Agnosticism, belief, and the fantasy genre

2 Apr

I’ve been meaning to post on this topic for a while when bits and pieces of discussion plucked the strings of my thinking, but the topic in itself requires lots of thinking, so I’ve been putting it off.

ponygirl2000 commented that some people see agnosticism as a “cop-out” position. Such people are obviously not agnostics. Chosing to withhold judment on such statements as “There is a God” rather than say definitively, “True” or “False” leaves one dangling in life, without a secure footing. It is not an “easy” place to be. I envy people who are not agnostics their faith in things unseen or unprovable. But most people who identify with the agnostic position can’t really help being in it. It’s part and parcel of who they are.

What an agnostic believes in (well, at least what I believe in), is the importance of withholding judment about things for which there is no strong evidence. It’s a faith in the empirical, I suppose, although, at least in my case, there is also a certain skepticism towards what can count as legitimate “proof” and “evidence” as well. I will not follow blindly the claims of science, for example. It is a human endeavor, after all, and fallible.

I’ve been examining what my agnosticism means to me, and the first thing to note is it took me a LONG time to realize that it wasn’t just a temporary state of affairs until I found the Right Set of Spiritual Beliefs for myself. From my college days on up to about last year, I studied a lot of different spiritual and religious schools trying to find something that spoke to me. I WANTED to be spiritual.

But all the religious and spiritual paths I studied seemed to have one or both of two elements I couldn’t abide:

(1) They made definitive statements about the existence of things which cannot be proved–spirits, souls, God, heaven, what have you.
(2) Some claimed to have the inside track on the nature of reality and human existence, the “ultimate truth”, as it were.

I am inherently predisposed to having problems with the first element for reasons I stated above, and the second one strikes me as very naive. One statement of belief I will stand behind is that humans are inherently fallible; our knowledge is limited. To claim we have the right answers for all time in the here and now is a shot in the dark at best. And people who claim (2) usually back up their claim with a statement of type (1). We know we’re right ’cause God told us these things.

Well, you can see where I’m going to have a problem with religion.

That doesn’t mean I’m an atheist, a science-worshipper, or a rabid skeptic, however. I want something like (1) to be the case. I want it badly. You can see this part of me in my fantasy fandom. BtVS, AtS, Harry Potter, all the stories I love–whether novels, films, tv shows–have a common theme I’m always harping on: they take place in our world, but reveal underneath the mundane reality a whole world of magic and supernatural creatures and events that the average “rational” person denies are real.

So there is a part of me that longs for, wishes for there to be more to the world than spiritless physical matter and natural laws touted by science. That’s one reason why I cannot be an atheist. And I freely admit that that reason for rejecting atheism is emotional. I don’t want their view of reality to be true.

But because their view of reality is ultimately not any more proveable than a religious view of reality, I don’t have to embrace it, either. Their view is certainly consistent with science as we now understand it, but anyone who has studied the history of science and knowledge knows that the way science conceives of things is a limited model with specific guidelines and standards. Science, by definition, cannot disprove the existence of spirits and other non-physical realities, because science is designed only to measure only those phenomena that act according to its basic assumptions (material, capable of reductionistic analysis), and anything that does not fall under these assumptions (assuming there is anything) is outside its perview. Paraphrasing something I said on the ATPo board,

Trying to prove or disprove things that don’t fall under science’s perview is like looking for your lost bracelet under the street lamp at 2nd Avenue and California St. at night even though you lost it on the other side of town because, “at least I can see the pavement here.”

It is for this reason, and others, that I cannot throw my towel in with the skeptics, either, those people who feel the need to run around poking holes in anything that smacks in the least bit of the supernatural or the unscientific. As if constant vigilance will keep them safe from all epistemic tyranny. There will always be things that we as a society believe in and believe are well-proven that are dead-on wrong, and won’t be shown wrong until long after we’re dead. That’s life. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful about what we believe in, and demand some standard of proof be met before we believe. But some people seem to believe too strongly in skepticism itself and in their own ability to tell all truth from falsehood with a few carefully wielded tools.

So I have neither faith in religious tenets nor absolute faith in science, and where does that leave me? Like I said, dangling. Having a cautious respect for science but still wishing and hoping that there is something more to the universe than science reveals.

