No surprise to regular readers that I have semi-regular discussions with atheists and agnostics on this blog and at others. I don’t try to covert them, because I’m not clinically insane nor masochistic, but I think it’s great to make sure we all understand each other. Much better than one side calling the other a bunch of superstitious idiots, while the other side is calling them narrow-minded secularists.
In fact, TitforTat and The Word of Me have probably been my most frequent foils lately (and I mean that in the nicest recreational fencing/dueling way possible). In terms of longer dialogs, though, TWOM had a conversation with me here with regard to a Mrs. Blue post here, and I’m trading thoughts with him over at one of his postsover at his blog right now.
It’s good stuff, and I like the conversations. As long as no one gets to calling me an out-of-touch looney-toon, all’s good (that hasn’t happened often, and most of those people I don’t even try to engage again). But I have been thinking a lot lately about what divides a spiritual believer from a non-believer, and it strikes me that as much as we intellectually can appreciate each other, it is hard to truly explain ourselves to each other. For both sides, it seems self-evident that our position is the correct one, and it troubles us on some level that the other side hasn’t broken through to our way of thinking.
This struck me in particular when TWOM recently posted in one of his comments something to the effect of “I’ve read the Bible and I’ve tried to understand it and believe.” I’m probably misquoting him a bit, but that was the gist as I recall. And it’s been said to me before by other agnostics and atheists that they have tried to read the Bible with an open mind and “just don’t get it.”
And this is precisely where the rubber meets the road: Faith vs. concrete facts. Intellect vs. surrender.
This is not to say that the faithful lack intellect nor that the doubters and atheists lack any kind of “spiritual” or moral core. Far from it. But here is the best example I can come up with as a person of faith:
Imagine a person who decides to go skydiving. There are a few likely scenarios.
She completely freaks out with fear and doesn’t go to the skydiving takeoff point at all. This would analogous, I believe, to someone who says “Yes, I’ll consider your points and/or read that Bible thing” but never really tries.
She goes to the site, freaks out, and just cannot get on the plane, or she gets on the plane but cannot get herself out of that seat until it lands again. She never jumps, but she at least went to where it would all start. I liken this to the person who does give some consideration to it, but never really turns off the literal/concrete parts of their brain. I mean, I personally enjoy and respect (and use) critical thinking, but you cannot think your way to faith.
She makes it to the door of the plane while it is in midair, but she cannot make the jump. She sees all that open sky beneath her and feels the excitement and fear in her gut. She has a visceral and emotional reaction, but making the leap is just too much. She goes back to her seat. Here we have a person who has managed to open their heart and might see a glimpse of what the faith believer sees, but on some level, the thought of letting go is too much. Whether because of fear that it might be true, and a desire not to find out and have to consider answering to a higher power, or whether fear that faith will lessen them somehow; reduce their intellect or spin them too far away from provable reality perhaps.
She jumps out of the plane and goes for the ride. This would be the person who does make the leap from purely temporal and rational thought to faith. It is a wild and scary ride sometimes, and the person might regret it in some ways. The person might even decide one day to reverse course and deny that faith she tasted or decide not to embrace it fully, but the leap was indeed made, whether for a short time or a lifetime.
None of this is to suggest that atheists or agnostics are cowards. Fear isn’t altogether a bad thing. And they, in turn, could accuse someone of me of being fearful of considering that there isn’t anything beyond this life; that there isn’t any intelligence guiding the universe. They would argue that I am afraid to let go of a comfortable superstition.
Myself, I don’t feel fear at the possibility there might not be a God. I have considered it. Hell, I spent most of my life ignoring spiritual things and the church and might as well have been an agnostic or even atheist, despite having been a baptized Catholic who occasionally went to church. I still find myself at a crossroads at times when I ask, “Am I spiritually delusional?” In the end analysis, having made the leap and feeling the swell of my spirit and sensing things beyond the physical and intellectual, I simply cannot conceive of there not being a God.
It is, to me, as clear and as unassailable as the existence of gravity. That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt some of the specifics of the Bible or wonder if my spiritual path is the right one. But for me, taking the leap wasn’t simply a transient thing. I live in a world where God exists, and I can no more deny Him than I can deny myself.