Adventures of the Super Agnostic, Part One

(Chris Bowsman, our resident gaming and comic guru, wrote a two part series on why he is an agnostic. Here is part one. -ed)  

“Are we not all our limitations?”

     – Professor X: Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous

 

My first rule in talking about faith (or the lack of it.) is “Respect the freedom of choice.” To be Agnostic to me means to realize that our knowledge is limited, and to respect that and work together, like Professor X does with the X-men, who all come from different backgrounds. I was not raised religious and was given a choice “cafeteria style”, as many Americans are allowed to do. This freedom of choice was the basis for my later Agnosticism, and I’m glad I have it. Basically, I take what’s good from religion, and leave what I think is bad, such as Leviticus, or things I deem as  ancillary minor rituals or just unnecessary doom and gloom. But, I am the one who decides. Religion doesn’t control me. I control it.

Because of this, I still think that religion is a useful tool even if all gods (That humans can dream up.) are make-believe. Just because they are pretend doesn’t mean they do not have meaning. I admire, as I see it, the atheistic commitment to logic, and the religious commitment to awe and wonder, but I will never support any fundamentalist views or arrogance in discussions of faith because I believe it is harmful to shame a person simply for what they believe. You can attempt to prove and support your beliefs, but you cannot annihilate someone’s personal liberty. Just because another believes differently doesn’t mean they are stupid and less deserving of respect. Look at it this way: At the risk of sounding simplistic, I believe Science is the way to obtain objective truth, and Religion is subjective truth. Just like Luke learning about The Force.

See, Han Solo doesn’t believe in The Force. And yet, he realizes that Luke’s belief in it makes him a better person by his own non-violent standards and tells him: “May The Force be with you.” in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Han knows that Luke has his own story to complete and The Force is part of his story. I’m all for what gets people to cooperate towards common goals while being respectful. I feel like art is a powerful creative tool for uplifting persons and religion is an art that expresses the hopes of a particular culture or people; thus it cannot be explained so easily as 2+2=4.  I invest Friedrich Nietzsche, The Bible, or The Koran with the same amount of authority…though I’m most versed in Nietzsche. In fact, I love learning about new cultures, so if I learn something like a Koran verse or Arabic proverb that resonates with me, I‘ll use it inshallah! (God-willing!) As Miranda Jones and Spock say in explaining Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, the core Vulcan principle: “The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.” “And the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.” (Star Trek TOS: “Is There In Truth No Beauty?”)

So you see, I’m not interested in one particular version of subjective truth; but if objectivity is in question, Science is the way to go. The scientific method is the only way to obtain objective truth, but hopes, dreams and human potential are part of human experience, and may be well expressed through parables. For example, someone looking at me might not believe that I could write a 79 page thesis using only two fingers in a year. I certainly at the time had my doubts as to whether I could. But, my hero myths from Greece and Germany and pop culture like comic book superheroes kept me going, and I did it. Could I have done it without those myths? I honestly don’t know.

Secondly, I know religion is often used to promote evil, but it also has the potential to do good if it is recognized as a personal tool, and not as a political one. It provides security and a sense of ritual and order. Furthermore, since it is an art, it can also inspire people and instruct them how to live a good life. I’m a believer in the idea that people need to come together and find a sense of Good that is greater than themselves in order to be all that they can be, and understand others. Shaming is not understanding or caring. It is degrading. I can prove my point without attacking the person, who probably believes what he/she does for good reasons in his/her mind.

Therefore, though I may disagree with someone’s conception of God, I try to understand what social, psychological, and cultural needs are being fulfilled by it: they usually have roots in human vulnerabilities, such as fear of death or creating a sense of belonging. Perhaps my own experiences with physical limitations (as a person with cerebral palsy.) have influenced my empathy with people trying to create worlds beyond Science through belief.

   

About Chris Bowsman, comic and gaming editor: I’m a passionate disability rights advocate, sci-fi fan, and intercultural communication guy. I have cerebral palsy. I like video games. I have a master’s degree in Intercultural communication and a B.A. in German. I hope to go overseas again someday. Haven’t been to Germany. I’ve been to Spain. I like movies. Raised in Port Huron, MI. Went to College in PA. Looking at the world through the eyes of aliens. Blogspot: www.christopherbowsman.blogspot.com

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • Anthony Nuccio

    This is probably one of the most accurate things about agnosticism that I have ever read. It describes my agnosticism perfectly, and I cannot wait to read Part Two. Thank you so very much for writing this.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks for stopping in, Anthony. Chris is a fantastic writer. Part two will be up at 8:00 PM EST.