Behind my attraction to the fantasy genre is the desperate wish for the things I read/see in it not to be fiction. I want there to be magic and the fantastic in the world. But more than that, I wish that magic and the fantastic would present itself to me the way the mundane physical things in my world do. Come on up out of the hidden places and plop itself down on my living room couch.

I’m not saying I’d like to meet a vampire or a demon; a friendly spirit or a good witch would suffice. If one would pop on over for tea and show me a few spells that defy all known laws of science, I couldn’t be happier.

But see, that’s the agnostic in me again. Refusing to believe in (or not believe in) such things until I see them with my own eyes.

And even if I did see them with my own eyes, I’m not sure that would be proof of the “super”-natural. I would not deny the evidence of my eyes, but I don’t think I’d be entirely convinced there wasn’t a natural explanation for what I was seeing.

There was something Scully once said on the X-Files that stood out in deafening contrast to every other close-minded science-worshipping utterance she ever made. She said, “Nothing happens in contradiction to nature. Only to our understanding of it.”

She actually, in that moment, admitted science was fallible. That it was limited. That science as we understand it today does not have all the answers. I’ll go beyond this and say that science as we know it today could not have have all the answers, even if had a bazillion years to work at it. Again, for the reason I stated above–“science” as we know it today has defined those things it is capable of studying and knowing about by its methods, and those methods limit it.

However, it is conceivable that some new method of learning about the universe could be developed down the line that would open our eyes to all sorts of phenomena science and so-called rational thought today can’t explain or study adequately (after all, science opened up our eyes to things that the pre-17th century mind couldn’t conceive of. It is certainly plausible that some futuristic way of conceiving the universe will open our eyes to things modern science is inherently incapable of conceiving of).

That wouldn’t make these newly discovered phenoma “super”-natural, however. It would simply broaden our understanding of the natural.

So I will make these claims, even though I cannot prove them empirically:

(1) everything is natural, but nature contains wonders that are at present, beyond our understanding.
(2) the true nature of nature is not the sort of thing that can be grasped by what we today call “science” or “rational” thought.

So there’s a part of me that must embrace some metaphysical positions despite the fact that they are inherently unprovable. I’ll leave you with a quote by Jane on the ATPo board that inspired this post to begin with:

My own position is somewhere in the murkiness of “I’m sure there is more to this life than we know, I’m just not sure what it is.”

Unlike Jane, I’m not sure that there is more, but I’m almost sure.

28 Responses to “Agnosticism, belief, and the fantasy genre”

  1. cactuswatcher April 2, 2004 at 4:32 pm #

    I went from being an atheist early in college to an agnostic in grad school. I’ve moved on again to believing in something, but I think you’ve put the agnostic position forward very well. I think it’s natural for atheists and believers in most of the world’s religions to have problems with those in the middle. But, having gone through it I can genuinely say that saying “I don’t know,” makes a lot of sense when faced with these issues.

  2. neshaffer April 2, 2004 at 4:38 pm #

    Well, my naturalist ramblings at the bottom are evidence that I’m teetering on “again believing something”, but not quite willing to take the plunge. The only spirituality that seems to have beliefs that tempt me away from agnosticism is pantheism, and that’s more of a philosophy than a religion. Which is par for the course with me. ; )
    I’d be interested in hearing what you believe in at some point, if you’d care to share.

  3. angeyja April 2, 2004 at 4:54 pm #

    I agree with a good deal of this. I don’t know that I’ll have a chance to get back to this so I’ve excerpted it out to the email and I’d like to talk about it there if that’s OK.
    Just for the record it’s coffee, not tea.
    (And what I mean by that is that because there’s no rational explanation (currently) for a good deal of what I do some of it can look like magic… or ESP, if you prefer a SF approach.)

