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24 June 2005

A question for the damned. What, if anything, in this world shakes your disbelief? [More:]

There are stories of tests of individuals' faith in a textually defined God (e.g. Christian, Muslim, L. Ron, etc.). The Book of Job comes to mind and I am sure there is a similar story in the Koran. Last week I found myself, having just finished a Mordecai Richler novel, asking myself, "How the fuck did he DO that?" I glibly pointed the finger at God. Jimi Hendrix can do that to me too, and it seems to happen to me a lot and all over the place and at unexpected times. It can't be explained (to my satisfaction) as " genius" or "inspiration". It is too consistent and it seems to target specific individuals. Are there singular human actions that have so stunned you that you thought--even if only for a moment--religiously? Let's leave the Devil out of this for the moment. ;-)
Nope. There have been plenty of human actions that have reinforced my disbelief though.
And if anything, I sure wouldn't feel religious about anything a human did. Mother nature, that's getting closer. Humans? no.
posted by puke & cry 24 June | 20:20
Sorry, here is Job's woeful tale.
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 20:23
I've wondered at times what it would take for me to question reality -- how many coincidences, how many unexplainable things. But these would make me question my sanity, not the existence of god.

The only two things that ever have that effect are witnessing some awesome spectacle of nature. And having an extremely close call with death. Especially if both.
posted by dreamsign 24 June | 20:37
Oh yeah. I have never believed in God, and almost certainly never will. But what shakes my disbelief sometimes are the extraordinarily good people one sometimes meets, who humbly tell you that their good comes from above.

One time the truck broke down in a little tourist town in the Canadian Rockies. On a Sunday. Some locals stopped, found the town's one mechanic. He messed around with the truck for hours and got it running. We talked the whole time, and it was perfectly clear that I knew nothing about cars. He charged me a very modest amount and would not take more. I was properly grateful. But as I pulled out, he flagged me down for one last word. "I hate to say it, but before I was a Christian, I would have robbed you blind."
posted by LarryC 24 June | 20:59
I'm not certain of your own religious bent but if you are essentially an atheist, most probably the only reason you "glibly pointed the finger at God" is that, despite being a rationalist who has no need for deity-driven narratives to explain and operate within the world, you have been raised in a culture and society that constantly appeals to this vague, amorphous, largely undefinable concept commonly known as "god". Absent this upbringing, you would never have listened to Axis: Bold as Love and immediately ascribed all the very moving passages and subsequent profound feelings felt to Yahweh the Volcano God. You would not have even had this as a touchstone. Certainly, you may have said, "Wow, there's some shit going on here that I've never observed before," but I doubt you would have spontaneously originated your own concept of deity that ended up being essentially identical to the wholly man-made and -sustained Judeo-Christian-Islamic religionist framework, a framework that appears to have been designed as a tool for gaining and consolidating socio-political power.

It appears to me that the Christian god is an entirely untenable, inorganic idea, absurd on its face. "God" is often shorthand for "I really don't understand what's happening and I either cherish this ignorance too much or I am just not curious enough to submit my experiences to further, rigorous examination."

I'm not necessarily condemning this line of thinking, either; it's both human and expected. It's just that it behooves us to recognize that labeling these sorts of profound, awe-filled, disconnected feelings as "God" is limited. To "glibly point the finger at God" is to ignore the fact that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic deity neither is unique nor has a corner on profoundly-moving experiences. If we can't reasonably define what we mean by "God" or "god" (which we cannot), then an equivalent action is for me to glibly point the finger at a frammistan or at R]s(:ewui*&$.
posted by gramschmidt 24 June | 21:17
Job. Just scroll through the numbers before the .html if you are interesed. Sorry for the stupid question, but I am interested. Great story, LarryC. Thank you.

/will go back to reading St. Urbain's Horseman when I need to rest and worry about Hell.
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 21:20
What, if anything, in this world shakes your disbelief?

every morning on awakening i get on my knees and ask Him to remove the compulsion to drink and drug just for that day, and every day since i began that practice, He has. this is the central fact of my life today! it shakes me to the core. it has completely blown my mind. it has brought about an overwhelming change in my attitude toward everything. (but i'm still, ya know, a jerk!)

well, you asked...
posted by quonsar 24 June | 22:06
How may days now, quonsar?
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 22:11
158. but who's counting? :-)
posted by quonsar 24 June | 22:12
158. but who's counting? :-)
posted by quonsar 24 June | 22:12

You are, and now, so are we. Yo, quonsar, that simply rocks!!
posted by Frisbee Girl 24 June | 22:23
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 22:37
What, if anything, in this world shakes your disbelief?

Reading that bit from quonsar. Thank you, q. And I say this both as a devout and assured believer in a supreme being (just not necessarily the bearded guy on a throne) and a continuing drinker (and jerk). I hope to share your peace one day.
posted by yhbc 24 June | 22:42
Nothing has ever really shaken my atheism. I'm as open to the possibility as I can be without sacrificing my what I consider my rationality, and I'm even sort of disappointed that nothing has really challenged my atheism. When I was younger and much more open-minded to the possibilty of theism, I chose atheism with the comfort that, were God to exist (and was one of the popular versions), He'd make himself known to me eventually. Hasn't happened, and I don't expect it.

