upon someone who lives within his beliefs and does not challenge them. That is a choice, a good choice. A choice that will lead him to live a life of happiness and meaning without having to work very hard for it. I respect his life decision, it is just not mine. 

[Of course, I am not saying anyone with a belief in God or religion, or anything else, should be considered as to have not challenged their beliefs. A statement of such arrogance I -- someone who has amassed little to no wisdom -- could scarcely make in good conscience. There are people far greater than I who have found what they call truth, and I am sure they came to it through careful critical analysis. I would just demand they could prove it to me before I would accept it.]

I do not take credit for my decision, it is who I am. I was raised to think outside of what was comfortable. To question relentlessly. I was taught not to settle, and to take my questions with me where ever I go. This, among other unknowable factors, created in me the need to pursue knowledge, the desire to find truth at any cost. 

So here I am. A ship lost in the sea of doubt. Seeking to know the seemingly unknowable. Grasping the wise men's books hoping to find some direction. My questions on God, religion, the nature of good and evil, the meaning of existence, will not be satisfied with the common answers flung from mouth to mouth. I know most, if not all of these questions, are unknowable and therefore, by inquiring into their nature I am inscribing myself to a life of intellectual suffering; and I would have it no other way. 

I will journey forward. I will become wise. And on the day of my death I hope that I am proud of who I am, proud that I took the red pill.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fear of God-lessness

The more I think about it, the more it plagues my every thought, the more I know: I am terrified to live in a godless world.

I know there are no proofs, no 2+2=God. God is the most difficult, if not impossible, mystery to solve; and is perhaps the most important one. It is no wonder man has created schools of faith from the moment he was conscience of himself. I am no expert in the gods of the past, but the God of today is certainly an answer to the questions that every conscience has been relentlessly asking man to solve. "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" These are questions that every thoughtful person asks. Religion offers man the answers, the conscience is calmed, and life becomes infinitely better. God means purpose. God means life has meaning. God means that death is in no way the bitter end. God means we are free.

This is why religions have so successfully captured the hearts of humankind. It is why many rational people will believe in the most irrational claims. God is everything, or we are nothing.

I am stricken with fear to live in a godless world. I can only contemplate life without god for a few moments before I am overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness and uselessness. At such times, I can feel my hopes shattering like thin glass around me. I feel the passion that enlivens my heart oozing out of me. A dark melancholy envelops my thoughts, the world all but loses it's color, and my spirit is left beaten to the ground.

I know it is my own cowardice that I cannot face a godless world. I don't believe in God in the conventional way. I would not claim to know he exists. I am sure of nothing. God, to me, is a fleeting hope. He is my dream and fantasy. I know I have already written a counter to the rationale behind hope in God, yet I can admit now, that my hope is not rational. I need life to have purpose! To accept that I am just an evolved primate and that my conscience is a chemical reaction, and I am not truly free; why, I simply do not have the courage.

I am no fool, I know that there remains a strong possibility that as life rolls on, my hope that there really is purpose will fade into oblivion and I will have to face a world void of God. I only hope, that when the time comes, I am strong enough to do so.

Perhaps, my hope will never fade, and I will live a life of purpose and passion until my dying day. I will hold onto the belief that life is not a tragic accident from which one would want to escape, but a beautiful tapestry of some loving God above. Perhaps...

It is not rational -- there is no reason to believe there really is a God, or that he agrees with my perception of reality -- but it is essential... for now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The God Hope: A Lame Case for Morality

What rational have I for the "God Hope?"

That was the question I received from one of my friends just an hour or so ago. It has since left me spiraling out of control. 

When I first came up with the "God Hope" idea it sounded great. It was a way to live a moral life and have, what I felt, was a rational reason for it. Even if I don't believe in God, the hope of God was a good enough reason to behave in a moral fashion. 

[Morality, as I am defining it here is: The ability to do what is right even if it means sacrificing personal pleasure. Of course, I realize that in order for there to be a "right" or "wrong" in an ultimate sense there almost needs to be a god of some kind or another...]   

To be clear, I want to live a moral life. I get pleasure from it. For whatever reason I have always seen a moral life to be an ideal. I say "for whatever reason" though I strongly suspect it is a result of both my religion and the culture that surrounded my upbringing. 

So, if I were to claim that I lived my life according to reason and at the same time wanted to live a moral life, I would need a way to reconcile living morally and living rationally. Hence: the "God Hope." The hope that all of life has purpose and my goal to make the world a better place was not for naught. 

In truth, I have discovered it is but a rationalization for an inner need to be moral, without much rationale in it. On what basis have I placed this hope? Why should I believe God does exist, or even if he does, that he also views morality as a great ideal? Perhaps he has a different set of morals? Perhaps he despises morality? Though the "God Hope" allows me to live a moral life, is it not the same "leap of faith" the religious people make? Can I really say that I live a life of reason basing so much of it on an irrational hope?

The flaw in the "God Hope" simply is: Morality -- as an ultimate -- is only an ideal if there is purpose (God) to life. I believe morality is the greatest ideal. Therefore, I hope there is a God. 

