A thank you to my atheist friends: One reason why I’m a believer

I have given a lot of thought as to why I believe in more than just this life, or why I believe in something bigger, stronger, and wiser* than I am…. than we are.

Bigger than the Big Bang.

I really need to thank my atheist friends for this. Their challenging inquiries and debates have forced me to ponder why I believe what I do. I am all the more self-examined and reflective because of that.

In these types of discussions, the idea of subjective emotional experience gets brought up, and for good reason many scoff at that idea as being valid enough to rest the course of one’s life on. That issue is for another post.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of one of my thrice yearly existential crises, I started to wonder: Why, excluding my “feelings,” do I believe in something beyond humanity?

Existence.

The very idea of existence is baffling to me. Why does anything or anyone exist? The very idea of anything “being” or “existing” causes me to believe in something bigger. Something that although I can’t see, I believe in.

The interesting thing is, a lot of atheists may not necessarily disagree with me… they just don’t believe in any particular form of that “something.” I have constructed that something, based on my feelings, experiences, results of my activity in my faith, my family, what provides meaning, and what connects me the most with a desire to love and serve others.

If, in the end, what I have constructed turns out to largely be myth, that is okay.

If it turns out that this whole time I have had only a small part of the picture, that is okay. It is okay because the process, the journey, and the growth are a LOT more important now to me than the ultimate destination.

We cannot worry about the end state now.

We cannot worry too much about what heaven will be like, or who will be there, or if it even exists. We must concern ourselves with what we are doing now.

We exist.

We are, therefore, there IS something. Bigger, stronger, and wiser.

Please, let me know your thoughts. Is my thinking flawed? Is it on target? Can you relate? Does the accepted fact of “existence” stir anything in you?

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About shenpa warrior

"Patience is not learned in safety." View all posts by shenpa warrior

21 responses to “A thank you to my atheist friends: One reason why I’m a believer

  • G

    wow, I was thinking something VERY similar just last night.
    “If, in the end, what I have constructed turns out to largely be myth, that is okay. If it turns out that this whole time I have had only a small part of the picture, that is okay.”

    that, what you just said, is almost exactly what my little brain came up with.
    ironically, my little brain leans more towards the “I don’t think there’s anything bigger/more out there”…
    but the end result for me, and the meaning/purpose I find in life is very similar to what you said.
    “We must concern ourselves with what we are doing now.”
    yep.

    And thank YOU 🙂

  • adamf

    Beautiful, G. Thank you. If one’s belief system, in anything or nothing, leads to purpose, meaning, better process, and concern with the here-and-now, I’m 100% for it.

  • Steve

    That is pretty good, G. I’m always on the fence, having been a little bit of everything at one time or another. Sometimes, I even wonder “DO we exist?” Is this all some crazy dream or at best, wild animals running around in the woods. But in the end, I too think, ‘WTF!’ Meaning, live your life the best way you know how, if there is no heaven or afterlife, then you can feel proud and if there is like religions try to sell, then God, Christ, Allah, etc. seem like pretty righteous dudes who understand our issues and again, if I did the best I could given my strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances, then I have nothing to worry about! hahahaha.

  • Guest Writer 800+

    I’m mostly with the previous comments. Except, Steve, Allah and YHWH are freaky dudes that I would find myself leading a heavenly rebellion against (so, also, with many other gods believed to be out there), but Jesus and the god of the New Testament are definitely a step up.

    “Does the accepted fact of “existence” stir anything in you?” It stirs excitement and wonder in me.

    I am fine with there being certain unanswerable questions. Even when we find answers to previous questions, it often brings more. I am most comfortable with answers that hold under scrutiny and attack. That is the scientific method and, I think, the most noble method of answer-finding in existence.

    Through the ages, the myths rise and fall, come and go, but the truth does not. It remains, even when no one else is aware of it. It is the sum of all existence.

    I like to question and scrutinize everything. This includes religion. If I feel that it does not hold up under the scrutiny, then down it goes in my estimation. But, perhaps, this is also because I did not feel like my religion made me a better person, but rather a worse one. If I felt differently, perhaps I would have chosen my path differently. Perhaps, also, I felt like it was holding me back in the area that means the most to me- intellectual pursuit. Eventually, I butted up against the fact that my pursuit of truth was leading me away from my religion, because the facts were against it.

    To these greater questions of existence, I am comfortable with waiting for more answers as we humans continue to explore and probe the universe around us. I think Carl Sagan sums up my thoughts quite well on this one:

  • adamf

    Steve – I think I have gone back and forth at times as well, just not enough to sway me significantly.

