Sunday, November 14, 2010

The pantheon of gods

In the early eighties, I was in an emotional state that would have made me easy pickings for religious faith. I had experienced panic attacks and depression for over twenty years - their frequency and intensity was increasing over time. I drank like a fish - hangovers were torture. I did some speed and cocaine - and blew a lot of money in the process. I had no girlfriend - and it appeared that there were no prospects. I was ripe for being harvested by a friendly and welcoming religion,

During this time, I was unable to discover and correct the source of depression and panic - and I was unwilling to forego the drinking and drugs that I overindulged in. But at the same time, I had the closest thing to a revelation that I can claim. It didn't happen all at once - in fact, it might have taken a year or two - but I realized that religion did not provide answers to my problems, nor answers to the fundamental questions that I might have about my life. This realization did not come like a thunderbolt - as I said, it came gradually. It was a combination of conscious reasoning and a core belief that I could persevere to see a better day. When the picture finally became clear, I was able to say with confidence that, if God exists and plays an active role in the world, he wouldn't allow so many religions to claim to be the "one true religion".

The realization that the abundance of religions, and the gods that they purport to represent, indicated that a hypothetical God has no preference for one religion over another, was liberating. I was able to dispense with magical thinking - which leaves room for more critical thinking. I could say that I no longer had a theistic inclination. As many friends would say, I was spiritual, but not religious.

Over time, my non-theistic inclination slowly transitioned through a deist perception; a "neo-pagan"* perception; an agnostic perception; and finally to a skeptical perception of the world. Like a good empiricist, I'm unwilling to wholly discount supernatural explanations for existence, but humanity's current religious menu does not provide any choices that I would call even remotely plausible**. If God was here, the evidence that he's left us says that he wasn't here. Humanity's knowledge is incomplete - its epistemic projects are still works in progress, but the physical evidence increasingly explains that which we experience, leaving less room for supernatural explanations. We are left to ponder "purpose" as one remaining realm that rational inquiry can probably never make a judgement on.

I'm comfortable knowing that I cannot be certain about many aspects of life. I am comfortable defining my purpose in life as being one that focuses on my family first, then friends, neighbors, co-workers, then on outward to community and society.

It's a great life.

* the "neo-pagan" label is not something that I consciously applied to myself, but thought I'd include in the list of transitional states. I took an on-line test on BeliefNet one time, and "neo-pagan" was how the test graded me. I must have expressed an openness to the existence of spirits that were not God ... but darned if i can remember what they could have been!

** I'm partial to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, however

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