Thursday, September 13, 2007

Will it never end?

I flipped to the letters page of The Guardian today only to (sigh) find people discussing atheism and religion. Myself, having never had a god to get rid of, lose faith in, or deny, etc - I don't even define myself as an a-theist. Why would I describe myself in the negative? I'm not an a-Muslim, a-Christian, a-Zeus, a-Voudoun or anything like that. Just a sane, uncluttered modern human being. I don't even claim 'humanist' because that seems like human chauvinism (I don't think of us as the 'crown of creation' at all).

That doesn't make me a skeptic, a fundamentalist materialist, etc. I accept that universe still contains many mysteries...but I prefer to retain my capacity to accept that fact, rather than dash to some reassuring explanation with little evidence. In that sense, I agree with Dawkins (that the mysteries that science has explored and revealed seem sufficiently glorious for me, especially as they always lead to furthr mysteries) but I can see why his humourless zeal in trying to stop people 'being religious' puts some people off. It's that "I am right, and you are wrong" thing that zealots of both sides have.

Delightfully, one of the Guardian correspondents quoted something I often paraphrase in this situation:

Suppose one were to assert: The gostak distims the doshes. You do not know what this means; nor do I. But if we assume that it is English, we know that 'the doshes are distimmed by the gostak.' We know too that 'one distimmer of doshes is a gostak.' If moreover, the 'doshes are galloons,' we know that 'some galloons are distimmed by the gostak.' And so we may go on, and so we often do go on.
-- from "The Meaning of Meaning" by C.K.Ogden and I.A.Richards

And he concludes: That's Theology.

I found the quote quickly online at this rather wonderful collection of Paul McGuire's, who says:

So now that we have inferred that 'one distimmer of doshes is a gostak,' and that 'some galloons are distimmed by the gostak,' do we really know any more than we did at the start?

And although I don't believe in Gostak, I certainly don't waste my time calling myself an Agostak, and arguing with people who claim to believe in doshes, gostaks, galloons - and even more improbably attribute personality, intent, and the creation of the world to them! And murder people who don't share their belief.

I find all that behaviour quite incredible, but remember that Robert Anton Wilson always said we were living on The Planet of the Apes, and to be careful not to rile them up by challenging them.

Though Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennet seem to have put themselves in the front line, I liked Jonathan Miller's tv series best, of recent attempts to explain the sort of position I hold.

And if you remain unfamiliar with the work of Robert Anton Wilson (who manages to retain his sense of humour while ploughing through these issues, and avoids zealots of every persuasion of certainty) you will find him echoing The frammisgoshes should be distimmed in this piece of his on Wilhelm Reich.


Chris Hughes said...

I agree with Jonathan Miller, that the word 'atheist' is an adjective rather than a noun... I am atheist, not 'an' atheist.

Toby said...

Thanks Chris!

That nuance of Miller's had escaped me...I like it.

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