    GW 800+ – You’re still using your sweet handle! 😉

    Great comment, and thanks for the video-in-the-comment. That is a first for me… I really like the points Sagan makes in the video as well. Big stuff! Unanswerable questions indeed… kind of like the “why?” question. The only answer I have to that is “why not?”

  • JulieAnn

    Adam…

    2 Nephi, 2:25.

    he he he he

    Seriously though, I think that’s the only scripture I truly buy into.

    The problem, I think, is that people take things too literal (funny coming from me, the powerless, aggressive-driving, nasty, mean-spirited former stripper that I am….)

    In our constant search for what ‘will be’ tomorrow next year, or in the herefter, we do forget the Now. In pondering our existence, we also forget that we exist with others, and we lose our compassion and empathy because the existential angst wracks us with uncertainty.

    Religions biggest sale, the one thing that ropes us all in is the sale of certainty. “I KNOW this church is true”. “I know God exists.”

    Human beings are terrified of not knowing. That you can sit with the unknown and appreciate the journey is half the battle. If the “now” for you includes ritual that I find to be make-believe, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what people do on a Sunday. But it seems to me that if we spent more time doing and giving and less time taking, we’d all find more of that elusive joy.

    A church or a religion is merely a vehicle by which people can (hopefull) practice compassion and service. It’s just too bad that it takes a religion, with all of the additional dogma, to do that. Why don’t people figure it out on their own? Because we are taught from an early age not to trust ourselves (“..natural man is an enemy…” and all of that crap)

    Back to the ‘literal’. If people understood really what the “at-one-ment” was about, they would stop worrying about their place in the world and start worrying about how they can make the ‘place’ of others better.

    Just my thoughts. Vinegar aside.

    JulieAnn

  • adamf

    Heh, I can think of at least a few other verses that you could buy into, lol. Like all the stuff on love… Btw, have you read “The Year of Living Biblically?” It kind of changed my views on the Bible a little.

    Interesting that you would bring up “knowing” and certainty – another friend of mine just wrote about that a few days ago: http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/verbal-laziness-and-beliefs/

    “Human beings are terrified of not knowing. That you can sit with the unknown and appreciate the journey is half the battle.”

    This applies in all kinds of ways I think. Tolerating ambiguity and uncertainty is a huge part of emotional intelligence, and in life in general.

    “But it seems to me that if we spent more time doing and giving and less time taking, we’d all find more of that elusive joy.”

    Agreed again. DO-ing is what is most important. That is one reason why I love Mormonism, rather than most other Christ-centered religions. While service is important to them, they put the core emphasis on “belief” as if it were always a choice. Some people just believe, and some just don’t. What we DO matters a lot more to me… although what we are “becoming” is probably the most important, and we become something by loving and serving others, which is an action, so yeah. Doing.

    “We are taught from an early age not to trust ourselves”

    That is unfortunate, imho. While I did not get that message growing up in my family, I realize there are MANY who did. In my opinion, the “natural man” being an enemy refers to the lack of impulse control, structure, values, etc. It is anything that prevents growth or progress. We are all “naturally” good and growth-oriented, but also have to learn to regulate our emotions (and all that existential angst) in ways that are healthy and consistent with that growth-orientation. Prime example (although perhaps an outlier) being the seminary teacher who manipulated his student into all these sexual encounters. The natural man there is that he made a lot of unfortunate choices along the way that were inconsistent with what he should have been doing. He gave into his “passions” and “sexual impulses” etc. WITHOUT regard for EVERYTHING else in his life. The natural man is an unbalanced and an impulsively unrestrained man… Perhaps using the word “natural” hangs people up on this one though.

    “If people understood really what the “at-one-ment” was about, they would stop worrying about their place in the world and start worrying about how they can make the ‘place’ of others better.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Andrew

    …I’m at a loss over here…this’ll be a long (yet inconsequential comment).

    Existence?

    Existence?

    Is existence supposed to stir anything in me? How can you be “on track” or “off track?” I don’t even know if you’ve said anything (though you have plenty of nice words.) How can I discern if your thinking was flawed when…I feel you’re working off a gut reaction and still haven’t divulged the thinking?

    Quite simply, I can not comprehend the nature of the attack!

    For me, existence tells me about…existence. It doesn’t go further than that.

    Why does anyone or anything exist? This question seems deeply, deeply inconsequential…Something that we can’t answer but even more importantly, that even if we *could* answer, the answer would be completely and utterly irrelevant to our lives. Existence SIMPLY comes first. Nothing else about it really matters.

