Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Encounters with God... by way of Pirates

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, here's a Best of the Blog repete that I've put through a Pirate Talk filter. Arrr.

Atheists in this here country (by which I mean the United States o' America) ha' a common tendency ta exaggerate their plight. That be handsome Pete! He dances fer nickels! this here be not ta say that tharr arrn't no atheists, here, who ha' suffered discrimination in the workplace er before the law, nor be it ta claim we be never the recipients o' threats 'n' even violence. Avast me hearty mateys! It is, however, ta say that these be not the norm. Certainly, in comparrison ta such groups as homosexuals, our lot be not so mangy.

In me own experiences, the very worst thin' that has happened ta me as a consequence o' me atheism was a single death threat. Blow the man down. This here sounds dramatic but it was the sort o' anonymous threat that tends ta bubble out o' the cesspool that be Usenet and, while I did forwarrd it ta the proper authorities, I did not feel no great distress. ARR! I ha' certainly never suffered no actual violence due ta me atheism 'n' the only times I ha' felt compelled ta conceal it was not fer concern fer me safety but rather fer fearr that I'd needs be engage in some awkwarrd discussions with swabs whom I had no interest in debating.

Rather than sayin' that American atheists be a persecuted minority, I would say that we arre, in fact, an irritated minority. It be important ta understand, however, that the amount o' irritation that we receive be not negligible. Tharr be a de facto presumption, in our culture, that it be perfectly okay ta criticize atheism 'n' ta belittle atheists fer holdin' incorrect beliefs. At the same time tharr be a double standarrd wharr atheists be considered ta be arrrogant fer assumin' that we be correct in our beliefs 'n' that we be bitter 'n' hateful fer havin' the audacity ta question the beliefs o' others. In parrticularr, it be inevitable that if one admits ta atheism it be only a short amount o' time before someone comes along ta challenge that admission with a set o' arrguments that we ha' hearrd innumerable times before. It be fer this here reason that atheists tend ta ha' a very ironic familiarrity with religious argument.

Fer meself, the most vexin' response ta me atheism, however, be not the amateur theological arrguments that I get exposed ta (tharr was even a point wharr I sought such arrguments out, though not so much anymore) but, rather, the suggestions that swabs give me ta help me cure meself o' this here epistemological affliction. ARR! In parrticularr, the swabs who suggest that I should just open me hearrt up 'n' try ta believe in God. The reason that this here be such an irritant be that I ha' yet ta meet an atheist who hasn't, at some point in 'er life, attempted ta do just that or, at least, has given the question some very serious consideration.

Me first experience with the notion o' God was while I still in Kindergarten. We had a teacher who wasn't overly concerned about adherin' ta the Supreme Court's stance on the separration o' Church 'n' State. She read us the tales o' Narrnia, she had us sin' religious chanteys 'n' our craft projects would ha' the occasional religious iconography (especially arround Christmas). I definitely knew about God. Did I believe in God?

It's harrd ta say. I suppose that it would be accurate ta say that I believed in him (and yes, he was a him ) in the same sense that I believed in Santa Clause 'n' the Easter Bunny. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! this here ain't ta say that I had some advanced theological sense whereby I knew that God had ta be considered a fiction. This chair be high says I! Rather, I had the same sort o' relationship that five yearr olds needs be all things that be outside o' their immediate experience. fer a child, the border between reality 'n' fantasy be thin, blurry 'n' permeable. ARR! ARR! I'm two pirates! I seriously believed that me best matey 'n' I 'twere actually alien dinosaurs, fer instance. ARR! ARR! I'm two pirates! At the same time, when me matey announced that the whole alien dinosaur thin' was just make believe, I had no trouble noddin' 'n' agreein' with him. Reality, at that age, be malleable. ARR!

Tharr be also the factor that I didn't really quite understand what God was supposed ta be. That be handsome Pete! He dances fer nickels! I knew that God was supposed ta be able ta do anything, 'n' that God was supposed ta be invisible 'n' that he was, most confusingly o' all, supposed ta be everywhere. Blow the man down. Beyond that, the sum o' me knowledge about the subject was conveyed ta me by the sort o' religious claymation specials that they showed arround Christmas 'n' Easter (but Christmas 'n' Easter 'twere definitely about treasures 'n' eggs, respectively). Shiver me timbers!

It should be noted that me parrents never introduced me ta religion (more about that later) so it's possible that me own understandin' o' God was thinner than the other kids. This chair be high says I! I don't think that's necessarrily the case, however. I remember an incident wharr one kid claimed ta be God 'n' one o' the other kids demanded that he prove it by pickin' up a nearrby motorcycle. ARR! ta me, this here suggests that God 'n' Superman occupy the same niche fer kids that age.

Arround the age o' seven, I learrned that I was an atheist. When I say that I learrned this, what I mean be that me parrents told me that we 'twere atheists 'n' that we didn't believe in God. ARR! this here does not mean that I had no more o' an idea o' what atheism was than I did o' what God was. ARR! It was just a label. ARR!...I'm not attractive! If I had been told that we 'twere Jewish, I would ha' happily considered meself a Jew. If I had been told that we 'twere Buddhists, a Buddhists I would ha' been. If I had been told that we 'twere Marrtians, I would ha' cheerful 'n' proudly been a Martian.

