One of the most common arguments used against the concept of a perfect, divine entity is that there is so much evil and suffering in the world. You don’t have to look far away to see pain, anguish and horrific mistreatment and to many people this is conclusive evidence that if there is a God; He cannot be both good and omnipotent. I’ve heard responses to this point that have been awful, and have seen some that completely dodge around it, ignoring the object and instead feeding you a decoy lined with uncommon theological jargon.
I think, certainly in the UK, people see Christianity as a form of life insurance, something that old people turn to in order to feel safe for their future. People have a very traditional view of what it means to be a Christian, and what church is like and see it is somewhere to go to when your mind is slowly deteriorating that gives comfort and peace in those final years. It is true that this aspect of Christianity exists, this is undeniable, but anyone who takes any of the teachings seriously will tell you that faith in the Christian God is far more complex, and far more relational than just a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Success is an interesting concept to consider because it’s definition is hyper-variable from person to person. My copy of The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as:
“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
You may be surprised as to how general that definition is. Of course, when we talk about success in general we are talking about the success of one’s life; how satisfied we are with the accomplishment of our own personal goals. These vary from person to person from happiness to love, sex, money, power, changing the world, having kids, marriage, having material published in their name – the list is endless. But is there a right or wrong answer?
People make snap judgments about almost everything, it’s a perfectly logical natural instinct that prevents you from coming into contact with the same bad thing twice and, equally, leads you to do something pleasurable again and again until you lose interest. I am of course making an overgeneralisation and oversimplification of something that’s influenced by a number of other factors but the principle remains. I know this because I do it myself all the time, we just can’t help it. A good way of testing this point on unsuspecting individuals, provided they are in a talkative mood, is to ask them about their recent holiday destinations, provided they’ve recently been on holiday. You’ll find people saying things like “Oh yes! ‘insert-country-here’ is a lovely country, beautiful scenery, the food’s not too great though,” despite having visited the capital city for just four days, eating at the hotel restaurant every night and visiting two museums and a temple.
There are a variety of different faiths in this world that share the opinion that there is only that faith that can save you from condemnation. Of these faiths, a proportion actively try to convert people to their own belief in order to save them from suffering. This tends to be for one of two reasons:
- They believe they are commanded by the laws of their religion to spread the word and change people’s way of thinking.
- They feel genuine empathy for the people around them and wish to save them out of pity for their damnation.
I don’t know about you, but I personally have no qualms about these reasons; they seem perfectly acceptable and respectable reasons to share a belief. In fact, in any other context it would be considered immoral and downright evil not to share the knowledge of something that could save one’s life. Try to remember this next time you feel like someone is “shoving a belief down your throat” – they are doing it to save you.
The concept of existence is a difficult one to get your head around. It probably seems clear to you that you exist. It probably seems clear to you that your friends and family exist. You’ve never had any reason to question existence in general, and it can be uncomfortable to do so, I assure you.
First, let’s take a look at the people around you, people you share experiences with. Can you really be sure that they shared those experiences with you? You are undoubtedly conscious of the first time you kissed someone, or at least conscious of a time you’ve kissed someone, you remember it. But it is impossible to discern whether anyone else’s consciousness is anything but an illusion; you may, essentially, have been kissing an organic robot that is incapable of experience – it simply follows scripting in a similar fashion to computer software.
If you’ve seen any of my blog posts before you’ll have noticed that my interests ultimately lie in ‘the big picture’; I’m fascinated by things that can never be fully explained, confirmed nor denied. I thought I’d use this post to explore some of the reasons why I think it’s important to consider things that many people dismiss because of their woolly, impossible-to-prove nature.
So, philosophy in my edition of The New Oxford Dictionary of English philosophy is defined as thus:
“The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence…”
What could be more interesting than thinking about the very foundations of our existence, than forming opinions on the meaning of life, what everything comes down to? The word comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘philosophia’ meaning ‘love of wisdom’ and, to me, there is a clear reason why the Greeks considered such a discipline as wisdom.
Atheism seems to be the belief of choice these days and appears to be the encouraged or logical view presented by much of mainstream media. It is also clear to see that the Western world is developing a culture where religion is to be neither seen nor heard, something outdated and old-fashioned, perhaps something that was used to explain the unexplainable before science unraveled all of the answers. But science can never tell us everything we can possibly know about the world. This is partially because there is such a great volume of ‘knowledge’ out there, partially because of the philosophical concept that this knowledge is an illusion and partially because there are some (or ‘all’ if you are comfortable with the former point – I’ll do a post about it another time) things which just cannot be proven.
Agnosticism was where I found myself after seeing the error of my ways, which seemed the logical step to take from my rather depressing nihilism. This is the view that you should see many scientists taking, as it is really the only belief that all evidence supports – the idea that we cannot ever fully know what the answers are. The term is thought to be coined by British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, an avid supporter of the work of Charles Darwin. He writes:
“I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it… Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing in anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not?”
That seemed to make sense to me, because it does make sense. We don’t have enough evidence to prove anything. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to find some for yourself. There are a great many religions out there that claim that a lack of faith grants you eternal damnation and as an agnostic you accept that any one of those religions could be correct. If you really take this concept seriously then I challenge you to tell me that you wouldn’t want to try your best to find the truth out for yourself.
As I explained in my “About” post, I used to be a nihilist. To recap, nihilists believe that a person’s consciousness ceases to exist in their death. It all comes down to nothing. To me, this seemed like the only logical conclusion an atheist could come to; in the absence of a supernatural world, death is the absolute conclusion of human life and it is reduced to nothing. Hence, the word nihilism is derived from the Latin, ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’ or ‘zero’.
I think you’d be surprised how many people are nihilists without knowing it. In my experience it is incredibly common to come across an atheist that believes that it is absolutely ‘the end’ when you die. These people tend to be the most emphatic in their arguments against religion and often profess to know a lot about science. Very few nihilists, however, wholeheartedly live by the principles of their faith.
You may be taken aback, or perhaps amused, by my use of the word ‘faith’ to describe a belief in nothing. But nihilism holds a faith equal to that of Christianity or Islam. There is no evidence to support the idea that death is the end, and how could there be? It’s not possible to ask the dead of their experience. It is therefore a completely faith-based belief.