On the negative, fear and despair side of the equation, I found 11 years ago when I was very seriously suicidal that confronted with the reality of death, I had absolutely no belief in an afterlife whatsoever. That actually sort of stymied my suicidalism--I can't really see not existing at all as an improvement.

I will admit that now that I'm middle-aged and can see death waiting for me somewhere up ahead, I do occasionally feel a kind of despair for the fleetingness of existence, a sense of personal futility. And, more importantly, a deep sadness that it seems like our time--my time--here is far too brief given how incredibly amazing and rich and wonderful life and the cosmos really is.
posted by kmellis 24 June | 23:07
It says something about me, I'm sure, that the two most interesting books to me of the Christian Bible are Job and Matthew. I prefer the difficult path of faith, rather than platitudes. I feel certain that the truth to be found, whatever it is, lies on the difficult road, not the easy one.
posted by kmellis 24 June | 23:12
You're not a musican, I suppose.
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 23:25
*screaming whammy-bar dive*
posted by quonsar 24 June | 23:28
*mexican* ... pah
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 23:30
And if anything, I sure wouldn't feel religious about anything a human did. Mother nature, that's getting closer. Humans? no.
posted by puke & cry 24 June | 20:20

I agree almost absolutely -- with one exception: Stevie Ray Vaughan.
posted by mudpuppie 24 June | 23:49
That is exactly what I mean, mudpuppie: SRV is entriely inexplicable. Glad you feel the same way. He was nuts good. He was pure. Just watch him play. Amazing.
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 24 June | 23:56
*Points into space*
posted by Cryptical Envelopment 25 June | 00:00
I have been with many people as the departed their bodies and went on to the next life, and in those moments I am privileged to be part of an experience of transcendence that stays with me for months afterward. I don't know what that means but I do know that we don't just stop when we die, we go somewhere. That leads me to believe that there's a lot more, and I have a sense that it's about joy.
posted by puddinghead 25 June | 00:02
Well, obviously none of us stop when we die.

Unless jrun takes over completely.
posted by yhbc 25 June | 00:11
Damn straight, bubba.
posted by puddinghead 25 June | 00:19
Just about everything shakes my disbelief, so much so that I'm not really a disbeliever. I believe in everything, which may be a glass-half-full way of saying I believe in nothing. But basically, for me, science and magic and religion are really all the same thing - like the blind men and the elephant, we may give some name and possible explanation to any particular aspect of "the whole" that we become aware of, but it's a limited perspective.

What we term "reality" at any given time is simply a reflection of the part of the elephant we managed to get hold of. If one is embracing the elephant's leg, and someone else up front is describing his ear, we might just shake our head sadly at that kind of crazy talk, or we might become fearful and decide that the other person is evil and dangerous, or we might venture to leave the safety of the leg and creep forward to see what the hell this guy is going on about. Having once done that, we may begin to suspect that there are other strange, undiscovered aspects of the elephant, and that perhaps, just perhaps, all these unknown properties might somehow be interconnected in some inexplicable way.

So my answer to your first question is everything, and nothing, and my answer to your last question is yes, and no. I feel what you describe (if you mean wonder and awe) almost constantly, but it never shakes either my belief (in what, for the sake of convenience, I will call "the Tao"), or my disbelief (in the leg as the one and only reality, and the God of the leg as the one true god).
posted by taz 25 June | 02:25
My fellow humans have never inspired religious feelings in me but they have inspired me, with their sudden acts of selfless kindness, to step outside of my normal state of benign indifference and cheer for the team.
posted by hojoki 25 June | 12:12
A perfect moment:

Three winters ago. Husband and I were sitting on a picnic table. He was sitting on the table part and I was on the bench with his feet on either side of me. It was cold, but we were comfortably bundled up. No other people were evident. We were facing a beautiful river. The sky was bright blue with huge white fluffy clouds floating here and there. It was dead quiet except for the sounds of the flowing water, wind in the trees, the chittering the swallows made as they dive bombed the river in search of insects and the occasional cry of a seagull. I have no idea how long it really lasted but it seemed to go on forever. We didn't say anything, we simply existed in that moment.

I noticed a change in quonsar's posts two or three months ago. I had wondered when the pod people made the switch. Congratulations, quonsar, that's a real accomplishment.
posted by deborah 25 June | 15:23
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the good luck not to fuck up too often.

I refuse to accept that we just are without any purpose or reason. Someone or something must have had a reason for creating us. I find myself conflicted sometimes because I tend to believe in both evolution and creation and suspect that the truth is somewhere in between - perhaps God is a green ooze and we have evolved from there. We will never really know and some of us like to believe in a supreme being just to feel better because then we have a reason for existing rather than being here just because of a freak of nature. I like to think that I am too intelligent to be like that, but I could be wrong.

quonsar, I salute you and wish you good luck. Having given up smoking at about the same time (yes, again), I can only imagine how much more you have gone through and I hope it sticks.
posted by dg 26 June | 18:38
I have been with many people as the departed their bodies and went on to the next life, and in those moments I am privileged to be part of an experience of transcendence that stays with me for months afterward

Reading this brings up a great deal of anger in me. Twice I have been present when people were dying and both times it was a miserable . Both people were scared and in a great deal of pain and both said they did not want to die and were begging for help.

The part that stayed with me for months afterward was using substances to ease the pain and anger.
posted by mlis 26 June | 22:59
"Simon Says...Flop!" || Sorry to get all heavy, but....