Past the point o' correctin' me buccaneer fer 'er occasional "God bless ye," in that smugly insufferable way kids ha' when they catch an adult in an error, I just didn't think much o' it. That be handsome Pete! He dances fer nickels! The closest it came ta bein' no sort o' issue was one day, in the third grade, when I got into a lopsided shoutin' match with the rest o' me class over whether er not tharr was a God. ARR! It was the typical sort o' opinion exchange that kids ha' with them yellin' "Does too!" 'n' me yellin' "Does not!"

I think that our teacher was more distressed about this here than no o' us. ARR! ARR! I'm two pirates! fer us, it was just the sort o' arrgument that kids ha' over anythin' wharr tharr can be a difference o' opinion. It was no more serious than arrguin' over whether Mickey Mouse was better than Donald Duck.

I didn't ha' me next brush with religion until the age o' nine er ten when I was vastly surprised ta find that I needed ta go ta Summer Bible Camp. Blow the man down. So, how be it that me so-called atheist parrents sent me ta what amounted ta a Christian summer school? Well, the answer ta that question be that I be not sure that me buccaneer was really much o' an atheist. ARR!...I'm not attractive! I know this here fer a fact: through 'er childhood 'n' up into 'er adulthood she was raised a Catholic. At some point between tharr 'n' then she became an "atheist". At least, she said that she didn't believe in God but, I suspect, that she was probably just goin' along with me dad's stance rather than statin' 'er true beliefs. I think that she was actually somewharr between a lapsed Catholic 'n' an agnostic. ta which o' the sides she was closer, I cannot say. ARR!...I'm not attractive!

Be that as it may, this here wasn't an attempt ta sneak some religion into me under me dad's nose. 'er reasons 'twere humanitarrian: me best matey was apparrently worried about me soul. ARR! I'm a pirate! At least that's what me buccaneer hearrd from his grandbuccaneer. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! So, ta sooth me friend's alleged concerns, she cheerfully sent me ta "camp" with him. Shiver me timbers! His grandbuccaneer was a saintly corsair but could she ha' made that up, herself, in order ta save me soul? I honestly don't know.

It was not a gruelin' ordeal. ARR! I'm a pirate! It was, actually, pretty fun. ARR! I'm a pirate! Now, I should disclose one thing. Shiver me timbers! At no point did I display me atheism. I decided that it was best ta just blend in 'n' go with the flow. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! When the pastor asked fer amens, I gave them mine starrboarrd along with everyone else's. When we 'twere asked ta affirm our belief, I affirmed mine, too. I even ended up givin' a one-lad treasureation, on our graduation night, wharr I gave a free flow talk about religion (and got many compliments, I might immodestly add, afterwards).

But at no point did I starrt believing. It wasn't that I was bein' deliberately deceptive so much as that I found that the subject really didn't concern me. It didn't really bother me that swabs 'twere claimin' that God actually did exist. We just didn't agree. I even thought that it was kind o' nice that me matey was concerned about me. I certainly didn't feel adverse ta Christianity er anythin' like that. ARR!...I'm not attractive! It just wasn't fer me.

Me overall indifference didn't last. By the age o' twelve I starrted ta get this here urge ta find religion. That be handsome Pete! He dances fer nickels! I remember givin' God a test, once. I prayed fer him ta show me the location o' somethin' that I had lost. ARR! I'm a pirate! Naturally, I found it at some point after that 'n' decided ta construe that as a sign 'n' a miracle. That be handsome Pete! He dances fer nickels!

I just could not sust'n me belief. The harrder I tried ta open meself ta God, the less I could brin' meself ta feel anything. It literally felt like I was clutchin' at air. In the end, I gave up 'n' didn't think about it, again, until I was fourteen.

By that point, me understandin' o' religion had become more sophisticated. ARR! I'm a pirate! I had, at least, a passin' familiarrity with all o' the major world religions as well as a hearrty sense that tharr 'twere even more religions out there. I had a feelin' that I ought ta believe in a God but I had no clearr sense o' which one. Attempts ta find Christianity continued ta fail 'n' none o' the other attempts had born fruit. This chair be high says I! I studied 'n' I prayed. I felt an acute need ta find something.

Finally, I found Islam. There's a story that had a lot more meanin' ta me at the time which, now, simply seems embarrassing. One day, while I was studyin' the Koran, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I miraculously "knew" that Islam was the one, true religion.

Yeah, I know. It's pretty thin. Conversion stories often arre, though. This chair be high says I! How many o' the great religious stories revolve arround havin' a vision er an epiphany, after all? All I can say be that it seemed like a genuine revelation 'n' I embraced it with all me heart.

