First, two quotations.
“There’s simply no polite way to tell people they’ve dedicated their lives to an illusion.” ~ Daniel Dennett
“Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere,” (not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand) ~ Baruch Spinoza
People talk about whether a god exists and what they do and do not believe. They may debate the efficacy of prayer or correctness of a religion or religious practice. It happens. Peaceful argument can be done. Probably no one will change their mind, but maybe some understanding will come from hearing another’s point of view. Ideally, if that outcome ended every such discussion, what a fine thing it would be (sans argumentum ad hominem).
Even experts in debating issues of a god or religion have their moments of anger (i.e., Chopra in this blog last week). It does not take me long to let someone know that I do not believe what they do. I wish they wouldn’t ask me why not. That is often when the trouble starts.
However, I am willing to ask why people believe as they do. Since most believers accepted what they were told as the truth, I understand that reasoning. But that is seldom the response we get. It is not like they saw a waterfall or read the gospel of John and suddenly believed. Belief in a god is taught. All religion is learned behavior.
I decided on my own that I do not believe any gods exist. To be fair, at this point, I’m not sure that I could believe. No one ever told me there is no god or convinced me or won the god/no god argument. There is no proof and never will be.
What are the chances that a believer had a real moment of enlightenment like Saint Paul? Has anyone decided some god must exist because they had an epiphany? Often enough, scripture is their reasoning, but I bet they were already believers, if they ever read scripture at all.
Ultimately, I am willing to discuss
I don’t have a burning desire to have that talk, but I will if asked. However, I am more in Dennett’s court than Spinoza’s. The odds are that I will manage to piss them off, rock their boat, or hurt their feelings (not my goal); and subsequently I will be informed of my still pending eternity of spiritual pain and suffering because Oden is pissed that I seriously doubt his ultimate reality.
But I kind of get it
Truthfully though, it’s more likely that an agnostic or atheist will try to help me understand, but none of them has ever threatened me with eternal damnation. In fact, the worst outcome in arguments with agnostics or atheists is usually that we disagree on just how the hair splits.
I think I understand why people believe in a god. It’s usually several reasons. In no case is it ever because they asked for and were given proof. I even understand why most people cherry pick religious beliefs and scripture. It is not only what they are taught and have read. Belief in a god and the practice of a religion reflects how they want life to be, how their life-long sacrifice of no unmarried sex and meatless pizza on Fridays is juxtaposed with when you’re dead, you are just that. Nevermore. Nothing more.
This youtube from “The Atheist Experience” is almost 30 minutes long. But watching any part of it makes the point and is a good example how hard it is to keep everyone calm, aware, and listening during the discussion. You may want to try a few minutes. Both sides have to work.