Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A matter of language?

Trev and I went to the monthly all-day sitting with the Everyday Zen sangha. I'll perhaps comment later on how these sittings, instead of making me more mindful the next day, make me incredibly foggy. I suppose the word for that is "tired," but it's more like my brain is simply not engaging. Anyway, I'm better today.

Norman Fischer's dharma talk was on atheists, especially Daniel Dennett, and their quarrels with "believers." Norman said the argument seemed to him "beside the point"--that we all have religious inklings (Dennett says we are naturally selected to be religious), and the issue really is the language we use to express those feelings. So "God" for one person might be, perhaps, "wonder" for another person. However, Norman also suggested that the language, or concept, of an authoritarian guy on a throne, manipulating us from above and outside, is not a helpful one. We all have to avoid "clamping down" on our concepts, which is what makes us intolerant and judgmental and destructive.

I tended to agree. When people ask me if I believe in God, I always want to ask, "What do you mean?" Guy on a throne? No way. But do I have a sense of the sacred, of something larger? A sense of wonder and awe at the universe? A sense of responsibility toward all creation, even without a creator? Yes. I'd like to think I feel responsible because I care about my fellow beings, not because I'm afraid of punishment or because I want a reward. I think that's called being an adult, and I would like to be one some day.

I'm very glad Dennett and Dawkins and PZ Meyers and all the other atheists are kicking up a ruckus, and by the above definition I'm one of them. On the other hand, I'm not always sure what they're arguing against. If it's the guy on the throne, though, count me in. That guy, even if he exists, should be resisted unto death, and beyond.*

*Update: Here's a helpful post from Tristero, which tells me I need to read my New Atheists more thoroughly. Yes, they're fighting Throne Man, and therefore I cast my lot with them.
But the language here really *is* a problem. "Atheist" seems to me to cover too much ground. As does "God," possibly.

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