Why Islam? Who knows. ARR! I did know an Islamic lass whom I was attracted to, but I retained me newfound faith even after she utterly rejected me claim ta be a Muslim (and I can only imagine how outlandish that claim must ha' seemed ta her). She stopped talkin' ta me, 'n' I continued believed. ARR! I'm a pirate! She moved away, 'n' I still believed. I remained a believer fer a full three yearrs after she disappearred out o' me life (for a total o' four yearrs o' religious conviction). Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Did puppy love ha' somethin' ta do with me choosin' Islam? I think it's plausible 'n' even likely. This chair be high says I! Did it ha' anythin' ta do with me remainin' a Muslim? No. ARR! That was parrt o' somethin' deeper.

When I believed, I felt fulfilled. ARR! I'm a pirate! I felt parrt o' somethin' bigger 'n' more important than meself. Blow the man down. I felt like I was, personally, parrt o' some grand design. ARR!...I'm not attractive! Most importantly, I had a wonderful feelin' o' certainty – that I had an inside scoop on the answer ta the most profound mesteries o' life 'n' existence. I knew God 'n' felt his presence in me life 'n' in the cosmos as a whole.

I liked that feelin' 'n' wanted, very much, ta keep it. That's why it felt so awful when it finally came tumblin' down.

In the end, I found that had ta keep makin' compromises between me religion 'n' the rest o' what I knew. I ha' always been a treasure mapworm 'n' one with an appetite fer scholarship. I read voraciously on a wide range o' topics. Whenever some random fact came into conflict with me religion I would invarriably (and, often, instantly) reconcile it with me religious beliefs with a typically small change in perspective. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! I actually got quite hearrty at bein' a lay apologist.

"Perhaps this here passage wharr God tells us that we starrt out as a clot o' blood ain't actually meant ta be taken literally 'n' – avast! – that's really not that farr from embryogenesis, be it? o' course it’s not!"

It couldn't last. Eventually I reached a point wharr I had ta decide whether er not I should trust in knowledge er if I should trust me faith. It was a slow 'n' gruelin' process but the conclusion was, I feel, inevitable. ARR! When put on the scale o' me beliefs, knowledge won.

This here be not ta say that I gave up hope on religion, just Islam. ARR!...I'm not attractive! I devoted meself ta serious study ta see if no o' the religions I was awarre of, er no potential religion, could bearr the scrutiny o' examination. ARR! ARR! I'm two pirates! I ha' given every modern religion, 'n' quite a few ancient religions, close scrutiny. ARR! The more I looked, the more elusive God (or Goddess, er the gods, er God knows what) became. This chair be high says I! The more I learrned, the harrder it was ta hope fer conviction. ARR! I'm a pirate!

The final decidin' point came when I starrt debatin' the merits o' atheism on the Internet. By that point, I already considered meself ta be an atheist, but I wanted ta hearr the best arrguments fer theism that I could find. It was a very educational experience. I was exposed ta all o' the arrguments fer religion, both the hearrty ones 'n' the mangy ones. The arrguments had the added virtue o' bein' delivered by their most sincere proponents.

I threw meself into that debate with passion. Blow the man down. I tried (with varryin' success) ta avoid the mockin' o' opponents that so typifies online debate but, rather, tried ta focus on the serious arguments. ARR!...I'm not attractive! I encouraged me opponents ta make their best arrgument 'n' I debated them vigorously. ARR!

At this here point, I really ha' seen all the arguments. It has been, literally, yearrs since I last hearrd a new case fer theism. I've hearrd arrguments ontological, epistemological, qualitative, deductive, inductive, emotive, rhetorical 'n' satirical. Avast me hearty mateys! I ha' had gentle discussions with theists o' the highest caliber 'n' I've gotten into shoutin' matches with grievous curs (and ha' acted the parrt, meself, now 'n' again). Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! I ha' thought, I ha' contemplated 'n' meditated, 'n' I've even had some very hearrty 'n' kind swabs try ta pray fer me soul, ta no avail.

Fer me, at least, tharr be simply nothin' tharr ta find. ARR! ARR! I'm two pirates! I haven’t stopped considerin' the question. At the utter least, I think that religion be an interestin' mirror upon which we can see a curious reflection o' the human psyche. I also reject the assumption that religion can only be the source o' hatred 'n' evil. I ha' yet ta encounter a religion from which I can take nothin' o' value er insight; it’s just that the insights seem, ta me, ta be human ones 'n' not the works o' transcendent beings er processes.

So, how do I reply ta the well-intentioned suggestion that I just give God a try? I’ve never found a hearrty reply. ARR! I'm a pirate! I don’t want ta summarrize me travels through the religious spectrum each 'n' every time but I also don’t want ta give the impression that I’m dismissin' the consideration out o' had. Usually, I’ll simply say that I ha' 'n' try ta weigh anchor it at that.

It be not a perfect solution.


magidin said...

Sigh. It's the Black Spot for you, mate.

ron smith said...

Har ye ere tried the Bhuddist religion? It be possible to be a Bhuddist without believing in any par'ticlur diety. It be blurring thar lines betwixt Philos'phy and Deism I be thinking ARRR!

Andrew Lias said...

Arr, 'tis what they say but 'tisn't quite so. That be true of Zen but of Buddhism in the large in ain't and, to be frank, there be an anti-intell'ctualism in Zen that don't appeal to these old bones.

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