I Admit I Don’t Know, That Proves Nothing

A former Roman Catholic Gets a Bit Cantankerous

This began as a response to Why Nobody Should Be an Atheist by Matthew Prince, that grew into much more than a simple comment. It specifically refers to this line,

We should be able to say “I don’t know” because in most cases, that is the truth. Science has not answered the most fundamental questions. Religion also has not.

I don’t have a beef with what he wrote per se. How could one not agree there is a lot yet to be answered? One needn’t be a scientist to understand and use the scientific method, scientific inquiry asks a lot of difficult questions and investigates and tests new possibilities to try and answer them. It should be relentless in that process, often forming more questions as one is answered. My beef is that proponents of religion tend to like to toss out the mystery of the unexplained as a way to ‘prove’ God exists. The 4th century church council that drafted the Nicene Creed cleverly addressed that by claiming God was responsible for both the visible and invisible but the absence of answers or the inability to visually observe does not prove anything let alone the presence of God. I’ll get into that below regarding a ghost pissing in our toilets at work. It annoys me to be told what I should and should not be or believe — between the lines of Prince’s title and piece is a statement that in and of itself, lack of proof serves as proof and atheists shouldn’t be so cocksure to call themselves such. Moreover, it comes across as a little controlling and reminds me of Catholic school and how, in an often indirect but oh so pervasive way, our teachers asked us to stop questioning; Faith was core to salvation and not to be queried. If we did question it, we demonstrated that we had no faith and those who had it were to be lauded, those without it disdained.

My persistent experience of religion is that querying the mysterious is problematic to the devout, they don’t like you asking too many questions. It’s remaniscent to me of the movie gangster trope where he tells a sleuth reporter to mind his business and stop asking so many questions or he might get hurt. Throughout history, if the looming threat of hell wasn’t enough to keep someone’s questions and doubts at bay, there has been plenty of nastiness and death heaped on those who persistently questioned faith because religion and political power were often tightly enmeshed within each others influence.

Saying ‘I don’t know,’ is precisely what led me to leave my church and to stop identifying with a religion, it is what led me to ultimately question the nature and eventually, the very existence of God — at least the version I was so assuredly told was real. Yes, we should be able to say “I don’t know” because it is indeed often the truth that we do not. Frankly, that is a rather obvious given with mortal and limited beings such as ourselves and it is why the scientific method has been set up — to remove bias, curtail taking assumptions as truth, to learn from error and reduce the chance of arriving at faulty conclusions that haven’t been tested. I don’t know a lot of things, that’s human but recognizing and admitting that takes courage and I daresay a bit of humility. It is also more than fair to say that many scientific advancements, many technological wonders happened because someone had the humble ability to say ‘I don’t know’ — but they didn’t stop at that. After ‘I dont know’ they said something along the lines of ‘but I want to find out.’ They were not content to say,

‘I don’t know and I’m fine to just sit with that. I am happy to go along with what I am told by others with no evidence or other possibilities presented or made available to me to read up on or investigate for myself.’

Not knowing is generally what spurns a driving curiosity, envisioning new possibilities, coming up with new hypotheses and testing them to see if maybe you’re on to something. Gosh, how do you think the wheel got invented? The Toaster? The paper, ink and machinery on which the Bible is printed?

Galileo Galilei had a hell of a time with the authority in his day — The Church. Fortunately for us, not so much for him, he had an attitude of ‘I don’t know but I wonder.’ The leadership of The Church instead advised him, ‘OH NO, WE KNOW, you don’t, now shut up or we will shut you up for you.’ And they proceded to do just that. Turns out they were dead wrong on that one.

And of course, all one need do is investigate the name Henry Goddard to see how far off the rails bad science can go — especially when used to give ‘proof’ to ones racial and classist biases. The example of egenics is a clear result of drawing conclusions through poor research and implicit and confirmation biases. Goddard’s research was garbage because rather than exhaustively testing his hypotheses, he instead looked for and found what he wanted to find as did those who glommed on to his ‘theories.’ Like arguments for a flat earth, it is pseudoscience i.e., fake science.

