“When I was just a little lad my father said:
‘Son, you see that universe?
It’s gone into the red.
You can make a world or two
And create a human race,
And watch over them from your
Throne in outer space.
And you know you won’t be bored
After you make day, because...
You can tap, tap, tap your hours away.
Thou shalt not - tap, tap, tap.
Don’t commit - tap, tap, tap.
Have no other Gods before me!’”
That funny, slightly sacrilegious song was written when I was 17 years old. My friend, David Rappaport wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. There was more to it. In fact, it was to be an entire musical that David and I decided we were going to write. Obviously, the musical was about organized religion. In this first scene, which is the opening of the musical, people are milling around on stage. They look bored, confused, and bewildered. After a while, a man says “What should we do?”. A woman answers, “I know. We should pray.” The people on stage all get down on their knees and suddenly, a man appears in flowing robes on a trapeze. He sings the song I just sang, and the musical went on from there. In fact, the “tap, tap, tap” refrain is enthusiastically sung by the people on stage in response to Jesus on the trapeze through more pretty irreverent lyrics.
Yes, I was 17 and already seriously questioning my Catholic upbringing. By that time in my life, nothing about Christianity made any sense to me. I was beginning to understand that it never would, and quite aside from the fact that I made fun of it, I was also going through a rather painful divorce from it. To be honest, my questions about Christianity started a long time before then, when I was in catechism classes as a child. Too many of the questions I raised in response to what I was being told were unsatisfactorily answered with, “Well, Clovice, that’s just a mystery of faith.” The painful divorce was a result of the feeling that my entire moral and spiritual universe was being unraveled at the core of my being.
Was I a terrible sinner? Was the devil causing me to fall away from my religion? What was wrong with me? How come I couldn’t believe things that seemed to me to be simply unbelievable? Why don’t I have enough faith to overcome my doubts, like other people seem to be able to do? These questions were all very serious to me at that time. I was drifting far away from anything I knew about religion. That growing distance made me feel isolated from other people — and it made me feel wrong. I didn’t have any guidance through those waters I was trying to navigate.
You see, at that time, I still believed in God. But I was slowly forming an opinion that whatever God existed had to be reasonable – indeed – had to be much more reasonable than the God I was taught to fear. Fear of God was one of the first things to tumble. It seemed to me that a reasonable God would not require me to be fearful of him. Why would the God that created all things in the universe need me to have any opinion of him, good or bad, fearful or praising, I thought. Why would He care?
The concept of sin didn’t seem reasonable to me, and it didn’t make sense. It’s not the definition of sin; to be in error or to cause offense, that bothered me. I understood that part. The thing that seemed unreasonable to me is that God would punish me for something that Adam and Eve did. One of those uncomfortable questions I asked in catechism was “If my father committed a crime would I have to spend the rest of my life in jail for what he did?” The answer was always “No.” Of course, you can guess that my next question elicited the “mystery of faith” response when I would then ask, “Then how come God condemns all of us for what they did?”
Of course, the whole issue of condemnation was another thing I found baffling. “Why would God create me just to condemn me for what I say or think or do? Why even create me in the first place?” So, the answer catechism offered was, we were created in the image of God. Unlike angels, who were created to serve God and glorify him, and who cannot sin, we were given free will. Okay, so what’s the advantage of having free will? Free will sounds like a bad deal to me, doesn’t it to you? I mean, if I do something to really piss God off, like having premarital sex, then I’m screwed for eternity!
I, like most people, remember the first time I had sex. I assure you I was not married. I was 19 years old, I was in college, and I was still wrestling with my Catholic upbringing. I can tell you I had a profound breakthrough in my thinking about religion that night. I remember sitting at the edge of my bed, looking at Rebecca (who was also Catholic), and wondering when the lightning was going to strike us. At that moment, I didn’t care. I thought to myself, “How can this be bad in any way? Why should Rebecca and I go to hell for doing something that feels like God created us to do?” Diving back under the covers I thought, “Because no lightning has just strike me down, premarital sex must be okay with God, because it’s just fine with me!”