  4. scrollgirl April 2, 2004 at 5:05 pm #

    What an agnostic believes in (well, at least what I believe in), is the importance of withholding judment about things for which there is no strong evidence. […] I will not follow blindly the claims of science, for example. It is a human endeavor, after all, and fallible.
    I actually have no problem understanding the agnostic position; withholding judgement seems perfectly reasonable to me. OTOH, I don’t understand the attitude of some atheists. They claim that God doesn’t exist, that there’s only the here, that everything can be answered by humanity’s limited senses, technology, and understanding, if only we work hard enough. Now, I’m not saying human beings can’t learn a lot on their own, or that they can’t achieve wisdom. But claiming there’s no God seems kind of — I dunno, arrogant? It seems a little arrogant. I mean, how on earth do they know?
    Better to be like you, Masq, and realise there are some things you don’t know, and to withhold judgement until you do know. Of course, I’m a believer and my faith will often seem illogical to atheists and agnostics alike. But hey, faith isn’t supposed to be logical — or not entirely logical, anyway. So at least there’s no contradiction!

  5. cactuswatcher April 2, 2004 at 5:17 pm #

    When I started writing sci-fi about twenty years ago, I wanted to make up an alien religion that didn’t have all the faults of the earthly ones I knew about, (our religion knows all; everybody else is damned to hell; give us big bucks to spread our message, etc.). So I came up one that didn’t have this flaw and that flaw, but did address some universal needs and some universal questions. I came up with a character to be a priest of the religion who was intelligent, content with her religion and tolerant of others. The way that character needed to behave worked out more details of the religion. After working on the character for at least five years, I realized her religion was pretty much what I believed in.
    It has some of the same characteristics as pantheism, but I decided there are just too many orderly things in nature for the universe to simply ‘have happened.’ The nature of God, good and evil, etc. is explored in my fiction. One of the chief tenents of the religion is that we don’t understand, and probably never will understand everything about God, but that there is much in the world around us that will give us hints. Saying much more outside of my fiction would begin to sound like being a missionary, which I would dislike as much as would!

  6. neshaffer April 2, 2004 at 5:27 pm #

    I had a similar experience
    When I was a teenager, I invented this whole fictional planet with a map. different cultures, and even a language. Then I worked on the religion it would have, and looking back on it now, it was a lot like the pantheism that appeals to me.
    One thing I have learned studying pantheism is that there are as many forms of pantheism as there are pantheists. “Scientific” pantheism tends to espouse many of the tenets of modern science, including the “randomness” of how things in the universe came about. Other forms of pantheism do not.
    I tend to be more sympathetic with these later forms of pantheism, for similar reasons as you. It all seems a little too complex and orderly to be completely random. That in itself doesn’t prove the existence of an intelligent deity who “thought it all up”, just a primal, dynamic organizing principle being at the very basis of nature’s make-up.

  7. neshaffer April 2, 2004 at 5:29 pm #

    I was starting to feel a bit British using all those big words, and hence said “tea” though I much prefer coffee myself.
    Looking forward to your thoughts.

  8. neshaffer April 2, 2004 at 5:37 pm #

    But claiming there’s no God seems kind of — I dunno, arrogant? It seems a little arrogant. I mean, how on earth do they know?
    It is arrogant, when the person believes they are simply stating that belief because it’s been “proved” by science or what have you. It hasn’t been proved by science, it’s just consistent with what contemporary science says about things (and you know my beliefs on what contemporary science can reaasonably say or not say). Atheism is a faith. Faith that there isn’t anything more to the universe than matter and the reductionistic the laws of nature expounded on by science.
    But hey, faith isn’t supposed to be logical — or not entirely logical, anyway. So at least there’s no contradiction!
    Faith isn’t, I suppose, by definition, but people can certainly differ on whether they believe religion can be logical or illogical. Not everyone thinks religion should be based on faith. But that’s a long, protracted discussion, and it’s almost time for me to head home from work. ; )

  9. cactuswatcher April 2, 2004 at 5:50 pm #

    Maybe this is something
    we can discuss over lunch, if and when you come to Phoenix!

  10. angeyja April 2, 2004 at 6:10 pm #

    Ah, there’s a bit of a relief.
    Looking forward to your thoughts.
    Thanks. You’ll get them; no doubt off the other side of the brain. It’s shaping up to a longish email.

  11. ironed_orchid April 2, 2004 at 10:16 pm #

    I think a lot of atheists, myself included, are agnostic as to whether or not god, or a god-like being exists.
    However, in order to live our lives we feel we have to make a decision one way or the other. This is a practical decision about things such as the stance to take toward morality if there is no higher power or supreme arbiter of right and wrong. Now I happen to think that it’s possible to be moral without religion, and even that there are universalizable moral principles.
    So while, epistemically speaking, I recognize that agnosticism is the rational position, for moral and practical purposes it seems sensible to take a stand.