As a Roman Catholic, I used to laugh at the origin stories and tenets of Mormonism, we called it a fake religion…and then I really thought of the stuff we believed. We know that Joseph smith was a con artist but why are his stories of appearances from the angel Moroni any different from stories of statues weeping or dead Saints and the Virgin Mary appearing in order to give people directives? One needs healthy skepticism in all things fantastic — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Now, I am remiss if I fail to add here that the Roman Catholic church has had a long and varied relationship to science — you can easily research that via the internet. Indeed, they founded hospitals and universities, there were many clergy, including Nicolaus Copernicus and Gregor Mendel, who made groundbreaking scientific discoveries. That shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that before the modern era, clergy and those in leadership were usually the only ones who could read or who had the wherewithal to attend a university. I know that many scientists are believers and many believers, scientists — I have no issue with that and I make no unkind judgement there. It might be argued that by remaining open, I am an agnostic or a believer of sorts myself. I don’t believe that scientific inquiry and faith need be mutually exclusive. And, I should also come clean that I am an artist, not a career scientist what the practice of art has given me though is a desire to really think about various ways of seeing and being able to shift perspective. So I don’t have difficulty with scientists who believe in God. Indeed people’s faith in God and the Church is, among many other things, responsible for a history of fantastic art and, whether I agree with it all or not, philosophical thought.

And although I look at this primarily through the lens of my Christian and Roman Catholic history, let’s also give some credit to Islam. In addition to their own internally developed contributions, muslims were key in preserving the classical greek writings that would eventually resurface in Europe and lead to the European Renaissance, the burst of inquiry that ultimately let to the Enlightenment, humanism, the industrial revolution and so on. Autor George Saliba, wrote on Islam’s influence on the Renaissance arguing that,

…contrary to the generally accepted view, the foundations of Islamic scientific thought were laid well before Greek sources were formally translated into Arabic in the ninth century. Drawing on an account by the tenth-century intellectual historian Ibn al-Naidm that is ignored by most modern scholars, Saliba suggests that early translations from mainly Persian and Greek sources outlining elementary scientific ideas for the use of government departments were the impetus for the development of the Islamic scientific tradition. He argues further that there was an organic relationship between the Islamic scientific thought that developed in the later centuries and the science that came into being in Europe during the Renaissance.

So indeed, the great social organization that arose around the great religions has been responsible for a lot of scientific and technological understanding. The difficulty I have though, is with the recurring tendency of many throughout the ages and today who use versions of faith to try and shut down inquiry or opposing ideas that might counter the stories presented in religious texts. They further oppose alternative ways of living one’s life that are denigrated in those texts. The fact remains that organised and politicised Christianity has been all too responsible for oppressing free thought and causing their fair share of conflict and human rights abuses. The church has often been an astutely strategic and careful patron of science so long as it serves them in promoting their mission of faith and the idea of God as the creator of Heaven and Earth through which “all things both seen and unseen are made.”

From my perspective drawn from my observation, religions tend to present ideas about why things are and then leave it at that — For example, the rainbow given as a promise from Yahweh to never again destroy the earth by flood. Surely, if it rained or misted before the great flood, there were water particles in the air that refracted the sunlight. Lines from the second chapter of genesis read:

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. — Genesis 2:5–6

Myths are often interesting stories offering hypothetical explanations for where things come from. I remember in high school, we were taught by our religion teachers that a myth was simply a story that expressed some core but often invisible truth of our experience and existence. Taking that farther, this book titled Classical Mythology gives an example that expands on that approach to myth and truth:

The most common association of the words “myth” and “mythical” is with what is incredible and fantastic. How often do we hear the expression, “It’s a myth,” uttered in derogatory contrast with such laudable concepts as reality and the facts? As opposed to the discoveries of science, whose truths continually change, myth, like art is eternal. Myth in a sense is the highest reality, and the thoughtless dismissal of myth as fiction or a lie is the most barren and misleading definition of all. Myth serves to interpret the whole of human experience and that interpretation can be true or fictitious, valuable or insubstantial, quite apart from its historical veracity. [emphasis my own]

Nevertheless, as they gain power and influence, religions will often take these stories and present them as literal fact. Examples of this are:

  • The earth was created in 6 days and God rested on the 7th.
  • People speak different languages because they ignored God’s promise to never again destroy the world by flood and built the Tower of Babble so he made them unable to communicate with each other so we couldn’t build a tower to heaven. Kind of funny considering we are now in outer space.
  • Women suffer in giving birth because they ate the forbidden fruit first and then brought it to the man and tempted him to eat it.

