Oct 212007
Authors: Ryan Nowell

Alright, so I heckled the preacher guy last week.

I’m not proud of it. It seems wildly counter-productive and hypocritical to respond to someone proselytizing you by proselytizing back. I’m sure sociologists have “circle of intolerance” flow charts cataloging the behavior.

For some reason, I thought the forces of rationalism needed to be given voice by way of screaming at people. He was making a statement about how even if we have doubts, even if our logical minds find no reason to do so, we should still believe in God anyway, because he will give us a new life, take us to heaven, love us for us, etc.

Hearing what is essentially an argument to believe in something for no reason, I yelled “So you want us to take a leap of ignorance?” Yaargh! Let’s all pretend that was a rousing victory for secular humanism rather than an outburst of scandalized nerd-rage.

For the next while after that, I was debating with a true believer who felt God could be rationally argued. It went back and forth for 20 minutes and ended as this argument usually does, with neither making a big impression on the other’s belief system, or lack thereof.

We’ve all been in this debate in some form or another at least once in our lives, and it’s the same debate humankind has been having since we crawled out of the pond, or got kicked out of the garden, or settled at the bottom of the cosmic egg, or whatever you believe.

There are those who think there’s something out there, and those who want them to prove it. And, if we all convene back here same time next century, the debate will still be raging, because both sides are having different arguments.

Many of the people who’ve tried over the years to spare me from eternal hellfire have thought that secular disbelief arises from intolerance, ignorance or fear. If only. From a purely practical standpoint, there’s a lot of incentive in being religious.

Statistically, religious folk lead longer, happier and healthier lives. It’s not hard to see why. There are large, tightly knit communities of like-minded people that provide the insatiable human need for belonging in ways alienated modern society cannot.

There’s the comforting idea that the decisions you make have meaning beyond their immediate consequences, and that good deeds, no matter how unsung, do count.

And of course, in your darkest hour, which idea sounds more appealing: that everything in the universe is as it should be and is done because you are loved, or, that everything is a matter of disjointed chance and the wrongs that befall you happen for no reason? Let’s just say the “Nietzsche is my copilot” t-shirt is not a hot seller.

But the prerequisite for religion is that you believe, and there are plenty of us who have approached with an open mind, have read the holy books, have talked with authorities and practitioners, and don’t.

Almost all texts that state they are the Word of God cite their own authority for the claim and without a Road to Damascus moment coming along to help sell that lame argument, these books remain just books. Important, certainly. Inspired, maybe. Sacred? Not to everyone.

And there’s the impasse. The idea of God is inherently irrational, there’s no way to argue for it without sooner or later making an appeal to something that can’t be tested. Conversely, logic has limitations. If the last century taught us anything, it’s that we are not wholly rational beings and living is not a protracted math problem. There are certain inexplicables that come along, and it’s up to each of us to figure out what they mean and how, or if, they figure into our lives.

If you find something that works for you, more power to you, friend. But if you think you have something figured out about the universe, remember that it’s an assumption. Share, but shoulder the burden of proof before patronizing, condemning and legislating the rest of us, lest you draw out other, equally insufferable pricks that will yell at you and write snotty articles about it.

Ryan Nowell is a junior English major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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