Reasonable Doubt: A Descendant of Slaves Questions Their Faith
1 year ago
Agnosticism recognized as both a tribute and refusal of the God of our ancestors
Nor is this simply about the misdeeds of humans done in the name of God. In our current dialogue we generally recognize subscribing to one of the Abrahamic faiths as “believing in God.” But religion is culturally universal. There are literally tens of thousands of faiths, wildly divergent in their precepts, most of which died out with the civilizations and societies that authored them.
It’s hard to believe that the validity of a faith was anything more than a measure of the cultural, economic and military power of the people who subscribed to it. For those – and many other reasons – I couldn’t say I’d ever heard a convincing argument for the existence of God.
It also occurred to me that atheism was often no better. It was another kind of certainty, that the question of God’s existence could be resolved in the negative based upon equally shaky grounds. I pled no contest in the court of religion, my views summed up by the slogan “I don’t know and you don’t either.”
One irony of this situation is that despite my concerns about the contradictions and fallacies of religion I’ve generally found it easier to respect the beliefs of friends than those friends find it to respect my non-belief. (True story: one relative coaxed her pastor into laying hands on me when I least suspected it, presumably in the hope that I could be delivered from the demon of skepticism.) It occurred to me that attempts at “saving souls” are often less about the sinner than the saved, that at their core they’re about confirming that the logic of their faith was correct by demonstrating its appeal to others.
Thus my disbelief would always be taken as an implicit comment on the faith of others. In faith, as in democracy, strength lies in numbers.
There was another reason I was staggered by the weight of that moment in the Bessemer church. My family had traveled to Jerusalem shortly after my mother’s diagnosis with terminal cancer. We sat together at that funeral freighted by the knowledge that another funeral was in the offing. And I was alone among my kin was immune to the preacher’s balms that we were all bound for the great getting up morning, that we would all be reunited “on the other side.” "The reality was that what I considered most true -- my sincere disbelief -- was also what made that moment most difficult and indelible and honest.
Not long after the funeral a friend asked me the most common question I get from believers: What if you’re wrong? What if you must face a day of judgment after a life of rejection and skepticism. My answer to him was that if a divine creator endowed us with reason and intellect I would be guilty only of using them to the best of my ability. In short, I arrived at my disbelief honestly. And surely there is some virtue in that.