Because religious authorities come to a point where they ‘know,’ these stories might become canon and treated as absolute fact as in the Genesis creation myth. As a point of comparison, let’s consider the following mythological origin stories:

  • Clear lake in Northern California is believed to be the oldest lake in North America. The Native Pomo say part of it was formed when Lupiyoma, the daughter of the Giant Konocti, opposed her Marriage to Kah-bel, another Giant who lived to the north. The two giants fought and died. The body of Konokti became the Volcano to the south that bears his name and Kah-bel’s bloody body became the red-soiled hills to the north. Heartbroken, Lupiyoma flung herself into the lake and her tears still spring forth from Soda Bay to this day. There is a thermal vent beneath the lake that emits gasses that bubble up to the surface.
  • Crater Lake, in Oregon, was said to have been the result of an epic battle between two volcano spirit chiefs. The story does relate the core truth that there was a massive volcanic eruption that led to the collapse of the mountain that was once there. Native people would have been in the locale to witness that event and the story, handed through the generations, is their interpretation and explanation of the forces of nature they experienced at that event.
  • According to the Kabbalah, the bumps on our spines (spinous processes) are from where Yahweh split the first human, Adam Ha Rishon, who was like a male and female siamese twin cojoined along the spine and made in the image of God. That split (The Fall) resulted in Adam and Eve as a separate man and woman. Lovely story, has some interesting truth about people embeded in it, it also suggests that God has both masculine and feminine principles but again it’s only a story.
  • A creation story, widely held across the once vast Celtic world begins: “Once upon a time, there was no time and that was when there also was no gods and no man walked the surface of the land. But there was the sea, and where the sea met the land, a mare was born, white and made of sea-foam. And her name was Eiocha.” The Celts further believed “Sea-foam, [is] the Placenta from the Birth of the Universe.” Eiocha ate the bark from an oak tree and birthed the gods who in turn “lonely for they had none to command or worship them. They took wood from the oak tree and fashioned the first man and the first woman. Cernunnos also made other animals from the oak tree — the deer and the hound, the boar and the raven, the hare and the snake. He was god of the animals, and he commanded the oak tree to spread and grow into vast forests to serve as a home for his children. Nice story, I’ve not looked at sea foam or oaks the same since reading it.
  • The Quinault, a group of Native American peoples from western Washington tell the story of Glue-Keek, a C’iatqo (aka Sasquatch). “According to the legend, warriors from various tribes gathered and vowed to kill the monster. They dug a hole, tricked Glue-Keek into falling into it and burned him. As Glue-Kleek perished, he swore he would return to drink the villager’s blood. As his ashes ascended into the air, they transformed into mosquitos.” ALWAYS leave Sasquatch alone, we could have done without the mosquitos.
  • The ancient Greeks described the creation of the hyacinth coming about because Apollo, mourning the death of his lover Hyacinthos, caused the flower to grow from the ground that had been soaked by the blood of Hyacinthos’ mortal head wound. A sweetly tragic love story relating the cold callousness of fate — so Greek.

All of these are explanations born of not knowing and positing clever, engaging stories to explain how various things came to be but they stop short of providing proof and ask that members of the culturees thay produced them have some degree of faith in them. If you have no other answers or ways to look for evidence, you are likely going to hold these tales up as truth when told by an authority such as a shaman or priest; red soil is colored by the blood of a dead giant, women experience labor pain because of Eve’s duplicity. Through our modern lens, while the myths might carry aspects of human experience that function apart from historical veracity. We now have the experience and knowledge to understand those nuances. Because of inquiry and scientific process, we also comprehend many of the natural reasons, the whys of how a lot of things came to be as they are. Can you today imagine taking the stories I bulleted above as literal fact and codifying them as some kind of canonical truth? As an example, we know through DNA and fossil evidence that burning Bigfoot in a pit didn’t create mosquitos — insects and mosquitos predated mammals. I imagine that story might also have provided a reason behind why mosquitos seem to avoid smoke. What the story does contain are lessons about human relationships to the environment and their drive to survive within the awesome power of nature.

