Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Can't Believe

Gary Gutting interviews philosopher Daniel Garber about faith:
G.G.: In your essay in Louise Antony’s collection “Philosophers Without Gods,” you say, “Much as I try, much as I may want to, I cannot be a believer.” Why can’t you — and why would you want to?

D.G.: I can’t believe because I’m not convinced that it is true that God exists. It is as simple as that. Belief is not voluntary, and there are no (rational) considerations that move me to believe that God exists. In all honesty, I will admit that I don’t have a definitive argument that God doesn’t exist either. Which is to say that I refuse to make the judgment that some make that it is positively irrational to believe in God in an objective sense. But without convincing affirmative reasons to believe, I’m stuck. If others find reasons that convince them, I’m willing to discuss them and consider them. Who knows? There might be a convincing argument out there, or at least one that convinces me.

On the other hand, it is easy say why I might want to believe. I see people around me — often very smart and thoughtful people — who get great comfort from believing that God exists. Why wouldn’t I want to be like them? It’s just that I can’t.
I am ambivalent about the notion of a personal, caring God; I go back and forth about whether I would like to believe in one or not. But I know that I don't. I don't have any profound arguments to make, but whenever I try to imagine human history or the history of life on earth as a divine plan, something does not compute.


G. Verloren said...

On the logical level, it just seems completely and utterly absurd to me that of all the countless deities humanity has dreamed up, with all their incredible variation and regional differences - as well as their staggeringly similarities and universalities - somehow a single one is supposed to be real, and all the others are supposed to be false. (Especially when everyone and their dog makes the same claim that their particular god is the correct one.) There's more to it than that, but that is the fundmental disconnect that prevents me from logically believing in a deity of any kind.

But there's also a very simple spiritual facet to the equation - every thing and every place I was ever told was "Holy" as a child never managed to instill in my any sense of awe or specialness. I was raised to be Christian, and while I have always been mystified by the churches and the rituals in which I was supposed to be taking part, I have never felt like those places and actions were in some way special or "holy". Even as a very young child, none of it made any sense to me - none of it seemed anything but surreal.

Even putting aside the lack of context that would enable actual understanding of all the strangeness that unfolded around me as a child, more powerfully lacking was a sense that any of it was anything other than mundane. If the church was supposed to be a special place, I thought, why didn't it feel special to be there? It seemed like just a musty, old, dark, echoing building - it wasn't terribly different than being inside the old, rundown, abandonded movie theatre a few streets away. If saying prayers was supposed to be special, why did it feel like I was talking to thin air? If singing hymns was supposed to be special, why did so many people seem to be bored and just going along with things while doing it? If any of this was supposed to move me or speak to me, why did it just end up making me feel confused and lost - and most especially when people stopped to try to explain it to me, unsatisfactorily?

All I ever felt in any church ever, for all of my life, has been a sense of bemusement and befuddlement. Nothing ever made sense in church. It all seemed like playing pretend. The greatest sense of reverence I've ever felt in a church has been for
been architecture of all things. Stunning and impressive buildings in many cases, but never sites of any spititual power for me personally.

They never made me feel the way I do looking out of the ocean, for example - small, contemplative, strangely at peace. They've never taken my breath away in awe and wonder, like when gazing out over ancient mountains and valleys in the light of dawn. They've never made me feel safe, or welcome, or part of a community, or any of the things I was always told churches were supposed to be about. I always felt vaguely judged in churches, and obligated into comformity. I always felt confused and alone, despite being surrounded by a crowd who ostensibly felt neither way. It was always like there was some unseen force that for some reason couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't, affect me. I wanted to take part - I wanted to feel whatever it was everyone seemed to be feeling - but it never came to pass. I wanted to believe, but I never could. And in not being able to believe, I naturally was driven to question. And the more I questioned, the less able I was to believe. And the more I failed to believe and the more I asked my questions, the more everyone around me sought to exclude me. Shun the non-believer, I suppose?

pootrsox said...

I came to my non-belief slowly. I moved from the traditional Hebrew deity of my childhood to a rather Emersonian Oversoul/Jeffersonian Prime Mover.

But as I have aged I have come more and more to see that there simply is no way to justify cognitively a belief in any such Universal Force, personal or impersonal.

I can believe that the universe is ordered, and I can believe that there is much in that universe that is unknown and perhaps even unknowable.

I cannot believe that there is a force, much less a sentient force, that "created" that universe.

Nor, really, do I feel a need for the comfort of such belief.

I strive to be, as Freedom From Religion Foundation reminds us on its billboards, good without god. In fact, to me, being "good" *because* of some divinity's demanding it requires far less human capital than being good simply because one knows it is the right thing to do. Behaving for positive reasons also to me has far more moral value than behaving to avoid "damnation" of some sort.

I also reject the "I'm spiritual, not religious" meme. I am awestruck at beauty, whether created by nature or by humans. If that awestruck-ness is "spiritual," I have not noticed.

That being said, there is a secular joy to be found in group communion, which is, I believe, one of the key forces binding so many people to religious belief and practice.