Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The hidden victims of religion gone amuck

It is easy to discern that science, progress, and freedom are the victims of fundamentalism. Just as it is easy to discern that women and children are victims of the Catholic Church or that women and gays are victims of several religious denominations.

People who like to think about and examine the world around them, using both facts and the power of reason, are victimized by fundamentalists, who call them "sinful" and "godless." Likewise, when women or GLBT individuals assert their identities, religious people of many types call them "unnatural" and "evil." And athiests have been called everything, including "unAmerican" (by George H. W. Bush, former leader of the land of the free), by church members.

But there is another group whose members have been hurt by the church, and since there is no name for this group with which I am truly comfortable, I will call on author Winifred Gallagher's name: neoagnostic. In her moving and eloquent book, Working On God, Gallagher describes neoagnostics as "well-educated skeptics who have inexplicable metaphysical feelings." She calls neoagnostics "...America's most subdued, neglected religious group, yet they are one of its most powerful. They are everywhere, especially at the top."

Gallagher is not referring to trendy woo-woo seekers who like to tell you how "spiritual" they are, but to sincere intellectual people who may reject religion but can neither reject nor ignore transcendent feelings, sensations, and occurrences. The neoagnostic (again, Gallagher's term, not mine) may walk alone on the path of mystery, or she may be able to plug in to some of the religions or churches that are oriented toward the mystical rather than the dogmatic. Either way, she is isolated from what is known as "American culture," and she is probably isolated from what is known as "American counter-culture."

The agnostic person--contrary to popular misconception--does not profess to not know whether there is such a thing as God (again, for lack of a better word), but to believe that there is not enough information available for her to know, which is a shade different. By contrast, the athiest says there is absolutely no such thing as God, yet the "God" rejected by the athiest is often the ridiculous one marketed by the churches--my point being that there are actually more agnostics than one might think. Gallagher's neoagnostics are the people who can't resist the strong urge to keep seeking and responding to information by one means or another.

When our culture sets up a dichotomy between the religious and the non-religious, we leave out thousands who do not identify with either camp. Like bisexual and bi-racial individuals, neoagnostics tend to maintain a low profile because they are not perceived as "enough" of one or the other camp. America is an either-or culture, and this construct is getting more rigid every day. Between the raging, homophobic, mentally disturbed fundamentalists (and their less toxic cousins, the passive mainstream churchgoers) and angry, science-driven, often church-victimized athiests, there isn't much room for people whose intellectualism includes an acceptance of the concept of mystery and all that might entail.

America needs to grow up. Housing the poor, feeding the hungry, educating the disadvantaged, and protecting the abused would be an appropriate calling of the church, rather than conducting a non-stop campaign of hatred toward gays, women, civil libertarians, science, and people with dark skin. And it would benefit the Left to acknowledge that many very intelligent people do not profess to have all the answers, but they are deeply attracted to the Questions.


Apologies in advance for this ramble, but...

Contrary to popular belief, most atheists are 'weak' or 'negative' atheists - simply people without a belief in any deity. Compared to agnostics who often believe that the important thing is that neither the case for or against God can be substantiated, such atheists hold that it is only the case FOR God that matters. Since there is no convincing case, they feel that atheist ('without gods') is the best term for their inability to find a reason to believe in a deity.

Also I don't see a problem with being both an atheist and having feelings of awe for the Universe that would be considered transcendental, or, in a religious person, spiritual.

How does being science-driven' mean that you can't accept mystery? As many 'science-driven atheists' point out, science is the fastest producer of mystery in human experience. When you consider the Universe only on the terms of what you can find evidence for, all your preconceptions fall away. Everything spirals off into increasing complexity until we get to the point where we just don't know what comes next. It is labelling this void 'God' or 'spirituality' which is the real rejection of mystery. Science instead says that we should have no preconception of what comes next, but should try and find out.

This is the crux of negative atheism. We may well one day find that it is God or gods that come next in our chain of understanding. But why ruin the mystery by pretending that we know what we don't?


By Anonymous Pacian, at 7:48 PM  

I used the term "science-driven" to refer not to intelligent people, but to people who are convinced that if there isn't a specific way to test something, the something doesn't exist.

And by "God" (a term I do not like and which, you'll notice, I avoided using)or Ultimate Meaning, or whatever we want to call it, I do not mean a "deity," bu rather, the Sacred Other, or the Possibility of the Sacred Other, or the Possibility of the Transcendent Something.

Labeling what we do not know "God" is indeed off-putting, but even if we knew everything, we wouldn't know everything.

By Blogger Diane, at 6:20 PM  

This may be because I have a poor frame of reference - I live in the UK, and the most religious people I know look like agnostics compared to some yanks - but what I'm trying to say is that I just don't see 'neoagnostics' being persecuted by atheists for saying 'we don't know that there isn't something more than this mortal coil'. All the atheists I could name would agree with that statement. The only difference is that a neoagnostic presumably feels that there *is* something more, and an atheist does not feel that way. In the land of creationism and Harry Potter book burnings, are people like this really being ostracised by atheists?


By Anonymous Pacian, at 1:42 PM  

"Ostracized" is a strong word. But dismissed--yes, I think so.

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