Friday, November 03, 2006

Is the Answer Really 42?

My family went to a performance of gospel music last night, in a small village near where we used to live. My wife bought tickets because a friend of hers was involved in the production. I was thrilled, because I love gospel music with its beautiful (and sometimes lively) melodies and harmonies. I grew up exposed to gospel music. I enjoyed the evening tremendously. My son professed to have been bored by the proceedings, but I did notice a little smile on his lips and a bit of toe-tapping, so I imagine it can't have been all that bad an experience for him.

We were a musical family, when my brother and I were at home with our parents in the 1950s and 1960s. My mother sang and played guitar. My father enjoyed music, but was more a listener than a participator. My brother and I sang together often, harmonizing to gospel songs, some folk music, and later rock 'n roll, often Beatles songs. I headed a rock band in the mid-sixties that never made me any money, but which impressed the girls and was a lot of fun. Earlier in the sixties, for a short time, I was part of a spoof folk group we called 'The New Crispy Critters,' a takeoff on the then-popular New Christy Minstrels. The photograph displayed above is of The New Crispy Critters performing in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1962 or so. The skinny blond guy on the far right is yours truly.

Some people are surprised when I speak of religion or anything remotely religious. I guess gospel music would fall somewhere in that category. I am a libertarian, philosophically, and libertarians, you see, are supposed to be atheists. Vox Day calls himself a Christian Libertarian, but many people would consider that to be oxymoronic.

I don't. I don't profess to be Christian, although I grew up in a very religious Pentecostal family, but I am definitely not atheist. Am I a waffler, am I wishy-washy because I won't take a stance? I don't think so. I have considered the issue for many years, in fact since I was eleven years old, and my position is that I simply don't know and that, in fact, the issue is unknowable. I am agnostic. Any belief, for or against, boils down to faith, either faith that there is a God and that he rules us, or faith that there is no God and that we are on our own. I don't want to get into a long and elaborate discussion on religion here, but I think that taking a definitive position either way is presumptuous. I think that everyone should think and believe what they wish. Further, I believe that thinking what they wish is part of their natural right to be alive, to own their body and mind, and to enjoy without impediment, the fruits of their labour. Is it realistic then, not to include the right to direct their minds and thoughts where they wish? As long as what they think and believe does not threaten me in a real way, none of this should be any concern of mine.

I am not suggesting that no-one consider the issue at all, based on the notion that if the answer is unknowable, why waste any time on it. No, we humans are (or should be) seekers of truth. We need to search for answers, to debate every issue, to seek meaning. I have read all of the arguments for and against God and I still say that the truth is unknowable. As George Harrison opined once in a song, "The Answer's at the End." At the expiration of our time on earth, we will either discover the truth or be beyond caring.

What gets me is the zeal with which some people attack Christianity. Atheists often single out Christian targets while ignoring religious markers, symbols and references of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. I find that fact quite curious, because 'zeal' is most often associated with religion. There is religious zeal, there are religious zealots, we read and hear in the media. I don't remember reading or hearing about atheistic zeal or atheist zealots. Why is that? Much of the atheistic writing and broadcasting I have experienced over the years (I am listening to an atheistic podcast as I type this) has been as evangelical as anything I might have encountered while attending church as a youngster. Atheists seek converts as actively as any theists or other religious groups. Atheists seek enforcing or accommodating legislation as much as any other group in our society might. They are, in fact, acting very much like religious proselytizers, aren't they?

I don't care where, or whether anyone worships. I don't want to be forced to worship at the shrine of some state-approved (or enforced) god any more than I want to be told that I can't worship at all.

Our Judao-Christian heritage has done very well by us. Let's acknowledge the fact and leave everyone alone to worship or not, as they themselves wish, unless it gets to the point where they use explosives or guns as persuaders to either worship or else, or don't worship or else. I don't know of any Christians doing that these days, do you?

So, I may be agnostic and you may be Christian and your neighbour may be Islamic and your brother-in-law may be an atheist. Who cares? All I ask is that the fervid atheist who doesn't want to be exposed to Christian thought and imagery, keep his proselytizing to himself in the same spirit. Unless we are having a well-lubricated and friendly discussion, of course, and we all agree that we are free to express our opinions. After all, voluntary discourse is a great thing. If we listen, we might learn something. And if we learn something, we might change our mind. And if we change our mind, we might convert our thinking. An agnostic or an atheist might become Christian. A Christian might become atheist. Or, no-one will change their thinking or belief system at all. But everyone will have a good time, if it is all done voluntarily and in a spirit of friendship.

See what happens when I hear some gospel music? I guess all that toe-tapping jarred some synapses in my brain and here, on my blog, you see the result as I ramble on about at least a facet or two about the meaning of life.

So, should I stay away from gospel performances in the future? I hope not. I had a great time, and so would you, whatever your religious or philosophical background.


  1. You make some good points Sieg, however, I think the reason you see more atheists talking about Christianity is because you live in a Christian hemishpere.

    I'm nontheist myself, but respect other's faith, and I wish other's would respect my "faith" too.

  2. Sylvain: I have now, or have had in the past, friends who were staunch evangelical Christians, lukewarm Sunday Christians, agnostics, atheists, Jews, one Muslim, and even a woman with some sort of pagan focus. They were all very interesting people and I got along well with all of them. We all got along because while we had the occasional lively discussion on religion, we all respected each other's beliefs, however silly any one of us might have thought some of them to be.

