From Mormonism to Atheism:

The Reflections of a Studied Skeptic

 

By Kim M. Clark

Sensing that I was largely unmoved by his convictions and religious overtures (an adroit observation of which he was not disabused), my exasperated patient at last conceded, “Kim, all I want is the truth.”  “No, my friend,” I silently reflected, “What you want is the assurance that your existence has divine purpose and that somehow your essence will survive the harshness of death.  Your church is true, not for empirical reasons, but only in the sense that its doctrines assuage paralyzing fears and renders comfort where haunting doubt is otherwise left to torment a listless mind.” 

            Let us recall that in his heralded work The Fall, Camus saw truth as a “lucid intoxication,”[1] and that “like light, [it] blinds.”[2]  He further noted that “Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.”[3]  Unwittingly, perhaps, man tends to beautify what he sees, morphing his perceptions into something more splendid, familiar, or palatable.  In other words, lavishly apply the makeup and even the most pernicious falsehoods are allowed to parade as truth.  ;

            Religious views must not be seen as templates of reality, no matter how rabid the desire or sincere the intent.  For anyone to say that they believe, or that they disbelieve, is, for me, an utterly meaningless and pointless disclosure.  It is the basis of our beliefs which sets us apart and not the sincerity or strength of our convictions.  Voltaire reasoned that as a watch proves a watchmaker, so too does the universe prove a god.  But if that were true then we are left with an even more perplexing question: Who created the watchmaker?  Or to believers who speak of an anthropomorphic or compositional god, we ask, “Who composed the Composer?”  The problem soon becomes one of infinite regress.

          Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins invites reflection by way of a provocative question posed by writer Douglas Adams:  “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”[4]  If by ascribing to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god mythological origins and attributes makes me an atheist, then so, too, may the believing reader be considered heretical for having ever uttered animadversions of the Greek god Apollo.  Carl Sagan reminds us that in the eyes of the Roman Empire, Christians were atheists for not accepting “the divinity of apotheosized emperors or Olympian gods.”[5]

            As a child reared under the religious canopy of Mormonism, I was destined to frame probing and pointed questions with the regularity of a Swiss time piece.  My father did his best, I suppose, to endure the overtones of incredulity that originated from my parched lips and reeling mind.  “Son, it’s okay to question,” he assured me, “but never doubt that what the Church teaches is true.”  (Latter-day Saints hold to the belief that God would never allow Church leaders to lead them astray.)  “But if denied the freedom to doubt,” I wondered, “What purpose does the question serve?”  After 40 years of waiting, I have not yet received a credible answer.

            I do not oppose the discovery of God any more than I oppose the discovery of a unified field theory.  What I oppose are premature declarations and celebrations.  Unlike scientists who are held accountable to the most rigorous and imposing standards of investigation, and whose research is always subject to independent testing and peer review; organized religion only scoffs at such vexing protocols, refusing to defend or debate what for them is sacrosanct.  No amount of evidence will tarnish or rebuff religious convictions.  If the scriptures teach that Jesus walked on water, then, by damned, he walked on water.  Amazingly, not a mewling of suspicion or protest is heard to emerge from the pews.  Sadly, it seems, in the cathedral, temple, or synagogue; evidence, reason, and logic have no voice.  With hubristic certainty, ecclesiastical authority speaks a posteriori of a yet-to-be-proven God, to include a command of what his Lordship thinks, says, and does.  Even God’s gender (“Heavenly Father”) and eternal ambitions[6] are said to be known by a privileged few.  Conspicuously absent in their confident rhetoric, however, are bona fide specifics and the hard evidence to which disciplined and critical thinkers are accustomed.  A discerning Scott Atran adduces that religion is here to stay, for with uncanny persistence, “Religion survives science and secular ideology … because of what it affectively and collectively secures for people.”[7]  In the light of such awareness, Atran believed that “All human societies pay a price for religion’s material, emotional, and cognitive commitments to unintuitive, factually impossible worlds.”[8]  It seems apparent, to even the most myopic observer, that people value security more than they value truth.  We will agree with Socrates when he reminds Gorgias that the physician’s sage advice is no match for the tasty delights of a pastry chef. 

            For Keats, “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”[9]  How splendidly convenient!  Likewise, some will see in Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio (a.k.a. the Divine Proportion) evidence of deliberate design, if not the very fingerprint of God.  But too often we see something that simply isn’t there.  I cringe whenever I hear what believers “know to be true.”  Let’s be honest, shall we?  What the believer professes to know is little more than what he believes; and since his beliefs are all he knows, such beliefs (in his mind, at least) are granted the currency of knowledge.  But at best, such knowledge is an apparent knowledge, and appearances are seductively deceiving, as the clergy have so capably demonstrated.  Never underestimate the power of a determined mind and a designing heart. 

