Tuesday, December 13, 2005



My daughter was baptised on the weekend. The preparations leading up to this event, and indeed the fact that it happened at all, are the result of quite a bit of soul searching and introspection for both me and the wife. Basically, my wife is Catholic and I'm... well, I'm more or less an atheist. Ultimately, I decided that baptism into the Catholic faith would be fine for bub because:
So everything was hunky-dory. The day was great, everyone was happy, the event went fabulously! Those of you who know can go see the bub's blog and see a bunch of cool photos. The wife and I are fully reconciled in our beliefs (or lack thereof) and all is right with the world.

But it got me thinking...

I wasn't raised into any particular religion, although Church of England always got written on application forms and such. Due to a number of factors beyond my parents' control, my brother and I were never christened into the faith. I interpreted this to mean that my folks wanted my brother and I to make up our own minds about what we wanted to believe in. As a result, when I was talking with my parents and my wife the day before the baptism, I mentioned in passing that I considered myself an atheist and my mother was a bit shocked. I guess she figured that I would kind of "default" to being christian.

Funny thing is, in a lot of ways I am. My moral code and personal ethics are strongly based on christian ideals - thou shalt not steal, do unto others and all that. I have a basic, fundamental faith in the inherent 'goodness' of people and that, unless there are external factors, people will tend to do the 'right' thing. Some people would say this is naive.

My wife and I discussed if I were atheist or agnostic - ie, did I actively disbelieve or did I not know. My answer was a bit complicated, which I think is appropriate for something as complex as deities, belief, right and wrong and the origins of everything. I'll try to summarise:

Is there a God? I believe that every person has their own conception of God (or Gods). I don't think that my own belief or lack thereof in a supreme being has an impact on other people's beliefs. My own belief is that there is not an ultimate entity that you can point to and say "That's God, right there - the guy next to the stop sign". I do believe that there is this idea called "God" that is very powerful, that there are hundreds of millions of people that have similar beliefs that in turn influence their behaviour. So, in the sense that this idea can and does have a fundamental impact on life and death, civilisation and wafare, I acknowledge that the idea "God" exists.

God created the Universe. This is easy. Not enough data. I am a strong believer in scientific method and the results thereof that have resulted in both our very comfortable technological lifestyle and our mind-boggling knowledge of the universe. In this respect, I believe that the universe came into being roughly 15 billion years ago, give or take, as a result of a spontaneous quantum fluctuation in the otherwise nothingness. If this was God's doing, that's great. If God was responsible for all the physical laws we can see and measure, and if these laws and constants resulted in our coming into being, that's fantastic. There is no way of measuring or knowing this, and I don't think there is any evidence that God has subsequently meddled in the way the universe works. So ultimately, if there was an omnipotent being that created the universe, they don't appear to have any influence at the moment.

I'm not going to go into individual religions or belief structures, especially the parts of those stories where God or Gods have reportedly directly influenced human events by sending 'signs' or prophets or their son to give us their message. In general, I think that people tend to try and explain what they see around them, to make sense of the senseless. Gods are great for explaining why the village got wiped out in a plague, or why one bunch of folks get a great crop and another bunch don't, or why Aunt Mavis died before her time, or where we go after we die. It follows from this that Gods are good motivators - "if you don't [blah] you will be punished by God". Over time, this becomes a political tool that can be used to control and manipulate a population. I don't deny the existence of Jesus or Mohammed or Buhdda, and I certainly don't deny that they sincerely believed what they preached, or that this belief has had fundamental and far reaching impacts on the world. I just don't see any objective evidence that this was anything other than enlightened and visionary people putting forward revolutionary and persuasive ideas that became very, very popular. You see internet memes doing the same thing today...

Anyhoo, like any matter of belief, faith and the fundamental questions, I could go on and on and never actually arrive at a concrete answer. That's because there isn't one. I hope that some of the above enlightens those who are interested in what I believe, and allows you to see that there is not anything as simple as an "atheist".

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