Sunday, February 08, 2009

Summa Contra Atheosi

Yet another thing is making me peevish about the whole Gay Marriage thing.

Every time the issue comes up on the gay or gay-ish weblogs I read, there is this anti-religious bent taken by commenters.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that people who are advocating for allowing same sex couples to take part in what is usually a religious ceremony have such bad things about religion?

For someone like myself--both gay and religious--this always prompts an internal dialog. On the one hand, I want to jump up and proclaim something along the lines of, "Hey! Wait a minute! I'm a Christian, too! So don't be hatin' on Jesus! I'm not like those anti-Prop 8 Christians!"

But I have to admit, I am like those anti-Prop 8 Christians. Because I actually and really and truly believe in God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, Sin and Judgment, and even Transubstantiation. Although I might be coming from a different place theologically, for all intents and purposes, there are only shades of difference once you get over some of those major humps. I read the same Bible that they read and recite the same Creed as many of them and sing the same hymns and say the same prayers.

Stuck in an elevator for six hours, I'd have a lot more to talk about with someone who was a Christian Prop 8 supporter than I would with a gay atheist Prop 8 opponent.

So I've been thinking a lot about atheism.

Atheism has always been a complicated thing for me to think about. I believe in God, but I don't know for certain that there's a God. So when someone asserts that there is no God, I have to admit to myself that he or she might be right.

But thinking about all this recently, I think I've arrived at a comeback of sorts, and I look forward to my next conversation with an avowed atheist. Hopefully one that has recently read a lot of books by Daniel Dennet recently.

Namely: Do you also not believe in love?

Well, do you? Whether it be romantic love, or brotherly love, or love of a parent for a child or a child for a parent, or even love of country? If you want to be logically consistent, the same arguments raised against the existence of God can all easily be raised against the existence of love. Fundamentally, love just doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Two people destined to Be Together? Love at first sight? People who give up their lives for those they love? And, of course, the very idea of lifelong love, that you'll always feel about someone the way you do right now that gives rise to that marriage ceremony in the first place? I mean, really? Really??? That makes sense to you?

And then there's the whole Thomas Paine thing, about all the violence and bloodshed that has come from belief in God. Well what about all the violence and bloodshed that has come from belief in love? Just about every night somewhere not too far from you someone blows away either a romantic rival or a cheating spouse. The Crusades and the Thirty Years War, on the other hand, both happened a long, long time ago.

You have to admit, the human race would be much better off if we let go of this ridiculous and dangerous collection of wooly-headed ideas that goes under the heading of "Love." After all, it's only an orgasm. Or as Dulcinea sang, "One man is like another; I'll go with you, or with your brother." And although it's probably best for human beings not yet equipped to care for themselves to grow to maturity in a supportive environment, after about the age of eighteen the work is done, right? Shouldn't the parties involved be free to wash their hands of each other? And absent perpetuation of one's gene pool, what could possibly be the point of plighting your trough with another human being? It could only be some deep-seated psychological problem that you should seek treatment for. Surely the whole idea would have died out ages ago if it were not for the fact that plenty of people make a hell of a lot of money off of it, from the purveying of intoxicating beverages and chocolate and restaurants and cruise lines upscale old age homes... Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What would be the point of keeping someone around who is no longer able to make any meaningful contribution to society except some misplace sentimentality? And the economic damage measured in terms of lost productivity are all but incalculable.

You just try to defend your belief in the existence of love.

Oh neurochemicals. Right. Oxytocin, Phenylethylamine, Testosterone, Cortisol, and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).


For one thing, there is a similar neurochemical basis for religious experience, from alpha waves in the brain during meditation to the feeling of the self dissolving into cosmic oneness with all that is that is among the experiences when the amygdala is flooded with endorphins. And since introducing similar chemical compounds can create exactly the same experience, once again you are forced to the deduction that what we call love is mere illusion, about as significant as a hit of heroin, and nothing that should affect your decision making or say anything about who you are.

So you get what I'm saying?

I have yet to begin my field research, but I'm willing to bet that few and far between are atheists who will profess that love is nothing more than a ridiculous self-delusion indicative of neurosis and nothing that they would want to have anything to do with.

We all believe in love, and the evidence is in our lives. (Well, maybe not all of us. I'm betting that any well-practiced buddhists reading this are nodding their heads and thinking, "Yeah. So what's your point?"

But you see, Mr. or Ms. Atheist, the way you hold on to your belief in love despite all the evidence, and the way that you are lead to continue to believe in love by your life experience, and the way that love motivates you to do all sorts of things that just don't make any rational sense when you get right down to it... Well, you can just substitute God for love and you'll see what your up against in trying to convince me that I'm deluding myself.

And what's more, I've read enough theology to know (ahem.) that my belief in God, although not proven by reason, is in itself reasonable: although you cannot definitively prove the existence of God, you cannot prove that God does not exist either.

But overall, when it has come out in conversation that the person I'm talking to is an atheist, particularly when that someone is a person whom I care about, I feel sorry for them. I mean, sure, if you want to go through life like that, cutting yourself off from all of the good stuff that's made my life so much richer and fuller, then I guess that's your choice. But why would anyone want to do that? It's like going through life and always refusing dessert. Of course it's nutritionally jejune, and probably not in your best interests to partake, but what the hell? Live a little, why don'chya?

I like the music, and I like being reminded to be humble and to try to be a better person than I would be left to my own devices, and when confronted with the tragic in my daily life, I take comfort in being able to ask God that all will work together for some greater good somehow. And I like not having to figure everything out for myself and being assured that it's alright if I don't understand because man's capacity for understanding is limited. And I like to live in a world where the miraculous is possible. And most of all, I like to live in a world where love not only matters, but 2000 years ago, love conquered death.


Sebastian said...

A really good post! I think that one of the tragedies of the current situation is the hostile estrangement between many gays - and one could say gay culture - and religion. It was not like that when I was growing up, when it was quite accepted that gays were most often deeply spiritual, and often enough very active in churches. Now there seems to be a mutual estrangement.

kiturgy said...

Of course, there is always the false dichotomy--that doubt is not consonant with faith. Remembering that the opposite of faith is certainty, not doubt. And there's also agnosticism, not at all the same thing as atheism. But society loves dualism--so much simpler! A major feature of the Prop 8 folks rhetoric. I jsut remember my former bishop quoting George Will (I believe) on Gay marriage--something to the effect that as conservatives, they cannot just accept gay marriage, they must require it. Hmph.

Anonymous said...

O, Good Grief! I am always amazed when Gay people buy into religious stuff. Next time you’re “trapped on an elevator” with a religious person, try discussing your affection for “whipping a man ’til he bleeds.” Why can’t we just love other human beings and ourselves? Period. (Check out Humanism and Montaigne.) Why do we have to “look for a Wizard behind the curtain?” I don’t have to prove that there’s no Wizard, YOU have to prove there IS. And although the Crusades were a while back, Northern Ireland’s troubles, Bosnia, Proposition 8, and hanging gay teens in Iran are not. I wish there were a Tooth Fairy, but there’s not. Thanks for the Hot Pot ideas—they make sense.