82. grace


What I’m suggesting is that Feng Shui and an awful lot of other things are precisely of that kind of problem. There are all sorts of things we know how to do, but don’t necessarily know what we do, we just do them. Go back to the issue of how you figure out how a room or a house should be designed and instead of going through all the business of trying to work out the angles and trying to digest which genuine architectural principles you may want to take out of what may be a passing architectural fad, just ask yourself, ‘how would a dragon live here?’ We are used to thinking in terms of organic creatures; an organic creature may consist of an enormous complexity of all sorts of different variables that are beyond our ability to resolve but we know how organic creatures live. We’ve never seen a dragon but we’ve all got an idea of what a dragon is like, so we can say, ‘Well if a dragon went through here, he’d get stuck just here and a little bit cross over there because he couldn’t see that and he’d wave his tail and knock that vase over’. You figure out how the dragon’s going to be happy here and lo and behold! you’ve suddenly got a place that makes sense for other organic creatures, such as ourselves, to live in.

So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it’s worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it’s worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there. I suspect that as we move further and further into the field of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work and live together. Therefore, I would argue that though there isn’t an actual god there is an artificial god and we should probably bear that in mind.
– Douglas Adams, speech, Cambridge U.K., September 1998

As a burgeoning agnostic atheist, I’ll be the first to admit that in my newly-found “belief” can be almost as dogmatic as the fundamentalist dogmatism that I supposedly rally against. Tonight – or this morning, which ever way you look at it –my best friend Emily challenged my quasi-extremist views on religion and faith, which made me think more carefully about what it is that I actually “believe.” Yes, atheism (even my agnostic atheist variety) is a religion in its own right; and she also pointed out that not all atheists are of the Dawkins variety. Atheism is merely the belief in the non-existence of God.

And not all atheists care about religion, or wish to see an end put to it. Richard Dawkins is essentially a secular humanist of the rationalist school of thought; but his view and that of Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, P.Z. Myers and the like is hardly typical of all atheists. Some are more extremist in their views, while others are more laissez-faire.

Personally, having come out of fundamentalism, I will (again) be the first to admit that I emerged deeply wounded by the teachings of the Church and some of the people within the Church who, even if they were well-intended, still contributed to the wounding. So it stands to reason that my anger towards Christianity is partially fueled by that.

On the other hand, I also have a unique perspective on the inner workings of the church and its teachings that some atheists who have not “passed through the experience of Christianity” can’t appreciate. They may understand the problems with the teachings of Christianity, but just as a prisoner of war understands the experience of having been in a concentration camp and having seen the brutality of humanity firsthand, I understand Christianity for having been raised in it and still living with the ghosts of its abuses.

“Is there an artificial god?” was the title of Douglas Adams’ speech that he gave at the Digital Biota 2 conference in September of 1998. (I’ve quoted from it here before.) In it, he basically ponders what harm believing in God can really do. If you believe that an all-powerful deity created the universe and everything in it, what’s the harm? If you’re not hurting other people, what does it matter? He compares it to fung shui, in that it’s an architectural system that uses a metaphysical narrative to achieve more simply what a PhD in engineering does with all of its theories and architectural principles. Instead of painstakingly working out the psychological impact that putting a chair here or a window there has on people… well, here’s Adams again:

Apparently, we need to think about the building being inhabited by dragons and look at it in terms of how a dragon would move around it. So, if a dragon wouldn’t be happy in the house, you have to put a red fish bowl here or a window there. This sounds like complete and utter nonsense, because anything involving dragons must be nonsense – there aren’t any dragons, so any theory based on how dragons behave is nonsense. What are these silly people doing, imagining that dragons can tell you how to build your house?

I’m going to take just a moment to argue for religion. Fundamentally, if believing that God created the universe and cares about you in particular, and it’s a “gorgeous myth” (as a friend of mine recently called it) that you can build your life around in the same way that we order our houses by how a dragon would be happy in it, and it brings you some degree of happiness, peace and contentment, then good for you. Go on believing that if it literally helps you sleep at night. And I mean it. There are some people who have had such horrific or painful experiences in their lives that, well, maybe believing in God is going to do more for them than slugging it out in years of psychoanalysis.

Some things science has no answers for, like why children are recruited as child soldiers, forced to commit atrocities and become victimizers themselves; why priests are allowed to go from parish to parish, abusing children seemingly without impunity and leaving them emotional wrecks; or why earthquakes level entire cities, killing millions in the blink of an eye, as though they were flies or ants. We can explain it sociologically, psychologically, geologically. But maybe believing that there is a God who hears your prayers and sympathizes with your pain is simpler for getting through the day.

I’ll leave it there because there’s a lot more I could say about the subject, and I’m making a concerted effort to be nice.


2 thoughts on “82. grace

  1. Brandon

    I’m sorry, you do not understand the definition of atheism. Atheism is not “the belief that there are no gods,” but rather “the lack of belief in the existence of gods.” A-theism = WITHOUT theism = without a belief in gods.

    • David


      Awwww, are you studying philosophy and religion at Uni or something? Internet mansplaining like this amuses me to no end. Thanks for the smirk.

      Love and kisses,

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