The flaw is so glaring I am embarrassed I hadn't seen until now!

Reason in a godless world could only lead us to an amoral society. Would there ever be a reason to help someone in need, if by doing so I would be causing pain to myself? Is there any logic behind sacrificing one's life no matter the cause? Is there a case to be made for it's value outside of religious belief / God hope? If so, how strong is it? It seems to me that moral societies are better societies. Places one would want to live. The question remains:  Can I fool myself enough to sacrifice my own life for that better society? The society, because I sacrificed myself, I will no longer get to enjoy? Morality as an ultimate ideal is baffling without God, therefore: religion, therefore: God hope. What will be of logic. Is the only way to live a fulfilling life to fool oneself into belief in God / purpose? Or is there some logic for morality without the need to take refuge inside belief?

I know these are not new questions. I know that philosophy has been dealing with these questions for centuries. I am realizing now that the "God Hope" may have been an attempt to circumvent the centuries old predicament. A way to be a morally religious atheist. I now see it was but a lame attempt. 

I don't think I am a real atheist. Perhaps deep in the corners of my mind there linger fragments of faith that cry out from the depths. I may have thrown out religion as ultimate truth, but have I held onto God in someway or another? It would seem I have. 

I don't know how long I will hold onto God. I also do not know how I could go on in life without God.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Protest to Living Mindlessly

I sit up in bed. Whereas in the past I would be rushing to the morning prayer service, I now just sit. When I suspended some of my religious practices, I did so out of philosophical integrity. If I saw no reason to believe in Judaism as some ultimate truth, then to act out of guilt or fear would be inconsistent and inauthentic. I would arise and strengthen myself not to pray and feel a sense of, I'm tempted to say, religious fulfillment.

Yet, as life has become busier, and my mind hasn't the time to contemplate the "answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything," I find myself slipping into a state of secular mindedness. A superficial perception of reality. A reality in which life loses some, if not all, of it's wonder and grandeur.

To be secular (in the way I am defining it here) is to see life as a machine and not a mystery, to experience life as a happening and not a calling.

To be clear, I do not view the lives of the great movers and shakers of the centuries-passed as secular people. Though they may not have identified to a specific faith, they seemed to live their lives with a sense of purpose. They sought to better the world. Through their innovations, discoveries, and movements,  they changed and it many ways made the world we inherited a more pleasant place to be.

I realize as I write this that "secular" may not be the word I should use. Perhaps mindless is more appropriate? Either way, I fear a life, just lived. Indeed, some people are alive today, simply because they didn't die yesterday.

Religion, with all it's flaws, gives man a reason to get up in the morning, a duty to perform. And though, much of the time the practices become rote and almost meaningless, the practices and traditions themselves protest a life lived mindlessly. A religious man doesn't just eat, he recognizes that some do not have, and is thankful for his portion. He does not just wake up, but is aware that tomorrow he may not, and feels the preciousness of life.

Religion causes one to become reflective on life and introspective of self. Religion causes one to live mindfully.

However, I must say that though I see the gifts religion has given it's followers, I still find it outrageous to accept any religion as ultimate truth until it can be proven. Do not call it God's will unless you can back up that claim! I recognize that many faiths, Judaism included, have attempted to prove that their beliefs trump the others. And, where this makes for a delightful debate, for it to be of any worth one would have to prove that God communicated with man at all, which would lead to the necessary proving of God; a current impossibility. God, like Bertrand Russel's "celestial teapot," is an unfalsifiable claim, rendering it's discussion a disappointing dead-end. Therefore, one can conclude, no religion, by way of negating another religion, can prove itself, and any attempt to prove religion will result in inconclusive arguments for the existence of God. Without proof of God, how could you prove he spoke to man?

This then is my challenge to all faiths or religions who claim to know the word of God: The burden of proof is on you. You must bring sufficient proof that you are in fact a divinely inspired philosophy of life before any rational person should accept you as such. I think that it would be a great benefit of the world if we viewed our religions as philosophies of life. Suggestions to a wholesome and meaningful existence, while remaining only the work of humans and therefore imperfect. We could then present them, critically examine them, and either accept or abandon their teachings as we do everything else. Why believe dogma without evidence?

I do not to know if indeed the world void of religions claiming to be God's will would be a better world. Surely there have been philosophies that have claimed millions of human lives when in the hands of the wicked. Maybe the world needs to believe in religion for it to have it's effect?

On an individual level however, I see no reason to accept what any man claims if he cannot offer proof. This, it seems to me, is a rational way with which to approach all of life, a certain healthy skepticism.

To conclude, I fear greatly a life lived mindlessly. Since religion offers a structure for living everyday mindfully I can see it's value. However, I think the world, or at the very least the wise individual, should view them in the context of philosophies, and should examine their positive as well as negative aspects. Unless a religion can be proven to be actually some eternally binding Divine truth, which, as I have shown above, I believe to be a current impossibility, it is the most rational response then, to be skeptical of it's claims.