I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, and many of my relations still are, though not my immediate family. It was in my early teens that belief in any sort of god began to wane. I suspect that the Oil crisis of the 1970s played some part in it, as it became cost-prohibitive to travel to church on Saturdays, and lack of continued indoctrination in sabbath school led in part to the erosion of my faith.
My late Grandpa, may he always be at peace, was of the faith to the very end of his life, and though a creationist, had always encouraged me to think, to question, to better myself. I don’t think he would have liked where that led me, but to be fair, he would have understood. Despite his views on evolution, it was his rather extensive fossil collection (I wonder whatever became of it?) that sparked my love of science (to be regained some decades after a lull in the 1980s following the diagnosis of my…condition, discussed here and here…), and later my identification as a skeptic.
Skeptic is my preferred label, though agnostic (philosophical) and atheist (belief-wise) could be and have been used before. I don’t use the latter two of the three as much anymore, and I don’t think that calling myself a skeptic makes me especially rational, unbiased, or otherwise bestows any special status or powers of objectivity.
It merely means that among other values, reality, logic, and evidence count highly to me, despite any failure on my part to consistently and perfectly apply them to all situations. I do not aspire to the humanly impossible, and it is irrational to demand that of anyone, even those in the rationalist community I’ve come to admire.
On the other hand, it also means that belief without or against the evidence, illogic, love of authority, and ideological partisanship rank very low in my system of values.
I regard them as disempowering and the source of great social danger, both religious and political.
I prefer to have no religion, not even a belief system along those lines, for even in what little I’ve experienced of the world in this mere half-century, the siren call of dogmatic certitude and the belief of having absolute knowledge are among the chief sources of temptation and danger of today’s often politically-polarized American society. Political partisanship I regard as a threat to my country’s future, and a clear and present danger in its present.
Again, none of this means I’m enlightened, objective, or special in any way. I do, though, try to note my biases and deal with them as I may. Why? Because I care about that sort of thing. I care about being honest with myself, about being true to who I am, and about being authentic to those I deal with to the best of my ability.
I care about these things because to me they are the best way to avoid fooling myself, and through that, to best avoid fooling others. Integrity is a moral value to me, though that’s no reason for self-righteousness. It’s the reason I left my religion. I found I could no longer fool myself, couldn’t find it in me to argue sincerely in defense of the faith, couldn’t take seriously the same claims I’d been making for years in arguments in my childhood and early teens. None of it seemed credible anymore, not even with what little about the world I’d learned. And the more I learned, the less credible it all seemed.
In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, my non-belief lapsed, as I hadn’t really thought it through very well since my outing myself as an atheist in my high-school days. I had no knowledge of much of the literature of religious and secular doubt that was out there, and so had little basis from which to reason about it very well. I even explored a few religious belief systems, though committed to none of them.
I even held the notion that some psychics were real, and for a time took seriously relativist ideas on religion and morality, and even reality, before being thankfully disabused of them in the first decade of the 2000s, I think around late 2006, with my first skeptical book, Why Darwin Matters, by Michael Shermer, and my first skeptical podcast, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, which I continue to listen to today.
While reading a collection of writings by Harlan Ellison, Edgeworks, I had thought to myself something like: “To be honest with myself. This is the kind of person I want to be, however I may berate myself in failure to reach any imagined ideal, whatever self-loathing I may experience in that failure, I want to know myself, to be true to myself, and maybe, just maybe, have a clearer picture of the world than I once did. Damn what lies I may believe for the truth, whatever it is and wherever the evidence leads, even if I don’t like what it tells me. And damn my ever fooling myself into thinking I’ve ever reached final truth. Real knowledge is never final, and nor should it be!”
However it was worded, it was almost like an epiphany, though more like clearing away fuzzy cobwebs of the mind rather than any revelation of mystical certitude, any call to believe the unbelievable.
I credit this moment, and each precious moment since, for the success of the treatment plan I’ve been on, and with it, a life more than worth living in the here and now. It’s made me appreciate this life, in this world, and not yearn for anything after it.
I don’t deny the existence of immortal souls.
I don’t deny the existence of an afterlife.
I don’t deny the existence of anyone’s gods, or angels, or demons.
But nothing that I’ve seen or learned in my fifty years of life gives me any sound reasons to believe that any of these things are true or real. What would convince me?
Evidence and good reasons why it counts as evidence.
But why even bother to care at all about such things as evidence, reason, and science? The short answer is that they seem to me to be the most effective and reliable path to real understanding and knowledge. The long answer is: I have no idea, if what you’re seeking is some grand, logical, self-justifying first principle, because there isn’t one there to be sought.
And frankly, I don’t care. I’m not out to be better than anyone, or deadset to prove anyone wrong. That’s not the point.
Fantasy is good as fiction, and a firm thank you to Mr. Deepak Chopra, but as one of those ‘militant skeptics’ I’d rather be ‘bamboozled’ by evidence and logic than fooled by often dangerous and shallow nonsense passed off as deep truths.
It’s less harmful when its conclusions are shown to be wrong, and self-correcting to boot. So if caring about what’s more likely to be true is being bamboozled, then count me in.