In the western culture in which I live, I shock and upset some people when I refer to the Judeo-Christian creation myth. To them, Genesis presents a true creation story rather than a legend or an allegorical hypothesis. If I suggest that 6 creation days might symbolize 6 billion years, they don’t want to hear it. From that perspective, there is no need to test, let alone question it — they ‘know.’

No, I have no proof as to the existence or nonexistence of divine and ‘supernatural’ beings and I thrive on that uncertainty because it makes me dig really deep and lean into the unknown and nebulous with profound wonder. Wonders like St. Elmo’s Fire, the glow that used to form around ship’s masts, the Aurora Borealis, sundogs and lunar auras are all proved natural and not supernatural phenomena as once believed. Time and again, ‘the supernatural’ is shown to have been things unexplainable with our forbearer’s limits of understanding their environment. So, while perceived as such, these things weren’t outside the bounds of nature, the bounds were around people’s understanding. If the divine exists, our ability to describe it is limited at best, utterly pedestrian, the blind leading the blind, at worst. So, it annoys me immensely when people come forward to tell me I need to believe in their version of God or that I shouldn’t have doubts or even not believe.

The universe, existence, being — whatever one may call it — might be held together by some sentient and intelligent governing entity, I don’t know, I am highly skeptical. Any image I conjur of such a being is bound to be limited or outright incorrect. I am open to the possibly of ‘God’ but I am quite certain it would be nothing like what organized religions mostly have to offer as their concept of God, namely, a cantankerous, vain, selfish, controlling old man in the sky with either a fairly cool only son or cadre of squabbling, dysfunctional children. I don’t believe in Thor, Dionysos or the mythologies surrounding them so why would I believe in Yahweh and Jewish myth? Am I an atheist? I dunno. I don’t like the term agnostic because it comes from the Greek agnōstos meaning “unknown, unknowable.” The ‘unknowable’ part of isn’t acceptable to me — We don’t know YET.

For fifteen years, I unequivocally wore the badge of atheist — but I din’t like the way an increasing number of people glommed onto the label as some kind of tribal identity and began posting from the social media rooftops spoiling for a fight — the arguing and name calling were exhausting to watch, not my scene man. I’d had enough proselytizing and pontificating already from religion and I sure as hell didn’t need it from people calling themselves ‘atheists.’ Of course, some will insist that there is none of that and that my present uncertainty over calling myself an atheist shows noncommittal cowardice — yeah, I’ve heard it all before, Q.E.D.

Rather, I believe it likely there is no God but again, I don’t know. Moreover, after having been in thrall to a religion, I loathe being pulled into groups, I am hyper-vigilant of ideology, and sure as heck skeptical. I don’t look at ‘atheist’ as an identity but looking for evidence rather than blithely skipping along on blind faith just makes a heck of a lot more sense to me. For me, is more along the lines of observing that the assertions of the faithful don’t stand up to scrutiny. Still, I would never presume to pronounce, as admittedly many self-pronounced atheists do, ‘nobody should be a believer,’ it’s none of my business so long as the believers stay out of mine — but they often seem constitutionally incapable of that and so here we are and I raise an eyebrow when someone asserts “nobody should be an atheist.”

As a younger person, I grew distrustful and tired of teachers and clergy who, unable to clearly address contradictions in their religious texts and what they taught, admonished me to “just have faith.” — It. Drove. Me. Batty. — and honestly, they looked like idiots saying it because it was clear they couldn’t answer the question and tried to hide it, shove my query to the side, and move on. Had they just been honest and said, “Gosh Antoni, got me there! I don’t know,” I’d have maintained respect for them, I might have grown up and stayed in the congregation because I could believe I wasn’t being sold a bill of goods, that they could own up to some of the stuff that made no sense and they allowed me to search and test my faith. Maybe if they had let me sit in my doubts and heard me, engaged me in discussion, admitted where the church had been or done wrong, I’d have been more inclined to listen to them — because I’d have respected them. Unfortunately, their idea of respect was, ‘I’m an adult. I am the authority. You do not argue with or challenge me.’