It was during college that I became an atheist. I thought of creation as a process that is not the result of, or in control of, an omnipotent, omniscient being. The process of creation is neither reasonable nor unreasonable. Finally, a process oriented universe made sense to me because it accommodates both “creationism” and “evolution”, in the sense that creation is simply a more spontaneous expression of whatever consciousness underpins reality. A process oriented universal view does not dismiss the importance of consciousness... it simply does not ascribe to that consciousness a personality or any particular intelligence.
I was an atheist because I rejected the belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist. In the “process oriented” universe I just described there is no supernatural being that is holier, more sacred, or more divine than you or I.
Over the years, as I gained more experience in life, I came to a scratching feeling that there might be some higher force or “power”, if you will, that might be at work in the universe. More specifically, that force may actually tip the scales of chaos in our favor on occasion. Now, whether that force is an expression of some intelligent action or not, I cannot say.
Most of the time I now define myself as an Agnostic, that is, a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.
Did you know that there is a category of Agnosticism called Apathetic or pragmatic agnosticism – that is the view that there is no proof of either the existence or nonexistence of any deity, but since any deity that may exist appears unconcerned for the universe or the welfare of its inhabitants, the question is largely academic. Therefore, their existence has little to no impact on personal human affairs and should be of little theological interest.
Some people are confused about the difference between Atheism and and Agnosticism. In fact, many believe an Agnostic is one who outright rejects the existence of a deity, and think an Atheist is one who needs proof of that existence.
According to Richard Dawkins, a distinction between agnosticism and atheism is unwieldy and depends on how close to zero a person is willing to rate the probability of existence for any given god-like entity. About himself, Dawkins continues, "I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden." Dawkins also identifies two categories of agnostics: Temporary Agnostics in Practice, and Permanent Agnostics in Principle. Dawkins considers temporary agnosticism an entirely reasonable position, but views permanent agnosticism as "fence-sitting, intellectual cowardice”, as he puts it.
Some argue that faith is all that is needed to perceive the God I can’t find. It is the same faith that informs us of many things we cannot see or measure. But, you see, I still believe that God – that is personality or intelligence we call God – must be reasonable. Here’s what I mean. It makes no sense to me that this God, who many believe, wants to make His presence, laws, and requirements known to us, needs to rely on human beings to interpret, then write down what He wants us to know. Why bother with such a crude, inefficient means of communication? Why can’t the God that spins galaxies in place, directs inscrutable quarks, and invented DNA provide us with more clear directions? Aside from being reasonable, it seems this God should also be immensely efficient, right? Why all the puzzles and secret handshakes, the mysteries of faith, and the word reserved only for just those who can hear it?
Some physicists now say we are co-creators in our own existence. That can be backed up with some pretty esoteric mathematics and increasingly more scientific proof. What could that mean? Well, if true, it means that everything we think about existence, about God, and our place in the universe needs to radically change. In fact, it means we need to change our thinking about the universe and even consider the possibility of an infinite number of universes.
The physicists who make these claims about co-creation are not necessarily envisioning a collaboration between us and any particular deity. The collaboration is, rather, between us and everything else in existence. If a God-like entity is also present, well, the more the merrier. As co-creators we may need to be careful of what we create or manifest. There is a realm where thought is apparently quite powerful.
Quantum is a term in physics referring to scales where quantum mechanical effects become important when studied as an isolated system. Typically, this means distances of 100 nanometers (10−7 meters) or less or at very low temperature. More precisely, it is where the action or angular momentum is quantized. Quantum mechanics, which provides a mathematical description of much of the behavior and interactions of energy and matter, is a term many of us are familiar with. Most fundamental processes in molecular electronics, organic electronics and organic semiconductors also originate in the quantum realm, and are described in quantum mechanical terms.