  12. ann1962 April 3, 2004 at 4:47 am #

    Wax on more often please
    Masq: This was a very spiritual post. I think that people, thinking about the nature of god, the universe, show more spiritual intent then do those whose “faith” leads them to be dogmatic and closed minded. I agree with Scroll where she says “I actually have no problem understanding the agnostic position; withholding judgment seems perfectly reasonable to me.” Personally, I think that is the most reasonable answer of all. And like her in the face of the glory and wonder of the universe, it is arrogant to have any decisions made about the genesis of its beginnings and its existence. Not specifically from the faith perspective, but just the scientific perspective. We know so little. Dogma (see the movie if you haven’t) leads people to do all sorts of horrible things. I always asked my mother when I was a child “Why did God give us brains if he didn’t want us to think about these things?”. Unfortunately, she saw that question only as a test of her faith. Contrasted with the priest who married my husband and I said “Doesn’t matter if you believe in god or not, just be thinking about it.” His is the stand I take. The bible was written at a time, to teach farmers the ways of their societies. Now, the bible’s audience needs to take lessons from it perhaps, but note that it is framed by the cultures and the re-writes and many translations. I don’t doubt that atheists and agnostics can be very spiritual and a religion person perhaps not. The labels seem to be so personal to all that have written on this topic in the last couple of weeks, that I am not sure we could have consensus anyway. Would we want it? I, like Jane, know/feel/have had weird enough experiences, to know that there is something more. What that something is, is up for discovering, debate and conversation. Again that is why I like reading other peoples perspectives to have my little world open even more. Yeah.

  13. neshaffer April 3, 2004 at 8:39 am #

    Oh, it’s definitely a matter of “when”
    My parents live in Mesa, so I’ll be out there sooner or later!

  14. neshaffer April 3, 2004 at 8:56 am #

    Now I happen to think that it’s possible to be moral without religion
    You’ll get no argument from me. I spent many an hour in classes on Ethics and long ago lost my religion without losing my moral standards.
    there are universalizable moral principles.
    A much more controversial statement, but one I am more or less sympathetic to, within certain bounds of our greater moral obligation to loved ones.
    for moral and practical purposes it seems sensible to take a stand
    Is this a stand in action, rather than belief? “I will act and speak as if I don’t believe in god, when in my heart of hearts, I will admit I’m not sure and I honestly don’t know.” There’s enough of an epistemic pragmatist in me to see the validity of that position. I’m still working very diligently on trying to find a way I can come up with some conception of god I can live with. I may never find one. So it feels in my interest to deny vehemently that I’m an atheist and that I’m a theist. I won’t say “yes” to either until I can explicate just how I am one.

  15. neshaffer April 3, 2004 at 9:15 am #

    Re: Wax on more often please
    Masq: This was a very spiritual post.
    That’s the way I see it. I titled the entry “waxes philosophical”, but this was really more of a statement of my spiritual journey of the last few years.
    I always asked my mother when I was a child “Why did God give us brains if he didn’t want us to think about these things?”
    I had similar thoughts as a kid, and a lot of problems with things I read in the bible or things I heard on the news, trying to reconcile them with my values or what my religion taught. I would take those questions to my mom, too. My mom is a Christian and raised me to be the same. She often told me to consider the time period in which the bible was written, and what was going on at the time, and that, she explained was why they had certain laws and strictures that made no sense to me. She taught me to understand religion through a critical thinking perspective.
    Of course in the end, I found I could no longer believe the basic tenets of my religion or any other religion for that matter. I don’t know how she feels about that. I assume she believes there is nothing she can do to change my mind and she goes on with her own personal beliefs. She’s very private about her religion. She’ll talk about what she believes and it’s all very reasonable, but it involves that leap of faith I can’t seem to take.