    And that’s how things play out for me. The facts on the ground are that we *do* exist. So, it doesn’t matter why or why not. It doesn’t matter that there could have been nothing instead of something, because we are here and there *is* something. Let’s say our universe *is* an intensely rare freak accident that *was* an intensely rare freak accident. So what? If not, we wouldn’t be here to waste time about it. There *are* “somethings” and “someones”. So what will we do?

  • Krystle

    Hi!

    So,

    1. I take partial credit for this post, because I have drilled you plenty. I wish agnostics had gotten a shoutout in the title. 🙂

    2. I’d like to take this opportunity to humbly thank all the right wing fundamentalists who have, through their actions and attitudes, caused me to cling even more to my little floating-rock-o-agnosticism.

    That’s not confrontational, right? I mean, my point is essentially the same as your point…and, it’s valid (for me)!

    We all have our own road, and I’m glad you’re happy with yours! I think you set a good example for your faith. Thanks for being patient with my own religious hangups.

    Most sincerely,
    K to the rystle

  • adamf

    Andrew

    “Is existence supposed to stir anything in
    me?”

    Is it? Do you feel like it’s supposed to? I had not thought of it that way…

    How can you be “on track” or “off track?”

    Hmm… I’m not sure I even know what a “track” is, especially in these topics.

    I don’t even know if you’ve said anything (though you have plenty of nice words.) How can I discern if your thinking was flawed when…I feel you’re working off a gut reaction and still haven’t divulged the thinking?

    Perhaps that’s part of the problem. I disagree that “gut reactions” are somehow different then “thoughts” but I’m not sure how to explain it better. Perhaps the “off track” part for some is my connection from existence to a higher being. In my “gut” as you say, perhaps that makes total sense. For others, it’s just words I suppose. Now off to breakfast. My gut is empty.

    “I can not comprehend the nature of the attack!”

    Not quite sure what you mean by that one… “attack!” You atheists, always framing things like this as attacks, lol. No attacks here, only my thoughts er gut reactions.

    “Why does anyone or anything exist? This question seems deeply, deeply inconsequential…”

    Interesting. This is part of the reason why I wrote this post. I wanted to see how others felt about that question. For me it apparently means a lot… and I need to sit with this for a few more years… it is a realization I had a few weeks ago. I don’t know if it’s true, but it IS useful (i.e. consequential to me) because it cured me of a mini-crisis I was having, I’m sure it’s not as intense, but felt like William James and his leap of faith in free will that cured his depression.

    Krystle:

    Lol, agnostics will get a shoutout next time! I wonder if I was directing it towards atheists because they are usually the ones to spit vinegar in my face…  /joke.

    I do have to note that Andrew thinks that one can be an agnostic AND an atheist at the same time (don’t get him started on that though! Lol).

    “I’d like to take this opportunity to humbly thank
    all the right wing fundamentalists who have, through their actions and attitudes”

    I wonder how much they have influenced the apparent rise of secularism. Religion is a LOT easier to leave or avoid when you have fundamentalists around… so yes, be thankful! After all, what would the HuffPost write about without them? And thank YOU for putting up with all my religion talk over the last few years!

  • Andrew

    Re: AdamIs it? Do you feel like it’s supposed to? I had not thought of it that way…

    I would probably be close to saying, “No, I don’t think it’s supposed to.” I don’t think existence is “supposed” to do anything. Existence isn’t a “will”ing, directing force. My question to you is why does existence stir anything — especially belief in a higher power — within you?

    Hmm… I’m not sure I even know what a “track” is, especially in these topics.

    Well, you have this post here…and it’s substantial. You’re saying *something*, right? So, shouldn’t there be a “track” to what you’re saying? Let me try to put another way…if you didn’t know what the “point” of this post was, why did you post it? And why did you ask questions at the end, when the questions can only be answered if someone has properly understood your point?

    Perhaps the “off track” part for some is my connection from existence to a higher being. In my “gut” as you say, perhaps that makes total sense. For others, it’s just words I suppose.

    Yeah, this is a big disconnect. I know that you’re SAYING that the reason you believe in something higher is because of existence, but you haven’t explained anything relating to that. You haven’t explained your thought process. And the blog post is pretty ambitious here: you have presented this reasoning as something “other than your feelings” (see paragraph 5 of your original post) or other than “subjective emotional experience” (para. 4). So, here, I’m really LOOKING for something that makes me think you do have something more than feelings here…something more than your subjective response…but I am utterly at a loss.