    What I don't understand is why that sort of understanding and tolerant relationship doesn't always extend to the larger community. I believe that a more laissez-faire approach, by those who wish to tear down and ridicule anyone and everyone who happens to think differently than they do, would be helpful.

    When you and Diane and I sat down over dinner, I don't recall coming to blows over anything we discussed, although I am sure we don't agree on everything we believe individually. We behaved as any intelligent and reasonable people should behave. We chatted, we laughed, we respected each other, not because we were the same, but despite the fact that we might be different from each other in some way. That, I think, is ultimately more useful than trying to homogenize the entire human race into one bland and featureless soup.

    Thanks for the challenging and thoughtful comments you make. I always enjoy your input.

  3. Sieg, I think you've touched on something via religion that cuts across borders and affects every strata of existence:
    What a different world we might live in if people became self-aware to the point of asking themselves "Why do I believe what I believe?" Such a question would be useful in sorting out and divesting of much excess motivational baggage from their minds and existences that may impede and keep them back from living life to its fullest. A baloon rises higher the more ballast and deadweight its pilot is willing to cut loose. The mind, after all, IS a finite resource.
    I "give myself a reality check" often in this way, and find it a good way of pushing a mental "reset" button.
    *LMAO* Having been a Douglas Adams fan since "Hitchhiker's Guide", I love that title!

  4. I have been thinking about this post ever since I read it last night. (The comment I deleted earlier was only to see if Blogger was accepting comments since my blog is having trouble right now.) Here are a few thoughts I want to share:

    1. There is little more upsetting than a person of any religion who is trying to force his religion on someone else. I feel very strongly about my faith in God, but I do not want to be harrassed by a Muslim, or a Jehovah's Witness, or any other person who believes they're right and I'm wrong. Nor do I want to ever harrass someone else. Christ even told His disciples, "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town." (Matthew 10:14 NIV) I believe that one's actions are far more important than one's words, and the best way to show Christ in you is through your behavior. Not through talking.

    2. Even though I believe, I understand what you mean when you say it is unknowable. Certainly there is no tangible proof. Many times I would love a letter from God addressed to me. I would love to talk to Him in person, or touch His hand, or have Him remove all that is evil and wrong RIGHT NOW! But, of course, that is not possible. It's a simple matter of grabbing onto faith or not. He lets us choose.

    I'm sure you've read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. That book was very powerful to me in it's reasoning and logic to address such a nebulous topic.

    Quite a thought provoking post, Atavist. As usual.

  5. Galt: I love the notion expressed in this line of yours: "and find it a good way of pushing a mental "reset" button."

    I agree. We all need to take inventory periodically and purge nonsense. I think that in some ways bloggers use their posts to do just that, as a form of catharsis.

  6. Bellezza: The reference of yours from the bible is not one that I recall reading: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town." (Matthew 10:14 NIV)

    I suspect that some hardcore Christian proselytizers of the past had also not noticed (or had chosen to ignore) that passage. In fairness, I have to say that the 'in-your-face' evangelizing by fundamentalist Christians has all but disappeared, at least in my personal experience. I figure that if you visit a church you should expect to experience words and actions designed to persuade you to become part of the fold. On the street outside, however, you should be free from being accosted.

    Having said that, I don't believe that seeing a creche or a cross in a public square is an affront to me just because I might not be a 'true believer.' Those things reflect our heritage, and we can't simply pretend that the emergence of the freest and most prosperous nations in history had nothing whatever to do with our mostly Christian roots.

  7. As much trouble as most people have - myself included - with the door-knocker "true believer" types, I have a lot more with the ACLUnatics who want to erase any reference to God from every corner of Western Civilization because it makes the dope-smoking sodomites feeeeeeeeeel bad.
    This copped-out attitude rises from the hedonistic camp where the morality of an issue is decided on emotions stirred by it, not whether it is truly decent or not.
    There are two kinds of atheism: One is perfectly natural. We are all born with no knowledge of God, and must learn of Him before making any decision to believe or not. The other is a cowering place of the "enLIEtened" and pseudo-educated, an apron of fig leaves the dregs of the people wear beneath their three-piece lawyer costumes but shove down everyone's throats with an ignorant, inconsiderate zeal that would rival the "funny-mental"ist Christians and make Jerry Falwell look shy and abashed!
    Because everyone has a right to their opinion does not mean everyone's opinion is right, a reality lost in our times.

  8. Galt, I disagree on this point: that "We are all born with no knowledge of God, and must learn of Him before making any decision to believe or not."

    I beg to point out Romans 1:20 which says, in the New Living Translation: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

    I think we ARE born with knowledge of God, but some choose to deny it.

    Not that I'm trying to be argumentative; just stating my belief.

  9. I don't know who to agree with, Galt or Bellezza. I know that I was exposed to the idea of God through my parents and the churches we attended. Would I have had an innate knowledge of God even were I never exposed to teachings in that direction? I don't know. I supsect not.

    The problem with quoting scripture in support of the existence of God is that it is 'an argument from authority,' and if you suspect the veracity of that authority, there is a very real conundrum.

    I enjoy these exchanges of ideas and beliefs because I do not have a closed mind and am truly curious about who we are, why we are here, etc.

  10. You're right. If one doubts the authority of Scripture, no quoting of it will do any good. It's rather a vicious circle, isn't it?

  11. Wow!

    Yup.. just: Wow!

    That was great - all around!

    ~a believer/knower/you-know-what-I-mean.