Sunday, May 11, 2008

The God gene

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I've spend a lot of time recently fighting against the hypocrisy, prejudice, arrogance and illogic that often springs from god-belief. I think that this is a worthy thing to do. I've been shocked at how much of it exists (I never knew before I started reading people's thoughts on the internet), but I'm slowly coming to realise that the world is not quite the place I thought it was. I thought that most of humanity had outgrown that kind of thing...

Anyway, the thing is that I can fight against the things that result from god-belief, but I can't fight against what lies beneath them. Amongst the flamers and the morons, you can catch believers who not only are decent people but more importantly truly believe, despite all evidence to the contrary. Some are very well-educated. I realise that no one could ever make them give up that belief, just as no one could ever make me believe.

So there we stand, on opposite sides of a gulf that education, proof and rationale can't seem to breach. Why does this gulf exist?

I don't really know what 'the God Gene' means -- it's one of those Time Magazine-style 'science for dummies' terms. I know that there is a part of the brain that, when activated, creates a sense of 'something bigger than us' -- be that God, aliens or the interconnectedness of human beings. Yet there is something about the misnamed concept that gets me thinking. Gay people say that they 'were born this way' and couldn't choose to be straight any more than they could choose to fly. Like them, I truly wonder if I was 'born this way'. I wonder if some people are born with a capacity to believe in God and some are born without that capacity.

I don't like the way I've worded that -- it sounds like I view atheism as a handicap. I don't. I am proud of my beliefs, and they give me strength and hope. In fact, like sexuality, I don't view either theism or atheism as better or worse. They are what they are. (What we do with that basic belief, on the other hand, I'll judge and criticise until the day I die.)

I was probably about 13 years old when I accepted that part of myself that said 'why are you going along with this God concept?' I think that's quite young, but I was also four when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. Maybe there's a connection. I usually say that, at about that time, I 'stopped believing in God'. But upon reflection, I don't think that's true. I don't think I 'stopped' anything -- big people spoke to me about God, and so like all children I accepted it without criticism. But I certainly have never, at any time in my life, 'felt God within me'. It has baffled me that others do. I have never felt a need, even as a child, to ask 'someone up there' for something. So I've never been disappointed when it doesn't happen. But I take some people at their word when they say they have felt 'a higher presence'. Of course, I rationalise it as only in their minds, but I don't think they're lying to themselves. They've experienced a feeling that I appear to be incapable of feeling. I have never, even once, felt it in my entire life.

Behind all of the kicking and screaming that we do in theological 'debate' seems to lie this basic truth -- there are two different kinds of people in this world: those who are capable of swallowing God and those for whom God just sticks in their throats. I know which one I am, and I'm proud. But how can you speak to people who speak a fundamentally different language?

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