    Not quite sure what you mean by that one… “attack!” You atheists, always framing things like this as attacks, lol. No attacks here, only my thoughts er gut reactions.

    Sorry, this is an obscure game quote. What I mean here is that with a conversation, people generally have a “point” of the conversation. They don’t just say words. So, I’m trying to figure out your “point,” your “track,” your “message,” your “theme,” your “thesis,” whatever you want to call it (I combine all of these ideas as an “attack,” because for me, an attack combines direction, intent, technique into a directed force), but I cannot comprehend the nature of what you’re writing.

    I wanted to see how others felt about that question. For me it apparently means a lot… and I need to sit with this for a few more years… it is a realization I had a few weeks ago.

    Well that’s the thing. I can see that the question means a lot to you, but that’s why this post baffles me. Because after reading this, I get the sense that you feel it is meaningful to you, that you had some realization, but I don’t know why or how or what. I don’t know why this is something “other than feelings.” (Although, to console, I don’t “scoff at subjective emotional experiences as being valid.” So, if it is simply subjective and emotional — a gut reaction — no skin off anyone’s nose. But if it is subjective, then do realize that I simply have to set the issue aside and chalk things up to us being rather different people in terms of subjective responses.)

    btw: good call to Krystle. I was about to get started on the agnostic/atheist thing, but I thought I derail enough blog posts across the internet…I can give things a rest.

  • Krystle

    Hey yo,

    Yes, I believe that one can be atheist and agnostic, just as I believe one can be religious and agnostic. It goes both ways. 🙂

    Peace out,
    KD

  • Krystle

    P.S. Adam, do you get discussions going in your class(es) as well as you do on your blog? ‘Cause you seem to have a gift.

    Okay – really! Going to study Stats now. Over and out!

  • Andrew

    Krystle:

    Then I think we are on the same track. I also agree it goes both ways.

  • adamf

    Krystle, lol yeah I try to work the blog discussion magic with the undergrads… Actually in the last evals I did they said they loved the class discussions, so Andrew, maybe that’s my point, haha, to practice discussing…

    More specifically though, my point of this post… to share some personal insight I had on the topic of existence a few weeks ago… It was more cognitive than emotional though, so I’m fine with it being called a subjective cognitive experience. Really, mostly just thoughts… well, ALL thought needs emotion to be put into action (that’s neuroscience, not just my opinion), so of course emotion is involved, but cognition was definitely the cause lf this one. Another reason for the post, and to see if I’m on that mysterious track or not, is to see what other people think of my thoughts on this… I’m always curious if I can articulate well enough for people to say, “yeah, I get that” even if they don’t agree… sometimes I can’t, sometimes more explanation is needed… And the world goes round and round…

  • Andrew

    what was that insight? What was the cognition? What are your thoughts?

    sorry for basic questions…

  • adamf

    No apology necessary… You have answered my question!! I DO need to figure out how to better articulate this so all may understand…

    Objective One acheived! Lol. I will have to get back to you…

  • Can you explain these things to me? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

    […] first is Adam F’s “A thank you to my atheist friends: One reason why I’m a believer”. The second is the two-page patheos post by Sam Bhagwat — Thinking Myself into […]

  • Steve

    Great discussion!

    Andrew, love your “occam razor” questions and answers. They make most sense to me. A lot of our additional speculations just seem like reverberations in the mind, many rooted in anxiety and conditioning…

    Coming from a Zen and naturalistic point of view, the essential question is ‘what is,’ not ‘why is?’ Example: “What is an orange?” seems more applicable than “Why is an orange?” Even “what do I do with an orange?” seem more important than “why do oranges exist?”

    That said, I feel life can seem blank when we don’t indulge in the subjective world of speculation. I just see them as different forms of consciousness. While the objective consciousness seems imminently practical, the subjective one is always there and probably the greater influence over humans.

    Working in the world of internal symbolism will always be easier for someone with a religion, the only danger I see is when they cannot see outside of it.

    There’s a quote that comes to mind…

    “Reason guides but a small part of man, and the rest obeys feeling, true or false, and passion, good or bad.” -Joseph Roux

  • Troth Everyman

    I realize this discussion happened a year ago…but I just happened upon it today. I think the following is relevant to your discussion. Best!

    http://www.godsci.com/gsi/doxa/god/args/00_Ground_Being.html

  • adamf

    Thanks for the link! Some of that is over my head but a lot of it is fascinating. It’s always interesting to me when I–by myself–stumble upon beliefs or ways of thinking, only later to find out that someone thought of it first.

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