  16. bhadrasvapna April 3, 2004 at 9:25 am #

    I’m not sure how well I explained myself on the board
    Especially seeing as I didn’t mean to at first. I think this statement explains my position better than anything:
    I actually have no problem understanding the agnostic position; withholding judgement seems perfectly reasonable to me. OTOH, I don’t understand the attitude of some atheists.
    Scroll is a theist. We all know that and we respect her for the way she tries to live her faith. At least I do. Just as being a theist makes it harder for her to understand the attitude of some atheists, being a gnostic makes it harder for me to understand the attitude of some agnostics.
    First agnostics don’t just withhold judgment. That is my major problem with them. They seem to think they do, but the very term shows that they are making a judgment. That judgment is against something I very strongly believe in. A theist believes in the existence of god. An atheist believes the universe exists without god. The prefix ameans without. A gnostic believes in the presence of gnosis. I believe above all else in what I call Sophie (similar to how Jesus referred to God as Abba). I believe in love and many other things that tend to get classified as “feelings.” I believe this sort of knowing qualifies as proof. An agnostic takes the position that the universe is without this sort of knowing.
    To sum it up, atheist is to theist as agnostic is to gnostic. An agnostic does take a position and doesn’t completely withhold judgment.
    I’m not saying human beings can’t learn a lot on their own, or that they can’t achieve wisdom. But claiming there’s no God seems kind of — I dunno, arrogant? It seems a little arrogant. I mean, how on earth do they know?
    Change the word God to gnosis and maybe my position is better stated. I not only find it arrogant, but also limiting. To dismiss human experience as not being proof just doesn’t seem right to me. I know certain people love me. I know I love them. Why is this acceptable, but knowing about God isn’t?
    My belief in Sophie gets personified sometimes and I could be considered a theist. Sometimes it is more general and I can be called a deist. Sometimes the belief can be used to explain the beliefs of others and I would be considered an atheist. Even with these labels, I always believe what I believe. I believe that I can believe and that is proof enough for me. I believe in gnosis.
    There are four psychological functions plus the transcendent function. I do not discount any of them when believing and considering what constitutes “proof.”
    One day someone on some message board told me it was ok to just believe what I did. I don’t even remember what I believed at the time. I just remember that I was obsessed with proving it empirically. I had to understand where Christian theology came from and can trace the developments prior to and post Nicea. Then I decided that what my gut told me was right and I didn’t need to devote my life to this. This wasn’t the truth. This was a red herring.
    I was just trying to pass it on. Christians are witnesses for their god. I was doing the same thing. I don’t do it often. Just felt like it for once. Just for once I wanted to speak up for something I believe in amongst those that don’t.

  17. neshaffer April 3, 2004 at 9:36 am #

    Re: I’m not sure how well I explained myself on the board
    I did admit in my blurb that agnosticism is not without faith, it is faith in the empirical, faith in a certain way of knowing about the world. I tend to believe things for which their is good empirical evidence, and withhold judment when there is not.
    Does this reject other forms of knowing? Taking the word “agnostic” literally, as you do, it certain does reject other ways of knowing. But I think in my long-winded discussion of how we come to know the universe, I stayed open-minded about ways of knowing, not worshipping at the feet of empiricism but admitting there might be other ways of discovering the truths of reality, including intuition, feeling, etc.
    I don’t know that those ways will give us truth; neither do I deny that they can’t.
    I use the term “agnostic” in its colloquial sense, as “neither theist nor atheist”. Beyond that, I am open to learning about, understanding, and admitting the possible truth of many ways of looking at and learning about the universe. Which makes me not much of a dictionary-definition agnostic.

  18. ponygirl2000 April 3, 2004 at 5:07 pm #

    Thanks for this Masq. I was pondering doing a “religion and me” journal entry last week, but got kind of burned out with the board discussion, endless Passion debates and that Wonderfalls episode with the priest.
    For me I see religion as being the same as philosophy or law – it’s all about finding ways to live in the world. That’s going to be different for everyone and I separate that from belief in God. For me the mystery is the point of it all. The not-knowing allows for so many possibilities, it seems a shame to limit ourselves with a label or definition. Everything I claim to understand is filtered through my perceptions, it would be profoundly depressing to think that I, who can’t really explain how the toaster works, could offer any sort of certainty about the nature of the universe. Yes I could claim some form of understanding, or gnosis, or whatsis, but that wouldn’t be everything, it would just be what I know. The universe could still surprise or contradict, and that’s the beauty of it. The astounding incomprehensibility. That’s what I have faith in.
    Remember a few years back when there were all those stories about the statues of Ganesh absorbing offerings of milk? It was explained as terracotta naturally absorbing liquids, but for a while there… It gave me such a thrill, the same kind I get when I read about say water on Mars, or someone doing something heroic – isn’t that cool? Isn’t it unexpected? Maybe everything we’d assumed was wrong.
    My answer to the question in that new meme, about what I would want God to say to me after I died, is stolen from Neil Gaiman, “Now’s when you get to find out.” For now, the mystery is enough.

