I don’t believe in God; but I don’t know if that means what it sounds like. I definitely feel like there’s more in the universe than human beings can comprehend. The universe is so mysterious.
When I was a kid I believed in God. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I knew something back then that I don’t know now.
I forced my parents to take me to Religious Instruction after school; they didn’t think it was a good idea, but I was adamant. It was Catholic classes, basically.
I got as far as my confirmation before I realised I thought it was bullshit.
After that, I got really into Buddhism and Taoism. But years of being around people who identify as “spiritual” made me pretty cynical about that too. Lots of religious texts, taken as cultural or ethnographic or anthropological records, are really brilliant. But I think practising any religion leads to the same inevitable problem: you close yourself to new ways of thinking — which is ultimately the definition of learning.
I think asking questions, investigating, and learning from life experience is more important than religion. Lots of religious people do this anyway; they’re not mutually exclusive.
But when people forget that THEIR way of looking at things is not THE way of looking at things, that’s when the trouble starts.
If you take that as a definition of religion — an over-arching belief in the way things are — then most people suffer from religion. Even atheists.
Interview conducted and edited by Ben Kritikos
Why are we here?
It is often argued that an existence without god is an existence without meaning. This is demonstrably false: non-believers aren’t committing suicide in the millions, or raping and pillaging for lack of a fear of punishment in the afterlife. On the contrary: some of the worst atrocities in history — including history in the making — are committed in the name of religion.
I would argue that uncertainty above all provides meaning for humanity. Science, philosophy and art are, in my opinion, the high expressions of humankind’s existence, which is itself a journey through the unknown. The lack of certainty of our place in the universe, the totally unanswerable question of what we’re doing here, which we undertake nonetheless, is what gives life meaning.
Science seeks to understand the observable unknown, in an attempt to make it clear. When a dark corner of the universe is brought to light, it passes from one jurisdiction to another. Here philosophy (or ethics, or whatever you want to call it) takes a human discovery and attempts to fit it into workable reality. Our attempt to live with this generally agreed reality is expressed in art. Art reflects our struggle to incorporate the unknown into human existence; it lauds our triumphs, decries our failures, and is a collaboration between creator and audience to make sense of life. I think it’s a beautiful and meaningful process.
Let me equivocate. I’m a huge fan of the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese manuscript of uncertain age and authorship. No god appears in the pages of the Tao Te Ching, but it does tell of a mysterious presence or force assigned the incredibly vague appellation “the Tao”. This word can be translated as “way”, “force”, “path”, “road”, “word”, “power” or a bunch of other meanings only a Chinese scholar could tell you. The mysterious narrator of the Tao Te Ching indicates vaguely — always vaguely — that the Tao is not a being, not a knowing entity that creates and subsequently judges its creations. Rather, the Tao is actually presented as the primary Nothing, the empty space which enabled existence to exist in the first place.
“If you mold a cup [...] it is the emptiness within it that makes it useful [...] In a house or room it is the empty spaces — the doors, the windows — that make it usable [...] Without their nothingness they would be nothing.” So explains the narrator, who goes on to say, “I do not know its name. So I call it TAO.”*