      • Anthony Nuccio

        Sounds great, can’t wait to read it!

  • Quid

    I don’t understand how you distinguish subjective and objective truth (and even the example you give of Luke and Han doesn’t work, because the Force is objectively true–Han is simply wrong when he says it doesn’t exist). I’ve always understood the empirical rationality of science to be its own proof for the existence of greater truths. And it would seem that you agree (though I might be misunderstanding you) because this article is full of universal values and intrinsic beliefs, such as a communal pursuit towards the Good, or the importance of freedom and personal choice. Would you say these things are objective? There’s no scientific evidence for the existence of free choice (there are even people like Freud who try to find scientific evidence against free will). But I think we can both agree that free choice still exists, even if we can’t analyze it.

    I think there’s an equivocation in the word “subjective” here (or perhaps, I’m just misunderstanding on of its uses). If you say there are subjective truths as in “relating to the subject” (i.e. personal) then I agree with you. All truths ultimately must be a connection between the object and subject, experience and reason. But if you mean some truths are subjective as in their validity varies from subject to subject (what’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for you), that’s a contradiction of terms. It’s impossible to say truth is relative without making an absolute statement.

    • Chris Bowsman

      Yes, subjectivity is subject to experience and reason. In Han’s experience, he’s seen nothing to convince him of The Force, but as we end up seeing, he is apparently open to counterarguments and Luke and Han grow to respect each other and become friends.

      • Quid

        That’s interesting…I agree with you, since all experience is subjective, coupled with reason it produces truth, hence subjective truths. (People usually use this as an excuse for relativism, so I wanted to clarify) This is also what Nietzsche talks about in Beyond Good and Evil, he says that truth is the relationship between the subject and the object; it is dependent on the subject, hence it is subjective.

        But I still don’t understand your dichotomy between objective and subjective truths. Religious truths certainly have to be subjective, they require the subject to be substantial, but scientists are beginning to discover that the same can be said for scientific truths. In quantum physics, for example, the double slit experiment proved the neurons behaved differently while being observed than they did on their own. It seems we are so deeply connected to the natural world, it is impossible to study anything truly objectively. We always insert/attach the subject to whatever we’re observing.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc

        • Chris Bowsman

          To my knowledge, a subjective truth is a truth that fits into your (one’s own) personal experience. An objective truth is true whether you believe it or not. My thesis is simply that everyone has their own personal story and has self-worth. I don’t know about quantum physics, but it is neat!

  • Cam

    I agree that a good ethical rule might be ‘don’t shame people for their beliefs’. But you seem to present this as a rule that trumps all other considerations. See, I think what might be a ethical rule in one situation might be very unethical in another.
    ‘Don’t punch people’ might be a good ethical rule most of the time, but what if punching a crazed gunman is the only way to stop him from shooting your best friend?

    We balance ethical rules according to a hierarchy of values, and I just don’t think that ‘not hurting people’s feelings or not being a big meanie’ should be the ultimate, trump-all value.

    So to apply these concepts to religion, yes we shouldn’t shame people who believe, for example, that love is important and that they’ll see their dead grandma in another life.
    But what about religious people who believe ‘women are inferior to men’, ‘homosexuality is inherently disordered’, and other horrible beliefs. I think we SHOULD shame these beliefs, and shame the people that hold them, because refraining from hurting people’s feelings is not as important as stopping bigots from oppressing and hurting the people we care about.

    When we worry too much about not hurting feelings and not shaming, we fail to properly stand up for the things that truly matter- basic human rights.

    • Chris Bowsman

      Basic human rights are exactly what I’m talking about preserving here, Cam! Specifically, you cannot annihilate someone’s human dignity just to prove a point. That goes for beliefs that are religious and non-religious. It’s not “being nice” here that I’m talking about, but human dignity and the right to respectful and open communication. If we’re talking about people who believe such things, my hope is that they would be open to rational and respectful debate before shaming. Talking will always be preferably to fighting, in my book. Two wrongs do not make a right, and I would hope I’d be able to be the better person and talk things out. The more we resort to fighting, I would argue, the more we do lose our basic civil rights.


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