Friday, February 6, 2015

Disbelief

I've mentioned before that I have struggled with my beliefs as a Catholic for a long time (since I was a teenager) but I haven't given them up yet. Which is often strange to me, because if I was someone else and read my personal history, I think I would be the sort of person who frequently becomes quite irreligious. That is, I'm in an academic field, most of the people I associate with in real life don't share my beliefs, and my own behavior frequently does not live up to my beliefs - which isn't just to say, I'm almost always late for Mass - I am - but there are other things as well.

I read a lot about atheism. I am obsessed with it to an extent. I can't see the name of a celebrity without feeling the urge to look up their beliefs, no matter how obscure (i.e. Tiffany Amber Thiessen or Gilbert Gottfried). I don't know why I do this - to insulate myself against atheists perhaps? I doubt that, since I always assume my fellow grad students are not believers, and usually I'm right. With them, though, I wouldn't want to know under any circumstances. I hold them manly of them too dearly, and deep in my heart I can always say, "I don't know for sure that they think I am a superstitious fool for believing what I do" - though, in truth, I am sure that even those of them who are nonbelievers and know I am one view that fact, when presented with it, with indulgence. We are in creative writing, after all, not evolutionary psychology.

I sometimes wonder why I can't put doubt aside or put faith aside for good. I have managed to do the former, in a way, for as much as a year and a half when I was substituting, but I think that is in large part because I had no chance for extensive personal reflection, as that job drained me of all mental energy. But anyway, I think I know the reason I cannot put doubt aside for good. I am not talking about an intellectual reason - I've learned there is no point, really, writing about the intellectual side of belief unless you are very well read in both the literature of your opponents and your supporters, and also have the "stomach" for it, and I have neither, only the limited knowledge and stomach that obsession gives one. I'm talking about a psychological reason. It is embodied in this sentence:

Christianity, and religion in general, is too good to be true.

I think this is what drives the kind of unbreakable atheism that arises in those who become atheists at 12 and go on to write atheist blogs at 17 - and then continue them indefinitely. Now, there are some atheists who would probably argue that they would find it a detestable thing to find out the God of the Old Testament was in fact real and the real and living God, and so they would say that it could not possibly be a good thing. But you can always reformulate an image of God that would be palatable to them - that is, a God who used evolution to create life so that people would not be forced to accept the truth of the Bible upon finding carbon dating confirmed it exactly, a God who will still save the virtuous atheist and not fault his lack of faith overmuch, who was heavily misinterpreted by his followers, and so on and so forth. I think this is the God that atheists talk about when they are asked what they will say to God if it turns out they are wrong and will quip that they lacked sufficient information for belief.

But this God is simply too good to be true, from a psychological perspective. Any boy who has ever been in love with a girl and considered the possibility she might love him back knows this doubt, and it is for many people - like me - the one doubt that nothing but a confession from the beloved could ever truly dispel.

Right now, I am filled with an appalling urge to rewatch a speech wherein Richard Dawkins was asked "What if you're wrong?" because I can't remember the exact answer. I know it is something like "I'm not wrong" but my obsession makes me want to know for sure. So I am going to quell that obsession by ending this entry, incomplete as it is, here.

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