Sunday, May 2, 2010

The deist problem.

Deism appears to be an effective solution to the difficulties associated with reconciling an awkward god with the information of a modern world. Without entirely eliminating the spiritual overlord one can re-assign its powers to the point that the question of its existence is almost moot. Properly practiced deism is just watered-down atheism.

What makes this a problem?

Theist impediments to progress are removed by deists wherever needed. It appears as if deism sports the best of both the atheist and theist worlds. Deism is an undeniably great step from theism and frees the thinker to pursue their humanity in ways unimaginable to the theist. Several advantages that deism offers are:
  1. The fidelity to a theist god is not lost, only tethered. Should the deist end up at some afterlife judgment she could honestly state that “I believed in you more than you made it convenient to do so”. Here the deist behaves like a theist-leaning agnostic.
  1. Religiosity is not abandoned. To many deists the watered down god is described as a “personal understanding”. The details of theology are not explained so the appearance of theist belief remains intact. Here the deist is in stealth mode. The hidden alterations to iron-age theology allow an easy duct-tape-level fix. I suspect that the numbers of deists masquerading as theists is legion.
  1. Morality becomes the process of determining right and wrong as opposed to the process of interpreting scripture. It is from this juncture that most theists begin the journey to deism. A majority of modern theists (so large that only a ignorable margin remain) believe that certain scripturally allowed activities, like slavery, are simply wrong. This is more than pick and choose theism, this is righteousness of morality beating the pulp out of dogmatic scriptural theism. This is the crowning triumph of deism. A livable modern world would be impossible without first arriving at this theological milestone.
  1. The deist does not need to adventure beyond a “theological comfort envelope”. Since theology itself evolved to provide for the believer the deist actively avoids leaving the fruits of theology to wither on the vine. It is in this apparent benefit that the trouble for deism lurks. Theism remains the crutch onto which the deist leans as if injured, but the deist is whole. Thousands of years of theist rhetoric have created a language of the sublime without which it may appear that some of the more awesome aspects of being human are abandoned.

Many adult onset atheists, myself included, have passed through a deist stage to arrive where we are today. Those who have simply abandoned all faith in a single defining moment and plunged into non-belief have, in my opinion, missed out.
The deist stage is a time of assembly. Introspection and experimentation help us to create a personalized approach to managing life's intangible benefits. Without a well defined atheistic tool set for life the aspiring atheist must assemble one that works for them.

Life cannot be put on hold while one figures out how to live it. For the type I atheists this assembly might best be done whilst a teenager. The adult onset (type II) atheist can ill afford the awkwardness associated with figuring out how to live after several decades of life. For the type II atheist the deism developmental stage is almost necessary for developing an into an effective adult atheist.

What then is the deist problem?

The problem arises in passing through the deist stage. As theism is abandoned by degrees the theology of the transitioner becomes more stable. New tool are brought to bear on those difficulties that motivated the partial abandonment of theism in the first place. Most of the problems of an awkward god are eliminated by determined deism. At some point the way forward is not clear. The motivation to proceed through deism evaporates. Imagined obstacles prevent further progress and we stagnate. The problem with deism is that it is a trap.

Discovering atheism unveils important human needs. Being revealed allows the atheist to design approaches to meeting those needs based on all available information. It is the nuts and bolts of those approaches as practiced in my life that is the attempted substance of this blog. When I was a deist the accepted approach was to describe all unanswered questions as the will of god. Only so far as god revealed herself to me was I able to understand those aspects of my life. she also took care of the unimportant aspects of life. I only needed to wordy when I needed to worry and at those times things would be taken care of anyway. It was actually a pretty nice passive arrangement.

Since I am living my life, not god, there is some confusion over where the line should be drawn between her responsibility and mine. As an atheist the act of living my life becomes the motivating reason for doing so. I decide what type of life I want to live and the first question is not “is this god's will?” but “is this possible?” or “how can I best go about achieving this goal?”. The god's will question is answered with shades of ambiguity. The “what can I do?” question is answered by choices of action. The deeper I examine the ambiguities of an awkward god the longer I put off living. When I choose to act, even when I choose not to act, I am living.

An iconic example of the atheist approach to living can be found in running. I do not run because I am a great runner or even because I am a very good runner, as I am neither. I run because I am practiced at getting up in the morning, breathing all day, and going to sleep at night. I want to be a person who wants to run. Specifically I like the superfluidity of running long distances and wish to be someone who can experience it often. With the problem stated I need to deconstruct what it means.

a) Superfluidity is the state of active cerebellum control with minimal cerebrum-cerebellum crosstalk. In simple terms it is the state of being.

b) What are the impediments to this activity? Muscles, Joints, and bones. Training helps with these.

c) What limits this activity? Nutrition and attitude. A plan and positive feedback help with these.

d) What is the primary measure of achieving the goal? Simply the time spent in “the flow” where the cerebellum controls the activity and the cerebrum is opened to the experiential nature of the activity. The longer the better.

e) What are good lead measures of progress to the goal? Time I can run in one session. Distance I can run in one session is good also.
    Throughout the entire process the concept of a deist god is unhelpful. Further deconstructions set up feedback loops. What was not working, how can it be fixed? What was working, how can I make it work better? The information that goes into this process is gathered through living. The information is the substance of life. Life enhanced is the product of the process.

    The atheist can love and therefore can develop an approach to love that helps achieve a “I want to love more” goal. The atheist can hurt and can therefore develop an approach to emotional pain that helps achieve a “I want to hurt less” goal. These are tools of life developed from deconstruction of the “I want to live more” goal.

    One question I get asked a lot in regards to this is “What about a higher power?”. I was asked a similar question “What about a higher power, dude” while I was in California recently. Both of these questions are perhaps better answered in a piece entitled something like “Why be an atheist?”. I want this blog to be more of an “How can I be an atheist” collection. Hopefully, as I answer the how question for myself, I will be able to coherently write down what I think at the time. No promises.

    The higher power(s) questions are important. That they exist and are not you is an unsatisfying explanation only so far as we harbor expectations of them being some sort of supernatural being(s).

    The most that I feel comfortable adding as a postnote to this piece is a statement that; “without resorting to supernatural mumbo-jumbo there are so many powers greater than yourself that you should have nothing to fear”. I also would recommend that you become a deist should you be at all uncomfortable with being an atheist. 

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