Had they not been giving lip service to the beatitudes and what Jesus said about loving one’s neighbor, hypocrisy, not judging, dealing with the plank in one’s own eye before trying to remove the spec from someone else’s…

Had they not opted for putting down Africans, Asians, Buddhists, Protestants, Mexicans, Muslims, liberals and every one represented by LGBTQ+ letters…

Had I not, as I tried other denominations, witnessed a lot of Protestants doing the same behaviors as many of the Catholics I knew, MAYBE I would have stayed on.

Often, I hear Christians apologise and say something to the effect of ‘ I am sorry that someone claiming to represent the faith did that but they do not represent the true faith.’ But they do because when they say faith, they have it inexorably tied to their particular denomination or church. The dishonesty and disingenuousness is woven through the fabric of it now and throughout its history. We used to act out skits of what to do if we sat next to a Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim or a Buddhist, an atheist, new ager or a pagan on a train. I thought the exercises pointless and stupid. Instructors wanted us to practice how would we convince them that ours was the one true faith? That God is real. How would we win them to Christ? The process only turned me off and I would imagine their shock when I’d grow up to become an Episcopalian or Presbyterian. But they all have a mission to win and convert you. I saw the hero worship of priests and ministers as if they were some sort of demigods, especially with this shining example who was later defrocked and imprisoned. These faiths seek to deny that and keep people from questioning and holding them accountable — questioning and accountability leads to ditching authority, learning, and thus membership attrition and loss of influence and their ability to spread their message. It is precisely why some of these denominations, like the Jeheova’s Witnesses, do not like their faithful to go to university. I was highly encouraged to attend a Catholic university but by then I dearly wanted away, I wanted to know what the rest of the world was doing. It still took years to undo the brainwashing and to stop feeling hung up, guilty and ashamed. The control, intolerance and judgement is woven into the whole cloth because that is what so much (not all) of what the Bible contains and it is how they keep you hooked in — ‘just have faith, remember you are a poor sinner, recite after me and remember — God loves you and we love you.’

How could my teachers talk of Christ’s love and behave with the disdain they had for others? The answer is because they believed they had the goods and anyone who didn’t believe as they did was lost, they were worthy of our pity.

I remember these Catholic teachers before our class, the sad zealous faces, proudly peacocking humility, boasting of tradition and claiming rationality and reason to ‘prove’ the validity of the church’s teachings and the existence of God. But they couldn’t treat my doubts or pointing out glaring inconsistencies, the lack of love as valuable and reasonable. Gosh, call me an infidel but that is simply not good enough and unfortunately, the attitude permeates organised Christianity. It is really too bad because some of the words of Christ from the Gospels and the basic tenets of Christianity are quite beautiful but like G. K. Chesterton famously quipped,

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.

After I left, I used to annoy Christians trying to win me back over, by saying I had become much more of a ‘Christian’ as an atheist than I ever was when I actually attended church and called myself a Christian. They’d usually screw up their faces, shake their heads and stutter a bit before insisting that made no bloody sense. To them, my heart was hardened and my ears and eyes shut because for rejecting abandoning God, he had abandoned me. There’s no arguing with these people. Atheism was a purgative for me, I needed to dive into it to undo the subconscious hold Catholicism had on me. In atheism, I found I had no one to blame but myself, that every action toward another human being had profound meaning and purpose because, as far as I knew, ‘the now’ was the only thing that was real or that meant anything and how I chose to behave was entirely up to me. From there, I reckoned I had better practice doing it to my best ability today without concern for tomorrow or some reward to come after the end of my life.

I just don’t require the fear of Old Man God to be accountable or a ‘good person,’ to be kind and generous of heart, to strive for humility or to feel love, compassion, joy and empathy for my fellow. I want to be of use in this life because I can see the shared commonalities in our humanity, our hopes, foibles and fears as we rattle together toward the bone yard. And if nothing else, cooperation within my group benefits me — that’s how most societies function, through social contract; follow the agreed laws and mores and you may function freely in society. Why do so many faithful think that if we don’t believe in God, we will all begin raping and killing each other, bringing children to orgies, doing drugs, sacrificing and eating our pets and offspring and spreading our evil until society collapses? I mean, REALLY! I’ve never done any of that but I do know of some leaders and members in the Catholic and other churches, other religious leaders of various sorts, who have done or come pretty close to some of that or worse. As we used to write at the tops of our paper, A. M. D. G. — Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, for the greater glory of God — obviously open to interpretation.

