This is my first ever blog (apologies for any amateur mistakes) and is purely a response to a challenge posted a few years ago by atheist blogger Ebon Musings, which I found through Greta Christina’s Alternet article “6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe In God.” I chose to create my response through Alternet, mainly because I like the site, but also because the views published on Alternet are overwhelmingly atheist, with the occasional fire and brimstone, repent-or-be-damned nutso appearing on the comment pages. I have not encountered anyone on Alternet, and very few anywhere else, with my particular set of beliefs. Hopefully this post can provide an alternative viewpoint to atheism without setting anyone at anyone else’s throat.
Ebon Musing’s article was called “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists.” To give a very brief summary, the main points of the article were:
1) Faith leads theists to be closed-minded, as nothing will convince them they are mistaken in their beliefs.
2) Theists have in the past accused atheists of being equally closed-minded, as nothing could convince them to accept the God Hypothesis.
3) Atheists, or at least Ebon Musings, are not closed-minded, and to prove it, he supplies a list of things that would convince him of the existence of God.
4) He invites theists to create their own list of things that could persuade them to take up atheism.
It was that invitation that spurred me to create this post. I read a lot of atheist writings, and I sympathise with the atheist position a hell of a lot more than with the organized churches or the fire and brimstone types. However, as a spiritual believer I am generally unmoved by the usual challenge atheists tend to throw into the ether: “Prove your religious/spiritual beliefs to me!” My intuitive response is “why should I?” Atheists are only impressed by rationality, and my spiritual beliefs are by nature irrational. Trying to convince a rationalist by irrational means is opening myself up for ridicule. Also, proselytising is not my thing. I like atheists. The last thing I’d want to do would be convert all the atheists to my beliefs. Who would be left to light a fire under religious bigots?
But “what could convince you of my beliefs?” Now we’re talking. Or at least I am. Like most people, theist or atheist, talking about myself is one of the great joys in my life. Discussing my beliefs on my own terms holds great appeal, particularly as I’d hate to be accused of closed-mindedness. So, here I go.
Firstly, I am not technically a theist. I am a panentheist. I know the challenge was aimed at theists, so if it makes you feel better you can think of me as a theist with a prefix. What is a panentheist? Panentheism comes from Greek, meaning “All-in-God.” In a broad, umbrella definition, it refers to God existing within absolutely everything, down to the last atom. Panentheist thought is present in most major religions, always adapted to suit the particular dogma and theologian. As I never had any dogma, my conception of panentheism is different to most.
1) There is a universal spirit that runs through everything.
2) It is conscious.
3) The best word for its fundamental nature is Love.
Generally, this universal being has a physical dimension we call the universe, and a spiritual dimension I call God. Any reference I make to God simply means this spiritual consciousness. (And yes, I refer to God as a he. Sorry feminists, that just feels more comfortable to me. I don’t mean to imply he has male genitalia.)
I do not believe:
1) God created the universe. I don’t pretend to know how the universe came to be, and if people who know more about it than I do say the Big Bang is the most likely theory, I’m prepared to accept that.
2) God acts outside the laws of nature. The laws of nature are part of God’s physical manifestation. So no miracles.
3) God Loves humanity any more than he Loves any other part of the universe. Which still means he Loves us a whole lot, just that he won’t be answering prayers.
Richard Dawkins described beliefs such as mine as “sexed-up atheism,” which for his purposes was fair enough. His point was that while the objective universe would look very different if the Christian God existed, there would be little or no objective difference given my God’s existence. Why, then, I hear Dawkins and his backing choir of New Atheists cry, believe in your God at all?
The answer to that question is where I’m going to lose most of the atheist readers, if I haven’t already. My reasons for believing in my particular version of a panentheist God are due to several entirely subjective mystical experiences, which I interpreted as a direct experience of God. At least two of these were free of any external chemical influence, another two were on magic mushrooms, another one hard to say. I hear the atheists sneering in derision at the idea of using chemically induced delusions as evidence for God’s existence. This despite the two I experienced completely sober, one before I’d ever tried drugs, one of which after quitting all psychedelics permanently six months previously. That’s fine, but remember I am not trying to convince you. This time around, it is your job to convert me.
Here’s how you could do it:
Convince me that, in lieu of any objective evidence that contradicts my beliefs, I should ignore the subjective experience that led to and confirmed my beliefs, or change my interpretation of it.
Remember, as far as I know, nothing in my spiritual beliefs directly contradicts scientific theories of the universe. Dawkins writes a lot about the right comment of the probability of God’s existence, even though we are unable to prove or disprove it either way. I’m no scientist, but as far as I can see the complete lack of objective evidence supporting or contradicting my theory of God would make the scientific probablility 50/50. I’m sure Dawkins would say that this makes it pointless to comment on either way, which scientifically speaking is true. However, while it may make no difference to science, it makes a huge difference to me. So I have a complete lack of objective evidence contradicting my God, and a wealth of subjective experience supporting my God. This is why I believe.
Here’s two things that could convince to me ignore or change my intepretation of my experience:
1) Objective evidence that contradicts my theory of God. This may well be scientifically impossible, as my theory of God encompasses everything science knows about the universe. We may even be in the realm of “disprove the spaghetti monster.” However, if there was some scientific insight into the nature of the universe which made it impossible for my God to exist, I would accept that.
2) Proof that my subjective beliefs were in some way bad for me or the people around me. If it could be shown to me that I held a belief with no objective evidence that was harmful to my quality of life or the people I cared about, I would abandon it immediately. However, I can say for certain that my spiritual beliefs have positively enriched my own life, and the people I care about seem to enjoy my company irrespective of those beliefs. Atheists not liking me doesn’t count.
There may be other things which could prove persuasive, but those are the two that spring readily to mind.
Finally, I’ve tried to anticipate some objections to what I have written above.
1) “Your spiritual beliefs are tailored to avoid direct confrontation with scientific theory.” I can see how some people might think this, and all I can do is acknowledge that and say, well, no they’re not. My beliefs were formed directly from my experiences, and how I intepreted those experiences. I didn’t have atheism in mind at all apart from the realization that I no longer was one.
2) “You had an intense experience, and applied the intepreation that seemed most appealing. You believe because you want to.” Completely true. And? So? What?
3) “Subjective experiences that have no basis in objective reality should always be ignored.” Why? Obviously those subjective experiences that remove your capacity to function in the outside world should be distrusted, if only for purely practical reasons. But I think what goes on inside my head is just as important to my life- my life, mind you, not anybody else’s- as what goes on out there.
So that’s my response to Ebon Muse’s challenge. Please comment on this if it interests you. Advice on blogging for a newbie would also be highly appreciated.