Belief, unbelief and that little comma in between

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By Andy Uyboco

Freethinking Me

Friday, June 14, 2013


THE Parable of the Missing Question:

THE disciple asked the master, "Do you believe in God?"

The master did not reply.

The disciple thought the master had not heard and repeated the question.

The master remained silent.

The disciple then asked, "Master, why do you not reply?"

The master said, "Because there is no question."

It Depends

Today, when people ask me whether I believe in God or not, my usual reply is, "It depends."

"Depends on what?" You may ask.

Well, it depends on what you think the word "God" means.

Ask a Christian if he believes in God and he will say yes.

Ask a Muslim if he believes in God and he will say yes as well. Ask a Hindu if he believes in God and you still get a yes. In fact, you can go ahead and ask a Jew, a shaman, a Zoroastrianist, a Rastafari, a Sikh, or mostly anyone affiliated with a religion and they will all say yes.

It is quite obvious though, that they do not all mean the same thing. The question, "Do you believe in God?" is therefore rendered meaningless unless the questioner first clarifies what he or she means by the word “God.” Only then can the question be properly answered.

That is why in the parable above, the master declares, "There is no question."

Religious People are Atheists Too

Some people who have been following my columns have labeled me an atheist (in approval or otherwise). But let me turn the tables around and say that religious people are also atheists with respect to the gods they don’t believe in. To Hindu, a Christian is an atheist with respect to Brahma or Krishna.

To a Christian, a Muslim is an atheist because he doesn’t believe that Jesus is God. Most people are atheists with respect to Zeus because practically no one believes in him anymore.

Richard Dawkins, a biologist and self-proclaimed atheist, says "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

Something (or Someone) Out There

Strictly speaking, atheism is a statement of belief. A theist believes in some sort of god. An atheist doesn’t.

In this regard, I am undecided and I sometime oscillate between the two poles.

On the one hand, I am open to the possibility of a "higher power" who may be the creator or designer of life. It may be the “force” that generates love and compassion. It may be the "essence" from which all goodness comes from.

On the other hand, I have no direct sensory experience of this being and whatever mystical experience I may have had can be reasonably attributed to an overactive imagination.

Personally, I see myself more as an agnostic rather than an atheist. Agnosticism is a statement of knowledge rather than belief. An agnostic claims no knowledge (or lack of it) of god and I can certainly make that claim. Belief is a trickier matter though, and for the time being, I am content to reside in the comma that sits between belief and unbelief -- until further knowledge or evidence.

(If you are the type who enjoys debates and discussion, search "Sam Harris Deepak Chopra Debate Does God Have A Future" on Youtube. That should keep you entertained for a while.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 14, 2013.

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