Of saying “I don’t know,” a toilet in the old building where I work flushes from time to time when no one is in the loo. Much more than once, I’ve been alone in the building and heard it flush. So, many of my coworkers insist it is a ghost. Sure, I suppose it could be a ghost but the more likely reason for the flushing is a malfunction in the electronic sensor. It is apparently a common problem because the internet is replete with electronic fixes for ‘ghosts’ flushing toilets. Nevertheless, my coworkers aren’t interested in these. As far as I am aware, and I’ve worked here 30 years, the old manual flush toilets never did this, it’s only since we installed the electronic toilets that the phantom began its lonely flushing. A couple of people think I am a fool of a doubting Thomas for not believing in the ghost when it is so obvious and charge in to try and see which toilet it is. I’ve a reputation for picnicking in the graveyard and going toward the unknown. I mean really — I can’t explain it or I JUST have a feeling, therefore it HAS to be supernatural — are they for real? Back when we couldn’t explain thunder and lightning, it was Thor’s hammer and the earth was most assuredly flat…oh wait…flat-earthers still think that.

What are some possibilities why the toilet flushes itself now? Maybe the ghost wasn’t strong enough to tilt the old mechanical levers, or maybe said ghost has always passed by the toilet but there weren’t motion sensors there before. But I just cannot buy the ghost hypothesis and leap to it being fact until I’ve exhaustively ruled out more reasonable explanations… or seen the ghost do it… or if the Blessed Virgin appeared and told me it was indeed a ghost. Still, others in the office refuse to be in the space alone because they are convinced it’s a ghost. They’ve even somehow managed to suss out that it is the spirit of the man who originally owned the building. “Did he tell you that?” I ask. No, they just know. I find it curious that they appear to lack any real curiosity to rationally solve the issue by, mmmm… oh, I dunno… maybe calling the maintenance supervisor? They are wholly invested in the dramatic romanticism of there being a disembodied spirit taking a piss. They roll their eyes at my frankly very rational suggestion that it’s a real-life 3rd dimension, physical malfunction of the sensor. Oh ye of little faith! Nobody should be calling herself an ‘Aphantomist’!

In the same building, the thick stone walls and distances to the relay boxes meant we had to get creative about our electrical system; it’s wonky. Lights used to turn themselves on and off, lift doors open on their own. people insisted it was a ghost playing with the lights until an electrician bypassed the power line carriers that transmitted radio signals to the main relay and the ‘phenomenon’ stopped. Maybe the electrician was an exorcist on the side and the carrier was possessed? In the same building, a motion detector in an old stone cellar was triggering the alarm in the middle of the night — this went on for a couple of weeks and again it was, ‘Oh dear, this place is sooooo haunted, we won’t go in there alone!’ Tired of being awakened at 3 am by the security dispatcher phoning, I asked the alarm company to send a technician to investigate. Turns out a large spider had spun its web across the front of the sensor. The ghost’s pet spider was removed and the nightly alarms ceased. Despite all of this, people do not want to stop believing a ghost is really behind all these electronic malfunctions. Sure, it’s possible that it could be a ghost but unlikely and all evidence seems to be leaning in the direction of electronic failures.

