Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Do You Feel Loved?

            How do you know your mother loves you?
            Or, rather, what is it that you believe you are feeling when you are experiencing your mother’s love? Or the love of anyone, really, whom you love and/or feel like they love you. When you are in their presence and feel that special combination of warmth and happiness that you associate only with them, what is it that you think you’re feeling?
            As I see it, there are two possibilities. One of these is that what you are feeling is your loved one’s actual emotion; that somehow, the love they feel gets projected directly into your consciousness and you are feeling what they feel as they feel it. The other possibility is that what you are feeling is your own emotion, generated in your own brain and triggered by your positive associations with that person combined with the belief that they love you.
            Did I say two possibilities? Because I don’t think the first option is actually possible. Nothing we understand about how the world works suggests that anyone, much less everyone, is capable of projecting their emotions directly into other people’s heads. Nor do we have any reason to think anyone, much less everyone, is capable of plucking the emotions directly out of anyone else’s heads.
            Now, that has some interesting implications. It suggests that it’s quite possible that, when you’re being held by someone you love and are basking in those beautiful emotions, the other person might not even be feeling them. For all you know, they’re wondering how you might taste fire roasted with a barbeque glaze. Or, maybe they’re not actually thinking about you at all. Maybe your girlfriend is absent-mindedly stroking your hair while wondering whether Agents Coulson and May are ever actually gonna share that bottle of Haig. You don’t need them to be feeling that emotion in order for you to feel it. All you need is the right emotional cues, or even just to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Actually, I’d bet that if you think hard enough about it, you could summon up those emotions without your loved one having to be present.
            Or even having to be real…
            Yeah, I’m sure you saw that coming. It is the nature of this blog, after all, and it usually comes to this point eventually. You see, one often hears believer saying that they can “feel God’s love,” and I have to wonder how they know that’s what they feel. After all, we use the same language to say we feel our mother’s love, but I think we all understand that it’s an emotion generated in our own heads that we are feeling. I suppose that it’s possible that, if an all-powerful god existed, it would be capable of telepathically projecting its emotions into our minds. But that would be the only instance of “feeling X’s love” where what you were feeling was X’s actual emotion and not something generated in your own head. And how do you tell the difference? How would you know if the emotions originated with you or with someone else – especially someone else that you can’t otherwise see or hear?

            I don’t know… it seems to me that, knowing that in every other instance of “feeling someone’s love,” is an emotion generated in your own head, you’d have to acknowledge the possibility that “feeling God’s love,” falls in the same category. Or at least that I don’t have any reason to think it’s any different. Wouldn’t you?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Aren’t You Just Rebelling Against God?

            A frequent accusation leveled against atheists is that they don’t really disbelieve in God, but are just rebelling against him. This seems kind of silly from my perspective, but I can see why it might have some weight to someone who actually believes in a god. After all, someone who doesn’t believe in a god isn’t going to be terribly bothered by how that god wants us to behave. Therefore, most vocal atheists not only don’t feel they are bound to follow any god’s orders, but are openly resentful of attempts by religious believers to impose those orders on them. If you think that god is real, and encounter that resentful attitude, it’s easy to see why you might think it’s the source of the atheism.
            It doesn’t help, of course, that some holy books make exactly that claim. I don’t know whether the writers just made the same mistake described above, or if they cynically exploited the fact that it’s an easy mistake for others to make. In the end, I don’t suppose it matters. The statements are in there, and I guess we just have to deal with the fallout.
            But let’s think about this just a little bit. Can you think of any time in history when anyone actually rebelled against any actually existing authority by pretending it didn’t exist? Can you imagine a thief analyzing a target’s security, deciding that he can’t possibly get past it, and then deciding to go ahead with the robbery on the basis of deciding the police don’t exist? Think the American Revolution would have been successful, if it were predicated on the idea that the British Empire didn’t exist? Do you suppose that anyone even stood up and suggested that as a serious approach to take to the problem? People just don’t behave like that.
            Or perhaps, even more nonsensically, you think we’re rebelling against a god we believe exists, and we’re just telling you it’s because we don’t believe. As if, somehow, we have the balls to spit in the face of the all-powerful creator of the universe, but are scared to admit it to ordinary people. Does that make any sense at all?
            On a more personal note, allow me to tell you a little something about myself: I’m not a particularly rebellious person by nature. I am a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. I’m a follower. As a rule, I do not like to argue. I don’t like to contradict people about things they clearly feel strongly about; I just don’t feel comfortable with that kind of conflict. I especially do not like to engage in those conflicts if I don’t believe I have a really solid reason for my contrary position. I don’t go around breaking laws (well, except maybe the occasional speed limit. Shh! Don’t tell!), even ones I don’t agree with. I am not a brave person. The idea that I could stand up to the ultimate authority in the universe and “rebel” makes no sense at all. That’s not me.
            And yet, here I am telling you that I don’t believe that such a being exists. I’ve spent more than three years writing with fair regularity about this perspective. This isn’t a testament to my vast desire and capacity for rebellion. It’s a testament to just how ridiculous the very idea of a god seems to me, how utterly wrong-headed it appears to me that anyone should bind themselves (and attempt to bind others) to the dictates of an imaginary being.

            So, to sum things up, the idea that people are atheists because they just want to rebel against a god gets the equation backwards. Rather, because we don’t believe a god exists, we see no reason to take its demands seriously. And it isn’t necessarily even a case of rebelling; if a god doesn’t exist, then many of the dictates attributed to it don’t even make any sense. There’s no reason to care what it wants. We evaluate the demands, therefore, on what we perceive to be their merits in the real world, and feel pretty free to disregard the ones that are evidently harmful or pointless. That’s really all there is to it.