There’s those who believe in God, those who don’t, and those who aren’t sure, but is there really much difference?
There’s most notably three different positions most people hold toward beliefs in God:
1. theists: Those who believe in God(s)
2. athiests: Those who do not believe in God(s)
3. agnostics: Those who are not sure on their position toward God(s).
When it comes to this topic, there is a whole lot of misunderstanding, especially when religious people confront an athiest or an agnostic.
Most people in the world today “believe” in God. You ask them, “Do you believe in God?”, and they’ll say they do. You furthur inquire into what it means to believe in God, and to define the God they believe in, and you’ll find they’re almost always lost for words.
To these people, belief in God is a gut-instinct sort of thing. They have “a feeling” that there’s something out there. Sometimes you’ll find a sort of quasi-argument, such as the first-cause (“Everything had to come from somewhere”), or the view that there’s such beauty and order to things there had to be an intelligent creator behind it. But most of the time, their view for belief in God is backed by little to nothing. They believe in God, because they just do. It’s a faith sort of thing – a personal walk to find peace.
Now come along the atheists. These guys are the ones most misunderstood of all. This will sound strange if you haven’t read a book by an intelligent athiest, but here goes: An athiest can “believe” in God just as much as theists (not always, but sometimes), if by “believing” they simply have to have a gut-instinct feeling that something they don’t understand may exist in the universe. If the belief is simply in a higher power they don’t understand, you’d find many athiets respect this viewpoint. They don’t claim to know everything.
But at the same time, they are typically more strict with their logic as to what they say does and does not exist, and what makes sense to talk about, and what is just words coming out of someone’s mouth. I’ve read most of the books by Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre, both Nobel prize winning atheists, and the reason they don’t “believe” in God is not because they don’t “believe” in God.
If you were to ask them, “Do you believe there’s a great powerful being out there, who created the universe?” They’d reply, “Could you be more specific? Define this being. I can’t say whether it exists, or does not exist, unless you define what it is we’re talking about.” Then the intelligent theists try to define God, and this always ends in a mess.
I’ve seen several videos of guys, talking all sorts of mystic talk, attempting to lay out their conception as to the state of existence of God, and what God is, and how he (or it) operates in a timeless state, and how he creates matter literally out of nothing, and how the divine mind is united with everything, how he has knowledge of all things before they happen, yet humans are still free-will creatures, etc.
The athiests hear this, they apply hard logic to it, and they say, “That doesn’t really make sense. Be honest with yourself, this quasi-definition for your ‘God’ doesn’t line-up.” Basically they show the flaws in these weird arguments for God, then they say, “Well, we’re back to square one.”
The athiest may have as much “gut-instinct” that “God” exists (or he may not, it depends), but they also say that the words which we speak out of our mouths must make sense. It doesn’t make sense to say you believe in ‘God’ if you can’t define what ‘God’ is. It’s certainly quite possible that this feeling you believe to be communication from the divine realm is actually something entirely different. So most athiests sit back waiting for a definition of God which makes sense to human understanding, and if this definition cannot be found, they label all talk on the topic as unproductive.
I definitely feel for them. There’s always the worry that all the talk about ‘God’ is simply air coming out of our mouths, trying to act like we know things which we don’t. “I believe in God”. Just words, and vibrations of air. What’s really key is do these words have meaning, and do they make sense.
And strangely, even the most devout theologians both agree and disagree with this, at the same time. Take St. Thomas Aquinas:
“For then alone do we know God truly, when we believe that He is far above all that man can possibly think of God.”
– quoted from Summma contra Gentiles, I, 5, par. 3
Even devout theologians say that God is beyond our understanding. So far that all thoughts and definitions we have for him are surely wrong! When you truly believe you’ve figured out how God operates, you’ve only deceived yourself. Confusing, I know.
Now come the agnostics. Most agnostics you come across are very intelligent people, who have read the theology, talking about God and the spirit world, yet are also open-minded enough to have heard the athiests’ arguments. They’ve heard both sides, and really feel for both.
They stand back and say, “I don’t know. There’s some weird things in our world, and many things science can’t explain. Until science has the answers, I’m going to stand-back and just watch it unfold, and see how it all turns out.” The theists try to convert the agnostics to believe in ‘God’, just like they do, but the agnostics are timid to do so, as they’ve studied the views of the athiests, and have read that logic and reasoning are the only things that have progressed human knowledge so far. They kind of agree with both sides, yet disagree as well. They’re kind of in the middle, waiting for more data to come in before making a decision.
I know I left out a lot of material, as the topic of God, and beliefs toward him is a huge topic. But the main thing I wanted to show in this entry is that these people don’t really differ in their views as much as many people would like to believe. Theist, Agnostic, or Athiest, really, their views are very similar if you ask me.
I’d like to advocate that all of these people (agnostic, athiest, or theist) simply have differing views as to how to deal with the unknown.