As I’ve already suggested, I am open to the existence of an unmoved mover, God or a god(s), ghosts, ‘Q’ — NO! The character from Star Trek— and indeed many other curious mysteries that might or might not give me goosebumps. I am very curious about the remote possibility a flesh and blood relic hominid we call Bigfoot may actually be roaming the woods of North America. Again, all pretty unlikely but also not necessarily impossible — the bloodsucking mosquitos are real enough. I love legend and myth but who doesn’t love to be entertained and mystified by a good story whether true or not? Likewise, there are certain pearls of wisdom found in some religious writings and teachings; Rumi, yogic, Vedic, the Christian Gospels (even the apocryphal and heretical ones) and many Buddhist teachings are sublimely beautiful and helpful in improving my outlook on life. Nevertheless, I do not believe that any religion has provided THE answer — some answers, sure, I see it as perennial wisdom born out of millennia of our collective human experience. Someone who came before us had the same problems we now have and came up with a solution. Some of those solutions stuck, some were replaced by better ones. According the British statistician George E. P. Box, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Thats my take on various spiritual principles, like forgiveness and learning to avoid worry by living in the present, for example — solutions to basic and core human problems. In that regard, spiritual practice has come up with some answers and in many cases, scientific study has also managed to explain the physical and biochemical reasons why they work. And no, science still hasn’t answered the “most fundamental questions” like figuring out precisely where and how consciousness arises but again, that doesn’t therefore prove the existence of a soul or spirit distinct from our physicality as our essence. To me, refering to a soul is tantamount to saying “I don’t know.” Humans couldn’t understand how consciousness existed, how we saw this idea of ‘I’ as distinct from ‘you.’ What was this ability we all seemed to have as individual personalities to sense the environment and interact with it, to converse, to learn and know? Because none of that was tangible to them, they came up with the abstract idea of a spirit that was somewhere within them doing the sensing and knowing.

Anytime someone is proclaiming some absolute or ‘truth,’ hollering about the irrefutable existence of God — because, you know, nature and the complexity of the human eye — and trying to win me over or convert me, they’ve got a long uphill battle. If I give you my time, you’d better have the goods and plenty of engaging evidence to back up what you’re telling me or I’m going to loose interest fast. Why should I be expected to waste my time because you have faith and confuse it for knowing? So, far better than that, don’t try and convince me. Don’t try and convert me. Just be a mensch, be a friend, let me believe or not believe as I choose, ask curious questions and I will do the same. Maybe I’ll see something in you I admire and want to emulate it — just don’t try and sell to me, I don’t like salespeople, I used to be one.

What I’ve often observed (not always, often), especially in Christianity because I was brought up in it, is some version of ‘Well, we can’t explain it so it must therefore be God — there’s your proof, just have faith, it’s easier than going bonkers with frustration trying to explain the unexplainable.’ Hmmm, easier to throw your arms up in the air and loose interest in inquiry or lean into doubt because it’s frustrating? That just seems lazy to me. And indeed, there can sometimes be a lot of arrogance and hubris in how much we think we understand —as I’ve discussed, it is present in the faithful but it also goes for some scientists too — I mean, we invented the atomic bomb and are beaming radio signals into outer space in hopes of discovering intelligent life… which we hope maybe won’t track back to where we are and come here to eat or obliterate us. But with these more ego-obsessed sorts, you just look at the evidence and dig around a bit if you are unsure of what they are suggesting. They’re just talking and sharing ideas, they don’t want you to join their group, fund their mission and win others over to their side so they can get in the gates of scientist heaven — UNLESS they practice pseudoscience like our eugenics friend. Those who truly use and respect scientific method are quite humbly honest about what they do and do not know.

We’ve not even sent human beings beyond the moon and the universe is vast, of course there is a lot science cannot yet explain but it doesn’t mean the scientific method doesn’t work or that we can’t or won’t figure the unknown out someday. It is undeniable that that method has propelled us forward exponentially in terms of our understanding and technological development. Certain theories are revised, improved or maybe even thrown out. As we’ve seen with some of Newton’s and Einstein’s calculations, even accepted theories and laws, while the principle remains accurate, are revised and honed with quantitative corrections as we learn more — but when something is revised or cannot yet be explained, that doesn’t automatically mean ‘God.’ If the toilet sensor is overhauled and the toilet still randomly flushes on its own, it doesn’t prove it’s a ghost doing it.

The teachers telling me to “Just have faith” said it with a tone of exasperation because they knew they’d been routed by the simple, honest, probing curiosity and wonder of a child. I wasn’t smarter than them, I was just honest. Before all that is scrubbed out of them, children have excellent BS metres, they ask why a lot.

