Gospel & Universe

Gods & Souls

This page notes that agnostics would rather be wrong in their skepticism, that the weight of evidence suggests that they're not, and that religion has much to offer whether or not it's true in an ontological sense

If Only the Atheists Were Wrong - The Force of Chance - Oh, Well

If Only the Atheists Were Wrong

Many people see theism and atheism as very serious positions, ones that are worth arguing and fighting about. Agnostics see the seriousness in these debates, yet there's a certain lightness to their stand. One might even call it a stance rather than a stand. They don't tend to get all worked up about the true nature of reality, the true definition of God, or the true nature of death and the afterlife. This is largely because for them truth boils down to possible truth (religion) and probable truth (atheism). Neither is true per se.

While death is a grim reality -- it can be heartbreaking and it's far more certain than taxes -- beliefs about what happens after death are highly debatable. From an agnostic point of view, these beliefs don't have the same basis in reality as death itself. Agnostics find it odd that while no one can see beyond the veil of life, so many people are absolutely convinced they know what is -- or what isn't -- on the other side.

If, after they die, agnostics find that theists are right and atheists are wrong, agnostics will rejoice. To them, there was nothing attractive or interesting about oblivion, nothing desirable about an endless stretch of nothing. Agnostics never hoped or argued that God and the soul couldn't be true. Rather, they doubted that they were true. Agnostics would be happy to find that there's a life beyond the grave, that the grand adventure of existence will continue.

 

The Force of Chance      

 

To die, to sleep, / To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there's the rub, / For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause ...  the dread of something after death, / The undiscovered country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns, puzzles the will ... (Hamlet 3.1)

 

Atheism is the corner in a room

that one doesn't really choose

for who would choose

to die and never come back

anywhere?

 

Where is that country beyond whose bourn?

Where has that traveller gone?

 

To be and then not to be

only to sleep

perforce dreamlessly

at which dreary point

he’ll wish he were a microphage

even the type that does’t move

one-sixteenth of an inch

 

Oh, Well

If atheism turns out to be true, agnostics would sigh and say, Oh well, we imagined it was true anyway. This idea of their sighing is of course a hyper-speculative projection: assuming that death is the moment this atheist truth is proven, agnostics won't be around to sigh when they get the bad news. It won't matter to them whether people imagined the afterlife in terms of Heaven or reincarnation, fiery plains or fluffy clouds, gloomy underworlds or bright new realms. They won't even have a thin essence of consciousness to feel disappointed. They won't be thinking or feeling anything, since they'll be dead as doornails.

So, we continue or we don't. The question is more intriguing than it is vexed.

This lightness of doubt is often hard for theists and atheists to understand, because they have so much invested in believing or not believing.

Yet there's more to an agnostic's interest in the afterlife than detachment from religious fervour or existential disdain. For the agnostic, the possibilities of religion or theism -- of gods and souls -- don't have to be framed with dogma or laced with angst or absurdity. Rather, religion can be seen as the yearning for an ideal -- not just the ideal continuation of our lives on earth, but the ideal of a larger and more solid understanding of space, being, morality, and law. 

Although formulated before the geology, geography, and astronomy of Modern times, religions attempt to understand the spatial and ontological dimensions of the world and the universe. While Dante's cosmic scheme is inaccurate geographically and cosmologically, and while it's clearly idealistic from theological and philosophical perspectives, it nevertheless supplies a big picture of existence, a big plan into which the otherwise alienated individual can find meaning.

The practice of fitting an individual into a larger, coherent framework of time and space may seem like an exercise in delusion to many skeptics, yet it's also a valuable exercise of rational and imaginative faculties. Once our brains get accustomed to using a large framework, they can contemplate other large frameworks. They can develop or entertain all sorts of structures and scenarios which transcend ego, family, clan, city, region, nation, and civilizational realm. The trick, as the agnostic sees it, is to keep this ability to construct larger frameworks without getting stuck in one of the constructions.

While formulated in pre-democratic days, religions also strive toward solid moral and legal frameworks, ones that won't shift with the winds of history and geography or with the vicissitudes of politics and culture. 

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