Friday, August 10, 2007

So, that's it.

Well, last time around, I said something about a philosophical post. It's sort of hard for me to discuss things like that sometimes. Sure, once you get me started, I'll argue with you about reason and materialism and the human condition as long as anyone else. It's harder getting started from scratch.

Hmm. Maybe some background is in order. I grew up sort of a typical geek. Smart, socially awkward, etc. You know the drill. I wasn't exactly a walking target, being of a tall, dense frame, but I was more just one of those people that doesn't fit in. Everyone knew me and liked me, but not enough to invite to a party or anything. I was also a high-anxiety, fear-laden kid. Not normal fear, but odd fears that would leave me in paralyzed hysterics.

That was life until college, where I managed to reboot a bit. I found others that were as off-kilter as me. I learned how to live up to my own expectations by setting realistic ones. I lived for the first time. All in all, life got better.

Through all this, I've never been a particularly religious person. I went to church occasionally as a kid, and you sort of assume that these people aren't lying to you, but I never really took it seriously. I did believe in some far-out stuff at the time, partially because of a gifted teacher that I now realize was a total crank (she tried to train us in ESP, for crap's sake), but the religious stories never stuck. It wasn't reinforced much at home, because, while mom and dad had their beliefs, they neither attended an organized church nor spoke about religion much. I know they both attended regularly until they got married -- and that they were disillusioned by the fact they couldn't get married in their common church because they had both been divorced before. The pastor offered to marry them anywhere they wised, except in the church. I know that they considered it a real insult, and didn't let the door hit them on their asses on the way out. I think they came to an unconscious decision to let me and my brother figure it out on our own. As such, Sunday for me was always a day that started out with a big family breakfast, and often just a day together, even if everyone was just reading quietly. That taught me more about how to be a father than anything else.

Time rolled on, and I dabbled with religious ideas. I prayed. Sometimes, in times of despair or when I was greatly moved in some way, I prayed for an understanding of whether it was real. I never got an answer, which didn't really shock me. Disappointed, but not shocked. I guess I really figured it out when I was around nine. I clearly remember walking down the hall with my friend Ian, discussing something from his church class. I remember that moment as the first time I said, "There is no god." I think, at the time, it was the classic "Problem of Evil" that convinced me. I heard a few years back that the ages between eight and twelve are a hard time for pastors to deal with. There's a phenomenon termed, "The Ten-Year-Old Atheist". That's the age when a lot of kids really start to think, and that can make it hard on anything that sounds like a fairy story.

Since then, I've obviously refined my thought a bit. I like things that work, things that make sense. I like evidence. I like science and it's methods. I'm a skeptic. Show me what you've got. To that end, I generally don't declare the nonexistence of a deity anymore. I say that there's no evidence for one. I consider myself an atheistic agnostic. I don't know, and have no proof. However, even though I don't know, I have to live my life one way or the other. I have to either tune my actions as if there is something, or as if there isn't. There's no good evidence for "is", so I fall to "isn't". I haven't found a noticeable change in the number of lightning strikes nearby. Perhaps Thor is nearsighted. I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm raising my kids to think. I try to let them wonder at what's real and amazing about everything they do and see. I'm a rock and gem hound, and every time I hold up something sparkly for my son, and talk about the forces that made it that way; every time I point out a bizarre insect, or the lizards that live by our house, I feel a greater connection to what is good and right with the world. I don't need to promise some nonexistent soul to a big sky daddy to know joy or peace; I don't need the threat of eternal punishment to make me want to be a good neighbor, husband, and father. I just have to see how good things are, and how I can make them better.

For lack of a better word, I'm me. We'll work out the rest later.

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