If my grandson were to ask me if I believe in God, what answer should I give? My choices would be: yes, no, maybe, or I plead the Fifth (I refuse to answer on the grounds that if I tell you, it might be life-changing for both of us). He has not asked, and I have not asked him what he thinks. If he would simply ask me if there is a god, I could say I don’t know.
If my father had ever asked me if I believed in God, I would have said yes. Today, that would be a lie, but it would still be my answer. One does not have deep metaphysical discussions with an Archie Bunker type, especially an angry one. I try to choose my battles carefully. I would probably tell my mother the truth, well…maybe, but I don’t know if I would. More on her another time.
I cannot recall the last time anyone asked me if I believed in God. Most people seem to assume I do, and I did used to act as though I did. I only recall one time when someone asked me if I was atheist. It took me two days to answer. While I knew what I was, I felt the need to ponder my response. I had to decide if I wanted to admit it to anyone (especially to me). Prior to that, I had only implied it to one workmate, but I disguised my comments as dismissals of religion. The elephant in the room (belief in a god) wasn’t questioned. I think he assumed I did not believe because of what he said about his father, a long time Mormon convert who never saw the light, vis-à-vis my statements.
When atheists lie about it, it’s euphemistically referred to as being in the closet. It is not telling the truth, so it’s lying. Millions of people all around the world do it every day for good reasons. Most of those reasons are more defensive than deceptive, but often are not without regret and guilt.
This is not about truth and lies. It’s about role playing for your own good and the good of others. I think it’s better to be out of the closet because the cognitive dissonance (guilt) associated with trying to live a dishonest life is troubling and wearing. It feels better, but there is almost always some price to pay for that kind of honesty.
In a scene from the movie The Big Sick (a good, dramatic but light romantic comedy from 2017) where the main male character, Kumail, (finally) confronts his Pakistani parent’s religion, culture, and traditions; his father, a Muslim, asks him “Do you not believe in Allah?” To which Kumail answers, I don’t know what I believe. I have not prayed in years. I don’t know what I believe. I find that answer courageous, and I see his father’s response as controlled and reasonable. (I could not find a clip of the scene.)
Movie character or not (it’s based upon a true-life story), my thought was, not prayed in years and confused beliefs, He’s atheist. Just because he will not say it, that doesn’t mean it’s not the case, right?
Saying I don’t know has to do with knowledge. Agnosticism does also. It’s simply saying I don’t know or I’m uncertain. In a way, it’s pleading the 5th without saying what one believes. Either you believe something, or you don’t. Who knows? Nobody!
It’s also why I don’t know should be an acceptable answer. I like to say there are no gods, but I would not say I know there are no gods. Yet, the latter is what many people think I said. It is simply what I think or believe to be the case, based on the lack of evidence. Few would ask why I doubt any god’s existence. But they would challenge me to prove the negative.
There are times when I am asked questions, and I pause before I answer, often for so long that the questioner begins to lose patience with me. I always want to be sure I can give my best answer. Well, not exactly always.
Sometimes, if I have been sipping some of nature’s finer spirits, I will answer any question immediately, with confidence and authority. One could correctly say I am full of shit, but it’s alcohol. Sober, I am more likely to say I don’t know.
One other answer I like to use either sober (or perhaps while wondering what kind of THC that was) is: I don’t care. That is truly my favorite, although I find ways to dress it up at times.
2 thoughts on “I Don’t Know”
I don’t know, but I don’t believe it. Something just feels wrong when everybody’s doing it.
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When it feels so right.