Why Atheism May Be the Best Way to Understand God
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Agnosticism does not permit us to take either approach. Agnosticism can't ask the fundamental questions about God. Or man. It leads to triviality or incoherence.
The Way Forward
If we start as agnostics, we can't ask the fundamental questions.
We can look at what people do, but not understand why they do it. We can look at the forms that religion and spiritual practices take, but we can't understand why spiritual practices and religion exist, in all their various forms. We can find out a lot about the subject, but not really understand it or create a coherent theory that explains it.
If we start with belief, we're stuck.
We can't go up to God, drag him into the witness box, make him swear on himself, then cross examine him about what he's really like, what he really wants from us, and why he keeps sending different messages.
We can't get up close and examine him. We can't set up scientific tests to measure and evaluate him.
All we have are "revealed truths."
But we have too many. There's no way to sort out which is "truthier," short of killing each other in the hopes that only one side will be left standing. We've been doing that for over a thousand years, without making any progress.
We are at the same impasse today that we were at when Richard the Lionheart went off to Jerusalem to fight Saladin.
In the effort to understand religion and faith, belief -- even if it's correct -- is a dead end. If we start from there, we end there. There is no way forward.
If we start with atheism, we are asking questions about ourselves. That's something we can do.
We can examine ourselves, test ourselves, and see if our theories -- hypotheses -- about ourselves will stand up to examination. We can insist on consistency and coherence. If our ideas don't work, we can change them, and change them again, until they do.
We can even go in front of panel of judges of all the different faiths and say, "if you're willing to pretend for a moment that God doesn't exist, would this theory make sense?"
If we can't succeed, and there is no way to explain what's going on from a position of unbelief, then we have to eventually give it up and go at it from a different perspective.
Even if you, personally are a believer or an agnostic, and you are in search of some way to advance our understanding of faith and religion, to get past the impasse we've been at for millennia, there's only one way forward.
There are three doors. One leads us to confusion. One goes to a dead end.
Paradoxically, there's only one that offers the possibility of increasing our understanding of God, the one through unbelief.
Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog , The Librarian , and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin . His latest book is Salvation Boulevard . Responses can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.