  19. ironed_orchid April 3, 2004 at 5:49 pm #

    I think it’s a form of action rather than belief. I will act as if there is no God and especially as if tehre is no afterlife, not even something like reincarnation. If this world is all there is, and this life is all I have, it seems only to increase my obligation to treat others fairly, with compassion and respect.
    Although maybe it’s just the opposite of Pascal’s wager. That is, the same as Pascal’s wager, but I just make to opposite choice, to act as if there is no God, just in case.

  20. neshaffer April 3, 2004 at 7:05 pm #

    The atheist’s morality
    If there is no God,
    If this is all there is,
    It’s up to us to make this the best world possible
    For ourselves,
    and for everyone,
    and there is no crime greater,
    than a crime in the name of God or heaven.

  21. oyceter April 3, 2004 at 8:42 pm #

    Thanks. I’ve also been thinking of doing a religion-related post lately, not because of the Board discussion, but because I went to church for the first time in who knows when when my sister visited (she’s a strong Christian).
    I’m like you in that I really do want to have some sort of spirituality, some sort of religious system to make it all make sense, except I can’t quite bring myself to accept any one faith as the One and Only. I think I verge more toward atheism, which I find to be a highly uncomfortable position, because I don’t like the thought of a universe without a higher power or something. I think, ever since middle school, I tended toward the stance that all people look for religion because that sense of something greater than yourself is much more comforting than the sense of “this is all there is.” So half of me leans toward the idea that all religion is created by people to assuage this need, which to me is incredibly depressing. But somehow, it feels more “true” than the idea of a higher power sometimes.
    The other part of me thinks it can’t just be it, science can’t explain everything, and yet, I don’t know.
    I had a Christian friend (not really friend, more an aquaintance) tell me once that being atheist or agnostic was cowardly and a much easier thing to do than being Christian. And while I don’t believe being Christian (or any other faith) is an easy ride, I also don’t think being atheist or agnostic is an easy way out either.

  22. neshaffer April 3, 2004 at 10:20 pm #

    I had a Christian friend (not really friend, more an aquaintance) tell me once that being atheist or agnostic was cowardly and a much easier thing to do than being Christian. And while I don’t believe being Christian (or any other faith) is an easy ride, I also don’t think being atheist or agnostic is an easy way out either.
    Christianity is more difficult because it’s hard to keep your faith in the face of contradictory evidence? Yeah, I’ll buy that. ; ) Or hard because this particular person doesn’t live in one of many villages or countries in the world that is almost 100% Christian? You can’t tell me it’s that “hard” to be Christian there.
    Everyone wants to believe that they are the brave ones, standing firm against the powerful forces of the other side that are attempted to harass them or to change their beliefs. Some Christians (not all, I have friends and family who are Xtian), I think, like to fantasize that they are still living in the era of coliseums and lions, rather than being the most wide-spread religion on the planet. It makes them feel all the more better about themselves for holding strong to their faith. Jesus and his disciples are once again martyred for their faith!
    Likewise, atheists fear the growing power of the religious right wing, worrying that they will somehow succeed in taking away freedom of religion and belief and institute Christianity as the state religion. And perhaps even go as far as re-instituting the Inquisition, in which people who didn’t tow the official religious line were put to death. Galileo is once again martyred as a man of science!
    *Sigh* It reminds me of the self-righteous and paranoid attitudes of the Spike-Angel wars, in which each side sees themselves as the victims, irrationally persecuted by the other side, while neither side can see how they persecute the other side in their attempts to “defend” their way of life against persecution.
    How many wars have started over just this paradigm?