The thiests will believe without evidence. Blind faith is their creed. These people are typically the less successful, normal everyday people of the world. They don’t think very much, and already work hard enough as it is. To throw a complicated God at them is too much. It’s not meant to be complicated. Believe in God. It’s that simple.
Most athiests are scientists, political thinkers, and intellectuals concerned primarily with progressing humanity. They are thinkers. They’re used to building experiments, and having to test each view for its validity. They’ve learned that you have to be specific with your data, your numbers, and your definitions, if you’re to move forward in your field.
They’re simply applying the same logic to their “belief” toward God. It’s not like they’re picking on God. They have trouble defining the electron as well, as it has some weird properties. I was reading a physics book here recently, and the electron was said to be a “useful fiction.”
Agnostics, as we said before, are not sure what to believe. There’s not enough evidence yet to say.
So to recap: Theists believe without evidence. Athiests will not move forward until everything is certain, and agnostics are indecisive.
I was thinking about all this the other day and it dawned on me: These are all the everyday mental defense mechanisms you see all the time, but applied toward God. This problem is really a psychology problem!
Take me for instance. I’ve made most of my living so far as a computer programmer, so I most relate with the athiest. I’m used to writing everything line by line in pure logic, and having everything defined out. I’ve dealt with vague businessmen, trying to write software for them when they don’t even know what they want, and the project would never move anywhere. How am I supposed to write software if you don’t give me proper specifications as to what you even want?
This is also how I live my life in other areas as well. Everything is always planned out, oftentimes years in advance. All finances, important decisions, and other goals are all thought about for long lengths of time, oftentimes too long.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, Fraser, and he teased me when I invited him to come over to my cabin, and stay for a few days, once it’s built. He said, jokingly, “What, in 10 years?” A bit of an exaggeration, but he knows my personality. He finds it inconceivable to have things planned out that far in advance.
With theists, their belief in God without any evidence likely reflects other aspects of their life as well.
If they’re unintelligent, they’re probably rash, and don’t think about things. Probably little to no planning goes into anything. They’re ones to jump out there and hope for the best. Just as their belief in God is gut-instinct, their love-life probably is the same. They love as long as the feelings and emotions are working, but when the feelings are gone, they’re gone as well.
If the thiest is intelligent, they’ll likely heavily theorize. They love to speculate, and guess as to how things work.
I noticed my Dad is sometimes this way. He’ll be watching a squirrel eating a corn-cob from the back-deck, and sometimes he’ll start speculating all kinds of things as to how he thinks squirrels are. Their behavior, what they like and don’t like, etc. I can’t recall any of the examples, I can only remember he does this.
When he’d do this, I’d listen, and then say, “I don’t know. I’ve never observed enough squirrels.” Then I’d think to myself, “This particular behavior trait may be peculiar to this particular squirrel, and may not be present in other squirrels. He may have become used to Dad feeding him off the back porch, and his behavior may deviate wildly from that of a less domesticated squirrel.” Then I think, “I’ll have to check online, and see if it has been thoroughly research out.”
I don’t look down on people who speculate, as long as they know they’re speculating. I’m not one to speculate at all, however. I used to speculate frequently, until I read a lot of philosophy, and got so tired of hearing logical possibilities as to how things MAY work, that I only concern myself with how things really are, and don’t care to hear how people think it MAY work. (Note: This is a perfect example of a mental defense at work. It has brought me pain in the past to speculate, and to avoid furthur pain, I no longer do so.)
As for agnostics, they are probably indecisive people all around. They require a certain degree of certainity before they’ll make a decision, and if they don’t have enough information, they probably won’t make a decision to begin with.
For an example: If they haven’t had time to read about each candidate before voting, chances are, they won’t vote at all. All views they hold is likely this way. They won’t talk much about a subject unless they know at least somewhat what they’re talking about, but then again, they may theorize a little as well.
People like me are horrible at improvising, others live in pure improvisation, and the agnostics are a mix of the two.
I used to be a good musician, when I was younger, but now that I’m older, I have trouble keeping my mind focused. I start reflecting on what I’m doing, and then lose time. I’ll hear the lyrics to the song being sung, and I’ll start thinking about philosophy, or some book I read, or some lecture I remember hearing, and I’ll soon be completely absent minded.
Anyways, there’s no need to futhur elaborate on defense mechanisms of the mind. You get the idea. People take whether you believe in God or not as a life and death situation, but really, it’s nothing of the sort. What’s really going on here is no different than how strong of a foundation a person demands before they’ll take a step forward. I’m a person who will only walk on solid rocks, others will walk on sandy ground, while a third group will jump off the side of a cliff, trying to walk on air, and won’t reflect on their decisions until they’re in a free-fall of destruction.
The same past experiences which cause people to become cautious in their decision making, are the same mental forces which cause someone to become an athiest, or an agnostic. As for the theists, whether they’re being brave, or simply rash, is hard to know. I suppose what really matters is whether or not the things we believe are true, and when it comes to beliefs toward God, I don’t think any of us really know one way or the other.