by: Maria Maltseva
This Meditation was originally published by Maria Maltseva on her Blog-Like Thing, Not-A-Blog in September 2008. Copyright © Maria Maltseva.
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Dear God (by XTC
I never liked XTC much in the 80s, nor did I really listen to the lyrics of this song, though I heard it a lot. I still don’t much care for the music, but I finally realized that the lyrics are a fairly adequate description of my lifelong view of “god.” And, in a sense, the song is brave and brilliant.
Unless, of course, you catch me on a good day, when I’m squarely a pantheist. What’s a pantheist, you ask? First of all, no, it’s not someone who believes in multiple gods. (That would be a polytheist.) A pantheist is someone who equates the definition of god with nature, the universe, and the mysteries that lie within; someone who is overcome with an inexplicable sense of wonder when gazing at a jade-green lake atop a mountain after a day-long hike; or someone who is suddenly brought to tears by an extraordinary performance of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto. But some days nothing impresses me. The world is just a repetitive and useless exercise in futility ending in death, and I see no beauty in anything. It’s hard to be a pantheist on days like that.
Then again, perhaps I’m an agnostic or an atheist? Maybe.
An agnostic believes it impossible to know the truth in matters such as god and the afterlife. Or, if not impossible, at least it is impossible at the present time. “The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism.” [Bertrand Russell, emphasis mine]
Under the above description, I could very well be an agnostic. Of course, that depends on how you define “god.” Except for the days when I’m a pantheist. That would technically be inconsistent with agnosticism. Ironically, my fascination with the amazing natural symmetry of a snowflake or the beauty of a perfectly explainable sunset would make me a theist. Ha.
Then again, I could also be an atheist. Like a believer, an atheist holds that we can know for certain that there is no god. All current evidence seems to point in this direction, and that’s how I generally prefer to classify myself, mostly since no one seems to know what a pantheist is. Though in all likelihood, I’m probably a pantheist — except, of course, on the days that I’m an agnostic or an atheist, since that would be inconsistent with any type of theism. Or would it?
And finally, I’m certainly a skeptic. I’m a skeptic not in any “organized” sense, but in the sense that a person must constantly question the world and evaluate the evidence. (This is especially true when thinking about politics or reading *anything* on the internet or in the media.) Evaluating the evidence is not always an easy task — it’s not as simple as listening to an expert and agreeing with something just because it sounds right. Evaluating the evidence involves processing information, comparing studies, and examining the actual interests behind any line of thought. So yes, I’m probably a skeptic in every respect.
Can a skeptic hold beliefs based strictly on faith? No. Absolutely not. No way. A belief based on faith is entirely contradictory to skepticism. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that a person who holds beliefs based on faith can’t be skeptical about something in particular. But that person can never be a skeptic in a general sense or a true critical thinker, since that person will be holding onto beliefs based on nothing more than faith and assumption (usually ingrained from childhood or simply self-serving). Such beliefs are inherently inconsistent with both critical thinking and skepticism.
While we’re at it, what is critical thinking? In this case, I’ll cite Wiki for the definition. Sure, Wiki can change from day to day, but for my purposes, the current definition is quite apt:
Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation. It includes possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense. Though the term “analytical thinking” may seem to convey the idea more accurately, critical thinking clearly involves synthesis, evaluation, and reconstruction of thinking, in addition to analysis.
Critical thinkers gather information from all senses, verbal and/or written expressions, reflection, observation, experience and reasoning. Critical thinking has its basis in intellectual criteria that go beyond subject-matter divisions and which include: clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness. [See the Wiki entry on critical thinking -- I am citing Wiki verbatim.]
So can a critical thinker hold beliefs based strictly on faith? Need you ask? Obviously not.
Finally, can someone be both an atheist and a skeptic? Not in the strictest sense. A skeptic, taken to the extreme, must be skeptical of everything, even skepticism itself. Nothing, not even solipsism, can be entirely ruled out. But, of course, our language is flexible and definitions of atheism can be stretched. I define myself as an atheist mainly in the sense that I believe in no god as currently hypothesized by any religion or person. I do not believe in deities or the supernatural. I do not have a personal god or a true sense of spirituality (beyond my pantheistic tendencies). This is a valid definition of atheism and doesn’t really differ substantially from agnosticism, or even pantheism.
So there you go. If I choose my definitions carefully, I can be an atheist, a theist, an agnostic, and a skeptic. Thank god for semantics.
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