            Then, again, it could be said that I, too, am a believer.  I believe that to walk alone by faith is to abdicate an onerous responsibility to knowledge, in that faith seeks to excuse and abet a malignant complacency.  In religious circles faith has shamefully become a convenient and accredited substitute for knowledge.  Why bother with knowledge when, according to Jesus, the “faith of a child” is the truest measure of one’s discipleship?  Although touted as a virtue, faith is an insidious fire fanned by zealous acolytes whose insatiable drive for a contrived purity blinds their narrow and ametropic vision of reality.  I believe that faith is the invocation of a leadership gasping for breath in an atmosphere befouled by false confidence and baleful arrogance.  Under the protective light of faith, counterfactual beliefs are held to be inviolable and are, therefore, immune to the corrective measures of falsification.  In short, faith operates outside the bounds of reason and logic.  No longer willing to mask his contempt, this writer will be excused for smiling as the ostrich regales us with a colorful description of the landscape, as seen through eyes whose head is buried in the sand.

            Bertrand Russell reminds us that “Knowledge is certain and infallible; opinion is not merely fallible, but is necessarily mistaken, since it assumes the reality of what is only appearance.”[10]  Falling in love with religious beliefs is tantamount to knowing in a way that is false.  With other doting romantics, I long to believe that the swell of warm emotion one feels at the moment of a tender embrace portends an eternal repose.  But such yearnings, however passionate and common, more likely reflect a neurochemical cascade than they do the dulcet whispering of God’s voice to a soft and vulnerable heart.  Based upon the evidence, I soberly choose to conduct my existence as a contemplative disbeliever than as an intoxicated plebe groomed only to march with gilded precision.  Moreover, I would characterize myself as a studied atheist, not because I wish to be seen as a contumacious intellectual, but because I have studied my way out of religion’s suffocating miasma and sculpted instead a sanctuary in which my mind is free to think and to ponder.  Having rid myself of a fantastical hope for an afterlife, I am able to live in the “here and now” and thus make full use of what precious time my existence affords.

            I have gleaned more from my secular studies than was ever realized from (what turned out to be) unidirectional petitions to God.  My own heuristic has demonstrated that one may no more discourse with God than with a yet-to-be-conceived child.  The exercise of praying may be harmless, but from such an investment one must not expect a bountiful harvest.  Whereas in my youth I was censured for minting unpopular questions, the advice I offer my own children and grandchildren is far less pedantic but equally direct: Challenge everything I have taught you and everything I have written.  But I’ve also shared with those nearest and dearest that a life devoted alone to questioning and challenging authority is terribly dull, if not tediously irrelevant.  I state with conviction that a life without color and élan becomes a vacuous event rehearsed upon a barren stage. 

            There is timeless wisdom in the words of Oxford philosopher Daniel Robinson, who eloquently wrote, “I must reserve the right to question and to doubt.  I will retain this skeptical bias as an obligation owed to my own rationality, my own integrity.  I am prepared to follow the golden cord leading me out of the labyrinth, no matter how many twists and turns there are, because once I let go of that, my intellect is [no longer] my own.”[11]

Biographical Sketch

Kim is an optometric physician with practices in Utah and Oregon.  He and his wife Cindy are the parents of four children and three grandsons.  He is currently writing The Allure of Purpose: Contrived Philosophies of Mythos & Apotheosis which he hopes to publish at a time known only to Zeus.  He may be reached at: drkimclark@earthlink.net.


 

[1] Albert Camus, The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, and selected Essays, 331 (Published by Alfred A. Knoph, Everyman’s Library, 2004).

[2] Ibid., 341.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, v (Houghton Mifflin Company, Copyright © 2006 by Richard Dawkins).

[5] Carl  Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, 148; Edited by Ann Druyan (The Penguin Press, New York, 2006; Copyright © Democritus Properties, LLC, 2006).

[6] “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Pearl of Great Price,  Moses 1:39).

[7] Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, 17 (Oxford University Press, Copyright © 2002 by Oxford University Press, Inc.).

[8] Ibid., 264.

[9] Citation found in The Joy of Thinking: The Beauty and Power of Classical Mathematical Ideas, Part 1 of 2, p. 97; Professors Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird (The Teaching Company®, Copyright © The Teaching Company Limited Partnership, 2003).

[10] Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 129 (A Touchstone Book; Published by Simon & Schuster, Copyright 1945 by Bertrand Russell, Copyright renewed © 1972 by Edith Russell).

[11] Daniel N. Robinson, The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition, Part 1 of 5, p. 32 (The Teaching Company®, Copyright © The Teaching Company Limited Partnership, 2004).


» » back to Atheists of Silicon Valley home page « «