What makes quantum mechanics so difficult to understand is that everything about it goes against our every day experiences and common sense. J.B.S. Haldane marveled: “Quantum theory is not only queerer than we suppose. It is queerer than we can suppose.” Niels Bohr said, “Anyone not shocked by Quantum Mechanics has not understood it".
Here are some counter-intuitive truths about Quantum Mechanics, (or QM). Please bear in mind that everything I tell you that follows has been experimentally verified:
As can be seen, common sense, and the quantum realm are radically opposite things. If you’re having trouble with all this Quantum stuff, you’re not alone. Einstein struggled with accepting quantum theory and its implications. He said, “I cannot seriously believe in quantum theory because … physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance.” When Einstein spoke of “Spooky actions at a distance” he meant that two objects speeding away from each other at the speed of light are still instantaneously connected. Fiddle with one particle and the other is fiddled with exactly the same, even though no one is fiddling with it.
The implications of the quantum realm scream for an encounter with human consciousness. Eugene Wigner declared: “It is not possible to formulate the laws of Quantum Mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.” All that said, many serious, working, professional physicists do express a belief in all or part of the holistic nature of the universe. But as scientists, they tend to be a bit “agnostic” about the whole issue. Furthermore, many physicists ignore the credible implication that objects in a physical world can actually be directed and influenced by human consciousness. Although all Physicists utilize the mechanics and mathematics of the Quantum realm, most refuse to acknowledge what is increasingly being called the consciousness enigma.
So, here’s what I am getting to in this whole discussion of how to navigate in the waters between faith in God, Atheism, and Agnosticism. It should be abundantly clear that if people living in biblical times knew what we know now about the nature of the universe and our place in it, their ideas about religion, and more specifically God, would be totally different than what has been handed down to us. And yet people living in the modern world insist that the beliefs of our distant ancestors – who never talked on a telephone, or saw a reality show on television, or flew in an airplane, or listened to a radio, or had a fraction of the knowledge we now possess about what is actually up there in the night sky – should somehow be more true or relevant than modern beliefs. So if you’re looking for something to believe in, I say start by reading a book that isn’t thousands of years old, that even the National Inquirer would have some trouble publishing.
Personally, I’d rather live honestly, doubts and all, than live a life in fear of a God that apparently can’t abide those doubts. What kind of God wants you to question, reason about, and doubt everything... except him? This God gave us a brain and free will, but doesn’t communicate with us about some “plan” he has for us in any clear, unambiguous manner, then condemns us to hell for what... being human and exercising our free will?
I’m sorry, but I truly believe that what motivates many religious people is ultimately a fear of death and/or punishment. I think those people are engaged in what Dawkins labels as “fence-sitting, intellectual cowardice”. It’s not to say that I don’t fear death - what sane person wouldn’t? I just don’t fear afterlife punishment from some weirdly sadistic, unjust, unreasonable deity. To those who insist that life exists after death, I insist that is an unprovable concept. I’d love to believe that I will continue some manner of conscious existence after I die, but I’m not betting on it. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. That said, no one, including Jesus, has ever returned from the dead in a manner that is scientifically credible or provable. I just cannot reasonably share the faith that many have that he will return somehow. And I cannot believe in a God that will condemn me for not believing something that makes no sense. This is why I have coined a new description of myself... I am an Agno-Atheist. I do not believe in the existence of any deity, but do not claim to know if a deity does or does not exist.
I’ll tell you this, though, I’d rather live in a world where people are much more afraid of harming each other than of insulting God. If I believe in a God, which I sometimes do but most times don’t, that God is reasonable, just, fair, doesn’t come in three parts, dead sexy, delights in all of us just the way we are, marvels at the interactions between what we think of as good and evil, reinitializes and reinvents us when we wear out or are killed in the simulation, and has a wicked sense of humor. If that’s not the God you believe in, then I invite you to make one up for yourself, but please don’t fear the one some ancient people made up.
In the worst case scenario, when I die everything I think I am will blink out of existence. In the best case scenario, my God will meet me after I die and she will ask me to dance. I will, of course, say: “Absolutely, yes... but first, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!