Am I close-minded?

January 17, 2009

Am I being close-minded when I say that things like:

“There is no god.”

“Homeopathy is bullshit.”

“There is no such thing as reincarnation.”

I could go on, but you get the picture, right?

There was a time when I would’ve believed and sometimes did believe in any number of these and other similar, fantastical things.  What has made me so cynical, so doubtful of everything?

Years ago, I saw an interview on TV of Billy Bob Thornton, and, while I’m not a huge fan of his, he did say something that really stuck with me.  He said, “It is arrogant to say that something isn’t true simply because you don’t believe it.”  That statement has been like a koan for me all these years, and I think of it sometimes when I ponder the growth of my skepticism.

I really want to believe that anything is possible – that, for example, a woman performing Reiki can put her hands on someone dying of cancer and the patient is spontaneously healed.  (I do not, however, as is sometimes the claims of the religiously devout about atheists, yearn to believe in a god – I have no desire to live my life under the rule of a sadistic, absent, yet supposedly all-powerful and benevolent father figure “in heaven”, or what Christopher Hitchens humorously calls “a celestial North Korea”.)  It is a beautiful thought and many of us have heard of such spontaneous healings – but these are all anecdotal accounts and are hardly a good basis for any kind of proof.  Once again, my intellect, and my constant and insatiable desire to know what is actually true, will not afford me the faith that is required to completely believe in those accounts.  Of course, I really cannot rule out any possibility, but I also cannot fully embrace every “low probability event” as an indication of a likely trend, either.

In other words, I need proof, dammit!

But yes, haven’t all of us had experiences that we cannot explain?  I, for example, once had an out-of-body experience for which I have no reasonable explanation.  I was completely lucid, sober, not under the influence of any drugs, stimulants or any other physical stresses, such as lack of sleep, food, or water.   I can recall exactly where I was, the feeling of floating in the room, looking down at my body.  It was a bit alarming, but, once I got over the initial shock of it, the experience was also very peaceful and dream-like.  I was actually watching myself doing things as I was doing them.  Whenever I have spoken about this to others who are, for lack of better terms, “New Age-y”, they say things like, “Oh well, it was your soul yearning to be momentarily free of your physical body” or things of that nature.  They say these things so unabashedly, believing them so completely, that I sometimes – only sometimes, mind you – wish I had the ability to engage in that sort of willful abandon of my critical thought.

However, given that all my searching leads me back to the mind, the intellect, reason, logic, and critical thought, these tools obviously have their limits (at least at this point in the evolution of our species).  For instance, no one really knows, empirically, what atomic particles are made of.  (String theory, anyone?)  No one really knows the answer to my friend Marde‘s favorite question:  Why is there something rather than nothing?  No one really knows why – the larger why – bad things happen to good people.  Perhaps faith in the unseen is necessary for those who would otherwise lose themselves too easily in the idea of oblivion, or of the seemingly random nature of what is surely the miracle – yes, I said miracle – of our existence.

So where does all this mental meandering and search for meaning leave me on a daily basis?  Sometimes it leaves me breathless, when the search is frustrating.  Sometimes depressed, when the search seems fruitless or even pointless.  Sometimes overjoyed, when I reflect on the sheer luck of the draw that I should be existing at this moment on this amazing planet, for all of its and my flaws.

But most often, it leaves me with this belief, which I know I’ve written here before, but it is worth repeating:

I would rather know the cold, hard, unequivocal truth of something than be comforted by something that is false.