  23. neshaffer April 4, 2004 at 8:10 am #

    The universe could still surprise or contradict, and that’s the beauty of it. The astounding incomprehensibility.
    Yes, the idea of an inner knowing that can get us in touch with the divine or elements of it is appealing, but I would claim it is still subject to the immensity of human limitation and fallability. There is so much we don’t know, indeed, much we may be completely incapable of comprehending, like my cat trying to figure out how my car works–it’s beyond her capacity no matter how hard she tried.
    I’m not so sure I’m as worshipful of mystery as you are, but I am humbled by the idea of a universe much more complex and wonderful than we can possibly know.
    The Native Americans have a concept that has been translated as “the Great Spirit” (and then called “God” by European-Americans) that actually translates more accurately as “the Great Mystery”. It acknowledges that whatever put everything here in the first place–the origin source of the universe–is much more than a god or a spirit or some other concept that we can wrap our miniscule little minds around.

  24. oyceter April 4, 2004 at 4:43 pm #

    *giggles* Sorry. Religious wars as portrayed in fandom terms ;).
    I totally agree with you — while the religious right scares the hell out of me, I have some friends who seem to think that all Christians are horrible people who just want to push their religion and condemn everyone as evil. *rolls eyes*

  25. neshaffer April 4, 2004 at 7:45 pm #

    I have some friends who seem to think that all Christians are horrible people who just want to push their religion and condemn everyone as evil. *rolls eyes*
    Well, that’s something I can’t do. I was raised Christian, and had a wonderful experience with the people I knew from my church as a child and teen. My mom and sister are Christians, my friend Gloria is one, as are my friends and and others as well.
    It’s easy to condemn everyone in a group by how the worst members of that group act. The fan wars are another good example of that.

  26. an_old_one April 5, 2004 at 1:19 pm #

    I wonder if it’s something about writing?
    I’m kind of stuck with my own novel right now (as CW well knows!) and at least part of the reason is that I have to come to a decision on whether to write what I believe, or what I think will work best for the book. I lean towards writing what I believe and making it work, but that then requires me to consciously determine what I believe.
    In no way is agnosticism a cop-out. It’s a day-by-day, sometimes minute-by-minute, struggle against the forces of ignorance, hypocrisy, and arrogance. Admitting that you don’t know isn’t the cowards’ way out–it’s more painful than any other option, IMHO.
    I guess maybe writing truly is one of the best ways to come to know oneself.
    ;o)

  27. neshaffer April 5, 2004 at 1:38 pm #

    Thanks for this
    Thanks for the encourage words re: agnosticism. I don’t write much about my personal philosophies/spiritual thoughts, mostly because they’re half-formed and “in process” (as many good people’s spiritual beliefs are). Writing this felt good, though. It’s good to put your thoughts into words sometimes and say, “here’s where I am today”, because it’s different than five years ago and five years from now. It’s chronically the journey.
    I’m kind of stuck with my own novel right now (as CW well knows!) and at least part of the reason is that I have to come to a decision on whether to write what I believe, or what I think will work best for the book. I lean towards writing what I believe and making it work, but that then requires me to consciously determine what I believe.
    Not necessarily. Some times I have to write and write in order to figure out what I believe. That’s the value of “free-writing”, where you just pick a topic and let yourself go. Write and write whether it’s crap or meaningful until you can’t think of anything else to say. You usually find you DID say something, it just came out of a different part of your brain than the one that consciously thinks things through and analyzes and plans.
    I “free wrote” the first draft of my novel, not knowing where I was going with it. I let the characters have free reign, let them “write the story”. In subsequent drafts, I let the characters decide what got edited out and what new stuff was put in. I certainly had no “message” I was trying to deliver with my novel.
    Now that I am close to the end of this long re-writing process, ready to send the novel out into the light of day, I know I do have a message, but it is not one I planned out consciously. It emerged in all the little details, in the main character’s journey, in a hundred little decisions about things that seemingly had nothing to do with a “theme”.
    I don’t know whether you’re writing your story from a pre-chosen formula or an outline or just from a bunch of notebook pages you scribbled on the bus for a year, but what you WANT to say isn’t necessarily what you TRY to say. And the best novels say what your inner heart wants to say.

  28. oyceter April 5, 2004 at 9:52 pm #

    Me neither — my sister and her friends are pretty devout Christians and really nice people.
    So in general I end up fence-sitting and saying that both groups are probably the same with respect to the ratio of mean people.

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