Maybe God really exists but I’ve a major issue with how mysterious it is to know her, or him…or them. I don’t trust or like the control and rules the religious so often want to impose and police — and it’s not just for their own members, they want to extend it to those who don’t hold their beliefs. Why are religious people so twisted up inside over others who don’t believe as they do? Well, I know the partial answer to that, some of it is their notion of love — i.e. worry, concern and fear that if a soul is lost, it may just be their responsibility for which they may be held to account — I remember this stuff from when I was still in the club. But C’mon! If you have the goods, come Judgement Day you may rest assured you are going to be sitting pretty pitying my stupidity and hubris…but a lot of you already do that. Just please hold what you hold dear. Believe in, and worship God — I mean that, good for you. I accept that you believe but please do not tell me “nobody should be an atheist.” I truly am joyous and blessed in my life, I am grateful and filled with love and regard for others, leave me alone and I will give you the same courtesy and respect.

Harkening back to my teachers telling me to “just have faith,” the problem I have with the byzantine meanderings of the teachings and interpretation of texts is that in the process, they slowly worked to shut down curiosity and a desire to probe and learn about some really deep questions that deserved honest answers even if those answers were, “I don’t know.” It is so in opposition to our human nature and Christianity because they touted free will as a core tenet of the faith. After all, San Ignacio wrote, “to the choice of our free will.” But if you don’t, cannot or will not share the truth and honest admissions of uncertainty and what you don’t know, it limits the decisions those you lead or instruct can make; without being fully informed we are forced to make decisions out of ignorance. How is that about free will or an act of love for the congregation you lead?

We were told repeatedly that God gave us free will and the ability to question so that we could freely find and choose him. Ignacio de Loyola also wrote that we should pursue that which we are “allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it” — notice how he dropped in the suggestion that sometimes we don’t have free will because we are “prohibited to it” — He’s touching on those things that prevent us from praising, revering, and serving God which he calls the very reason for our creation so that we might return to Him— doing God’s will gets us through the gates of heaven. What I experienced in Roman Catholicism though as well as the other denominations I ultimately tried, were cultures that spoke of wonder and free will but ultimately used fear of damnation and belittling to persuade me to “just have faith.” Instead of an attitude of, ‘just have faith, you importunate little cuss!’ how much more productive would it have been if they had said, ‘gosh, that’s a valid query and to be frank, I just don’t have a good answer for you, but how clever to ask that.’ Kids, and indeed most people, respect and trust honesty but if you are inconsistent and obfuscate, children almost always know. Just having faith may be enough for some people but to me it smacked a lot of gaslighting and put my BS metre on tilt. I eventually grew bored of the nonsense, of not getting good answers, and stopped asking questions. The first chance I had, I began the process of getting as far away from it as I could.

What often puzzled me was why sacred texts, like the Bible or the Quran, which are supposed to be divinely written and/or inspired, require so much interpretation, contextualization and study to truly understand and teach them. People get doctorates in this stuff, they create splinter groups, they argue about which interpretation and what translation is more correct, which is wrong or right, Protestant or Catholic, Sunni or Shia? Wars are fought over this stuff and I often think of the gourd and the sandal bit from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. The Catholic Church has the Magisterium (ooooh), the authority of its hierarchy to interpret scripture, establish canon law and teach them to the faithful “whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition.” I don’t think an unbegotten presence that exists in all things, knows all things and is omnipotent would really be so complicated and arcane to know. Such a being certainly wouldn’t need lads parading about in special gowns mumbling Latin at the Vatican, or a seat at the United Nations. Nor would She need the Falwells, Swaggarts, Bhagwan Shree Rajneeshes and their ilk. I mean, what a parcel of rogues.

Establishing ‘faith’ is what flimflam men use to make us drop our reliance on the observable and quantifiable and ignore common sense. They do this to gain control of you, manipulate you. They use grand speech, fancy dress, lot’s of flash and empty promises to break you down to instill confidence in them and the story they tell you. They need to break down the instinctual confidence you have in yourself so you listen to them instead of your gut and instead ‘know’ because they ‘know.’ I do not believe for a second that God, if he, she or it exists, would want us to ignore our guts because a conscious creator of all existence would be obvious in our deepest most instinctual selves. This being would be secure and confident enough not to need interpretation, explanation, a priestly class, and all the defending and philosophising charlatans tell you it does. And it certainly wouldn’t need our obedience, worship and adoration — that’s narcissistic and all too human. The God of the Old Testament was written like a pouty, moody, alcoholic old bastard who got off on abusing his family and playing mindgames — but don’t forget he loves you!

“You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave.” ~Quentin Crisp :-p