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Meditation 1364
What I've Learned

by: John Tyrrell

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It's been twenty-three years I've been doing this; almost a third of my life. Have I learned anything along the way? Probably not as much as I should have. But a few things come to mind in what is probably my final article here.

1. The Articles of Faith remain a good summary of what I consider Apathetic Agnosticism to be.

If I were to approach this ongoing discussion on agnosticism in a different way, I would still keep those Articles of Faith. I would keep "Apathetic Agnosticism", and the motto, "I don't know and I don't care." But of those three things, I only claim original authorship of the three articles of faith. Numerous others have independently called themselves Apathetic Agnostics and used the same motto.

The overall name, The Universal Church of the Apathetic Agnostic, was probably a mistake, but I originally had no expectation of going beyond the one page on my personal website and just regarded it as a mildly humorous name.

2. It is pointless today to argue over agnosticism and atheism.

When I started the website, atheists were still arguing among themselves about strong and weak atheism. There was still a meaningful distinction and it was worthwhile to stake out the agnostic position. But the definition of atheism has steadily expanded (in my view, to the detriment of the arguments for traditional [strong] atheism). I cling to agnosticism because, to me, the word clearly expresses my position. I don't care what others choose to call themselves. Their definitions may be different from mine.

3. We should not make enemies of our allies.

We are rightly constantly concerned about the intrusion of religion into public life including the insistence that myths be taught as facts, that narrow moral teachings of a particular religious segment be applied to everyone, that politicians take advice from fundamentalist preachers, etc.

And yet, when we hold all believers responsible for the actions of just one vocal segment, we make it difficult for those believers who accept the necessity for secularism in public life to stand with us.

We should always remember, religion is not monolithic, there are multiple religions with different beliefs. And major religions are not monolithic, there are numerous divisions within each major religion with fundamental differences with each other. The more liberal wings of all the major denominations and religions are generally opposed to fundamentalist teachings. They do not believe in literal creationism. They accept the findings of science, including the origins of the universe as far as they are known and evolution. We have to work with them, not blindly lump them with the fundamentalists.

4. We are not going to convert anyone who isn't already looking to convert.

All of us are pretty set in our ways. I am certain that if I gave any Christian preacher, any Jewish rabbi, any Muslim imam, or whatever three hours talking the the reasons for their beliefs, - no matter how silver tongued she or he was - she/he would not budge me one iota from my position of agnosticism. Just not going to happen.

Nor am, I going to budge anyone firm in their beliefs. It's a waste of breath.

But if someone has doubts, if life has led that person to question their religious beliefs, then there is an opportunity to add to those doubts and give the person a chance to reject their religious teachings and embrace rationality and reason.

As far as I am concerned, this website was never about conversion. It was about supporting those who already disbelieved, or were already on the path.

5. The war is never over, we cannot rest on past victories

As we've seen in the USA, an unjustified sense of persecution (based on a loss of a free rein to persecute others) has led to a resurgence of the most ignorant and extreme factions of Christianity, factions which have the ear of those in power. The gains in personal liberty due to a widening understanding of what "equal rights" actually means are at risk. We must re-defend them every time they are under attack.

6. We are not as bound by logic and reason as we should be

We claim to use reason and logic. Too often we don't. I'm sure I've fallen short at various times in articles on this website, but I do try.

But it damages our case of approaching disbelief from a stand on reason and logic when our arguments do not meet basic standards. My favourite bad example remains the God is Imaginary website with its nonsensical "50 simple proofs", not one of which is based on reason and logic, not one of which is a proof. (That's not to say the website does not work as an attack on certain elements of a specifically Christian theology. But just an attack. No proofs are involved.)

7. We are not as smart as we think.

This is perhaps an extension of the previous comment. But there is an element of the non-believer community which likes to point to a couple of studies which suggest non-believers are smarter than believers.

Perhaps the studies are right. I'm not sure. But even if they are, it only refers to averages. Intelligence is distributed along a bell curve. For any given non-believer, it is almost certain that there are smarter believers.

And relative intelligence is not a clinching argument. When one of us feels the need to say "we're smarter than you" when arguing with a believer, it's about the same as when someone throws in "I've got an IQ of 156, therefore I'm right". It really means that person has no real clinching argument.

Claims of "I'm smarter than you" are not relevant, even if true. The only issue should be is whether or not you used reason and logic effectively.

8. There is no point in obsessing over the reality of reality.

Do we live in The Matrix? In some kind of computer simulation? Do we have free will? Is consciousness an illusion?

As I see it, I have a life to live in reality as I see it. I have choices open to me in living that life. So do you.

It may be amusing to consider what it means if our reality is not real, but we still have to live our lives in reality as we see it.

And if you are worried that your consciousness is an illusion, ask yourself how an illusion can have an illusion. But don't obsess over the answer. Just carry on living

9. Check your sources. Then check them again

I've been taken in a few times. Sometimes by satire sites. Sometimes by outright dishonest sources. The reality is that in the internet today, sources whose main purpose to to give a biased or dishonest slant to events in the world greatly outnumber those which attempt to report actual facts.

For the last 23 years, there has been a deliberate and growing effort to undermine public faith in mainstream news sources throughout the Western world, but mostly concentrated on the USA.

Whatever you feel about the innate political bent of the various elements of the mainstream press, they do try to make a clear demarcation between factual reporting and opinion. Also, they actually employ fact checking departments dedicated to verifying information before it is published.

If your favourite blogger reports something that inflames you, find out where the information came from before you blow your stack. A few carefully selected keywords should take you to an original news story. Check the dates. Recycling old news every few months is a popular way to make to make a one-time event look like a frequent occurrence.

If someone makes a claim "Scientists discover that....", don't just accept it. A little research should bring you to the abstract of the study if it exists. Then you can ask yourself if the reporter actually understood the findings. Or even it is was actually scientists involved.

Question all surveys and polls. Particularly those that depend on self-reporting. (See Meditation 958 and ensuing discussion which examines Gallup's claim that the very religious had greater well-being than everyone else.)

Simply, believe less of what you find on the Internet, and look for multiple independent sources for which news you choose to believe.

10. (Added January 2020) Proofread several times before you post anything.

Dang! This was sloppily written. Numerous grammatical and logical corrections have been made in the article after looking at it with fresh eyes a year later.

For anyone who wants to keep in touch, you can drop me a line via the contact form. As I've largely abandoned the few social media platforms I used to bother with (though Facebook does periodically suck me back in), it's pretty well the only way to track me down.

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